The planned community strives to provide an ideal living environment for its residents.

Columbia

visitors' guide

February 16, 2005|By Rachel Hinson | Rachel Hinson,Special to Baltimoresun.com

For a fairly new community, having existed only since 1967, Columbia has developed quite the reputation. Known best for its streets, which are named after the works of famous writers such as Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, Mark Twain and J.R.R. Tolkien, the area is increasingly becoming known for its unique design that incorporates 10 independent village centers.

Columbia is located southwest of Baltimore City in the central region of Howard County. Bordered by Baltimore, Carroll, Montgomery, Prince George's and Anne Arundel counties, Columbia lies conveniently between the Baltimore and Washington Metropolitan areas. In addition to its accessible location, Columbia's schools and high property values have made it one of the most desirable places to live in Maryland.

In an effort to improve the quality of life for the area's residents, the Rouse Company developed the concept of village centers in the early 1960s. The idea was to bring people of different races, religions and income levels together in a community, and to use as its focal point a convenient village center that provided residents with every basic amenity at their fingertips.

James Rouse, founder of the Rouse Co., wanted to develop a city that achieved four main goals: meet the basic needs of its residents, respect and have a relationship with nature, contribute to the growth of mankind and make a profit. Columbia, it seems, was Rouse's utopian dream.

Rouse's vision of acceptance and integration -- a community that embraces human values -- is evident in Columbia's five interfaith centers. Churches are housed at the center of these establishments, while each religious community is allotted its own space. A wide range of religions, from Christian to Islam and even Unitarian Universalist, are represented in the interfaith centers.

Several decades after its conception, Columbia has done much more than just fulfill the vision of the Rouse Co. New developments including housing, shopping and recreational facilities have helped to bring Columbia together to function as a cohesive unit, not just a collection of independent villages.

A strong community connection holds great value in Columbia, but a connection with nature is deemed equally important. The Columbia Association (CA), a private, non-profit community service organization, is dedicated to making life in Columbia enjoyable and enriching. More than 3,100 acres of open space are owned and maintained by CA including lakes, parks, tot lots and more than 80 miles of pathways. On any given day, rain or shine, it is no surprise to see a handful of residents out walking.

The Columbia Association is also responsible for many of the recreational facilities in Columbia. Three fitness centers, more than 20 swimming pools, an ice rink and a SportsPark/SkatePark, which offers skate ramps, miniature golf and batting cages, are just a few of the many facilities that CA provides to its residents.

Merriweather Post Pavilion, built in 1967, has served not only the community, but all of Maryland. In its original form, as a unique outdoor concert venue, Merriweather has featured acts such as the Grateful Dead, Pearl Jam, Led Zeppelin and Sarah McLachlan, and hosted festivals like the Lilith Fair and the Capital Jazz Fest.

Since General Growth Properties, Inc. purchased the Rouse Co. in 2004, the future of Merriweather has been uncertain. The company is attempting to convert the outdoor concert space into a completely enclosed venue. The county is currently deciding whether to buy Merriweather to ensure its future in Columbia -- a plan favored by residents -- but it is on the market for private buyers, as well. General Growth would also like to plan retail and parking facilities on the land surrounding the venue, called Symphony Woods, putting in jeopardy the area that hosts events and festivals such as the Symphony of Lights and Wine in the Woods.

Aside from its many community-related facilities, Columbia is home to countless retail centers, which attract shoppers from both the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas.

Due to Columbia's convenient layout, each village center is a shopping center for that area. The village centers all contain different types of stores ranging from gifts to groceries, so if your village center doesn't have the store you're looking for, surely the neighboring one will.

There are 10 villages in Columbia -- River Hill, Owen Brown, Harper's Choice, Wilde Lake, Oakland Mills, Hickory Ridge, Dorsey's Search, King's Contrivance, Long Reach and the Town Center. Just like the street names, the villages and the communities within them were named after the works of esteemed writers.

In addition to its village centers, Columbia has several shopping centers containing popular superstores like Target and Wal-Mart. On Route 175, you'll find Columbia Crossing, which provides stores like Dick's Clothing and Sporting Goods, Borders Books and Music, Expo Design Center and the ever-popular Old Navy.

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