A vision of Columbia

July 09, 2008|By Gregory F. Hamm

The restoration and redevelopment of Columbia Town Center - in the words of Columbia founder James W. Rouse, a mission in "city building" - is a vital community enterprise. The work to be done will shape not only the Town Center but also Howard County and the surrounding region for long years to come. There is a tremendous opportunity to get it right.

In late April, General Growth Properties Inc. (GGP), Mr. Rouse's successor in Columbia, outlined a plan for the first phase of a new Town Center. We envision a better-connected place, walkable and inclusive, culturally rich, economically viable and in harmony with the natural environment. We have retained respected experts to listen to voices in the community and bring its hopes to life in creative ways.

There is now a need to shed light on additional dimensions and details of GGP's vision, including the location and scale of proposed housing, financing and critical logistics, such as parking and traffic flows. In a public meeting tonight, GGP will present "Vision in Focus: The Neighborhoods," describing where 5,500 new residential units might be located in Town Center over the next 20 to 30 years and how they will be integrated into an exciting new downtown. Those units will include affordable housing essential to an inclusive community. This full-spectrum housing, so central to Mr. Rouse's vision, will ensure that people from different walks and stages of life will be able to live and work together in Columbia, each making a vital contribution to a thriving, cohesive city.

Over time, the new Columbia Town Center will continue to evolve in response to developing knowledge in transportation, communications, ecological preservation and economic activity. Today, we aim to bring the community together around a direction and a shared, people-oriented vision to guide that evolution. Considered in that context, a plan that includes well-designed incorporation of new living and work spaces with the necessary mix of retail and recreational offerings seems appropriate.

We know that building Columbia Town Center right will be expensive, costing hundreds of millions of dollars in each phase, even as it delivers many years of employment to trades-people and professionals. A share of that cost will be borne by GGP and other sources of investment capital; some will have to come through a public-private partnership in which the new economic activity created by the development will help to finance it. These aspects of the redevelopment, just like the cultural and design aspects devised so far, will be a matter of full public involvement and consideration. They too are a collective responsibility for the common good.

James Rouse was a true pioneer. Now, the humanistic vision for guiding development and growth that he set forth nearly a half-century ago has become the lodestar for smart, modern development. To realize its bright future, Columbia needs most to remain connected to its heritage, left to us by a wise and ambitious founder. As he would have it, we'll go on doing it together.

Gregory F. Hamm is an executive with General Growth Properties. His e-mail is info@


If you go

General Growth Properties Inc. will host "Vision in Focus: The Neighborhoods," at 7:30 tonight at the Spear Center in the company's headquarters at 10275 Little Patuxent Parkway, Columbia. It is the fourth in a series of meetings that followed the April presentation of the GGP draft master plan for the Town Center.

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