Lost in Columbia

Our view: Proposal to put more signage in Howard County community is long overdue

February 20, 2011

Who among us has not been lost in Columbia? The planned Howard County community has much to offer — if only we could find it.

There is commerce there, but it is tucked away in well-camouflaged pockets. These can be discovered by the cognoscenti, but for the uninitiated is a struggle. Signage — the traditional method of giving the populace a clue as to where the dentist's office, the pet store or the shopping center is located — is minimal.

Since Columbia's birth in 1967, its rulers, guarding against garish commercialism, have prescribed signs that favor tasteful discretion over utilitarian illumination. As a result, outsiders trying to get to a performance at the Merriweather Post Pavilion, a soccer field, or for that matter a gas station, often have had to consult a native. As The Sun's Larry Carson has reported, travelers through downtown Columbia — a mom ferrying kids to Wilde Lake Village pool, an office worker seeking a lunch spot, real estate clients searching for an office building — easily become wayward souls.

Now the Howard County Council is crafting a less-restrictive signage law. The action coincides with a plan to redevelop Columbia's downtown, adding apartments and making the area more pedestrian friendly. Sadly, this new signage proposal, a move to let people know where they are, is restricted to just downtown Columbia. We favor adding more signs to all of Columbia. Only then will its maze of circular parkways, its frustrating cul-de-sacs and its hidden villages become navigable by a tenderfoot.

There are, no doubt, denizens of Columbia who want to keep things the way they are: confusing. These veterans feel that after years of trial-and-error trailblazing, they have mastered the landscape. Newcomers, they feel, should earn their stripes, should wander among the pear trees for a time before becoming full- fledged, rarely lost residents. Moreover, like the occupants of the fictional earthly paradise, Shangri-La, Columbia residents might feel they have discovered a happy spot and don't want too many "come-heres" to find it.

To them, we say three words: global positioning system. Despite your itty-bitty signs, we will locate you. Maybe.

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