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60 Years On, the Planned City of Columbia, Maryland Holds Up Against Change

The design for the planned city of Columbia, Maryland continues to influence new developments around the world.
June 12, 2017, 11am PDT | jwilliams | @jwillia22
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Adrian Sinclair

James Rouse's vision for a model planned community, where people of different races live side-by-side, continues to inspire planners despite failing to live up to the high expectations of its builders and supporters. Doug Miller writing for Howard Magazine (via The Baltimore Sun), notes that almost 60 years on, the city of Columbia, Maryland continues to prosper even as the pressures of sprawling development, big box retail, and a middling mass transit system have hindered some of the early optimism for a new way of living.

“It was a terrific counter-measure to suburbia, something was desperately needed,” {architect Ralph Bennett] says, noting that his family has owned land in Howard County since 1954, though none that was included in Rouse’s voluminous purchases in advance of Columbia’s construction.


Rouse made a persuasive argument that the planned city would be far less costly to the county than standard suburban development and that tax revenue generated in Columbia offset the additional county expenditures necessitated by the booming population.

“Large lots and scattered developments increase the cost of providing many services,” including garbage collection, police, school buses water and sewer, Rouse’s primer on the Columbia project read.

Miller writes that while planned communities haven't taken off in the United States as much as some had hoped, they are seeing a resurgence in rapidly developing countries including China and India.

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Published on Thursday, June 8, 2017 in The Baltimore Sun
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