Commentary: Approve the Plan for Hickory Ridge Village Center

Kimco’s proposal for redevelopment of the Hickory Ridge Village Center is to be considered by the Howard County Design Advisory Panel next Wednesday December 7. Like the rest of Columbia, the issue of increased urbanization at this central community hub is at the heart of controversy.

I support the plan. In the face of continued population growth, suburban sprawl and development of more and more of our natural lands are not sustainable. Higher densities in appropriate locations throughout Columbia is smart growth, will promote public transit, and will serve to improve pedestrian and bicycle amenities.  Two of my previous posts about this subject are here and here.

Some residents of Hickory Ridge formed a group to support Kimco’s revised plan for redeveloping the Hickory Ridge Village Center. Their argument below is one that could easily apply to all of Columbia.

Citizens In favor of a Vibrant Village Center (CIVVC)

Many of us have attended the public meetings Kimco has held and been disturbed by both the tone and substance of the comments made by many in opposition to the plan. The level of uncertainty, fear, and worst-case scenarios has been high in these meetings.

The purpose of CIVVC, then, is to foster a rational dialogue about the merits and Continue reading Commentary: Approve the Plan for Hickory Ridge Village Center

Suburbia is not Sustainable; Appropriate Densities are Better

Residents of Columbia, Maryland are objecting to the increased urbanization that is developing in the Downtown. Alas, it means cutting down a lot of trees that long-time Columbians have gotten used to. But suburbia is not sustainable, and perhaps Jim Rouse, the founder of Columbia, knew this. He always intended that Columbia have a real downtown and he set aside the land surrounding Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods, known as the Crescent (pictured above), for this purpose.

Increased densities in appropriate locations throughout suburbia, such as the Crescent and the Village Centers in Columbia, are the right thing to do. Here’s why:

Some Background

More than half of Americans live in suburbs, and about 75 percent of postwar construction has happened in the suburbs. That is a lot of people, and a lot of Continue reading Suburbia is not Sustainable; Appropriate Densities are Better

My grandparents were John Schwarz Antiques

My grandparents, John and Marie Schwarz, were Baltimore antique dealers from at least 1925, until my grandmother liquidated the business in 1985.  John took over the family business when he was about 25, located on Antique Row, 827 N. Howard Street, and moved it some years later to 2013/2015 North Charles Street. My grandfather was known throughout the Mid Atlantic and New England as a leading expert in the decorative arts and assisted in the development of that portion of the American collection at the Baltimore Museum of Art.  

Papa John and Dede brought together all of our extended family, and I grew up having great times hanging at their antique store. So many magical and fascinating googahs and places to hide for small people. I honored my grandparents for their business savvy and was counted on to help with accounting at times. I delivered holiday orders one December when I was 20, learned my way around Baltimore, and was introduced to some of its wealthiest neighborhoods.  I was even with them at times as they traveled New England, buying antiques at small shops and auctions.

My grandmother continued managing the business after Papa John died in 1966, with the help of their daughter, Ann Keene. Antique furniture has infused all of our family. It enriches my artistic sense.  

Continue reading My grandparents were John Schwarz Antiques

Current Plans for Development of the Crescent Neighborhood in Downtown Columbia

A primary goal for Crescent is to create a sustainable, urban live/work neighborhood overlooking Merriweather-Symphony Woods. This neighborhood will be unique to Downtown Columbia, with tall office and residential towers set on the periphery within new development parcels on the high ground between lower, environmentally-sensitive areas.

One of the neighborhood’s greatest assets is its natural setting with preserved and enhanced woodlands and tributaries to Symphony Stream and Little Patuxent River. And, while the developed areas will be fairly dense, the park setting, the curvilinear roads, and the rolling topography will set Crescent apart from the other Downtown neighborhoods.

A sustainable built environment will be created through the creation of mixed-use development with amenity spaces that allow residents to socialize, work, shop and play; the design of complete streets where residents can walk or bike to destinations or public transit; the design of buildings that are healthy and use natural resources more efficiently; and the creation of a healthy environment with clean water, clean air, and increased connections to the natural environment.

from Crescent Neighborhood Design Guidelines, Howard Hughes Corporation, March 2015

Columbia Arts Center

Orchard Development selected Design Collective to generate an innovative vision for a new performing and visual arts center with multi-family housing above, in Downtown Columbia, Maryland. Aspiring to become central Maryland’s paradigm for a community arts hub, the performing arts center will house Toby’s 350-seat Dinner Theater in-the-round, 2 black-box theaters, dance rooms and a full service restaurant. The visual arts wing will house the Howard County Arts Council which will include galleries, artist-in-residence studios, classrooms and offices.

In collaboration with the Howard County Housing Commission, 210 residential units will sit above the arts uses, concealing a 700-space garage, with a third-level residential amenity program featuring rooftop courtyards that overlook Symphony Woods and Merriweather Post Pavilion. At the confluence of Downtown and the preserved Woods, this merging of arts and residency will add new life and become a community anchor for Columbia.

from Columbia Arts Center, Design Collective

Crescent Neighborhood Gallery

Click on thumbnail for full size image.

Current Status of Charter Schools in Maryland

Public Charter Schools have the potential to improve our education of elementary and secondary school students. I’ve learned this from my work the last eight years facilitating more effective financial management of these schools. It is disappointing, therefore, that Maryland/Howard County has made so little commitment to Public Charter Schools.  It is equally troubling that there is not better understanding of  what charter schools are. 

I have found that the agencies operating Charter Schools, like the nonprofit world in general, range from ineffective but well-intentioned, to cutting edge and well-managed. The former schools need to be closed by the authorizer. The latter need to be replicated for the good of all our kids. But there are real obstacles to charter schools achieving their potential in Maryland. Here’s a primer on what Charter Schools are all about.

Continue reading Current Status of Charter Schools in Maryland