Columbia, Maryland, began with the simplest yet boldest of ideas: that a city could enhance its residents' quality of life. Its visionary creator, Jim Rouse, saw Columbia in terms of human values, not just in terms of economics and engineering. Begun in 1964, this "new town" was designed to eliminate uncontrolled sprawl and the inconveniences of then current sub-division design. But even more, Columbia was built on the premise that a community could foster a true coming together for all of its residents. Columbia would be a better place to live and work. A place for all people, embracing different races, religions and income groups.

To achieve these goals, the city's master plan called for a series of ten self-contained villages, around which day-to-day life would revolve. The first three villages to be developed were Wilde Lake, Harper's Choice, and Oakland Mills. Further development brought to life the villages of Long Reach, Owen Brown, Hickory Ridge, Town Center, Dorsey's Search and King's Contrivance. The tenth village, River Hill, is currently being developed and growing fast. With the completion of River Hill, Columbia's development will be finished.

The village concept is at the heart of Columbia's small-town feel. Each one is comprised of several neighborhoods, schools, a shopping center, recreational facilities, a community center, a system of bike/walking paths, and homes. Four of the villages have interfaith centers, common worship facilities which are owned and jointly operated by a variety of religious congregations working together. Most of Columbia's neighborhoods feature a blend of single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and apartments, providing a wide variety of housing choices at all prices from very affordable to quite posh. According to Jim Rouse's ideal, all the children of a neighborhood attend the same school, melding neighborhoods into a community and ensuring that all of Columbia's children get the same high-quality education.

After more than three decades of growth, Columbia, located midway between Baltimore and Washington, DC, now has a population of 90,000. Built on the gently rolling farmland of Howard County, Columbia is home to 14 elementary, five middle and eight high schools, a growing community college and several graduate degree programs, and two busy Public Library branches. Sophisticated medical care is available in a large hospital affiliated with Baltimore's famous Johns Hopkins. Merriweather Post Pavilion, a well-known outdoor concert venue, attracts top performers. Every shopping need is filled by a large regional mall with five anchors and over 200 stores, three other major shopping centers, and nine village shopping centers, while more than 120 restaurants provide a wide range of cuisines in every price range.

Recreation has always been an important part of the Columbia concept. The private nonprofit Columbia Association, popularly known as "CA," builds, operates and maintains most of these facilities. CA operates 23 outdoor swimming pools, six indoor pools, two water slides, ice and roller skating rinks, an equestrian center, a sports park with miniature golf, batting cages, picnic pavilions, clubhouse and playground, three athletic clubs, numerous indoor and outdoor tennis, basketball, volleyball, squash and racquetball courts, running tracks, and much more. There are three lakes surrounded by parkland for sailing, fishing, and boating; 80 miles of paths for jogging, strolling and biking; and 148 tot lots and play areas. Nine large village community centers, 15 neighborhood centers and four senior centers provide ample space for a large variety of community activities. All of these recreational facilities are popular and widely used. In addition there are a variety of fairs and celebrations throughout the year, free entertainment on the lakefront of Lake Kittamaqundi all summer long, and numerous other social and cultural opportunities.

Jim Rouse conceived of a city, not a suburban bedroom community, and Columbia is indeed a business center independent of the nearby cities of Baltimore and Washington. There are 15 office, industrial and research parks in Columbia; most are at the eastern and southern edges, but a number of office and residential high-rise buildings give the Town Center a true downtown feel. Eight Howard Transit bus routes serve Columbia and connect it with its own "suburban" areas, while several MTA (Mass Transit Administration) routes provide easy access to and from both Washington and Baltimore.

Columbia is far from the first planned community. In the early history of America, planned communities were quite common: Jamestowne, Philadelphia, Williamsburg, Annapolis and Washington, DC are examples of this trend. Greenbelt, Maryland, which was built in the 1930's, was one of a series of planned communities built during that era. The Levittowns - in Long Island, Pennsylvania and New Jersey - typified the planned communities of the 1950's and early 60's. The era of the modern New Town began in 1963 with the creation of Reston, Virginia, which was begun just a year before Columbia.

But although Columbia was neither the first nor last - having served as a model for a number of other planned communities - Columbia is unique in many ways. It is a city of convenience, encouraging community involvement and offering its residents a long list of amenities, a modern city that creates a positive environment in which to live, work and raise a family.

Official website: http://www.columbia-md.com/

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