Thursday, April 26, 2007

Youth vision for Columbia's future

Wednesday I had the pleasure of attending a meeting organized by U Maryland senior, Brandon Koch, to build youth participation in Howard County Politics. The ten present offered a variety of perspectives. Most were young college students or recent graduates like me. Three adult community members came, one long-time Columbia resident and one new arrival from Illinois. The third was Mary Kay Sigaty , County Council Member, District 4.

We sat for over an hour and a half talking about how Columbia should develop in the next years. Should we have a dense downtown? What would it look like? How do feel about Columbia now? I was particularly interested in the discussion of identity. Role models for successful downtown areas such as Annapolis and Old Ellicott City are special for their distinctive architectural, cultural and historical identities. It seemed to be a consensus that Columbia develop based on its unique personality (or maybe townality?).

What is Columbia's personality? Like any culture it is open to contention. It is what we make it to be, and every moment residents, by their actions, remake it. One reocurring theme was that we did disliked development for only the sake of profit - development, we felt, should contribute to the overall life and values of the town. Concern for diversity, accessibility, and other principles should guide development as well as the need for profit. I hope that meetings like this will continue and multiply. And I hope that the rest of the County Council pays attention too.

This could be a moment, in Columbia, to learn whole new ways of building participatory local government. By talking to each other and listening to each other about how to make our town better - more prosperous, more welcoming, more beautiful, more environmentally friendly, etc. - we can develop that unique personality that makes Columbia such a good place to call home.

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