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The Conversation - James Rouse's Columbia, Maryland Experiment

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The Conversation, originally uploaded by Vox_Efx.

Took this last summer at "the Lake" in Columbia, Maryland.

The Rouse Company accumulated over 14,000 acres (57 km²), 10% of Howard County, Maryland (located between Baltimore and Washington DC), from 140 separate owners. This acquisition was funded by Connecticut General Life Insurance, at an average price of $1,500 per acre ($0.37/m²). In October 1963, the acquisition was revealed to the residents of Howard County, putting to rest rumors about the mysterious purchases. These had included the theory that the site was for a laboratory to study diseases and another that the site was intended to become a giant compost heap.

At this unveiling, James Rouse described Columbia as a planned new city which would avoid the leap-frog and spot development threatening the county. The new city would be complete with jobs, schools, shopping, and medical services, and a range of housing choices. The property taxes from commercial development would cover the additional services with which housing would burden the county. The planning process for Columbia included not only planners, but also a convening of a panel of nationally recognized experts in the social sciences, known as the Work Group. Meeting for two days, twice a month, for half a year, the Work Group suggested innovations that the planners should try in education, recreation, religion, and health care, as well as ways of improving social interactions. Open classrooms, the interfaith centers, and the then-novel idea of a Health Maintenance Organization (HMO) with a group practice of doctors (the Columbia Medical Plan) sprung from these meetings.

The physical plan, with neighborhood and village centers, also were decided upon at these meetings. Columbia's “New Town District” zoning ordinance gives the developer great flexibility about what to put where, without getting approval from the county for each specific project.

The first village to be developed in Columbia was Wilde Lake. The first high school to open in Columbia was Wilde Lake High School[1], which opened in 1971 as a model school for the nation. Constructed in the open classroom style, it was razed and reconstructed on the same site in 1996.

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