In the 10 years of Columbia's existence, most of its residents have developed their own nagging frustrations about the workings and the life style of the minutely planned city of the future. The city's transportation troubles bother some; others feel that efforts at self-government are a futile charade.
No matter what their personal catalogue of complaints might be, a small group of Columbia residents interviewed this week as the city began its 10th anniversary celebration tend to agree that the great hopes originally invested in their community were not misplaced.
Perhaps as much as any community can, they say, this cluster of homes that sprang from Howard County's farmland has succeeded in pulling together a diverse group of people, giving them some sense of harmony and some sense of common goals.
"For what Columbia set out to do, it's done a pretty good job of accomplishing it," said Luther Starnes, a Methodist minister who works for Maryland's Department of Human Resources in Baltimore.
"Most importantly, it's a daring experiment. It's not just a developer's scheme to make some money. There was a conscious desire to build a city that had some human potential to it," Starnes added.
Although the praise of residents like Starnes is often laced with words of caution, most of the Columbia residents interviewed gave Columbia's developer, James Rouse high marks for his efforts.
In 1964, The Rouse Company ananounced that it had acquired 14,000 acres of Howard County farmland, and would build on it a self-sufficient city that could become a model of new development for the future. One-fifth of it would be open space and one-fifth industry, with a grand and accessible commercial core. The firemen and the lawyers could live in the same neighborhoods. The neighborhoods would be part of villages, the villages part of the city, to give residents an expanding sense of community.
Built into the community, along with the new lake and the wooded walkways to every school, was a pioneering spirit, a sense that those who chose to live in Columbia would have the common goal of showing America what a diverse, self-contained, community of the future could be.
"The ones that came in the relatively new years, well, we were younger. We really came for the concept," said Jean Moon, the editor of Columbia's free newspaper, The Columbia Flier.
"A lot of us were the people who grew up in the 60s. There was the expectation that the races would live together here in harmony -- that people would live together here in harmony," said Moon, who moved to Columbia in 1970.
"Jim Rouse had a messianic zeal about him -- and that's infectious," Moon added.
A former Columbia resident, John Stacks, agrees that "Basically, Rouse has succeeded. He built a community that's a hell of a lot better than your thrown-up subdivision.
"It's a good place to live," added Stacks, a Washington correspondent for Time Magazine who moved to Columbia with his wife and two sons in 1970, and moved on to Chevy Chase in 1975. "But it's not nirvana."
The chief problem slacks had living in Columbia was his 55-minute ride to work in downtown Washington, but other things nagged. "The place is too intentional," he said. "There's an awful earnestness . . . a determined busyness about it that's a little oppressive."
Luther Starnes' problem was not so much the busy-ness as the frustration that that busy-ness created. "I got involved early in the governmental process. I ran for the Wilde Lake Board and got elected," said Starnes who moved to Columbia with his wife and four children in 1972.
Starnes said he was "not under illusions" about how much power a member of the village board would have, compared to the power of the representatives of Howard Development Corporation, which built Columbia under Rouse's direction, of the Columbia Association, which runs everything from the city's lawns to its swimming pools.
"We could decide what plots of grass to cut, but they had the final say on the important things," Starnes said. "I suddenly had this strange feeling I was sitting on the high school student council again."
Barbara Russell, one of Columbia's original residents feels the same way. "It's set up in such a way that people have no power and they don't know at first that they don't have power . . . but when push comes to shove they don't."
"It causes people to burn themselves out, then become blase about the whole thing," she added.
Nonetheless, Russell, who can boast of being the mother of the first child born in Columbia -- and part of an interracial family that is almost symbolic of Columbia's goals -- is devoted to the community. "What we have seen happen here has delighted us . . . the openness of it was wonderful . . . there is an opportunity here for all kinds of different people to lead all kinds of different lifestyles."
The moves that Russell and her husband, Charles, have made within the community -- from a $160 a-month apartment to a townhouse to a single-family home -- in some ways typify the progress of a Columbia couple.
At present, with their $30,000 annual income -- Charles Russell works for the Social Security Administration in Baltimore -- they also are close to being typical of the Columbia family of today. The thought makes Barbara Russell laugh.
"Where else in the country," she asked, "would an interracial couple be called typical?"
The anniversary celebrations started for Columbia's 47,000 residents last weekend, but the formal rededication ceremony comes today. Patricia Roberts Harris, U.S. Secretary of Housing and Urban Development, is expected to be on hand.
This weekend there will be the Columbia Olympics, then, on July 1, the city fair will start on the waterfront of Lake Kittamaqundi.