To walk the few hundred yards from his office to Columbia's shopping mall, Cy Paumier has to cross parking lots and grassy fields.

The lack of sidewalks, he says, is symptomatic of a problem that is of growing concern to residents of this Howard County "new town" 24 miles north of Washington.

"There are some missing pieces of the system that ought to be in plans that are not," he says. "That's what people are getting worried about."

Columbia, the brainchild of developer James Rouse, was designed from the ground up in the mid-1960s to exemplify the best of a pluralistic society, where schools, places of employment and homes were to be carefully integrated by foot paths and public open space.

But task force members say many new buildings, including the town's branch library, are not connected by sidewalks to the local shopping mall and a 24-acre lake that make up the heart of the town center.

As a result, some residents are concerned that the developer's commitment to preserve Columbia's sense of community may be weakening as the town matures into a major urban center.

One of the most visible manifestations of that concern, they say, is an apparent increasing orientation in Columbia toward the automobile, at the expense of pedestrians.

Paumier, a land-use planner, is one of more than a dozen Columbians who have been re-examining the town's growth patterns as a part of a task force established by Columbia Forum, a nonprofit group devoted to issues affecting the town's growth.

The group is urging the forum to call on the county, the town's developers and the governing Columbia Association to "re-dedicate" Columbia to the people who live here.

"Our first objective is to try to create a more exciting pedestrian environment," Paumier said. "The second is to enhance the focus of downtown . . . and the third is the integration of more housing into the downtown."

The task force has presented its ideas to various groups; Howard Research and Development Inc., which oversees Columbia's development, will respond next week at a special meeting for town residents, said Alton J. Scavo, director of planning and design.

"The meeting is to bring all parties together; to understand where we are; and to get a consensus on what might be needed to get where we want to go," he said.

Today, the center section of Columbia consists of fewer than 500 housing units, 1.7 million square feet of office space and a 187-store shopping mall.

Ultimately, downtown is planned to include 2,000 apartments and condominiums and four times the current office and retail space. The developer hopes to build one new office building a year, Scavo said.

The shopping mall and a 24-acre lake with a commercial facility make up the town center.