On June 21, the new city called Columbia, Md., home of 45,000 people, will mark its 10th anniversary. If any one person is responsible for reaching this milestone, it's James W. Rouse, chairman of the board and chief executive office of the Rouse Co., parent firm for the development of the area.
But Jim Rouse is not taking even a tiger's share of the credit for Columbia, which has more than 13,000 apartments and houses and whose facilities range from 50 tennis courts and two golf courses to nearly 2 million square feet of office and retail space and four large industrial parks. The latter provide employment for some 20,000 workers.
"I could leave here tomorrow for Tibet or Tahiti and the place would run well without me," said the 63-year-old developer. He says he has no plans for a radical career change. "Retirement doesn't interest me," he says. "Besides, there's still too much more to be done here and I'm terribly enthused," said Columbia's No. 1 resident.
A native of Maryland's Eastern Shore (where he still has a getaway retreat) and a mortgage banker of considerable stature here and in Baltimore, Rouse nursed a dream of a new town for some years. He quietly acquired about 15,000 acres in Howard County toward that dream in the early 1960s.
Columbia was born with the help of a group of carefully selected experts and the financial backing of Connecticut General Life Insurance Co., which increased its investment in Columbia two years ago when development was stagnant across the land.
Rouse talks about the development of the privately financed new city between Baltimore and Washington in human terms.
"This was a great day," he reminisced. "Our landscape architect, is native of Prague, became a citizen. He is now living in his third Columbia house, something (costing) around $100,000. He has participated in the American dream of home ownership.
"And there's another story about a woman, over 60, I'd say, who came up to me at an event held by the League of Women Voters. I remember because she had some nice things to say about living here. But what was most important to me was her view that living in Wilde Lake (a Columbia village) made her aware for the thing time in her residential life that she counted."
"Counting" is important to Rouse where people in Columbia are concerned. "We have more than a hundred organizations here and people participate. They "are neighborhood-conscious and they turn out for meetings and activities. They use the garden plots and they like our 'gang mail boxes,' which are inconvenient. But they bring people together. And we do have a racial-ethnic openness that was part of our original plan."
Columbians tend to respond to issues, according to Rouse. In one instance, a temporary siltation pond was built, in line with environmental rules, to handle runoff during construction. But in the meantime, it had become a sanctuary for wild life, and when the sewer line was connected, the county said the pond had served its purpose, "our people wanted to keep the pond over the sewer. It's that kind of public reaction that makes us an unusual city," Rouse said.
The developer recognizes that Columbia is imperfect. "We have faced a lot of issues with Howard County and also within ourselves. For instance, we had a HUD (Housing and Urban Development) grant to study an ideal system of transportation. And our suggestion was for an overhead rail system. But we couldn't get the grant to build it. Why? Because we are private. So the grant went to Morgantown, W. Va. I think destinations and housing are closely related. We do have a bus system to minimize the reliance on personal cars for transportation. A package plan provides bus service along with other facilities in the recreation area. We have public schools, three universities and all sorts of adult education programs."
Are Columbia and other new towns mainly for young couples?
"Not at all," said Rouse. "Two school teachers retired here in 1969 and they have been among our most enthusiastic residents working at volunteer jobs. There's no special area for adults or retirees but our wide choice of housing enables older persons to find what they want in a normal mix of people, which many of them seem to want."
Is Columbia safe?
"That's relative matter but a recent survey indicated that 91 per cent of Columbia residents had no fear on walking our streets at night. I think that's good. And the fact that there are people on the streets is one of the reasons for the feeling of security. Robert Matthews, the police chief of Howard County, rates Columbia as good in terms of personal safety and he said that our people tend to communicate with one another in terms of what's happening. Thus, they're also more conscious of personal safety of one another."
According to Jim Rouse, Columbia has many of the problems of people living elsewhere. But it also has a post office (in Oakland Mills) manned by volunteers, a family life center, a Columbia bank, a community medical care plan and a free telephone book that is also a directory. "And we have about 15 real estate offices here. About 40 per cent of our new houses are bought by Columbia residents. That's one of the dividends of having a good supply of rental housing. People who rent here tend to buy and stay here."
Originally, it was estimated that Columbia would reach its maturity and a population of about 100,000 in 1982. But that projection was off base. Now Rouse figures it will take another 12 to 15 years to complete the new city. .
Columbia is governed for the most part by its community association under the direction of Howard Research & Development Corp., a subsidiary directed by Michael D. Spear, the new town's unofficial mayor in its dealings with Howard County.
How do Howard County residents feel about Columbia?
Rouse estimates that 10 to 20 per cent "like us quite a bit and a similar number dislike us, with about 60 to 80 per cent taking a middle ground."
While Columbia celebrates its anniversary in community style, beginning June 21, a group of the original "think-tank" planners will return for an appraisal. They probably will take a lot of heart from a comment of Columbia's newspaper editor, Jean Moon, to Jim Rouse: "Our people think they can do something about it, whatever it is."
Rouse, who has grappled for more than a decade with the problems of his new city and who maintained land prices when other town were going down the drain, sees currently brighter financial skies and an opportunity to do more things well while maintaining the environment and encouraging development of new homes (several dozen builders are active in Columbia), more business, more light industry and more jobs.
"Looking back, I can see how we could have done some things better. We had high hopes and we didn't create a perfect city but we are still trying. And I'd welcome a chance to do it again and do it better," said Rouse. CAPTION: Picture 1, Rouse Building [WORD ILLEGIBLE] by Frank Johnston - The Washington Post; Picture 2, Columbia fountain by David H. Kennerly; Picture 3, Houses in Columbia by Linda Wheeler - The Washington Post; Picture 4, Columbia developer James Rouse by Frank Johnston - The Washington Post; Picture 5, James Rouse by Frank Johnston - The Washington Post