Saturday, April 25, 2015

Mr. Matthews and Ms. Montague

Okay, Columbia, we need to talk. Today is Election Day in Columbia's Villages and if past elections are any indication, you're not going to vote. In her Baltimore Sun article about the elections, Amanda Yeager noted:

In a March letter to the community, Columbia Association President Milton Matthews emphasized the importance of Columbia's elections.

"Even before Columbia was officially founded, James Rouse did a lot of community outreach," Matthews wrote. "To this day, resident participation remains a cornerstone of Columbia."

On the other hand, blogger Candace Montague (From the Scratchpad of an Urban Bushwoman) has lived in Columbia ten years and has never voted. Why? In yesterday's post she lays out her reasons.

1. I like things the way they are.

2. The Board isn't me.

3. Village rules and regulations don't interfere with my pursuit of happiness.

Columbia in theory is the People Tree. Columbia in practice is people going about their own lives, glancing at the pretty People Tree sculpture, and walking on by.

Mr. Matthews and Ms. Montague need to get together. They need to have a conversation about what makes Columbia important and yet why today so many residents find that to be completely irrelevant. I'm not talking about a cute photo opp, nor am I proposing a serious ongoing task force. I'm saying go to Clyde's, have a beer or something. Lay it all on the table. We're only going to make headway on this if we get differing points of view together.

In the meantime, Columbia, I am not letting you off the hook. Get out there and vote. Today. Push those local statistics up a little bit with your own participation.


Friday, April 24, 2015

These Are the Jokes, Folks

This article from NPR's Goats and Soda page was a delightful antidote to a lot of what has been ailing me this week. The title?

Mr. Toilet And Mr. Condom Think Jokes Will Save The World

Take the time to read it. It's fascinating. The author investigates a session at the 12th Skoll World Forum for Social Change, entitled, "What's So Funny? The Role of Comedy in Social Change." Reading the article made me think of something that is too often in short supply in Howard County: a sense of humor.

We are all guilty of taking ourselves and our issues too seriously upon occasion--some of us more often than others. One has only to think of the brouhaha which ensued when the Board of Education went after Cindy Vaillancourt for using the word "condom" at a dinner session where high school students were present. In fact, the more serious they became in their protestations of impropriety, the more hilarious they themselves became.

I really think the entire school system would run more successfully of those in power were able to laugh at themselves more. Playfulness and a sense of humor are signs of flexibility. Flexibility leads to collaboration. Collaboration leads to inclusion. Inclusion leads to transformation.

You see where I am going here.

When you make people laugh, they listen to you.

This message from Mr. Condom to Mr. Toilet is a good message for all of us, and not just the school system, although I'm clearly singling them out as an example here. The more I hear people around town rant in deadly seriousness about how Columbia is going to hell in a handbasket, the more I want to pull away and tune out. Hammering away at people with your truth is not a good way to get people on board.

Humor can be transformative. It can encourage people to relax, open up, think new thoughts. And there's the challenge. Sometimes those in power don't want people to think new thoughts. Those new thoughts might not be their thoughts.

I'm going to try to loosen up a bit today, take myself a bit less seriously, and look for the humor as I go through my day. Try it. Let me know what you learn.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Reaching Out to Long Reach

Village Elections are this Saturday. Had I mentioned that?

This morning Tom Coale put in a good word for Dan Woodruff in the Dorsey Search race for CA Board Representative, saying:

Dan is a personal friend of mine, but I've admired his commitment to Dorsey's Search long before I had a chance to work with him. He is a fiscally minded community volunteer who knows how CA works.

He linked to the Baltimore Sun/Columbia Flier editorial on the election, which endorses Woodruff. Reading further, I was amazed to see their endorsement in the Long Reach race. They are endorsing Janet Evans rather than Ed Coleman. What a mistake. Well, this won't be the first time I have been at odds with the Baltimore Sun/Howard County Times editorial board.

A quick run-down of the two candidates in the Long Reach CA Board elections.

Ed Coleman:

  • Has extensive experience.
  • Has previously served one term as CA Rep.
  • Has volunteered for a decade.
  • Pro inner arbor.
  • Pro village center redevelopment.
  • Pro fiscal responsibility.
  • Pro open space
  • Helped save Dannon Garth Pond.

Janet Evans:

  • Thinks that there should be mass voting on what CA pays for.
  • Has never voted in a village election before.
  • No record of volunteer/community service in Long Reach.

Long Reach is facing a variety of challenges and their Village Board has been hard at work dealing with Village Center revitalization. It's perfectly clear to me that the sane choice to represent Long Reach on the CA Board is Ed Coleman. He has experience, he knows the job, he has donated time and effort already to improve his village. He's positive, and self-motivated.

Do you live in Long Reach? Know someone who does? They need this information. Sadly, they won't be able to find it in the local newspaper. So spread the word.



Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day on Timesweep

In honor of Earth Day I decided to revisit the site of several of my Earth Day clean-ups: the stub end of Timesweep Lane. Frequent readers of this blog will remember the time I decided to create my own personal "improvement association" in its honor.

In the time since, Howard County responded to neighborhood pressure and dropped the idea of creating an entrance to Blandair Park on Timesweep. The opposition, organized largely by residents of the neighborhood next to mine, Emerson Hill, claimed a park entrance would bring noise, traffic, trash, and crime to a quiet residential area.

Well, I went back yesterday. I admit I was so disgusted by the nastiness and scare tactics of the anti-entrance faction that I haven't even wanted to walk over there to see what it looked like. But now I know. This is the quiet neighborhood street they fought to maintain.

A hanging chain and a warning sign. Trash overflowing and on the ground. Piles of trash left out days before trash day. An enormous truck parked on the street. Beautiful, isn't it? The quiet beauty of a suburban neighborhood street, preserved in all its glory.

Had this been approved for an entrance to Blandair, we would see landscaping, trash receptacles, and words of welcome. Trash would be emptied frequently. The street and entrance would be under the watchful eyes of park police. To be clear, an entrance to the park would have been an improvement for this street.

Yes, there would be more traffic. We would have needed some additional signage or signal at Timesweep for turns. But we also would have more eyes on that street, and more people in high places caring about that street. As it stands, the Emerson Hill folks still have their suburban oasis while my neighborhood, Cinnamon Tree, looks like a trashy relative with its underwear hanging out. I resent that.

In addition, the people who can afford to pay for league play for their children's sports experiences would also be conveniently near to our Village Center merchants. Who would have benefited if we had made it easier for them to patronize our businesses? Everybody! Who knows--some of those visitors might have decided our village was a place they wanted to live in and bought a house here. Imagine that.

I'm pretty ticked off by what happened on Timesweep Lane. Cinnamon Tree at Talbott Springs, and Emerson Hill, and Rec and Parks could have worked together to make that street more attractive, and even safer. But that would have involved listening, and give-and-take, and compromise.

Today is Earth Day. And I've got nothing. Nothing but a trash bag, some gloves, and twenty minutes to give it my best shot. I wish I could do more.






Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Worth Celebrating

It's been about a year, I think, since the Facebook page was founded. "Celebrating Columbia, MD, and its Future" has done just that. It has seen a few heated discussions, but overall has been true to its goal:

It is not meant to replace the popular "You Know you Grew up in Columbia" FB page, but to instead provide a better forum for more in depth, civil discussions about the future of Columbia, with an eye on the past and inclusive of all views. The posts here will be monitored by admins only to keep the peace, with minimal intervention or attendee changes. Let's help impact Columbia's future!

Over the last year, two main themes have emerged. 1) Beauty in nature. I continue to be amazed at the variety of nature and wildlife photos taken here in Columbia. They have given me an appreciation of our dedicated Open Space in a way that no written description ever could. 2) Progress. But not the progress you might think.

Once of the posters highlights historic photos of Columbia as it was being built. Since I was not here from the beginning, this has been fascinating for me. It's also interesting to learn from all the comments providing feedback. It's an ongoing oral history, in a way.

"Progress: 1972" is, of course, not the same as "Progress: 2015". Everyone can get behind the progress in the old photos. It's the progress that they came here to be a part of. The progress that created their homes. The progress that is their shared history. "Progress: 1972" is a shared comfort zone for many.

I often wonder if the poster's intent is also to quietly suggest that if it was progress to create the new and exciting in 1972, that it can be progress to create the new and exciting in 2015. I don't know. It may be merely to highlight their shared experience and reminisce. Who knows?

But, as the goal of the page is to "celebrate Columbia and its future", I am hoping his pictures have a deeper meaning for us. James Rouse once said that he hoped Columbia would never be finished.

When Wilde Lake was dedicated in 1967 James Rouse remarked that he hoped Columbia would never be finished, that the community would continue to develop and that the residents who would come to call Columbia home would be actively engaged in the process. That has proven to be true and the history of Columbia is an ongoing story.

Columbia Village elections are this Saturday, April 25th. Does your village have a contested election? Do they need you to vote to establish a quorum in order to validate election results? Don't let this election pass you by. Even if you have never voted before, use this as your chance to be "actively involved in the process." Learn what that means. Call your Village Assoctaion to find out what you need to do.

If you vote, if you encourage your friends and neighbors to vote, if you learn more about how it all works than you have known before--then that will be progress.

And that's worth celebrating.


Monday, April 20, 2015


There was a time when I cared more about social norms. And then my daughter hit middle school. It's hard enough to have a child in middle school going through the transformation from child to teen, without also having to deal with a school culture of requirements at every turn.

  • the culture of high stakes testing
  • the culture of the Superintendent's Vision 2018
  • the culture of appropriate behavior
  • the culture of appropriate dress

My daughter has had a few exceptional teachers who light up her day with the joy of learning. Most have been in the good to very good category. Luckily only a very few have been just plain dreadful. But the overall environment of the school has become increasingly limiting. At a time when I long to see her valued, supported, challenged, and championed, instead I see her, along with her peers, face censure, annoyance, apathy, inflexibility.

I have come to the point where I almost don't care about the rules anymore. And I am, and always have been, an almost religious rule-follower. The term "goody-two shoes" has been used on me, more than once. But I realized over the weekend, in a conversation about the school dress code, that words like modest and indecent mean almost nothing to me anymore. In fact, they kind of make me sick.

Everything about what makes public education worthwhile has been turned on its head. Tests are more important than teaching. Vision Goals are more important than learning. "Appropriate behavior" (conformity) is more important than learning independence, self-confidence and self-reliance. Appropriate dress is more important than the person inside the clothes.

My daughter is now a teenager, and I have become a rebel. Please tell me high school is better than this.






Sunday, April 19, 2015

A Bad Word

Developers. There, I said it.

Recruited by developers, in the pocket of developers, paid off by developers. Nasty accusations. And I have been on the receiving end of some of them. And so have some of my friends. Why, just in Oakland Mills alone--

Some years ago I served on the HOA Board for my community. Directly before the spring CA elections, a guest speaker came to talk to us about the issues in the upcoming election. The predictions were dire. Our visitor believed in the true vision of Columbia, but at the same time, heartless developers were going around, handpicking candidates who would do their bidding to run against the true Columbians. It was pretty convincing. This person was, by all appearances, calm, rational, and pleasant.

I found out later that what was said was completely untrue.
(Crazymakers in the Community, 8/30/12)

The word "developer", when uttered by a particular faction in Columbia, is the weapon par excellence.

When members of the community worked to replace an abandoned, boarded-up business and an overgrown lot with a Walgreens--we were obviously paid off by developers. Whisper campaigns suggested that I myself was married to a wealthy developer. (My husband, an award-winning Howard County teacher, was amused.)

We have a serious problem with the word developer--not just in Oakland Mills--but in Columbia, and in Howard County at large. You have only to peek at local listserves to verify this. In my opinion we would all be better served by acknowledging that this practice is really rooted in a desire to differentiate between

  • Projects I like, and projects I don't like.
  • People I like, and people I don't like.
  • Ideas I like, and ideas I don't like.
Case in point: I read in amazement on Bill Woodcock's blog post about his candidacy for Oakland Mills Village Board, that he is being criticized by many of the same folks for, get this:

Bill Woodcock is against development in Oakland Mills.

Insert picture of head exploding here.

Let me get this straight. Wanting a functional business that serves the neighborhood and cleans up a vacant lot is bad, but redrawing the boundaries of the village center so you can displace residents, get rid of affordable housing in the hopes of building luxury condos and/or a multi-million dollar sports complex is good?

If there's any take-away lesson from all this, I would suggest that we all stop with the foaming-at-the-mouth reaction to the words "developers" and "development" and look very carefully at the people who are saying the words.

Oh, and one more thing your mom and dad should really have told you about developers: Rouse was one.