My sister Pam graduated from Cleveland Heights High School in 1968. Her graduating class had over a thousand people, I believe. The event was held downtown in the Cleveland Public Auditorium which is immense. My parents had seats closer to the graduates. My grandmother sat with my sister Barb and I, much higher up. She brought opera glasses so we could occasionally glimpse a view of what was going on.
I was about nine years old and I couldn't understand what the big deal was. I had been to the Public Audtorium once as a very young child to see the circus. That was a whole lot more interesting. Now I had to get all dressed up, sit for hours far away from the action, and couldn't really see what was going on.
When it was over I asked my mother, "Why did they make such a big deal of this? They're not done with school. They still have to go to college."
And then I learned the shocking truth. Some people didn't go to college. For some people, this was truly the end of their education. It sounds silly to write it now, but it was shocking to me at the time. We had spent the last year living through college applications with my sister, so I just assumed everybody went.
"But--what do they do?" I asked my mother.
"They get jobs. You know, like working at the grocery, or the gas station, or maybe building houses or repairing things." An over-simplified answer for a nine year old: there are jobs you can get if you don't have a college education. An answer in a family where the importance of college education was paramount.
I recall this conversation today as we are at the very tail end of high school graduation season here in Howard County. It's still a really big deal. We have Merriweather instead of the stuffy old Cleveland Public Auditorium. Younger siblings still have to sit far away but maybe with updated technology they don't need opera glasses.
Wednesday night there was a protest in support of full-spectrum housing in Columbia. Excellent coverage by Amanda Yeager and Jon Sham can be found here. Why do we need full-spectrum housing? Well, simply put, because we have full-spectrum people. Not everyone goes to college. Not everyone can afford to, and college isn't the right choice for everyone.
Sitting at my sister's graduation so long ago I could not understand how that one event could be a defining moment for so many. At the tender age of nine I already was making so many assumptions based on my limited middle class white existence. I assumed college. I assumed enough food to eat and a place to live. I assumed health care. I assumed I would have a choice between getting married and staying home with with a family or having a career, although my thoughts on that were still rather fuzzy.
Life has changed a lot since then. I have had a lot of struggles and have seen many of my childhood assumptions challenged. As a teacher (married to a teacher) living in Howard County, I understand very clearly how limited housing choices can be. We are extremely fortunate to live in a house that we can afford.
But everyone in our community needs a place to live, not just my family. Everyone on the human spectrum. I learned at the 100th birthday celebration for James Rouse that he made a conscious decision:
If you work in Columbia, you should be able to live in Columbia.
It's clear from the subsequent decisions he made, and his work with the Enterprise Foundation, that he meant not only to take a stand for racial and ethnic diversity, but for economic diversity as well. A healthy community has opportunities for all kinds of people. Making room for that healthy mix makes Columbia more successful overall.
I want Columbia and Howard County to open up opportunities for housing at different price points. People should be able to live in the community where they work.
The (Full Spectrum Housing) Coalition believes that a full spectrum of housing:
- Supports economic development
- Provides for green and sustainable development
- Creates housing for everyone in the workforce including first responders and educators
- Supports diversity and equity
- Provides a place for generations to live and grow together
So do I.