Friday, August 6, 2021

The Fault Line

When I learned that the epicenter of the recent local earthquake was at the site of St. Louis Roman Catholic Church I confess some irreverent thoughts entered my mind. It’s probably a good idea that I decided to keep them to myself because these words from a television news personality brough the truth a lot closer to home than I had expected:

And Howard county is the hot spot [of recent earthquakes] because there is likely an ancient fault line of weakness in the earth near Columbia, MD.

Ah, Columbia. The New American City. Cursed by an ancient fault line of weakness. Seems ironic, somehow.

I happened upon a bit of drama online yesterday pertaining to the current state of the Lakefront, specifically, the vacant buildings where Clyde’s and the Soundry had been. While a few hot words were spoken, by and large it was a relatively civil exchange of views. As you might imagine, the thread revealed some extreme points of view, such as:

  • Howard Hughes is the Devil incarnate.
  • Howard Hughes is the best thing that ever happened to us.
  • It’s all the Columbia Association’s fault
And then there are the explainers who are eager to tell everyone that there’s a plan for downtown and perhaps those responding just don’t know or understand.

If there’s any metaphorical ancient fault line of weakness running under Columbia it’s the tendency to argue as though one must be “all one way” or “all the other.” I’d rather not do that. In this particular case, I think it is perfectly possible to understand that there’s a long term plan in play here and still be concerned about the way it’s unfolding. It’s not either/or. 

I’ve advocated plenty over the years for the revitalization of Downtown. Despite that (or maybe because of it) I do feel some concern at seeing that particular Lakefront area being allowed to languish for so long. I don’t think it’s part of some evil plot. I do think that choosing to develop the Merriweather District first with all its bells and whistles was a strategic decision on the part of HHC.

I am not privy to their strategy sessions. It would be folly for me to assume I know their intent.

I do know that they are a commercial entity and they are not required to respond to community concerns. I think it’s good business to engage with one’s potential customer base, but they are not obligated by law. You know who is obligated by law? Howard County Government. I found it interesting that so much of the argument I read online pitted HHC against CA. I’m not sure I saw anyone reference County government. 

The County Executive and the County Council are elected by us and are, as they say, public servants. That does not mean they can wave a magic wand and change things “poof!” because we ask them to. But they provide us with about as much recourse as we’ve got. If you’re unhappy about things at the Lakefront, include them in your letters of concern. Conversely, if you’re happy about how things are going, tell your elected representatives that. 

Either way, feel free to document it in writing and advocate for what you believe in. Howard Hughes is a corporation. CA is essentially an HOA. Both do valuable things. But the folks in Howard County Government are responsible for the entire kit and kaboodle. Not sure how happy they’ll be to read this, but, you should definitely keep them in the loop.

I’m not sure what the end result of having an actual fault line of weakness running underneath Columbia will be. I do think our predilection for being “all one way or the other” is a weakness which results in its own sort of destruction. No one is all good or all evil. Not HHC, nor CA, nor HoCoGov. Nor you, nor me.

I’m not saying we shouldn’t argue. We have legitimate disagreements. I think that is healthy. Can we do it in a way that allows for more nuanced views? I don’t know. 

Time will tell what kind of a “hot spot” Columbia really is.

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