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Columbia, Maryland

Columbia is a town located in Howard County, Maryland. As of the 2000 census, the town had a total population of 88,254. The town began with the idea that a city could enhance its residents' quality of life. Its creator, James Rouse, saw Columbia in terms of human values, not just in terms of economics and engineering. Opened in 1967, this new town was designed to eliminate the inconveniences of then current sub-division design, but also eliminate racial, religious, and income segregation. Today Columbia has a population of about 90,000, and is largely built-out.

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The Rouse Company[?] accumulated over 14,000 acres, 10% of Howard County, Maryland (located between Baltimore and Washington DC), from 140 separate owners. This acquisition was funded by Connecticut General Life Insurance[?], at an average price of $1,500 per acre. In October 1963, the acquisition was revealed to the residents of the County, putting to rest rumors about the mysterious purchases (which included the theory that the site was for a laboratory to study diseases and another that the site was intended to become a giant compost heap).

At this unveiling James Rouse described Columbia as a planned new city which would avoid the leap-frog and spot development threatening the county. The new city would be complete with jobs, schools, shopping, and medical services, and a range of housing choices. The property taxes from commercial development would cover the additional services with which housing would burden the county. The Columbia planning process included not only planners, but also a convening of a panel of nationally recognized experts in the social sciences, known as the Work Group. Meeting for two days, twice a month, for half a year, the Work Group suggested innovations that the planners should try in education, recreation, religion, and health care, as well as ways of improving social interactions. Open classrooms, the interfaith centers, and the then novel idea of a Health Maintenance Organization with a group practice of doctors (the Columbia Medical Plan) sprung from these meetings.

The physical plan, with neighborhood and village centers, also were decided upon at these meetings. Columbia's “New Town District” zoning ordinance gives the developer great flexibility about what to put where, without getting approval from the county for each specific project.


To achieve the goals set forth by the Work Group, Columbia's master plan called for a series of ten self-contained villages, around which day-to-day life would revolve.

Villages and Neighborhoods:

The village concept is aimed to provide Columbia a small-town feel (Like Easton, Maryland where James Rouse grew up). Each village is comprised of several neighborhoods. The village center may contain middle and high schools, all have a shopping center, recreational facilities, a community center, a system of bike/walking paths, and homes. Four of the villages have interfaith centers, common worship facilities which are owned and jointly operated by a variety of religious congregations working together.

Most of Columbia's neighborhoods contain single-family homes, townhomes, condominiums and apartments (though some are more exclusive than others). The original plan, following the neighborhood concept of Clarence Perry[?] would have had all the children of a neighborhood attend the same school, melding neighborhoods into a community and ensuring that all of Columbia's children get the same high-quality education.

  • Town Center[?] - Vantage Point, Bannaker, Amesbury, Creighton's Run, and Warfield Triangle

The last village, River Hill, is currently being developed and growing fast. With the completion of River Hill, Columbia's residential development will be finished.

Columbia Today


Columbia has 14 elementary, five middle and eight high schools, Howard Community College[?] and several graduate degree programs, and two Public Library branches.


Medical care is available in Howard County General Hospital[?], affiliated with Baltimore's famous Johns Hopkins. The Columbia Medical Plan is the city's largest health maintenance organization.


The Columbia Mall[?] is a large regional mall with five anchors and over 200 stores. There are three other major shopping centers. There are also nine village shopping centers.


Jim Rouse conceived of a city, not a suburban bedroom community, and Columbia is today an Edge City[?] in the terminology of Joel Garreau. There are 15 office, industrial and research parks in Columbia; most are at the eastern and southern edges, but a number of office and residential high-rise buildings are located in Town Center.


Merriweather Post Pavilion, a well-known outdoor concert venue, attracts top performers. Recreation has always been an important part of the Columbia concept. The homeowners association, the Columbia Association[?], popularly known as "CA," builds, operates and maintains most of these facilities. CA operates 23 outdoor swimming pools, six indoor pools, two water slides, ice and roller skating rinks, an equestrian center, a sports park with miniature golf, batting cages, picnic pavilions, clubhouse and playground, three athletic clubs, numerous indoor and outdoor tennis, basketball, volleyball, squash and racquetball courts, running tracks, and much more. There are three lakes surrounded by parkland for sailing, fishing, and boating; 80 miles of paths for jogging, strolling and biking; and 148 tot lots and play areas. Nine large village community centers, 15 neighborhood centers and four senior centers provide ample space for a large variety of community activities. There are a variety of fairs and celebrations throughout the year, free entertainment on the lakefront of Lake Kittamaqundi during the summer.


Columbia's initial plan called for a minibus system connecting the village centers on a distinct right-of-way. This was never constructed, though minibuses were operated by the Columbia Association under the name ColumBus. These were eventually taken over by Howard County. Eight Howard Transit bus routes serve Columbia and connect it with its own "suburban" areas, while several Maryland MTA (Mass Transit Administration) routes provide easy access to and from both Washington and Baltimore.

Geography According to the United States Census Bureau, the town has a total area of 71.6 km² (27.7 mi²). 71.4 km² (27.6 mi²) of it is land and 0.3 km² (0.1 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 0.36% water.

Demographics As of the census of 2000, there are 88,254 people, 34,199 households, and 23,118 families residing in the town. The population density is 1,236.4/km² (3,202.0/mi²). There are 35,281 housing units at an average density of 494.3/km² (1,280.0/mi²). The racial makeup of the town is 66.52% White, 21.47% African American, 0.26% Native American, 7.30% Asian, 0.05% Pacific Islander, 1.63% from other races, and 2.76% from two or more races. 4.12% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 34,199 households out of which 35.9% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 53.4% are married couples living together, 11.2% have a female householder with no husband present, and 32.4% are non-families. 25.6% of all households are made up of individuals and 5.1% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.54 and the average family size is 3.09.

In the town the population is spread out with 26.3% under the age of 18, 6.7% from 18 to 24, 34.1% from 25 to 44, 25.5% from 45 to 64, and 7.5% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 36 years. For every 100 females there are 93.1 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 88.7 males.

The median income for a household in the town is $71,524, and the median income for a family is $83,753. Males have a median income of $60,498 versus $41,501 for females. The per capita income for the town is $32,833. 5.4% of the population and 3.4% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total people living in poverty, 5.7% are under the age of 18 and 11.0% are 65 or older.

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