Friday, October 13, 2006

Letter To The Editor from Jim Binckley

As a Columbia resident of over 38 years , I have read more than my share of letters to the Columbia Flier. Over the years, most people want to inform us what bugs them about this town, who bugs them in this town , bashing CA, or what's best for their gifted and talented children.

Since the passing of Columbia founder Jim Rouse over a decade ago, a different type of letter has evolved. The themes and thin skinned rants are the same, but now people tell us that Mr. Rouse would have thought the same as them. The letters are fortified with passages like, " What would Jim Rouse think of this?"........." Jim Rouse would not be happy if he knew" ...... " Jim Rouse would roll in his grave if "......... "Jim Rouse would never have endorsed"....... After each Rouse observation , all a person has to do is insert his or her condemnation du jour, and presto, you got yourself a sacred point. That's right folks, all one needs is to stretch and pull each syllable that has ever been uttered by this mythical, Zen-like, yoda of a man , and you have achieved undisputed legitimacy. Who knows, maybe even run for local political office someday!

Master syllable stretcher, and redundantly elected Columbia Association board member Barbara Russell,she of the hot spot (excuse me village) of Oakland Mills, was recently quoted in the September 20th Baltimore Examiner in regards to the height restriction "crisis" in Town Center. Ms. Russell took the Jim Rouse high road to uncharted levels. It was her contention that Jim would be on her side , so she yanked a short passage from a Rouse speech, " It Can Happen Here", made in 1963. That's right ... 46 years ago! In that speech Rouse stated, " that serious problems in society stem from the fact that the city is out of scale with the people". This undoubtedly meant to Ms. Russell that Jim Rouse would never have liked a tall building in Town Center because he used the word "scale". Nice try, but the context of the speech wasn't even close to her smokescreen.

Soon after reading the Russell/Rouse quote, I visited the Columbia Archives and met with the curator to obtain a copy of the speech. The "scale" Rouse was referring to was the overall size of entire cities, not the scale of a building. Rouse further stated," I believe this out-of- scaleness promotes loneliness, irresponsibility, superficial values. I would visualize a series of small communities separated by topography, highways, public institutions, or greenbelts, and united by a center that provided cultural, educational, recreational facilities for many , say 10 to 20 small towns around it"

It is my contention that Jim Rouse may have been conceptually laying the foundation for the village concept of Columbia in the 1963 speech. The "small communities" being the neighborhoods, and the "small towns around it" being the villages. Those are just my thoughts, I don't speak for Jim Rouse. You remember the village concept don't you ? The success and uniqueness of the centers were the core of the Columbia concept. What happened? Kimco Realty, the village landlords, have somehow determined through intense market research, that after 40 years of evolving, Columbia residents like to do three things. Eat bagels..... get our nails done ..... and buy liquor. Good Lord! The Barbara Russell's of this town and the other members of the political junior varsity known as the Columbia Council need to protect the foundation of this town before they lend their Rousian input into it's future.

In closing, I would like to lend some historical perspective in regards to a city that did in fact struggle with height restrictions, and in this case had real ( not imagined ) founding father input . In 1894 the city of Philadelphia erected what was then one of the tallest structures in the world. The City Hall building had a crowning statue atop it of William Penn, that rose 548 feet in the air. It was decreed then and for the better part of the next century that no building in Philadelphia shall ever exceed the statue of Mr. Penn. That was until Willard Rouse II , with substantial monetary, legal, and design input from his uncle , Columbia founder Jim Rouse, decided to build two buildings that topped William Penn's hat by 200 feet.The city fought Rouse long and hard , but gave in to the tireless developer. Willard , head of Rouse & Associates stated in 1984 that," I agree whole-heartedly that this project will probably set a precedent for the future, but people who are afraid of that are afraid of the future." I have no doubt that uncle Jim agreed with Willard .In 1987 One Liberty Place opened and the entire retail square footage of two buildings was leased quite profitably by our own Rouse Company of Columbia, Maryland through a handshake agreement between Willard and Uncle Jim.


Jim Binckley said...

I made a mistake in my letter ..... the rouse speech was 43 years ago .... not 46 ...... my bad

B. Santos said...


First a quick welcome aboard from over at Columbia Compass! I cannot match your vitriol, but I share your passion regarding how Mr. Rouse's name is used.

wordbones said...

It wasn't my vitriol, it was my friend Jim Binckley. Jim told me about this letter and remarked that the Columbia Flier had not published it. I thought it deserved an airing. I also tend to agree with most of his points.