Wednesday, June 27, 2007

And Yet Another New Columbia Blog...

Well, sort of new anyway. I stumbled across Cranky In Columbia today. The blog is described as "Columbia, Maryland residents share insightful comments and gripes about life in the suburbs stuck between Baltimore, MD and Washington, DC"

It is a witty, no holds barred acerbic commentary on life in Columbia. Not exactly Chamber of Commerce stuff but fun to read anyway.


Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Summer In The City

And meanwhile in Ellicott City...

If you want to get a taste of some "vibrant" city life close by, an evening in Ellicott City in the summer ain't bad. It's kind of like "vibrant lite."

Part that vibrancy is evident in a hidden gem and one of my favorite haunts, the Deck at CaCao Lane. It's up behind the restaurant on Main Street. You have to go through the front door, past the bar, under a low stone archway, up a narrow set of stone steps to an outdoor landing and then up a rather steep set of wooden steps to the Deck. As you reach the summit of this trek, breathing heavily, you are likely to encounter a young hostess/waitress who will find you a table. She is not likely to be out of breath. You can get in pretty good shape working up there.

It's a pretty neat spot. The decks are a little above the roof level of the main restaurant building. The seating area is nestled between some rather impressive rocks and trees. I actually like the menu up there better than the restaurant menu. It includes sandwiches and a few entrees. They also have a full tiki bar.

My only complaint is that they serve wine in plastic cups.

You can see across town to Saint Paul's church on the opposite hill and occasionally you'll hear the freight trains that pass through town along the Patapsco River below. I'm pretty sure that it is only open Thursday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but ya might wanna call to check.

I'll be posting about some of my other favorite spots in the coming weeks.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Us vs Them Revisited

This post is a response to an anonymous comment I received from my first Us vs. Them post on June 15th. I meant to reply sooner but I got caught up in the festival and put this issue aside for a minute (or a day or two). This particular comment was from someone I shall henceforth refer to as being Anon 1:42.

Anon 1:42 gave what I thought was a well reasoned rebuttal to my contention that the anti tower folks embraced change while those who opposed the tower wanted to stop time.

As Anon 1:42 put it "those two dumbed-down buckets into which you're placing everyone who has participated do a disservice to the participants and the process".

I gotta tell ya, I like the "dumbed down buckets" metaphor.

Anon 1:42 went on to assert that; "To classify those who aren't willing to accept all proposals for changing the heart of Columbia as "wanting to stop time" is laughable."

Okay, I am guilty on both scores. Those were simply rhetorical grenades designed to draw attention to what is at stake here.

I do believe that we are engaged in a battle to influence that great unknowing or uninformed group of people who occupy the middle ground. I further believe that a very large percentage of Columbia residents don't really pay attention to what is going on.

I continually encounter people who haven't a clue about this issue. I talk to everybody. I've questioned complete strangers and others I am acquainted with. Some folks have lived in Columbia for a very long time and others are recent transplants. They all shared a common characteristic of having busy lives. Most of the people were unable to tell me who their County Councilperson was or who was their representative on the Columbia Council.

I readily submit that my little random sampling is exactly that, random and unscientific so that it may not be indicative of anything. On the other hand, I challenge anyone to try it out for themselves. Strike up a conversation with a stranger in a cafe or bar, ask them if they live in Columbia and then ask them if they are familiar with ZRA-79 or ZRA-83. If you work with them most will acknowledge that they heard something about a high rise condo that is going to be built in Town Center but that's about it.

So my point is that sometimes you have to throw a few of these rhetorical grenades around to get peoples attention. Since the anti tower / height restriction forces got out of the gate early and lined up all the politicians (who just so happened to be in a horse race of an election at the time), the forces of reason (ahem) needed to shout WAIT A MINUTE in order to get the debate a little more even sided. Because at the end of the day both sides need to convince and mobilize the great middle in order to advance their own interpretation of the "vision" for Columbia.

So call them "dumb buckets" if you will but I still believe that the majority of those in favor of ZRA-79 and ZRA-83 have a vision of a future Columbia that more resembles a middle class commune than that of a vibrant dynamic community.

Just my opinion of course.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Day Fourteen

I mentioned in a previous post that I would be giving an update last weekend about the Columbia Festival of the Arts as it enters its final week.

I lied.

So I'll attempt to make amends by giving that update tonight which is actually very appropriate since this is the only "dark" night of the entire eighteen day celebration.

Let's start with last evening. Barrage was the featured performance at the Rouse Theatre. This show continued a long tradition of fiddle/violin artists that have visited Columbia during the festival. Barrage is a high energy group that could exhaust you just watching them. Their music covered a variety of genres combined with their own high velocity approach to music. It was awesome.

If you haven't been there, the Rouse Theatre is deceptive from the outside. It looks like a fancy high school auditorium but it is much more than that. It is an intimate theatre (no more than 800 seats) with fine acoustics. You certainly get your moneys worth with a show there. There also isn't a bad seat in the house. Barrage rocked the house.

Still to come this week is MOMIX tomorrow night which is sold out; The Hampton ROCK String Quartet at the Belmont Conference Center on Thursday night (ticket includes dinner) with tickets still available; The Second City comedy troupe on Friday night at Rouse Theatre (tickets still available) and Squonk Opera on Saturday night to close the festival.

Squonk Opera is a doing a special musical just about Columbia. They have been in town for a few weeks interviewing Columbians and filming around town. It should be interesting. Tickets are also still available.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Returned Mail

I caught this story about cluster mailboxes on the front page of The Washington Post yesterday. It seems that the Postal Service's plan to expand the use of cluster type mailboxes in new single family home developments is meeting with some resistance from homeowners and developers.

I recall that these cluster mailboxes were one of the innovations that Rouse introduced into Columbia forty years ago which raises two questions.

What took the Postal service so long to expand this concept?

Why have people failed to embrace it?

Having grown up in Columbia I became acustomed to having my mail delivered to a neighborhood cluster box. It was no big deal and often provided many an impromtu meeting with my neighbors. In my new neighborhood in Ellicott City we have the standard mailbox in front of our house and I find that I miss my old cluster box.

Friday, June 15, 2007

Us vs Them

I attended the last public hearing of the Planning Board over the height restriction / anti WCI Tower zoning amendments proposed by Councilperson Mary Kay Sigaty. I testified in opposition.

It was a great place to observe the deep division in the community that the Town Center redevelopment has created, or at least has brought to the surface.

I am unashamedly biased of course but it sure seemed to me that those in favor of Councilperson Sigaty's legistlation are those who long for the Columbia of the past. They seemed generally uncomfortable with the idea of a new paradigm for Columbia.

Those who spoke in opposition to the proposed zoning amendments came off as the real visionaries. They voiced concern about how these actions would affect future generations and the continued success of the forty year old town.

Both sides are well meaning and passionate about their beliefs. One side wants to stop time and the other embraces change.

Returning From Spring Blog Break

Hello again.

For those of you who check in from time to time to see if there were any new posts, please accept my apologies for my recent absence. I've been busier than normal this spring living the life of a somewhat typical Howard Countian.

My first distraction was our extreme backyard makeover. When we built our new home last year we ended up with a drainage problem that left a portion of our backyard in permanent soggy status. We feared that if we left this unresolved, the Army Corps of Engineers would declare it a wetland. Our solution was to install a series of pipes and drains to move the water out to the street. We hid these waterworks underneath a flagstone patio and walkway. Midway through our water works project, we decided to go ahead and construct a screened room that would provide us some relief from the impending arrival of summer bugs.

In other words, the project quickly got out of hand.

I am happy to report that it is now complete and we are able to enjoy evening cocktails outside. It was also done in time for us to host my stepdaughters high school graduation party, which was another thing that distracted me from blogging.

Anyone who has had a kid graduate from high school lately knows of what I speak. It sure is different from when I matriculated from Wilde Lake High School back in 1973. Back then it was pretty much, "Congratulations, now go get a summer job."

Nowadays, it is an endless progression of awards dinners, parties, and even a public school baccalaureate (only one county high school still has one...can you guess?).

And as if that were not enough, we are also in the middle of the Columbia Festival of the Arts. I have the somewhat dubious honor of serving on the Board of Trustees of the festival which means I get to give lots of money and time (and manual labor lugging "doors" around) in return for the satisfaction of seeing the event succeed. Oh yeah, I also get a t-shirt.

It is a great festival though. While some may think of it only in terms of the LakeFest which was held last weekend, the festival actually runs from June 6th through June 23rd. So far this week I attended the production of True Colors, The 80's Musical and America (they were great) at the Rouse Theatre. Tonight we will be seeing Minnesota Dance Theatre with the Columbia Pro Cantare Chorus.

It's all good and the best part is that it is all right here in our backyard.

So that's where I've been. I'll update more stuff on the festival this weekend.