Columbia, Maryland is a sprawling community located in Howard County that includes ten, self-contained villages. The city has been named in the top 10 of Money magazine’s “100 Best Places to Live” list numerous times over the past decade, as well as on CNN’s “Best Places to Live in America” list. The positive recognition is well-deserved, especially considering that Columbia was built specifically with the intent of being a well-rounded, idyllic place for people to live. Columbia, Maryland was the country’s first planned communities, and its creator and developer, James W. Rouse, hoped it would be a successful and prosperous community when it first opened in 1967.
Rouse was a pioneer in real estate development and in the field that would become known as urban planning. He co-founded the Citizens Housing and Planning Association just after World War II and joined President Eisenhower’s National Housing Task Force in 1953. He began developing shopping malls in the late 1950s, and then turned his focus to planned residential communities. In the summer of 1961, Rouse bought 68 acres inside the city of Baltimore, with plans to develop a residential community that would meet the same high standards that marked his shopping center developments. This new development would be called Cross Keys, and while it was still under construction, Rouse turned his attention to building a whole new city, the city between Baltimore and Washington that would become Columbia, Maryland.
Columbia, MD Takes Shape
Throughout the next few years, Rouse worked to find financing partners and gain zoning approval for his new city. Rouse’s goal was a city complete with jobs, schools, shopping, medical services, and of course, a range of attractive housing options. A panel of respected social science experts, known as the Work Group, would participate in the planning process for the city. Part of the Work Group’s Master Plan for Columbia called for everyday life to revolve around self-contained villages. The villages would comprise nearly everything a resident may need or want, all within a convenient distance, including:
Walking and biking paths
A community center
The ten villages were all completed and opened between 1967 and 1990. They include:
Columbia, MD Today
Today, Columbia boasts all of the things Rouse laid out in his original plan, and then some. For recreational needs there are 23 outdoor swimming pools, two indoor pools, ice skating rinks, roller skating rinks, an equestrian center, a sports park, three athletic clubs, water slides, and much more. For entertainment, residents visit bars like Union Jacks and Sonoma’s Bar & Grille, to see local bands, as well as the well-known outdoor concert venue Merriweather Post Pavilion. There are also several performing arts organizations presenting professional theater. Shopping attractions are plenty, including The Mall in Columbia, which is located in Town Center and contains five department stores and a multiplex movie theater among 200 stores and restaurants.
Though there are no conventional four-year universities, several college-level programs have facilities in Columbia, including the University of Maryland Johns Hopkins University and Howard County Community College. Today’s economy is dominated by office, retail and wholesale, though there is still a small industrial area. Many residents also commute to government and government contractor jobs in Baltimore and Washington, D.C.