Saturday, February 28, 2009

February Crime Report

After running an idea past John Boyle, I've decided to post an updated map of Columbia every week, pinpointing all of the crimes that take place. Blue pinpoints are vehicle thefts, green pinpoints are commerical crimes and red pinpoints are residential crimes.

View Larger Map

Friday, February 27, 2009

Source Remorse

"When you stand in the light of truth, the only place a lie can hide is under your feet."
-The Gonzo Journalist

Any journalism student will tell you that media law is a breeze. Memorize the terms, take the tests and forget most of what you learned after the semester ends, easy A. The last 24 electric hours have sent me to far corners of the internet. I've consulted experts, media law professors, even my old news editing text book.

Thursday night, Robert Tennenbaum took the offensive with a surprise attack on my senses. "Take down the post right fucking now," he shrieked. How do you explain to a screaming senior citizen that you're standing at a light rail stop in North Linthicum unable to check your blog, your email or even the MTA light rail schedule?

Shortly after the blitzkrieg, I got on the horn for technical assistance. Caller #5 had access to the internet and followed my step by step instructions, disarming the post and what I thought would be legal fallout. Then I recorded a statement as a podcast as a sort of personal PR move.


Almost a week later, I've received a lot of buzz about the "dust up" over the Tennenbaum post. Some people have commented anonymously that I have a one sided political agenda, or that I am portraying Tennenbaum as the "bad guy." Let me dispel the myths and half-truths.

This blog has no political agenda. When I interview residents about their Columbia experience, I publish quotes about what has worked and what hasn't. Robert Tennenbaum is not the bad guy. In fact I would encourage anyone who sees him to stop him and buy him a cup of green tea. I thoroughly enjoyed our interview, Tennenbaum has some amazing stories to tell.
We may not have always agreed on things, but as the young people say, its whatever.

No Hard Feelings,

Jack Cole

Final Hearing for Downtown Plan

General Growth Properties released its fourth quarter earnings report Monday with a warning that it might seek bankruptcy protection. For those of you who don't know, GGP is the second largest owner of malls in the country and owns the mall in Columbia as well as the Harborplace in Baltimore.

[The company, which owns the mall in Columbia is in default on nearly $1.2 billion worth of debt and has slightly more than $2 billion worth of consolidated mortgage debt and unsecured bonds that mature later this year, according to its earnings report. -The Columbia Flier, Feb. 26, 2009]

GGP has dropped its dividend, reduced its staff by 20 percent and put most of its development projects on hold. The company is still trying to sell the Harborplace and other properties.

Meanwhile, behind the white walls of the GGP castle at lakefront, the company and many Columbia residents are working out the details of the new 30 Master Plan for downtown.

I urge all residents with a stake in the future of their city to attend the final public hearing on the plan, March 5 at 6 p.m. The meeting will be held in the Tyson 2 room of the county offices at 8930 Stanford Blvd in Dobbin. This is your last chance to make your voice heard and your opinions known, don't waste it!

Click here
for details.

Columbia's Architect: Robert Tennenbaum

Robert Tennenbaum, 72, not only lives in Wilde Lake, he helped design it as the Chief Planner & Architect for Columbia. A job posted on a bulletin board brought him to Washington and the Year 2000 Plan ultimately brought him, Morton Hoppenfeld and William E. Finley to Jim Rouse. Tennenbaum recalls the day when he Morton Hoppenfeld took him on the drive that would change the course of his career.

So we're driving up 29, it was a two lane road. We get up to about 29 and Route 32, the old Route 32, and he said okay. He says okay look both sides until I say stop. So I looked at both sides, I see trees and fields, some stuff growing like corn and grass areas with cows and all very rural, very nice. Hilly land and oh there's a small subdivision, oh there's another subdivision. Then he said okay you can stop, when we got to 108, right up the road. He said, Finley and I are working with the Rouse Company, we're going to plan a new city here, would you join us? I said okay.”

Tennenbaum says one of the big problems in Columbia has to do with the affordable housing. He believes its a good idea, but the management and maintenance of some of the properties has become lax over the years.

"It's the people that come from the outside, from the inner city of Baltimore that come down and causes problems. Long Reach is a prime example of this. Too many section eights in one area, now that's a major problem that Howard County has not addressed.”

The issue of design review came up a lot in our interview. Tennenbaum comments that its a crucial step in the development process, one that has been overlooked in the past and has been the central focus of public planning meetings between the Howard County council, Columbia residents and General Growth Properties over the new 30 year master plan.

“Owen Brown was ruined when the village center was changed. It was a very nice village center. Giant owns it, and then when Giant wanted to increase the size of the supermarket, it totally screwed it up.

Tennenbaum says the Rouse Company, at least of the last 15 years should have changed their name to the bottom line company. When asked about General Growth Properties and phases, he explains that phases actually hinder development because the developers can't for see the future and need the flexibility to change their plans with the times. He believes the new GGP plan needs to be approved without phases.

Tennenbaum says that before Rouse Company sold to GGP, it was run by a bunch of MBA bottom liners.

“They [Rouse Company] totally ignored the community. And even the press didn't have the guts to go and say what are those bulldozers doing here? You never knew what was going to happen until the bulldozers came on the site and started scraping the land."

Tennenbaum is disappointed by some of Rouse Company's development decisions, including the gated apartments build around the mall. He says the four foot fence around the apartments is a joke, a marketing ploy and that it wasn't built with Columbia's principles in mind.

Though Tennenbaum left Rouse Company in the early seventies, he continues to fight to maintain Symphony Woods, village centers and the vision that Jim Rouse had for the city.

"The land sales guy, the guy who's trying to sell the land and create income for the Rouse Company would go to the top people and say the architects are causing problems. The top guys would say f--- em, you know, sell the land we need the money. That's what's been happening over the years.”

Podcast: Tennenbaum Interview

Thursday February 26, 2009 at 7:42 PM. I returned a phone call from Robert Tennenbaum in which he threatened to sue me if I did not remove the interview I posted, then revised. I believe the truth should be presented objectively. That is why I've posted the interview files as podcasts. These are parts 1-3 of my interview with Robert Tennenbaum, Wednesday February 18, 2009 at the Lakeside Cafe.


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Bill Santos on Blogging

Bill Santos, 42, is the engineering manager of the national archives and a Columbia native. He moved away from the people tree for college and replanted in Wilde Lake in 2000, with his wife.
Santos keeps his ear to the ground and his finger on the pulse of Columbia issues.

In the fall of 2006, Santos started Columbia Compass.

"As stated in the [Columbia] Compass tag line, the blog is intended to navigate the social, political and cultural world of Columbia, Maryland. Admittedly, the blog has been more about politics than the social and cultural aspects of Columbia. That has been more of an evolution than a conscious decision."

Santos says he hopes his blog will reach out to both natives and ex-patriots of Columbia.

"For those that live locally, I hope to provide perspective on the goings-on in the community. For those living farther away, I hope to provide a connection back to Columbia."

Santos doesn't tailor his content. Sometimes he hears a quote from a local official or reads one in the paper and gets a 'spider sense' feeling to write about it in his blog. Other times he reads something that evokes nostalgia, passion or joy and writes about that instead.

"With respect to information, I do a lot of research. I would say about half is web-based. The other half is reading books (I have a crazy collection), attending meetings and talking with people."

Santos follows Tales of Two Cities, a hyper-local blog similar to Columbia Compass. The difference he says, is that the author Wordbones writes from a business perspective. He also follows Dinosaur Mom, 53 Beers on Tap, Columbia 2.0 and Hometown Columbia.

"All of them are very good bloggers," he says. "The Howard County Maryland Blog and Hedgehog Report are also well done."

Santos offers some advice to new bloggers and his top 5 tips.

"My advice to beginning bloggers is to find something you are passionate about and keep it narrow. If you like what you're writing about you are more likely to stick with it."

  1. You will never have enough time to write everything you want to write.
  2. Be honest.
  3. People who post anonymously are wonderful people, except when they are posting anonymously.
  4. Give credit often.
  5. Attend the Blogtail happy hours.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Michael Oberman

"It was getting late so Janis says why not go back to my hotel room and we'll do the interview there. So I went back and shared a bottle of whiskey with Janis and I actually had the opportunity to sleep with Janis. And my journalistic ethics combined with the fact that I didn't find her very attractive, kept me from making the point.”

Michael Oberman, 61, followed his girlfriend Marijane to Columbia eight years ago. He prefers Washington D.C. because of the subways, nightlife and the Ethiopian food, all of which are non-existent in Columbia.

Oberman runs Michael Oberman Consulting LLC and teaches nature photography at Slayton House. At 15, he started as a copy-boy for The Washington Star. By 19, he was a music critic and wrote the column "Music Makers"; interviewing artists like Janis Joplin, Jim Morrison and David Bowie.

“I also did concert reviews. My column had something at the end of it every week called Notes & Half Notes, which was my album pick of the week which led me to be on the mailing list of every record company and every record album mailed to me for free, so that was a big perk.”

When his brother left journalism for Mercury Records, he left for Warner Bros. Records and went on to manage artists such as Claude Jones. Oberman got his start in nature photography by shooting album covers.

“If somebody puts in the tag of great blue heron, the first photos that are going to pop up are going to be mine. I've got more great blue heron photos than maybe anyone in the world. In 2007, one of my photos was named one of the top 16 nature photos of the year by The Nature Conservancy and was in Parade magazine.”

Oberman says if you want to be a nature photographer, be patient.

"When people wander, nothings happening, that's when the eagle flies over that they miss.”

Oberman frowns on the invasion of Columbia by big box retailers and the shape of the public transit system. He says the lake front is underdeveloped and can be improved dramatically.

Like many residents, Oberman is polarized over the new 30 year master plan and doesn't think Columbia has kept up with the times by maximizing the drawing power of Town Center.

"We need more affordable housing for young married couples, young singles etc. But then you also needs jobs for them here where they're not commuting and there isn't a great deal of work to be had in Columbia.”

Emily Lincoln's Vision

Emily Lincoln says that in the early days, some realtors sold homes selectively based on race and put sold signs on homes until they could sell to a diverse buyer in a sort of forced integration.

“I'm sure that the house we bought was one of those houses because it was already up and it was appeared sold but the sales person said oh it just fell through and I think I could get you this house.”

Lincoln has been an associate broker with Remax for 40 years. She first heard about Columbia in October of 1969, while working for a Missouri senator. Her husband spent his lunch hours searching for a house.

Like many early residents, the Lincolns moved to Columbia for the affordable housing. In November, they bought one for $18 thousand and moved in the day after Thanksgiving.

“People come here now largely for the schools, although I think a lot of minority people come here for the acceptance for the welcome that they have and the feel. I always notice mixed couples white man and black woman or the reverse would be very comfortable here.”

Bring Back The Vision

Lincoln is a staunch supporter of General Growth Properties and their plan to revitalize downtown Columbia. That's why she started Bring Back The Vision, a volunteer organization that educates the public about the new 30 year master plan.

“I think what we need is exactly what GGP is offering, which is a downtown that's walkable, where you can go from Symphony Woods to the mall to the lake front if you're willing to do that much walking. Where you can go and shop and sit outside and have coffee and wine with friends and that's what we miss and that's what we don't have and that's what we're not going to have unless people get behind GGP and it's effort. Stop seeing it as the greedy developer.”

Lincoln has a message for prospective residents. Participate and look ahead to all that Columbia can be. There can be so many wonderful cultural opportunities she says.

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Who is the Columbia bike guy?

You've seen him pedaling across Columbia. Who is the Columbia bike guy?

Athar Habib rides his bicycle across Cradlerock way, Broken Land parkway, even route 29. Athar is visible between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., seen pedaling towards your car, or waving to you. I've seen Athar at The East Columbia Branch Library, Target off route 175, Giant Food in Owen Brown and across from Howard Community College, on Turnabout lane.

Look at the top left glass panel, zoom in and you can see me taking Athar's picture on a rather cold Thursday morning. A ghosting of my bike can be seen near the center of image.

Thanks For Mentioning . . .
I took this photo of Athar March 20, 2008; published the article May 14, 2008 and revised it so you can read it February 17, 2009.
Thanks for Mentioning
I was taking MCOM-409 Literary Journalism at Towson University. I interviewed Athar and people who know him, transcribing exactly what people said and how they said it.

A Google search of Athar Habib sends you to my site. I've revised and improved the article's clarity and content. -phrases inside hypens- represent my voice. ~Italicized phrases are thoughts~ and Facebook posts are written as seen.

Monday, February 16, 2009

John Boyle & communal mailboxes

As an Owen Brown resident, I'm interested in what goes on. I don't have the time or desire to walk Elkhorn when it's dry and 45 F outside. It'd be cool if Patuxent Publishing Company delivered an Owen Brown weekly straight to my communal mailbox?

John Boyle has a communal mailbox too but with the Internet he delivers to a niche audience with Owen Brown News, a hyper-local blog. Boyle has a voice in his writing and tells you what's going on, straight up.

“My blog is about the Village of Owen Brown. The activities within the village, local issues that may affect village residents, calls to action or volunteer opportunities that neighbors can help with, etc. I blog because there's a fair amount of information out there that folks are interested in, but (because we're all busy) aren't likely to find on their own. I just pull the information together so that IF folks are interested, they can see what's going on.”

Boyle acts like a virtual village peg-board. He says it's not original reporting but he interprets the need to know from the noise, clean and free.

“Right now, I'm primarily pulling information from other sources (blogs, newspaper and government websites) and getting info that's passed along information from the Owen Brown Village Board. I also have some neighbors who are catching on to the fact that this is a good way to get the word out about activities that they're involved with that affect Owen Brown residents.”

Boyle and I both use Hoco blogs like a virtual communal mailbox. Ask Novello or Newburn about the Analytics but like the concrete and metal boxes, the neighbors don't get their mail at the same time.

Boyle links to other community activists and blogs with pertinent interests and keeps tabs on his friends. Not literally.

“I'd say that Wordbones (A Tale of Two Cities) is the blogger that I follow the closest. I always find his posts worth reading.”

Boyle's advice; find a point of view, let the focus of your content evolve and pace yourself.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Kathy Brodkin

Memories of the First Resident

“We had the first FHA mortgage in Columbia and they built a little square concrete step outside our back door as a gift for being the first mortgage and the first FHA mortgage in Columbia.”

Kathy Brodkin, 90, was the first homeowner in Columbia. Her husband Peter, who worked for The Baltimore Sun at the time had heard about the new town. The first time Brodkin came to Columbia, bulldozers were dredging Wilde Lake, eight months later in 1968, she moved with her husband Peter into 10713 Faulkner Ridge Circle from Baltimore City.

Brodkin grew up in rural Connecticut with an RFD postal number and a four digit phone number. If she missed the bus to school, she faced a three mile trek.

Brodkin had no concept of racial segregation until she went to an all white high school in Water Town, CT. She recalls the family housekeeper, a black woman, whom she respected like her mother and firing her babysitter in Baltimore because of a racist remark.

“We had found this really great babysitter for our kids and she was with us for a while. Then one day my daughter said something about a nigger and I was like where did you hear that?"

Before the Brodkins moved to Columbia, they never had diverse neighbors like Herbert and Marion Simmons who live near her to this day. She recalls frequent visits with her neighbors, like Ruteena Blake, the local president of the NAACP

“In 1968 to have a neighbor living across the street that was a black family, that was awesome, we were so excited when we found out were were going to get black neighbors!”

She also remembers the first Christmas in Columbia. Mr. B was Santa she says and all of the shops served alcohol to the adults while the kids received candy canes from Santa.

Of course the neighborhood had it's share of excitement from time to time, like the exhibitionist who went door to door exposing himself, or the Peyton Place neighbors.

“The people next door to me, the wife was out sneaking down the street in the back yards behind our fences and meeting the husband of somebody down the street. They were having an affair. And it was so shocking that they actually had to move, they were so embarrassed to be in the neighborhood.”

Brodkin says one year, after the fireworks at the lake front, she and her children picked up pieces of paper and bottles to clean up the area. That was the year Columbia lost its innocence when one of her children showed her a condom among the trash.

Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Sam Berkowitz

On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated. In the following days, riots ensued all over the country. Sam Berkowitz, a clinical psychologist, recalls the ripple effects in Crofton, Maryland.

"You could only get into Crofton through I think there were two gates on Route 3, two entrances. And there was a committee that went down, from what I heard, didn't see it, but this vigilante group went down with shotguns to protect the town itself.”

In 1972, Governor George Wallace spoke at Merriweather Post Pavilion and won 70 to 80 percent of the vote in Crofton. Berkowitz saw this as the handwriting on the wall.

In 1973, Berkowitz moved to Wilde Lake with his family where he met Ron Klein, a psychologist who was on the planning committee. Klein started the Family Life Center in Wilde Lake, a non-profit providing mental health services to residents where Berkowitz worked as an adjunct. Berkowitz says he served on low level committees with Barbara Russell.

As far as I know, I knew of only one black family in Crofton, in fact they had a screening committee that my understanding was to not include minority groups coming into Crofton, so this was very very different.”

Berkowitz says he moved in next to a black family and learned that the first child born in Columbia had interracial parents. Our neighbors were friendly, he says, adding that they would often visit with their children.

Columbia, he says, has lost its small town feel and that along with the over-commercialization disappoints him. He says Columbia could do without the cookie-cutter housing lots as well.

What they did get right was the quality of the schools and the racial mix I think has been very successful. I think the quality of the schools have lived up to the high expectations."

36 years later, Berkowitz has no regrets about moving to Columbia. He says the city is just want he and his wife wanted for their children.

Saturday, February 7, 2009


To many residents, Columbia is a town without a past. Before the Rouse Company developed the area, it was a patchwork of farms with pockets of real estate. Then in 1967, James Rouse unveiled his vision of what a town should be.

"Visions describe what best should be, could be - if and when mankind has the will to make them real." -James Rouse

This January, I had a vision of what could become an important conversation about Columbia through the voices of its residents. I decided to write this blog to capture those voices, and to create a conversation about the people who live in Columbia, all 97,000 of them.

I attended planning meetings for the new downtown, read through articles in Columbia Archives and spoke with residents. On February 1st, I began tracking down original residents with a copy of the 1969 phone book I obtained from the archives. Every resident with an e-mail address received a copy of this letter:
Hello Resident,

My name is Jack Cole. We spoke earlier on the phone. First off, thank you for taking my call. As you can imagine, I really only have about thirty seconds to get my point across before people usually end hang up.

I'm a graduating senior of journalism at Towson University and a resident of Owen Brown. This semester, I'm taking an independent study in the form of journalism through blogging. I'm in the process of creating a comprehensive review of Columbia, in all of its facets. Currently, I'm trying to get to know Columbia's first residents: who they are, where they came from, what they were expecting and whether or not their expectations were met.

I would like to set up a date and time when you would be available for an interview. The only days I am not available are Tuesdays and Thursdays, and I can be reached through e-mail at this address:

Thank you for your time and interest,