Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Goodbye Giorgio's

The doors have closed on Giorgio's Deli for good. A few years back, management changed hands and with it, the service. Residents I've spoken to remember Giorgio putting extra slices of meat on their sandwiches, something the new owners failed to observe.

The morning commuters, lunch rushers and Lincoln Tech students will have to find a new deli for sandwiches and salads. I remember reaching into the waist high ice cream freezer for the cups of Hersey's Strawberry ice cream that I couldn't find anywhere else.

I remember my father peeking behind the counter to greet Giorgio and catch up as he prepared our subs. Giorgio's was my first introduction to pepperoncini peppers, a taste I still find unpalatable. Beyond that I don't remember much more than muted flashbacks. What do you recall from Giorgio's and what will you miss?

Reporting On Symphony Woods

I spent the weekend lashing together a video package on Symphony Woods. What follows are the views of Columbia residents. Do you agree with the views expressed by residents?

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Three Sides to Symphony Woods

This weekend, Ive been shooting a video package about Symphony Woods. I've walked around the various open spaces in Columbia, getting reaction shots from residents. I've interviewed Greg Hamm, Cy Paumier and Barbara Russell. Residents I've talked to seem to take one of three sides on the issue.

Some residents think General Growth Properties knows what's best for the woods and should revitalize the property. During my interview with Hamm, he stressed that the ZRA-113 plan was designed and influenced by GGP, and that the plan should not be seen entirely as GGP's.

Some residents think Symphony Woods should be left the way it is, the way Jim Rouse intended. Yes a third of the trees in the forest are dead. Yes few people actually use the park space. No, don't remove a single stump. Green space is a luxury in Columbia, and should be left undeveloped.

Finally, some residents believe Symphony Woods should be revitalized but not by General Growth Properties, claiming that the basis for GGP's plan is essentially to pull the company back from the brink of bankruptcy by acquiring the land and immediately selling it off to the highest bidder. These residents think the plan created by Cy Paumier should be enacted instead.

As a journalist, I believe in the subjective objectivity of each story, that its important to view the story from all sides. As a young resident with a vested interest in the future of my city, I'm not convinced GGP has the right idea or the right motives. I remember reading that two of Rouse's goals for Columbia were to respect the land and make money, obviously. I believe respecting the land is paramount. The market economy functions on the same rules as the natural ecology, adapt or die. I don't want to see any more development in Symphony Woods. I believe the woods should be revitalized, but not at the cost of residential and commercial units.

What do you think? Does it really matter that few people use the woods, that there aren't any paths running through the space? Do you care that the trees are dead and would you want them removed anyways? Are you sitting on the fence? Would you like to let it be? Or would you like to see what Symphony Woods can become?

Thursday, March 26, 2009

Manpower Beats Back Repression

Remember when there was a cell phone store nestled between Starbucks and Three Brothers Italian restaurant? Probably not because its been replaced by Manpower. I've biked past it many times on my way to Supreme Sports Club in Owen Brown. For a while, I've wondered what its about. Today, notepad in hand, I walked in and found out.

Upon entering I was greeted by staffing specialist Patricia Izydore. The inside of the store vaguely resembles the eclectic look and layout of a cell phone store. A few pseudo offices and coffee tables line the floor to ceiling windows. Ironically, the three employees manning manpower today, weren't men.

Branch manager Debra Provencher says Manpower is a job placement business based out of Milwaukee and a fortune 150 company with 4,400 offices nationwide. Izydore says Manpower has been in Columbia for 30 years and was previously located in Symphony Woods next to Toby's Dinner Theater. The company, which worked out of the 6th floor of an office building in Town Center, moved to its present location because of increased visibility and traffic.

Manpower, Izydore says, works to pair clients with associates. Most often walk-ins are placed in temporary jobs primarily in administration and warehouse work as well as professional and technical positions. The retention rate by client companies hovers around 40 percent.

Anyone interested in job placement at Manpower needs to bring two valid forms of I.D. and complete work history for the previous 10 years. For more information, call (410) 290-5176.

What does repression have to do with Manpower? I remember hearing economists debate the semantics of our financial situation . . . the worst since the great depression or a pseudonym recession setting us up for the fall to follow.

Last Friday I sat at my desk, streaming On Point. My cuticles twitched in sync with my corneas. My attention wavered on the line between listening to Tom Ashbrook & rewriting page 33 of Fear & Loathing: On The Campaign Trail '72. Solecism aside I thought repression seemed both logical and lexical.

It's fair to say Columbia feels the squeeze of Adam Smith's invisible fingers. Businesses press & fold like bills with pale faces, buried under Big cardboard Boxes. If you look hard enough you can find the silver edge in the empty windows. At a time when people seek and jobs hide, Manpower

Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Is Owen Brown Safe?

My mother and I had an argument Tuesday night. She didn't want me going biking from our house on the edge of the lake to Supreme Sports Club at 9:30 p.m. Owen Brown isn't safe she said. You don't walk around the village I retorted, you drive to Giant and back for groceries. I ended up staying home and reading, but not because of our argument. The hot tub closes at nine. Lift weights and soak, its a tie in deal.

Our argument got me thinking though, is Owen Brown safe? Safety in Columbia is a relative subject. You generally don't see many people out walking or biking on a week night, even the bike guy is home by then. Is Owen Brown any less safe at night than it is during the day? The police still make rounds when they get around to it and the police helicopter can be heard and seen whizzing above the houses around Homespun lane.

Ask any Howard Transit bus driver, the brown route is no joke. I myself was almost mugged getting off the brown bus at the Owen Brown village center. Its a shame to have to carry pepper spray everywhere I go but it beats a beating.

For every person that reads, studies or walks out of the East Columbia branch library with a book, there's another from the housing ringing the school and village center walking in to check their Myspace page or chill.

The graffiti along the back wall of the Head Start building adds a nice touch and I especially like the Keno and scratch-off receipts that litter the school property. If you're lucky, you can find empty dime bags by the neighborhood pool and cop cars parked at the library and village center. To avoid armed robbery, Giant Food and the convenience store close early and Bank of America has a hired gun.

The village center isn't terrible but I'm sick and tired of the hoods that hang out in front of Jerry's, Owen Brown liquors and Giant Food playing the street game. The game works like this, hassle passers by for food, money or cigarettes. If you manage to intimidate a resident into giving you what you should get yourself, you win!

So who's right, my mother or I? Is Owen Brown safe or isn't it?

Parking Available At Arbitron

If you're looking for a parking spot near the park and ride in Owen Brown, you might try Arbitron. The Baltimore Sun reported Wednesday that the media research firm, now headquartered in Columbia is cutting jobs by 10 percent.

In a phone interview, company spokesman Thom Mocarsky said Arbitron is cutting 110 jobs, 80 of which are in the Baltimore area.

"It's the economy," Mocarsky said. "It's the changing marketplace. It's the need to re-evaluate and refocus the company." [Baltimore Sun]

787 of Arbitron's full-time employees, along with 269 part-time employees work in Columbia, 71 percent and 51 percent of employee totals respectively. According to the Securities & Exchange Commission, the jobs cuts are expected to save Arbitron $10 million in 2010. Arbitron will incur $8 million to $9 million in pre-tax expenses before the end of the first quarter, mostly related to benefits and severance packages pertaining to layoffs.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Lake Elkhorn Issues

A post by Owen Brown News caught my eye today. The Committee for Lake Elkhorn Environmental Restoration is putting together a report on issues and eye sores concerning the lake. I live on the edge of the lake and bicycle around it frequently. After reading the post I decided to create a sound slides presentation of the problems I found.

Most of the problems are cosmetic and can be fixed easily. Paths need to connect to benches or trails, dead trees need to be removed and the dock platforms need to be replaced. Drains should be hidden by shrubbery and the dam needs to be either accessible to the people who walk on it, or completely closed off. One problem in particular stuck out at me.

The pavilion on the lake has a sign stating the restrooms are open and available to the public when the nature camp is not in session. What the sign doesn't say is that you need bolt cutters to get to them. The sign also states that a security attendant is on duty Monday through Friday 4 p.m. to 9 p.m. I took this picture at 4:35 p.m. and I didn't see a security attendant in the office or anywhere on the property.

Residents with concerns or issues regarding Lake Elkhorn should email Elaine Pardoe at em.pardoe@verizon.net

Building Relationships

Today I wrote my midterm essay for my independent study. This is class I'm writing this blog for by the way. The essay and the fact that I wrote it aren't relevant to this blog except for the fact that I mentioned Wordbones in it. The essay details how the link helps me build relationships through my blog based on the book What Would Google Do by Jeff Jarvis. Hopefully, Dr. Spaulding won't be the only person to read it.

How Can The Link Change Everything & Build Relationships? How Can The Link Change Everything & Build Relationships? thegonzojournalist5816

Friday, March 20, 2009

The Gonzo Lens

The gonzo lens is a mix of participatory and community journalism and photography. Very few of these pictures qualify as newsworthy, yet they are the catalysts of the memories of the everyday.

This post represents many people and yet I'm writing about myself. This piece isn't an op-ed or a single piece of reporting, its self expression. This is what I do, I'm a journalism student. More basic than that, I'm a writer.

I have two midterms next Tuesday, two projects in the works and two blog posts giving me a hard time. But every once in a while its nice to write for fun. Not to say that writing can't be fun but it often isn't. I do my best work when I'm having fun.

While I type, Michael Bloomberg defends Timothy Geithner on the television behind me. Typing Tim into the Google toolbar on my browser prompted Google to complete his name based on relevant back links to him. He's a popular query it seems.

Presidents have said stupid shit in the past. Nixon proclaimed its not illegal when the president does it, Clinton said he didn't do it and Curious George let nucular weapons slip out in public. I will always remember Obama's special olympics slip-up. His comment isn't funny, his lousy 129 average is.

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Patty Rouse: Memories of Columbia & Jim

Patty Rouse sits in a small windowless office, her shelves are stocked with binders and files, her desk is piled high with papers.

"I've never had a paid job, I've always been a volunteer. I'm a volunteer here, I'm not on the payroll here," she says as she surveys the room of her Enterprise office. The pale blue walls are littered with plaques and pictures.

Her office will become the archives she says, once she gets all the files organized. At 83, she comes to work and work she does. Everywhere I look are stacks of files, even the chairs are occupied by files. "I'm trying to get this office organized to the point that they can understand whats in what pile and I've got a list of what's in the different drawers."

"Jim retired from the Rouse Company but he wasn't finished working. And he wanted to do something else and he had been inspired by what a group in Washington was doing with low income housing. He really got organizing in 79 and we got started in 80."

The goal of the new company was "to see that all low income people in the United States get the opportunity, you don't give them the housing you give them the opportunity to get the housing and to see that all low income people in the United States, not worldwide but in the United States get the opportunity to get into affordable housing."

I was surprised to learn that Enterprise takes up the majority of the American City building with the exception of the ground floor.

Rouse was born and raised in Norfolk, Va. There she met Jim in 1973, a year later they were married. They used to play tennis together in those years and Rouse comments that Jim did all of the cooking, she did the dishes. She spent her free time potting but she never made dishes, she says she was never that good.

35 years later, Rouse has had a parkway named after her and her husband. She likes the convenience and closeness of Columbia. She jokes that her old while station wagon only has about 70,000 miles on it because everything is close by. People often ask her why she never moved home after Jim died. She smiles and says that Columbia is her home and that's why she's stayed.

Monday, March 16, 2009

Bridging The Gap

One of the failures of Columbia and most American towns and cities is that they are auto-dependent. In Columbia you can walk from your house to your local school or village center but outside of your village, you better have wheels.

Of course Columbia has a system of public transportation, but its not always a safe bet to ride it. I myself have been threatened with theft and a beating from a drunken black man who rides the brown route. This man has also been known to pick fights with men and harass women but as long as he's not threatening the driver there's not much to be done.

I'm not saying that all of the bus routes are bad but I did happen to meet a crazy gray haired ex marine who would pick a fight with a parrot if it spoke to him. Sadly, I carry pepper spray with me when I travel across Columbia. I've never had to use it . . . yet. So how do you get from East Columbia to West Columbia?

The pedestrian bridge is the only way for me to efficiently get from Owen Brown to Town Center. By the way, the path that leads to this bridge weaves through what I would consider a bad part of Oakland Mills. On many occasions I have seen the path guarded by would be gangsters with knives and blunts who like to stand shoulder to shoulder and block passers by.

The only alternative to this is to walk the grass covered median on Broken Land parkway. The median is wide enough for a sidewalk, yet none exists because the powers that be think it's more sensible for everyone to own a car. On Friday afternoons if you look for them, you can see orthodox Jews walk up and down this strip on their way to temple. The Columbia bike guy rides along the edge of the parkway even in places where no shoulder exists.

Something needs to be done to make Columbia more accessible. Is the expense of the taxpayer greater than the safety of residents?

Story Time With "Mr. B"

Tom Brzezinski grew up in Catonsville, where he developed a passion for movies. Mr. B decided he wanted to be an educator and in 1965, began his 42 year career at Waterloo Elementary school at a time when the education system was changing. The days of librarians with buns were numbered.

Mr. B went on to teach at Bryant Woods & Clemens Crossing elementary schools creating a plethora of personas like farmer B to breathe new life into old media and foster a love of reading in children. Mr. B has been known to keep pets in the library and even a leprechaun! He often vocalizes the characters in books like Herschel & The Hanukkah Goblins and incorporates parents and even the king of Sweden into his curriculum.

But the magic doesn't end when the bell rings. Mr. B had the best Halloween house in town and has been Columbia's Santa since 1967. He remembers the teacher's hangout JK's Pub and the friends he's made there like Howard Zane. Columbia has changed a lot since Mr. B started teaching here, for better or worse. In spite of changes in education like No Child Left Behind and retirement, Mr. B teaches on!

(Each link is an audio file of Mr. B, available for download)

Sunday, March 15, 2009

Q & A With Greg Hamm

I First met Greg Hamm at the March 5th public hearing for ZRA-113. I had seen him before at other hearings nestled in the back with his cadre but had never approached him. When I informed him of my intentions he agreed to do the interview. I'm thankful for the opportunity.

Inside General Growth Properties is a labyrinth of meeting rooms, offices and corridors. I set up the GL-2 in a large conference room lined with window panels taller than most men, overlooking the lake front. Despite what I've been heard about Hamm in previous interviews, I find him to be affable, conversational and highly intelligent.

In fact we a sort of philosophical discussion after the interview in which I found Hamm to be a classicist. In the unfortunate event that GGP does go under, I have no doubt he will find a job teaching the love of wisdom to eager college students.

(Left) Bankruptcy Concerns ::::: (Middle) Debt To Pay ::::: (Right) Barbara Russell

(Left) 10 Year Phases ::::: (Middle) Keeping The Vision ::::: (Right) Housing Units

(Left) Night Life ::::: (Middle) Business Strategy

Friday, March 13, 2009

A Conversation With Barbara Russell

"You ran into people wherever you went, except the mail box (laughs), never at the mailbox! When I would go shopping at the Giant in Wilde Lake, it would take me literally hours to get out of there, not that I was shopping so much but you know you'd have a conversation in every isle, in isle four with Helen and you know that's how it was with everybody. You'd go to the grocery store and you'd spend an eternity there because you met everybody you knew and you just had conversations."

One summer day in 1967, Barbara and Charles Russell were driving down Route 29 from Baltimore to visit friends in Rockville when they noticed the do not enter sign near the development of Columbia had been removed, so they entered. In July, they moved in, become two of the first 100 residents in Columbia.

"There was almost nothing in Columbia at the time, there wasn't even a village center. In fact, when we drove around there were these little muddy circles and we asked somebody what they were and they said oh those are going to be cul-de-sacs. And we said what the heck are cul-de-sacs?"

At the time, the Russells had followed their jobs at the Social Security Administration from California. Before moving to Columbia, they had lived in Woodlawn and even had to get married in Washington D.C., because it was illegal for an interracial couple to marry in Maryland.

"When I married Charles, my family was dead set against it and they felt and told me that they thought that I would forever be living on the fringes of society and my children."

Russell says that for most of the early residents, Columbia was their first experience in an integrated community. She recalls the day an older couple moved into the apartment above them. They mistook Charles for the maintenance man, requesting that he help them move in.

"So he did, he helped them move their stuff upstairs and when he was all finished he said let me introduce myself, I'm your neighbor Charles Russell, from the apartment down below."

42 years later, Russell thinks things have changed, that after James Rouse stopped driving the Rouse Company, the bottom line took the wheel instead of the vision. In her mind, the biggest problem of early Columbia was public transportation. When asked about current problems, she spoke about General Growth Properties.

"GGP is not giving anything to the county, it just wants the density and zoning changes worth billions and is not agreeing to pay for the costs of infrastructure to pay for affordable housing, to pay for cultural amenities, its not, it doesn't want to pay and hasn't promised to pay and hasn't agreed to pay for anything. And now it can't afford to pay for anything. And so it would be in my mind, a real rip if you will off to the taxpayers, to allow them to do that without any of the trade offs."

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Columbia's Underboss: Bill Finley

"Actually James W. Rouse and Morton Hoppenfeld got most of the public credit for the efforts. And that never bothered me. I knew and that Rouse said many times in public, "without Bill Finley, there would be no Columbia." During the high-speed pre-opening period 1965-1967, I had my fingers on over 100 projects in Columbia. I was good at that."

Finley was a World War II bomber pilot at age 20, completing 35 missions over German airspace. By June of 1951, Finley had created a degree in city planning and was the first person in the western United States to receive a BA and MCP for it at the University of California Berkeley. He was then recruited to be the first director of planning for the town of Richmond, CA.

Five years later, Finley had planned a new town in West Virginia and taught two semesters at Penn State. At 32, Finley was picked to head the National Capital Planning Commission where he would work with Morton Hoppenfeld and Robert Tennenbaum. Finley is perhaps best known for his work on Columbia as the manager of the Rouse Company planning workgroup.

Here is the best of my interview with Bill Finley:

Q: In retrospect, how does Columbia compare to any job prior or since?

A: "Working with Jim Rouse, Morton Hoppenfeld and Robert Tennenbaum and dozens of other creative people and having the support and funds to plan and build the beginnings of Columbia has been the professional highlight of my life. Rouse's idealism coupled with Morton Hoppenfeld's design creativity allowed us to put ideas into reality. I felt that the only planning worthwhile was that which ended up being built to serve people?

Q: Are there any memorable (specific) planning meetings you can recall and what made them memorable?

A: "Only the first night when every guest felt obligated to pour cold water on the idea of trying to plan for the 'perfect' city. I reacted strongly to their negativism and Jim went home depressed. Thereafter, everyone got the idea that we were serious in trying to get their positive input, with some exceptions."

Q: How did Foster City, CA influence the planning of Columbia?

A: "We learned from Foster City, CA that letting a new town become a municipality could result in the first few settlers overturning the long-range plan. It was a very important reason for keeping Columbia unincorporated and subject to county-wide rule. We guessed rightly that in a few years, our citizens would all but control the county. It was a gamble that paid off."

Q: Describe the impact of the republican controlled county government or Howard Research & Development's plan and the development process?

A: "The three man county commission were all very conservative. They had never even heard of a new town. They were not world travelers. The county attorney had to walk a fine line between his bosses and our development machine and the fact that we had paid cash for 13,000 +/- acres and weren't going away. Eventually, he was cooperative, I know that the county board members would have voted 2-1 to turn us down. It was a close call!"

Q: What were some of the most memorable concerns/pet peeves by the local neighborhood/homeowners associations?

A: "I actually didn't do much in dealing with the existing subdivision folks. We did have to answer the key questions about 'negros' and higher taxes. After that they were worried about property values and that no apartments would be built near them."

Tuesday, March 10, 2009

Gist of GGP Public Hearing

Last week, I learned about the last public hearing over ZRA-113. Last Wednesday, I rented a top of the line GL-2 video camera complete with tripod. In preparation for the shoot, I took no chances, making sure both batteries and both backup batteries were completely charged. I even bought a used, wiped mini DV tape from the EMF rental office. I was set.

Thursday evening, I arrived at the Tyson 2 room after the public hearing had started. The last public hearing I had attended took place in the cafeteria of Wilde Lake High School. "This should be a smooth one." I said to myself upon entering the building. But when I finally made my way to the room where the meeting was underway, "f--k" I muttered to myself.

The actual meeting room was a 30 x 30 hot box. Waves of heat permeate the audience while waves of flourescent light made my attempts at a white balance futile. Not that there were many places to actually film a good sequence. Everywhere I looked, legs were shaking, pages were fanning and no one in the room looked a day under 35.

So after dropping the GL-2 idea, I did what any good reporter would do. I snatched out my Digital recorder, plugged in the microphone, and squeezed the two between my knees. With a chair in the second row as my news desk, I scribbled notes on the orange note pad I had originally sat on. What follows are the clearest recordings I could capture and present to you, my readers.

Toby Orenstein's Testimony
David Barrett's Testimony
Cynthia Coyle's Testimony
Barbara Russell's Testimony

Angela Dorn: A younger perspective

Angela Dorn has lived near Jeffer's Hill Elementary for 17 years. When she was young, she says, Friday nights were spent at the ice skating rink or the roller rink. The rest of the weekend, Angela would hang out with her friends at the mall or around the neighborhood.

Dorn points out that while growing up in a diverse town like Columbia she had white friends and she had black friends, in fact she had a diverse mix of friends. She has noticed in the past that kids that came to Columbia from another town would usually only congregate with people of their race.

When asked about the most memorable places in Town, Dorn thinks for a bit . . . the lake front, Merriweather Post Pavilion, Dobbin Center, Sewells Orchard . . . and Allview. Dorn says these places hold meaning to her. Growing up in Owen Brown, I remember the good times I've had in Allview, the sick concerts at Merriweather, and of course skateboarding behind WalMart.

"I spent a lot of my time in those neighborhoods," says Dorn. I think of Dobbin Center. I could walk there from my house and my friends and I would always walk the paths to get to it."

Dorn, who lives near Jeffer's Hill has seen the has seen the new Baptist Church being erected near Locust Park. This was her response:

"I did not even really know there were a lot of religious centers being built. I knew about interfaith centers, but not those. I do not pay much attention to trivial things like that. If Columbia built itself with "Diversity" in mind, then there should be no reason for religious buildings of all types to be unacceptable."

Dorn thinks Columbia has expanded. The closer and closer Columbia gets to becoming an actual city, the more nervous she becomes. I've heard plans of high rises and things like that being built. I also heard a rumor about taking out Lakefront to do this. I think that would be a big mistake.

“I think there just needs to be more things for younger people to do! If you're not going out to eat, to the mall, or the movies, you are not left with a lot of options. An arcade or teen center with games and things would be fun and a great, cheap way for teens to spend their time.”

Monday, March 9, 2009

"Insulated but not immune"

I rode past General Growth Properties today on my way to Columbia Archives. I looked at the barren trees and vines clinging to life and thought of the company. Today the company's stock closed at a measly 38 cents. Two years ago, the stock hovered close to 60 dollars a share. Assuming the company doesn't go bankrupt, now would be a good time to purchase controlling interest in the company and a seat on the board . . . if anyone living in Columbia actually had that much to piss away.

An article in the Columbia Flier, written by Derek Simmonsen caught my attention. Norman Rule, 47 year old business analyst and Columbia resident has found himself out of a job, even in a county as prosperous as Howard. In his article, Simmonsen wrote a detailed list of sinking ships with red flags.

Filene's Basement, EXPO Design Center and U.S. Foodservice are all digging graves beside Orinocco Coffee and Champion Billiards. Techlab has faded from view, along with Rocky Run and Atlanta Bread Company. Even the Dobbin Blockbuster is feeling the squeeze, with its floor space cut in half.

[Howard County's unemployment remains the lowest in the states, but the number of jobless people is the highest it's been in sex years, with 1,800 jobs were lost in 2008. And some economists predict thousands morejobs could disappear in the next two years. "Were insulated but not immune," said Dick Story, executive director of the Howard County Economic Development Authority. "We often tend to me the last in, the first out. ... But you can be sure that we're fully participating in the recession.] - Signs of the Economy, Columbia Flier

People will always go to the movies or buy a Subway sandwich, just without the $7.50 large popcorn or the additional potato chips or cookies. In spite of dismal times, a window sign caught my eye as I pedaled towards the Supreme Sports Club. The sign read Manpower. A small glimmer of hope for employment in these troubled times.

Saturday, March 7, 2009

Schools & Churches

St. John Baptist Church has started construction on a sanctuary and fellowship hall on a 10 acre plot near Locust Park. Construction of religious buildings in Columbia has been a rare sight in our town's 42 year history. Now this site has become an eyesore entrenched between Owen Brown and Long Reach.

On September 20, 2007, Howard County school board officials finalized a deal to exchange 10 acres of land off Tamar Drive and Route 175 in Columbia for a 41 acre plot near the intersection of Marriotsville road and Route 40 in Ellicott City.

The Howard County school board has become more aggressive over the last few years in acquiring acres for future school sites. In the transaction with St. John Baptist Church, the school board acquired the 41 acre plot owned by the church for $2.7 million. Roughly $1.7 million was spent acquiring the land, the other million went directly to the church.

Church leaders have said that the new site is more convenient for their congregants than renting space at their old location, off Route 108. Convenience does not justify building this church in my opinion. I grew up attending services at interfaith centers until high school.

Religion no longer has a place in my life, but I'm still an ardent supporter of communal congregation sites in Columbia. Of course there are worship sites outside of interfaith centers in Columbia, parcels of land that never sold to the Rouse Company but this site is an outrage to everything Columbia stands for.

Are our children's educations really worth a Baptist Church in Columbia? This is how it starts. I've heard from other residents that the Methodists plan to build an extension to the Wilde Lake interfaith center. If the Baptists get theirs, every denomination will want theirs too, starting a sort of turf war. This building is unacceptable and needs to be torn down!

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Where do you blog?

I commute to school, I live in Columbia. I publish most of my posts at school but I write most of them in Owen Brown. I find my voice and polish my prose in a niche in Cook Library.

Small brick squares available; Separated by windows with a desk lamp and plug.

The room smells like page paper. Not the hot off the printer scent but the dissertation under dust scent. The carpets are clean, people are quiet and there's a Starbucks upstairs, if that's your thing.

To my right are columns and rows of Easter egg colored tomes on vomit colored bookcases.
I try to stay off Facebook. I like to play Super Nintendo Games muted while I replay .dvf interview files questing for quotes. People like to write on the desks, the light panels even the bricks.

If you're ever in Cook Library, I penned some existential enlightenment on the stall of the 4th floor bathroom. I'll save you the trip:

Reality is defined by the perception of reality.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Ryan Ballengee Now

At 25, Ryan Ballengee isn't much older than I but what he lacks in years he makes up for with his blog footprint. About a year ago, Ballengee started Columbia Now to start a conversation about the issues that face Columbia. Ballengee got his start in the blogosphere two years ago with Waggle Room, a golf based blog.

Ballengee says he thinks the purpose of his blog is to share his interest in local politics.
"I encourage people to share an opposing view," says Ballengee. "My feeling is that the conversation can be nothing but good for the community, so long as it is rooted in facts and is honest."

Columbia Now's readers come from all over Howard county, says Ballengee. He says the content speaks for itself and though the feedback is usually positive, his readers may not always agree with what he thinks.

"More or less, I talk most political or policy issues on Columbia Now because my undergrad degree is in business and my Masters is in public policy. So, in a sense, what I cover is really reflective of some of my personal interests."

So who is Ballengee following on the blogopshere?

"I try to read bloggers from all over the County. I read HoCo Freemarket, Columbia Talk, Tales of Two Cities, Jessie X, and read HoCoBlogs for blogs that I may not normally see. I really enjoy the food and restaurant blogs because they give me good tips on where to eat."

When writing his blog posts, Ballengee says he gets his information from the Howard County website, the Baltimore Sun or papers on Explore Howard. He also gets information from other blogs.

Ballengee closes out the interview with his top five tips for bloggers:

  1. Have a passion for both your subject area and writing.
  2. Be responsive to your audience.
  3. Don't let your audience dictate how you communicate with them.
  4. Be a credible source and back up opinions with facts.
  5. Blogging is fun. If you aren't having fun, stop blogging and come back to it.