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Already, a few glassy towers have shot up and a Whole Foods opened right next to the lakefront in 2014, not far from new luxury townhouses and apartments.The investment hasn’t gone unnoticed; last year, Money ranked Columbia No.
It stands out for having achieved and maintained a racial and ethnic diversity that remains elusive for much of the U.
In Wilde Lake a pair of squat, 2-story retail strips, home to a barbershop, fishmonger, deli, pizzeria, karate studio and kabob restaurant, face each other along a courtyard filled with trees and concrete planters.
They look about the same as they have since I biked over to this end of Columbia for tennis lessons in the ’90s.
“If Columbia never changed, I’d be fine.” But as the unincorporated community of 103,000 turns 50 this week, the poster child of the post-war New Town movement is in fact changing, and changing more profoundly than it has since I grew up there a decade after Fikes.
More than billion in new construction is headed to downtown Columbia with the intent of urbanizing what is now a tree-shaded parkway bordered by a few public attractions, including the community’s large eponymous mall, a man-made lake with a well-maintained green lawn and a few restaurants, and plenty of surface parking.
Alta Wilde Lake’s website bills itself as home to “luxurious apartments” and boasts an outdoor pool with sundeck and a 4,000-square-foot fitness center “that makes a gym membership obsolete.” It’s an offer anathema to the one made by Rouse when he advertised Columbia as “the next America” 50 years ago.
The indoor pool around the corner, where I attended countless birthday parties, and a kid-friendly gym just one mile away, where I started working out in high school, were sold as public amenities, available for all.For the Fikeses, it was a place where an African-American family could buy a house without garnering a second glance, something that the Rouse Company had meticulously engineered in a marked contrast to the redlining and blockbusting tactics of the day. Metro, but in her housing search, Fikes dismissed subway-accessible hubs just outside Washington like Bethesda, Maryland, and Alexandria, Virginia, as too urban.Fikes lived in Atlanta as an adult, but in 2013, when it came time to raise her own son, she returned to Maryland. And while she would fit right in among the black middle-class homeowners in Prince George’s County, the most affluent majority-black county in the United States, she ultimately settled on Columbia for the top-notch schools, easy access to open space for her son to play football and baseball, and the suburb’s baked-in diversity.So the family ended up on the opposite side of the city’s beltway, in Columbia.Less than a decade old, developer James Rouse’s master-planned Valhalla was still a media curiosity — a place that claimed to be the integrated, mixed-income, sprawl-lite suburb of the future.That sentiment is an overstatement, but “it’s way better.