The Time Has Come to Incorporate Columbia

Saturday January 28, 2023

•  governance •  Columbia •  Columbia Association •  Howard County • 

Columbia, Maryland, is a vibrant and growing community that has been a leader in urban planning and development for decades. Despite its many achievements, however, Columbia remains unincorporated, which means that it does not have the same level of autonomy and self-governance as a city. This is a situation that should change, as there are many compelling reasons why Columbia should be incorporated as a city.

The recent management challenges in Columbia have highlighted the limitations of the current governance structure. The Columbia Association, which serves as the community’s primary governance entity, has struggled to effectively address issues such as budget deficits, aging infrastructure, and community dissatisfaction. This is complicated by the electoral structure, where representatives to the Columbia Council represent radically unbalanced districts, and the election process keeps the voting population below ten percent of the population.

Incorporation would give Columbia a stronger and more accountable government that is better equipped to address the community’s needs and concerns. Additionally, as a city, Columbia would have more legal powers to address the issues that have been pointed out as challenges, such as the ability to levy taxes, pass laws, and so on. This would provide Columbia with more resources and the ability to act on the community’s behalf.

One of the main reasons why Columbia should be incorporated as a city is that it has a population of over 100,000 residents. This is a significant number of people who deserve to have a say in how their community is run and managed. Incorporation would give residents the ability to elect their own mayor and city council, which would give them more control over local issues such as zoning, development, and public services.

Incorporation would also provide Columbia with more autonomy and flexibility when it comes to budgeting and financing. As an unincorporated community, Columbia relies on the county government for funding and support. However, because Columbia services, like parks and recreation, are provided by the Columbia Association, Howard County diverts tax dollars paid by Columbia residents to support the rest of the county.

Finally, incorporation would give Columbia the ability to create and implement its own policies and regulations. For example, the community could create its own zoning laws and regulations, which would give it more control over the development of the community. For decades, the development and management of Columbia has had a thumb on the scale from outside Columbia. Key boards, like the Board of Appeals1 and Planning Board, often have a majority of members appointed from outside Columbia. Though the Planning Board currently has a majority from Columbia, this is especially important because the Planning Board serves as the decisionmaker on Columbia development matters, because of the structure of New Town zoning.

In conclusion, Columbia, Maryland, is an amazing community that needs to be incorporated as a city. Incorporation would give residents more control over their community and provide the community with more autonomy and flexibility. It is time for Columbia to take the next step and become a city.

Image by Famartin / Wikimedia.

  1. I served on the Board of Appeals from 2011 to 2021.