Abstract: Columbia, Maryland at Forty

David Stebenne


This paper deals with the history of Columbia, Maryland, widely regarded as the most successful American new town of the 1960's. A privately developed city of 100,000 residents, it drew upon the skills of a leading real estate developer (James Rouse), his associates at the Rouse Company, institutional investors (most notably Connecticut General Life Insurance Company, now CIGNA), and academic experts in creating what was meant to be a model for improved urban and suburban development. As Columbia approaches its fortieth official anniversary observance in June 2007, the reaching of the city's target population in 2006 and the acquisition only a few years earlier of the Rouse Company by General Growth Properties (GGP), another leading real estate development firm, have combined to mark the end of the community's formative stage. This paper explores how the entrepreneurial community behind Columbia's creation managed to build it, and what lessons Columbia at forty has for future private-sector community development initiatives.