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GEORGE KENNEDY: 'Columbia Imagined' plan needs to involve an engaged public

Friday, May 10, 2013 | 6:00 a.m. CDT

Comprehensive plan. If there are two words in the English language more likely to lead even the most conscientious of citizens to turn immediately to the sports page or hit the snooze button, I’m not sure what they’d be. When I was in the Missourian newsroom, I used to call reports about such topics DBI – Dull But Important.

Here’s another one.

By the end of this summer, if all goes well, Columbia will have a new comprehensive plan. That’s the dull part. The important part is this:

The plan, titled “Columbia Imagined,” is intended to guide the growth and development of our city for the next 20 years. You’ll notice how carefully conditioned is the previous sentence. The best of intentions can come to naught without strong ordinances and the will to enforce them. That has been the shortcoming of our current plan, the one called Metro 2020. It has been less than rigorously followed.

A few numbers might illustrate just why a comprehensive plan is so important to our future as a community. They might suggest as well why enforcement will be so difficult.

There are about 110,000 of us living in Columbia currently. The planners project that by 2030 there will be between 132,000 and 146,000. That population will require a total of between 58,000 and 63,000 housing units. (We had 46,758 in 2010.) All that housing, plus the new and expanded employers providing the jobs those new residents will need, will have to have more roads, more sewers, more buses, more cops, etc. Somebody will have to pay for all that.

The city today covers 64 square miles. That’s 40,960 acres. If we continue our present pattern of about 2½ housing units per acre, we’ll need to develop 2,200 acres in addition to what’s already available just to accommodate that growth.

The new plan proposes guidelines for limiting sprawl, encouraging infill, creating neighborhoods that are “walkable, accessible and diverse,” protecting natural areas and nearby farmland, situating industrial and commercial employers, improving transportation and otherwise promoting smart growth.

You can read it for yourself at columbiaimagined.com. It’s not a quick read, but a worthwhile one. Pay special attention to the maps that show in handsome colors where we should grow and where we shouldn’t. To me, the sections on land use and growth management and on infrastructure seemed most important, but I learned something from every chapter.

And you can do something else. You can attend one of the two public presentations planned for 5:30 p.m. Tuesday and Wednesday in the Daniel Boone City Building. I was one of only about a dozen citizens who joined Pat Zenner and his colleagues from the city Community Development Department for the first of those sessions this week. Pat told me the turnout at Wednesday’s second session was even more sparse.

If you go, you’ll hear how the “visioning” process that began in December 2006 has finally produced a document that reflects clearly the goals we share for our city and shows how we just might be able to achieve those goals.

After these explanatory sessions, the plan goes to the Planning and Zoning Commission for a public hearing that’s tentatively set for June 6. The City Council is scheduled to consider it beginning July 1.

The work begun by those citizen visionaries meeting at Stephens College a half-dozen years ago isn’t nearly done. If Columbia Imagined is to become the real Columbia, ordinances must be adopted, zoning and land use plans must be revised, and — above all — an engaged citizenry must remain vigilant.

If you haven’t yet been engaged, now would be a good time to start.

George Kennedy is a former managing editor at the Missourian and professor emeritus at the Missouri School of Journalism. Questions? Contact Opinion editor Elizabeth Conner.


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Comments

Richard Saunders May 10, 2013 | 12:35 p.m.

Stalin quickly discovered the futility of his "Five Year Plans." Somehow I doubt this will fare any better. All it does is give people something to fight over that's mostly none of their business.

Why is it that some constantly seek to control others, rather than self?

Harmony does not emerge from the force of mob rule. Chaos however, flourishes.

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