Imagine: It’s 2032 and you’re tooling around Columbia, driving along U-63 — that’s ‘U’ for underground highway — on your way to the Fun Center, where you’ll deposit the kids for an afternoon of sports, arcade games, working out and playing. Or you’re en route to Columbia National Airport, where you’ll pick up family members and friends who are eager to visit your progressive city. They’ll enjoy spending time in a vibrant central business district, perhaps staying at the 10-story hotel and convention center and taking a stroll to the Historical Society museum just a few blocks away. Maybe they’ll take in a concert at the new MU Performing Arts Center.
Sound like the Columbia you know?
It’s not yet, but it could be. Columbia could become just about anything, or not, which is reason enough for some residents to get involved in planning the city’s future.
In the spring of 2006, city officials called for participants in Imagine Columbia’s Future, a months-long process during which consultants and citizens meet to share ideas about what they’d like to see Columbia become. The response has been strong, with nearly 400 people joining 13 topic groups and 48 sub-groups to get the ball rolling.
The 13 topic areas are arts and culture; development; downtown; education; economic development; transportation; environment; community character; community facilities and services; community pride and human relations; parks, recreation and greenways; health, social services and affordable housing; and governance/decision-making.
But even with hundreds of participants, organizers of the visioning effort recognized early on that the participants weren’t as representative of the Columbia community as they had hoped. They identified students, Latinos and African Americans, among others, as underrepresented, despite efforts to draw these segments of the community to public meetings.
The Missourian recognized an opportunity. Eager from the get-go to find some way to make a meaningful contribution to the community vision, we felt we had found a niche. So, we decided to take the visioning process to the people who could not, or simply would not, attend the city’s Big Idea Gathering meetings or otherwise get involved. After all, their voices should count, too.
So in February and March, we dispatched about 20 reporters into the community, equipped with notebooks, digital cameras and video cameras. Their mission? To get as many answers as possible, from a wide array of residents, to this question:
What do you want Columbia to be in 25 years?
We interviewed Columbia residents, including third-graders, senior citizens, business owners, homeless people, bartenders and artists. One elementary school class created a PowerPoint presentation. Scores of people filled out surveys. A couple of our reporters got to lead a high school class discussion on the question. The underground highway, expanded air travel and new hangouts for kids were just some of the ideas we heard.
We’ve taken all the material our reporters collected and compiled it into stories that explore the central themes of the myriad responses. You’ll find it all on the following pages and online. The answers were insightful, thoughtful, spontaneous, provocative, amusing, surprising and, yes, imaginative.
We hope they spark your own imagination.
What do you want Columbia to be 25 years from now?