Community building – Oct. 2017

Community building: Speakers series event focuses on enhancing Columbia’s aging neighborhoods

By David Greisman, October 2017

Columbia’s 50th Birthday hasn’t just been about celebrating the past, but about imagining the future as well.

So much attention is understandably being given to Downtown Columbia and the community’s village centers. But there are other parts of Columbia that need to be focused on as we

look forward to the years to come — including the community’s older neighborhoods, many of which date back several decades.

What are the needed policies and tools to help these neighborhoods remain attractive and economically vibrant? Columbia Association’s (CA) next Community Building Speakers Series event seeks to answer this question.

“Enhancing Columbia’s Neighborhoods: Learning from Best Practice” will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 25 at 7pm at the Owen Brown Interfaith Center, 7246 Cradlerock Way, Columbia. Advance registration is not required but is appreciated. Register online at

“Columbia is in a place where we’ve only really begun to focus on revitalization in the last 10 years or so,” said Jane Dembner, director of Columbia Association’s Office of Planning and Community Affairs, which organizes the speakers series. “CA wants to make sure that Columbia is attractive and has a great quality of life for the next 50 years and beyond.

“That’s why it’s important to focus on our neighborhoods,” she said. “We have no bad or rundown neighborhoods, but there are neighborhoods that do have some aging housing. We don’t need to reinvent the wheel to change that. There are tools that can enhance our neighborhoods and best practices that can be found in other communities.”

The event will feature Paul Brophy and Mark Sissman, two noted experts with deep roots in Maryland, to help frame both the challenges and the opportunities for renewing older neighborhoods.

These neighborhoods still offer a good quality of life and are more affordable — but may be in danger of decline unless steps are taken to improve investment conditions. Brophy and Sissman will discuss best practices to address the community’s aging housing stock and sustain strong neighborhoods.

“They bring both national and local expertise,” Dembner said. “Paul Brophy is a national expert, has been a public servant, and lives here in Howard County. Mark Sissman has tackled these kinds of challenges on the ground in Baltimore.”

Brophy is a principal with Brophy & Reilly LLC, an Ellicott City-based consulting firm specializing in economic development, neighborhood revitalization, and the management of complex urban redevelopment projects. Prior to consulting, Brophy served in city government and also served as past president and co-CEO of the Enterprise Foundation, founded by Jim and Patty Rouse. He has worked with community groups and local governments around the nation to improve communities and neighborhoods.

Sissman is the president of Healthy Neighborhoods, a Baltimore community development nonprofit organized by financial and philanthropic institutions to improve selected neighborhoods through a number of programs and services. Results have included higher sales prices, growing investment in home remodeling and increased levels of community involvement in these neighborhoods. His prior roles included serving as past president of the Enterprise Foundation’s Enterprise Social Investment Corporation.

The Community Foundation of Howard County is a co-sponsor of this event.

CA’s Community Building Speakers Series brings thought-provoking speakers on topics that stimulate us to discuss, engage, and build our sense of community in Columbia.

Past speakers have focused on sustaining racial integration in Columbia’s housing; building on Columbia’s history as a diverse community; ensuring the community is walkable, bikeable and has public places for all to enjoy; sustainable stormwater management; the realities facing commercial retail centers; and how community design can promote healthy lifestyles.

“We focus on social improvements and physical improvements,” Dembner said. “Columbia already has a great quality of life, and yet we should still aim to make our community even better.”