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In 1974, Cynthia Fikes’ father accepted an engineering job in Baltimore’s northern suburbs.The family relocated from San Diego, but her mother, who grew up in Norfolk, had no interest in settling in Baltimore, then a fading shipyard town.

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1 on its “Best Places to Live” list, lauding excellent schools and the perks of a planned community.

A few months later, 2015 Census Bureau data came out ranking Howard County the fourth-richest county in the U. That same year, Columbia’s rents climbed 5.5 percent, making it the fastest-growing rental market in the Baltimore-Washington corridor, and the first apartment building built as part of the new downtown plan, the 6-story Metropolitan, began renting one-bedrooms that start at $1,500 with some three-bedrooms topping out at nearly $4,000.

“If Columbia never changed, I’d be fine.” But as the unincorporated community of 103,000 turns 50 this week, the poster child of the post-war New Town movement is in fact changing, and changing more profoundly than it has since I grew up there a decade after Fikes.

More than $2 billion in new construction is headed to downtown Columbia with the intent of urbanizing what is now a tree-shaded parkway bordered by a few public attractions, including the community’s large eponymous mall, a man-made lake with a well-maintained green lawn and a few restaurants, and plenty of surface parking.

Worse was a trip to the Best Buys and BJ’s Wholesale Clubs that clustered in East Columbia when the Rouse Company, hard up for cash, sold land to eager big box developers in the 1980s.

Near my house, I remember one independent coffee shop. My parents commuted hours every day on the loops of highway winding around Columbia’s tree-lined subdivisions.

A few days per week, she commutes to a job as a program manager for AT&T in Tysons Corner, Virginia, a sprawling complex of office parks and shopping malls on D. She fondly recalls her own childhood growing up around people of different backgrounds — like the guy down the street who fixed up old Mustangs.

“People talk about it like it’s a utopia — we’re integrated and it’s perfect,” Fikes told me this spring.

So the family ended up on the opposite side of the city’s beltway, in Columbia.

Less than a decade old, developer James Rouse’s master-planned Valhalla was still a media curiosity — a place that claimed to be the integrated, mixed-income, sprawl-lite suburb of the future.

A subsidized membership came with a Columbia address, for any resident who chose to pay a fee and opt in.

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