Columbia is a planned community that consists of ten self-contained villages, located in Howard County, Maryland, United States. It began with the idea that a city could enhance its residents' quality of life. Creator and developer James W. Rouse saw the new community in terms of human values, not just in terms of economics and engineering. Opened in 1967, Columbia was designed to not only eliminate the inconveniences of then-current subdivision design, but also eliminate racial, religious, and income segregation.
Today, Columbia has a population of about 97,200 and is the most populous census-designated place in Maryland. By the early 2000s, the town had acquired many of the characteristics of other contemporary U.S. suburbs, such as increasingly large private homes on large parcels and "big box" retail stores accessible mostly by automobile. However, Rouse's ethos remains a strong influence upon the physical and political development of Columbia.
The Rouse Company accumulated over 14,000 acres (57 km2), 10 percent of Howard County (located between Baltimore and Washington), from 140 separate owners. This acquisition was funded by Connecticut General Life Insurance, at an average price of $1,500 per acre ($0.37/m²). In October 1963, the acquisition was revealed to the residents of Howard County, putting to rest rumors about the mysterious purchases. These had included the theory that the site was for a laboratory to study diseases and another that the site was intended to become a giant compost heap.