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A Pitch: Resurrect the Columbia Welcome Book by creating a Wiki of Columbia.

Once upon a time, every new resident to Columbia received a welcome book upon moving here to introduce them to Columbia and explain the things you'll need to know about living here, from the Columbia Association to Interfaith Centers to Recreation Facilities to the ColumBUS and everything in between. This is what the 1973 Book looked like:

Photo: Brian England.

And here's the Table of Contents within:

Photo: Brian England.

Photo: Brian England.

The Welcome Book is a thing of the past. It doesn't exist anymore. This isn’t to say that new residents don’t receive any information upon moving here. If you purchase a home in a Columbia village, you will receive a resale packet at closing that includes community articles of incorporation, village bylaws, covenants, architectural guidelines, and other like information. In Hickory Ridge, new residents could also receive a resident welcome package from the Hickory Ridge Community Association that includes a gift as well as pamphlets of pertinent information from CA and other government resources. I suspect other villages may do something similar.

Contents of the Hickory Ridge Welcome Package

Should Columbia bring back the Welcome Book? There is so much to learn about Columbia - with a myriad of organizations providing services to our community, that it can certainly be confusing and overwhelming for both new and existing residents a like. There are too many organizations, too much history, too little local news and no central place to find information about it all. A welcome book could fill a real need.

The problem is that a book can quickly become out of date (particularly given how frequently things change) and could become too big a burden to regularly update. It would also necessitate regular coordination amongst key stakeholders to ensure completeness. On the other hand, an online resource, like a wiki, could be updated frequently and by anybody to make sure the resource remains relevant, timely and provide much greater utility. Hence, the idea: A Columbia Wiki that covers everything and anything about the history, government, organizations, places, services, amenities, events, development, and people of Columbia. A wiki can be updated in real time by the public or a subset there of, and be accessible via web, smart phone app, or gasp, a print-out.

Essentially, what I'm envisioning with the Columbia Wiki is a collaborative website that allows interested residents and representatives of Columbia organizations to register to create, modify, and edit pages of an online encyclopedia dedicated to all things Columbia. Using easy wiki website tools and proper administration, a Columbia wiki can quickly become an extremely valuable resource for the entire community, not just new residents. It should only contain facts - and be neutral, and free of bias in its narrative - with citations and links back to source material, just like Wikipedia.

A Wiki to Columbia can become a one-stop shop to find out anything you ever wanted to know about Columbia, from CA and its services, to descriptions of each village and amenities within, to Columbia's history, notable organizations, famous Columbians, non-profits, government resources, business directories, future development plans, events and festivals, etc. I envision a wiki starting out in beta containing only the most important entries, but over time, the wiki can grow in breadth and depth to become as robust as its editors desire. An events calendar, chronicles of recent events, and local news stories are all potential by-products of a Columbia Wiki. Further, a meticulous and accurate record of events helps lead to greater transparency and accountability.

Wikipedia is certainly the most famous example of a wiki with its unlimited scope and over 5 million pages of information. But there are a great number of other online wikis that cater to a specific topic. A common use of a wiki is as an employee resource hosted on a company's intranet that allows its employees to collaborate in documenting the policies, processes, system of an organization/company. And while I have never seen a wiki with a focus exclusively on a city, Columbia is no ordinary place.

This is no-doubt that this a lofty undertaking. But given the amount of civic engagement in Columbia, I think there could be considerable interest. Populating the Columbia wiki could become a pastime for Columbia historians, bloggers, community organizers, organizations, businesses, non-profits, and commenters of Columbia/HoCo social media groups. There is so much already written about Columbia that authors of books and articles about Columbia may decide to add their writings to the wiki. Major organizations - in particular the Columbia Association - would be a prime candidate for contributing to such an effort, in partnership with others such as the Columbia Archives, Village Associations, Howard County Government, non-profit organizations, arts and culture organizations, business groups, etc. And while the participation of all these entities is highly important, I think a real appeal is making this a bottom-up community effort that local Columbia residents can engage in.

In many ways, as a new resident to Columbia, this blog is a chronicle of my research as I learn and write about an organization, event, or future plan for Columbia that peaks my interest. And even for somebody like me, who has spent an ungodly amount of time in 20 months I have lived here reading everything I could possibly find about Columbia, there is still so much I have not yet discovered.

Columbia is a unique and special place and a primer on our history, how Columbia works, and what it offers has tremendous value. Not only would such a resource be valuable to new residents like myself, but it could be equally valuable to existing and prospective residents. While there is risk that the creation of a wiki like this would either frizzle out with a lack of content or be overwhelmed with too much interest that it simply creates another forum for us to argue with each other, I think It has the potential to serve as a unifying platform that brings community together in a good-faith collaboration to tell our story.

Would you use a Columbia Wiki? Do you think this would work? Would you contribute to it? What ideas do you have?

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