Introduction to Columbia, Maryland

Columbia is an unincorporated planned community located in Howard County, Maryland. It is situated about 20 miles southwest of Baltimore. Neighboring communities include Ellicott City (to the north), Elkridge (to the east), Laurel (to the south), and Gaithersburg (to the west).

The planning of Columbia began in 1963 when creator and developer James W. Rouse acquired more than 14,000 acres in Howard County with the intention of creating a visionary community planned along sociological as well as economic and engineering lines. To help determine how to incorporate the most vital social and institutional components of a new city into a physical environment, the Rouse Company convened a group of nationally known experts in the social sciences who met regularly over a six-month period. What evolved was a development plan focusing on the creation of neighborhood and village centers to preserve a small-town feel while adhering to four main goals: meeting residents basic needs (housing, jobs, recreation, education, health care); respecting the land; providing for growth and improvement; and achieving financial success.

Over the past three decades, the population of Columbia has grown more than ten-fold. There are thousands of businesses employing tens of thousands of people. The centerpiece of the community is the Mall in Columbia, which stands today as a large regional shopping mall with five anchor department stores and over 200 smaller stores and restaurants. Although the community has over time gradually acquired many of the characteristics of other contemporary U.S. suburbs, Rouse's vision has remained relatively intact and his experiment can be termed a success. Money magazine in 2006 ranked Columbia (together with Ellicott City, its Howard County neighbor to the north) #4 out of the 100 "Best Places to Live" in the United States.

Things to do in Columbia

In the summer, live entertainment can be found at the Columbia lakefront. Merriweather Post Pavilion, located in Symphony Woods in Columbia's Town Center, offers outdoor concerts performed throughout the summer. Every June, the Columbia Festival of the Arts electrifies the community with featured world-class music performers. "Wine in the Woods" is an annual celebration held in May showcasing wineries from across the state, and featuring live entertainment, food from local vendors, unique arts and crafts, and live demonstrations of food and wine.

For outdoor recreation, Columbia has three lakes (Kittamaqundi, Wilde, and Elkhorn) ideal for sailing, fishing, and boating. Surrounding the lakes are parks equipped with miles of jogging, strolling and biking paths, as well as hundreds of play areas for kids. Also in Columbia are a variety of recreational facilities, including numerous swimming pools (indoor and outdoor), water slides, ice and roller skating rinks, an equestrian center, a skateboard park, a sports park with miniature golf, batting cages, picnic pavilions, running tracks, and numerous indoor and outdoor tennis, basketball, volleyball, racquetball and squash courts.

Columbia's planners were careful to preserve some of the community's historic buildings such as Dorsey Manor, the stone house at Wilde Lake, the Barn at Oakland Mills, Oliver's Carriage House, and Historic Oakland (also known as Oakland Manor), one of the most beautiful and historic buildings in Howard County. Museums and galleries in Columbia include the African Art Museum of Maryland, Columbia Arts Center, and the Howard County Center of African-American Culture.

Sports fans in Columbia can enjoy the very best of professional sports of many varieties in nearby Baltimore, home to the following teams:

  • Orioles (MLB baseball)
  • Ravens (NFL football)
  • Blast (MISL soccer)
  • Bayhawks (MLL lacrosse)
  • Pearls (ABA basketball)

Baltimore is also the home of the U.S. Lacrosse Museum and National Hall of Fame.


Total Population 103,055
Male Share of the Population 49.2%
Female Share of the Population 50.8%
Senior Citizens 12.4%
Employed Population 16+ 55,957
Age of the Population 38


% of people married 53.6%
Average household size 3

Education and Earnings

Population % with Bachelor Degree or Higher 63.5%
Median Earnings25+ $61,549
Median Earnings Without High School Qualification $26,947
Median Earnings With High School Degree $31,547


Median Family Income $119,845
% Above Poverty Level 93%
% Below Poverty Level 7%

Commute & Sprawl

Average Commute Time 31 minutes
% Working from Home 4.5%
% Walking and Biking to Work 1.4%
% Using Public Transportation 4.6%


People Living Alone 26.6%
Median Gross Rent $1,585
Median House Value $365,500


Other(often includes Hispanic and African American) 43.8%
US/American 0.1%
English 8.6%
Irish 9.9%

Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau, 2015, www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/.

Columbia Almanac

Category Value
Nearest Large City 13 miles W of Baltimore, Maryland
County Howard
Standard Zip Codes 21044, 21045, 21046
Phone Area Codes 410
Time Zone Eastern (-5 hours from GMT)
Daylight Savings The city observes Daylight Saving Time.
Latitude 39.24
Longitude -76.839

Columbia Climate

Nearest Weather Stations


  • Temp ranges are avg daily min and max for the month
  • Precipitation is rainfall (and rainfall equiv of snowfall)

Distance 5.1 miles
Jan Temp 22 to 41 F
Apr Temp 39 to 66 F
Jul Temp 63 to 87 F
Oct Temp 42 to 68 F
Annual Precip 45.2 inches
Distance 6.6 miles
Jan Temp 23 to 42 F
Apr Temp 41 to 67 F
Jul Temp 64 to 88 F
Oct Temp 44 to 68 F
Annual Precip 45.6 inches
Distance 9.8 miles
Jan Temp 24 to 41 F
Apr Temp 42 to 65 F
Jul Temp 66 to 87 F
Oct Temp 44 to 67 F
Annual Precip 41.9 inches

Nearby Cities and Towns

Location Population Median Family Income
Baltimore 622,454 $51,032
Brookeville 167 $118,750
Laurel 25,849 $78,688
Owings Mills 33,732 $75,323
Sykesville 4,429 $116,101

Source: American Community Survey, U.S. Census Bureau, 2015, www.census.gov/programs-surveys/acs/.

Columbia Public Libraries

Howard County Library
Columbia, Maryland
(410) 313-7750
Library Web Site

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More Information for Librarians

Columbia Hospitals

(Voluntary non-profit - Private)
(410) 740-7890
Emergency Service: Yes

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Columbia High Schools

(Sorted by Number of Students)

Serves 1,562 students.
Student/teacher ratio: 14.3

Serves 1,440 students.
Student/teacher ratio: 15.1

Serves 1,316 students.
Student/teacher ratio: 15.9

Serves 1,198 students.
Student/teacher ratio: 15.9

Serves 1,062 students.
Student/teacher ratio: 14.4

A Special Education School
Serves 103 students.
Student/teacher ratio: 3.8

Columbia Colleges

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