Letter: Columbia Association's Inner Arbor Plan is 'bold vision' for Symphony Woods

New York. Chicago. Boston. Washington, D.C. What all of these places have in common is a renowned public park; a place where residents and visitors can enjoy sprawling grass for picnics and relaxation, signature features including water fountains and sculpture to marvel over, amphitheaters to host local and famous musicians alike all in a setting of natural beauty.

In 2010, the County Council approved a 30-year plan for the redevelopment of downtown Columbia that includes the creation of a "cultural park where the landscape becomes a setting for arts, cultural and civic uses" in Symphony Woods. The Columbia Association has presented a bold vision in its Inner Arbor Plan, which promotes Symphony Woods as that park.  In addition it establishes a trust to oversee the creation and maintenance of this space.

When Jim Rouse established Columbia, his vision intended Lake Kittamaqundi and Symphony Woods to be the primary landscape elements of downtown Columbia, and emblematic of the openness and diversity of the community. The downtown Columbia Plan encourages making downtown walkable, including arts and culture components at every opportunity, and creating natural spaces for large and small groups to meet. The Inner Arbor Plan includes all of these design elements.

This plan does an excellent job balancing natural spaces with cultural and arts centers. As the central park of our community, it makes sense that it will be the central area for civic engagement and discourse. To that end, the plan includes a new 30,000-square-foot office building on top of a subterranean theater for Toby's. The plan also includes a children's theater, restaurants, an amphitheater, a parking garage and a meeting house. These amenities will update some of what our community has come to enjoy, replace the elements residents believe we have recently lost, as well as create new amenities that build upon what the community has been searching for. 

To see this vision fulfilled, it only makes sense that our community embraces establishing a trust. This trust will serve as the key to receiving third-party grants, sponsorships and grassroots fundraising for art installations, theaters, public gathering spaces, as well as connecting pathways and communities. Membership in the trust, a 501(c)(3) not-for-profit organization, will include representatives of the Columbia Association and community members.

Symphony Woods revitalization is an essential element to the redevelopment of downtown Columbia. It is the centerpiece of all that Jim Rouse planned for the community and worked tirelessly to create: natural beauty, arts, culture and community access. While the Columbia Association's proposed project is just one step in many that must be taken for the community's vision of downtown Columbia to come to fruition, it is the focal point of our community. We encourage everyone to look at the plan, comment on the plan and envision how this project will transform downtown Columbia. We look forward to working with the Columbia Association and the community to make the plan a reality.

Calvin Ball and Mary Kay Sigaty

Howard County Council members

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