Symphony Woods Park should create a community meeting place [Commentary]

In 2010, the Columbia Association retained an outstanding firm of landscape architects to prepare a master plan for Symphony Woods Park. The plan that evolved over a two-year period reflects the creative talent of a team of landscape architects and planners who have over 30 years experience planning urban parks and entertainment venues in the United States and abroad.

The master plan that was prepared by Mahan Rykiel Associates was approved by the Columbia Association and the Howard County Planning Board in July of 2012. That plan insured a strong pedestrian connection between Town Center and Merriweather Post Pavilion — a major goal for Symphony Woods Park


The team of professionals responsible for the Symphony Woods Park plan envisioned creating a "special people place," a place where the community could come together to celebrate the dream James Rouse had for this important community space.

The master plan identified a central meeting place to generate life and vitality throughout the park. The inter-active water feature and the cafe with outdoor seating near the fountain will draw people to this important activity space in the center of this beautiful wooded park. Over 300 trees will be preserved in the four quadrants that surround the fountain plaza.


The pedestrian walks in Symphony Woods Park are needed to provide pedestrian access to Merriweather Post Pavilion and the new uses that are identified in the cultural arts plan. Thousands of people park in the garages and surface lots north of the Little Patuxent Parkway and walk through the park to reach the Pavilion and the proposed arts and entertainment venues.

The preferred access to the Art Village site will be on walkways that pass through Symphony Woods Park. The steep slopes that exist on the east and south side of the Arts Village will limit pedestrian access from two sides of this site. The 2011 urban design plan prepared by Sasaki Associates for the Howard Hughes Corp. recommended development of the walkway system shown on the approved CA park plan.

The McCall plan for an Arts Village will require a $45- to $50-million investment in public improvements and amenities. The parking garage, the 600-foot bridge between the garage and the hillside site and the elevated park walk are public investments that the county and the Columbia Association should commit to building before the Arts Village plan is approved. The 2011 plan for the park and Cultural Arts District did not require a large public investment in bridges and elevated walkways. The park walks and existing roads will provide easy access to development sites that were identified in the 2011 master plan for the park and the Cultural Arts District.

The plan to eliminate the walks and fountain in Symphony Woods Park reflects Howard County's desire to build buildings in this dedicated park space. In 2008, the county staff supported a plan to cut down 10 acres of trees to build a new county library and office space for the Columbia Association. The plan prepared by Michael McCall removes the fountain and all of the walks in the park to respond to Howard County's long-term objective to build a new library in the center of Symphony Woods Park.

James Rouse and the team of professionals who dedicated 50 acres of land for a central park should be honored by building a great Town Center Park for the people of Columbia and Howard County.

Cy Paumier was Symphony Woods Park consultant from 2007 to 2012.