Inner Arbor Trust

A community of people is a coalescing of ideas. Your ideas make our plans stronger and better. Thank you for sharing your passion and brilliance with us; as together, we can make Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods truly wondrous and worthy of the extraordinary community in which we love to live.



Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods

George Barker's Resident Speakout Notes, May 28, 2014

  • Been in Columbia since 1972
  • Functioned as the General Counsel of HRD for seven years.  
  • Worked with Jim Rouse for 9 years as Sr. VP and General Counsel of  the Enterprise Development Company.
  • Came to Columbia those 42 years ago to be part of the building of a new city. But that hasn’t happened yet.
  • But now there are signs of hope as activity in the Town Center continues to grow.
  • A vital and unique piece of the making of Columbia into a downtown will be Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods.
  • This is a very unique project that you are considering here. It is something that will be of direct benefit to people – not commercial concerns.

Parks are for People

I fear there are some amongst us who can’t see the forest because of the trees.

What you need to focus upon as you consider the various aspects of MPSW is what it will do for the community from a cultural and recreational standpoint. It is going to be a place where people of all ages can have fun and enjoyment from a variety of standpoints. It will be a terrific community resource. Because of its vibrancy, I think it will provide soul to Columbia’s downtown and to all the people who take advantage of its manifold offerings.

There are lots people in this room, like myself, who have been a part of the Columbia scene for a long time. We have enjoyed what this unique community has offered us. Now we have a chance to take a great leap forward which will be of great benefit to the people of Columbia, Howard County and the region. What is proposed is just going to be plain fun and enjoyable for the community. It will be a tremendous community asset. This is a unique opportunity to provide a unique resource to be enjoyed by present and future generations.

Be bold and forward-looking: support the Inner Arbor plan for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods.



Celebrating Something New 

Village Green Town Squared blog by Julia McCready

In one of my favorite movies, "A Thousand Clowns", Jason Robard's character Murray likes to go down to the docks to see off cruise ships. He explains, "It’s a great thing to do when you are about to start something new; it gives you the genuine feeling of the beginning of things."

That's the feeling I got when I volunteered at the Inner Arbor Trust booth at Wine in the Woods. People stopped to look at pictures of the plan, ask questions, share their own opinions. The response was overhwhelmingly favorable. The most asked question--

"How soon is this going to happen?"
There was a time when the concept of Columbia was 

  • Daring
  • Cutting-edge
  • Ground-breaking
  • Creative
  • Breaking the Mold

Columbia was meant to bring the force of change to community-building: to transform old patterns with new ideas and transform our way of living for the better. The Inner Arbor plan brings exactly that spirit to Symphony Woods. I continue to be astonished that there are people who experienced the joy and excitement of Columbia's beginnings who refuse to allow that same joy and excitement to the residents of today and tomorrow.

I have attended multiple CA Board meetings and spoken in support of this park. I will keep coming back as often as necessary, and I am not alone. The voice of this park is carried by young professionals, families, children, and even in the words of long-time residents who recognize themselves and their values in the creation of something new for all to share.

One of the things we can all admire about James Rouse is that when he looked in the mirror, he saw something more than himself. He saw a responsibility to make the world better. These words describe it well:

"Without vision, there is no power. By building an image of the possible, we not only leap over a lot of roadblocks that would defeat us, we also generate a whole new constituency of people who want to see that image realized...For many years I have lived and worked with the conviction that what ought to be, can be, with the will to make it so..."

If Columbia is to live on and thrive, we must connect with that "whole new constituency of people" who can invest in its future by choosing or maintaining Columbia as their home. This imaginative, visionary plan for a people's park in the heart of our Downtown is crucial to our continued success as a community. 



The Beginning is the End is the Beginning 

The 53 Beers on Tap blog by Bill Woodcock

I think I may have entitled another blog post this sometime in my life. Not sure. Anyway, this isn't simply the song by The Smashing Pumpkins, but how I feel about this Wednesday as I settle down for the night and reflect upon it.

I want to thank all the supporters of the Inner Arbor for coming out tonight. Jason and Julia and Alice and Trevor and Frank and Harry and Bob and Ian and Nina and Chris and Cherie and everyone else I missed. Supporters of the plan to reenergize Symphony Woods for generations of current and future Columbians to enjoy spoke well, passionately, and with conviction.

And although there were some wet blankets in the crowd, some who believe in the fear and who refuse to accept vision, who refuse to pass along the great gifts they were given to future generations-- well, we expected this. And we were cool with that. We had a job to do and we did it well. We gave the other fella hell! Hey, that sounds like lyrics from this classic!

And tonight, I started to feel a real community discussion happening in Columbia. I started to feel like it was a fair fight at last. And that everyone who should be represented, who could be represented, was represented. As I said, the thousands of Columbians and Howard Countians who were coming home from work, fixing dinner, still working, running errands and at their kids' events were being heard. That was powerful. And that was awesome.

Maybe it was just my wishful thinking, but I also sensed that when the bullies got punched in the nose, that they were stunned. And they backed away a little bit. Which is what bullies do. Oh, I'm sure they'll be back, and like sandpeople, in greater numbers. So will we.

We did good tonight, folks. A real confidence builder. Let's keep it up! Forward Columbia!

Thursday is Put a Pillow on Your Fridge Day. Not sure why anyone would do such a thing, but OK.

Let's be careful out there, #ColumbiaMD 



Five thoughts on Symphony Woods

When I was writing my post on Symphony Woods and sacred lands I had a number of thoughts that were too long to put in that post and too short to each deserve a post of their own. So here they are, all collected together:

“15 Reality Checks on the Plan” from the Inner Arbor Trust. Click for high-resolution version. Adapted from “Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods: By the Numbers”, © 2014 Inner Arbor Trust; used with permission.

Sacred lands and the facts don’t always get along. Recently the Inner Arbor Trust released a document (“Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods: By the Numbers” [PDF]) that attempts to correct misconceptions about the Inner Arbor plan. It’s a good document (though at almost 180MB it takes a while to download), and if and when I have time I’ll blog more about it in detail. However I suspect it’s also probably a wasted effort as far as many people are concerned: When people come to think of land as sacred they often stop thinking about the reality of the land as opposed to its sanctity, and the facts are then often ignored, overlooked, or distorted.

For example, in my last post I wrote about a controversy in New York City relating to 9/11; you have probably heard it referred to as “the mosque at Ground Zero”, but in fact it was neither: not an actual mosque but an Islamic community center with a prayer space (albeit a fairly large one), and not at Ground Zero but rather two blocks away. But the emotion around the 9/11 attacks was (and is) so intense that the juxtaposition of “mosque” and “Ground Zero” was much more memorable than the actual reality, and once that juxtaposition lodged in people’s minds it was difficult to impossible to get it out.1

Those who preach a land’s sanctity aren’t always saints. Going back to the example above, did people just happen to innocently get the facts wrong and decide a mosque was going to be built right where the twin towers stood? Well, no, not exactly. There were plenty of people who worked to actively spread this idea because they themselves stood to benefit if others believed it were true: news channels trying to increase their ratings, politicians trying to attract votes, advocacy groups trying to raise money, and so on.

A map of the trees to be removed as part of the Inner Arbor plan. Click for high-resolution version. Adapted from “Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods: By the Numbers”, © 2014 Inner Arbor Trust; used with permission.

There’s no reason why Columbia should be exempt from this phenomenon, and based on reports from others some reasons to think that Columbia and CA have their own versions of it. (For example, consider the case of the elderly CA voter who was convinced Julia McCready was running for the CA board in order to run old people out of Columbia.) I would not be surprised to hear that some Columbians are now firmly of the opinion that the Inner Arbor plan will result in wholesale cutting of trees in Symphony Woods, because someone else saw fit to put that idea in their heads. (In actual fact the Inner Arbor plan as proposed will result in many fewer trees being removed than in the previous Columbia Association plan, also known as the Cy Paumier plan after its lead designer.2)

This is all Jim Rouse’s fault, really. Recently Robert Tennenbaum, the former chief architect and planner for Columbia, quoted Jim Rouse’s words about Symphony Woods from the 1964 presentation “Columbia: A New Town for Howard County”: “Today a magnificent stand of trees, this 40 acre woods will be permanently preserved and cultivated as a quiet, convenient and strikingly beautiful asset of the town.” All well and good; however I think it’s also useful to consider what Jim Rouse did and not just what he said.

First, as I’ve previously mentioned, Jim Rouse saw fit to put a large outdoor amphitheater smack in the middle of the “magnificent stand of trees” in question. Second, Jim Rouse also saw fit for the Rouse Co. to retain ownership of the Crescent property surrounding Symphony Woods, as opposed to deeding it to CA or to the county. Did he do this because he planned for that property to be “permanently preserved and cultivated as a quiet, convenient and strikingly beautiful asset of the town”? Given that Rouse was a canny and successful businessman, I presume instead that he did it because the Crescent was a potentially-valuable piece of centrally-located property that the Rouse Co. or its successors could at some point profitably develop for high-density office, retail, or residential use.

So if you’re concerned that “Symphony Woods” (i.e., including the wooded area next to US 29 and Broken Land Parkway) will soon start looking much smaller, and that Symphony Woods itself (i.e., the CA property) is going to be across the street from 20-story condo towers, be aware that this is not because evil outsiders invaded Columbia and betrayed Jim Rouse’s vision, it’s because Rouse himself took the actions that made these developments possible, and perhaps inevitable. (However, in Rouse’s defense there are in fact areas in the Crescent that will remain undeveloped, for example between Area 1 and Area 2 and between Area 2 and Area 3. So more woods will remain than one might think, and it’s possible that given appropriate easements and paths that they could be used as an extension of Symphony Woods itself.)

Cy Paumier plan for Symphony Woods showing park features proposed to be constructed. Click for high-resolution version. Image adapted from FDP-DC-MSW-1, Downtown Columbia Merriweather-Symphony Woods Neighborhood Final Development Plan.

There is no “let’s not build stuff” plan for Symphony Woods. Many people think of the choice for Symphony Woods as between a new plan involving radical changes and a prior plan preserving Symphony Woods pretty much as is. This is in fact not the case: The previous CA plan by Cy Paumier envisioned as many new park features in Symphony Woods as the Inner Arbor plan, just in different places. To be specific, aspresented to the Howard County Planning Board [PDF] the plan “proposed future parkland improvements, including a network of pathways, a fountain, a shared use pavilion, a shared use amphitheater, a shared use cafe, play activity area, woodland garden area, [and] parking within a 16.1 acre project area ….”

Almost all of these features have direct counterparts in the Inner Arbor plan: The shared use amphitheater became the Chrysalis, the shared use café and pavilion were combined to become the Butterfly, and the play activity area became the Merriground. The Inner Arbor plan has no fountain in Symphony Woods proper, but the Inner Arbor Trust has proposed locating one in a plaza next to Merriweather Post Pavilion. The Paumier plan had no equivalent to the Caterpillar, presumably because unlike the Inner Arbor plan the Paumier plan assumed that Symphony Woods would be closed to the general public during most Merriweather events. (A primary purpose of the Caterpillar is to control Merriweather access closer to the pavilion itself, rather than at the park boundaries.) There also was no direct equivalent to the Merriweather Horns in the Paumier plan, although the plan did state that “[The] entire park is a potential site for future public art.”

Being “Disneyesque” is not necessarily a bad thing. One of the persistent charges against the Inner Arbor plan is that it is “Disneyesque” and turns Symphony Woods into an “amusement park” with “attractions” (in scare quotes) unsuitable for the wooded setting. This seems an odd accusation for several reasons. First, as noted above the Paumier plan had pretty much the same set of “attractions” as the Inner Arbor plan. Second, given that Jim Rouse was apparently quite the admirer of Walt Disney—he said in 1963 that “the greatest piece of urban design in the United States today is Disneyland”—I suspect he would have thought the term “Disneyesque” to be more a compliment than an insult.

In fact, I’d go so far as to say that preserving Symphony Woods for future generations to enjoy will require more than a bit of the same sort of design thinking that went into Walt Disney’s theme parks. In particular, once the Crescent property is developed the remaining area of Symphony Woods is going to seem relatively small: the Inner Arbor plan preserves almost 80% of Symphony Woods as a natural wooded area, but that’s still only 14 acres or so—about the size of a small subdivision in western Howard County (land of 3-acre lots). A prime task is then to make Symphony Woods seem bigger to visitors than it actually is—the same problem faced by theme parks like Disneyland, and one that their creators did a good job of addressing through artful design.

Walkable paths and roads in the Inner Arbor plan. Adapted from “Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods: By the Numbers”, © 2014 Inner Arbor Trust; used with permission.

The Paumier plan with its straight paths does a poor job of this in my opinion; in particular the main path through the park makes it glaringly obvious how short the distance is from Little Patuxent Parkway to Merriweather Post Pavilion. The Inner Arbor plan instead has lots of “meandering paths” (as called for by the Howard County Planning Board after the Design Advisory Panel found fault with the Paumier plan), together with access roadways forming about two miles of walking surfaces within the confines of the park, and featuring over two thousand places to sit along the way. But I suspect people will probably prefer to walk than to sit, since as with the best theme parks walking will continually bring new sights to visitors’ attentions, between the natural beauty of the woods and the various attractive park features.

That concludes my thoughts on Symphony Woods, at least for now. I hope to come back later with more thoughts on the Crescent development.

1. I’m as culpable as anyone else when it comes to not letting facts get in the way of my emotions and convictions. A few blog posts back I wrote that some people seemed to oppose the Inner Arbor plan because “Jim Rouse (or one of his disciples) didn’t propose [it]”. Soon afterward Michael McCall wrote me and politely pointed out that he had worked for Jim Rouse for many years; in other words, one of Jim Rouse’s disciples was in fact behind the Inner Arbor plan. I actually knew McCall had worked for Rouse, but I was so invested in the narrative of forward thinking vs. “What would Jim Rouse do?” nostalgia that my mind conveniently forgot this particular fact.

2. The Inner Arbor “by the numbers” document lists the total number of trees to be cut as 31, at least half of which are not considered to be in good condition; see the full document for a complete list of exactly which trees are proposed to be removed, their species, and conditions. Contrasting this to the original plan, Cy Paumier wrote in July 2012, “Between 50 and 60 trees will need to be removed to construct the Symphony Woods Park walkways.” According to testimony at the Howard County Planning Board hearing on the plan, also in July 2012, up to 64 trees could be removed, or a bit more than twice the number proposed to be removed for the Inner Arbor plan. Note that unlike the Inner Arbor plan these figures do not appear to account for any trees to be removed for the shared-use pavilion, shared-use amphitheater, play area, and other park elements proposed in the CA documents submitted to Howard County.

 Frank Hecker



Symphony Woods/Welcoming Change

Letter to the Editor

Re: Symphony Woods/Welcoming Change

From: Rhoda Toback 

An iconic photograph at The Columbia Archives, of the Howard Research and Development pioneering team, captures the image of middle aged men in white shirts framing 14,100 acres of acquired farmland for development. That was 1964. The dawn of Columbia and new vision. 

As a result of new vision, for nearly half a century we have been environmentally buoyed by lakes, open space and parklands to partake at our leisure and pleasure. And in most any direction one can find slices of pristine havens and assets to play or be in the great outdoors. 

While we have converged from rolling acreage to a planned city 100,000 strong, from the still of dirt and grass to the din of concrete and steel, today the Inner Arbor Trust has framed futurist development for Symphony Woods. A team of globally renowned forward thinking GenX architects and planners have designed a plan with the 21st century in mind. The IA will smartly infuse non-traditional recreational, artistic, cultural and business centers of prosperity for current and future Columbians. And we need to think differently about downtown and change to get there.

By contrast to our transformative origins the IAT poses a conundrum; it bumps against generational acceptance to changes beyond the 1960’s imagineering radar. We are in the technical Millennial era of lifestyle needs and societal interests. And yes, we need to think differently to get there.


Rhoda Toback

Wilde LakeColumbia, Maryland



The 53: Design Advisory Panel Submits to Inner Arbor Badassery!!! 

Wednesday, the force of badass landscape archiecture urban planning that promises to, if ever built, absolutely F up the Eastern seaboard with its beauty and awesomeness sauntered casually into the meeting of the Howard County Design Advisory Panel. I understand from a well-placed source that the Inner Arbor Plan itself whispered to Inner Arbor Trust President Michael McCall, "I'm gonna blow this meeting away. This panel's not even a pimple on my butt."

Luke Lavoie chronicled the whooping in this article. Review the width of the entrance? OK, gotcha, Design Advisory Panel guy. Nevertheless, the plan was approved unanimously, which now means that the Howard County Department of Planning and Zoning next faces the plan in the next month or two.

But really, what is DPZ going to offer? "Uh, no, don't put the big community table with plant life growing out of it here, put it here instead? And that 'chrysalis' thing? Can it be referred to as 'cocoon' instead?" Because like a dozen of the best landscape architects in the world don't know as much as our own DPZ.

Child, please. Inner Arbor's got it all going on and has the momentum of the community and clarity of purpose behind it. Anybody can nitpick anything about anything and I'd be shocked if DPZ didn't engage in nitpickery, but ultimately, all DPZ can do is approve. There is no alternative.

And so the Inner Arbor plan, the first, great project of Columbia redevelopment, moves forward. As it should. As it must.

Happy National Banana Cream Pie Day! And Happy National Dr. Seuss Day! Seuss also had awesomeness enough to bust slobs and split wigs. Just like the Inner Arbor.

Let's be careful out there. 


Michael Cornell, Columbia Association Board Member (River Hill)

Creating Memories for Lifetimes

I write this during that chaotic time between Thanksgiving and Christmas. Traffic on the roads is confounded by both shoppers and inclement weather featuring the dreaded “seasonal mix”. Locally, the Symphony of Lights is heralding in the season across from our major shopping nexus.

What strikes me is what an institution the Lights are here in Columbia. Growing up in Montgomery County, I have fond memories of our family’s annual drive through Maryland and DC neighborhoods looking for the best decorations. As I grew, I recall participating in the Pageant of Peace festivities on the Mall in DC - both as spectator and participant. As an adult, we survived the weather of the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade, perched atop a mailbox with my toddler son on my shoulders. My wife, raised in Baltimore, helped turn my attention to Hampden and the Miracle on 34th Street, featuring festive lights and motorcycle Santa’s. All wonderful memories.

Last night, we experienced another first in local traditions. We attended a Parade of Lights Party in Annapolis where we had the pleasure of a very young child egging us on to go OUTSIDE in the rain and cold to watch the boats live rather than on a live Internet feed from the comfort of a food, drink and people-filled living room a couple of blocks from the water. So trekking down to the river, hot spiced cider in hand, discovering my 32-year-old walking shoes were no longer waterproof, we experienced the simple joy and pleasure of sharing a visual treat with friends, old and new. I was delighted by the surprisingly simplistic joy of the event.

Beginning in 2014, the Inner Arbor Trust begins the transformation of the Merriweather/Symphony Woods Neighborhood in Downtown Columbia. Bringing to life such incredibly innovative designs as a virtual living tubular 12-foot high sculpture known as the “Caterpillar”, a wondrous outdoor amphitheater designed with 21st century algorithms aptly titled the “Chrysalis”, an outdoor play Maze featuring transparent walls, slides, stages, stairs and door designs of Columbia, the enigmatic gathering, sitting and dining 300-foot long “Picnic Table”, the Lily Pads boardwalk, landscaping to restore the local ecological habitat, a letters sculpture garden, and a visitors center featuring an art gallery, concessions and party deck called the “Butterfly”.

The international design team has audaciously envisioned an outdoor experiential part of the cultural arts district as called for in the County’s 2010 Master Plan ensuring a lifetime of memories for residents and visitors to Columbia for decades to come. Mere words cannot do justice to the innovative talents and projects proposed for Merriweather Park. If you have not already seen the plans, please visit the Columbia Patch for Andrew Metcalf’s article on Breaking Down the Plan to Develop Symphony Woods < plan-to-develop-symphony-woods> . He does a fantastic job describing those elements with an objective eye. Artists’ rendering are included.

In today’s online world, Columbia is a place that honors the land with facilities, venues, events and programming that beckons to adult and child alike to unplug, go outside and make memories.

Seeing these designs, the next stage in our community’s evolution, begins the creation of a future CA’s Board of Directors set in motion almost a year ago: To create a destination in Downtown Columbia, integrating the arts and music while respecting the land and the trees that represent our community’s commitment to the environment; to bring to life a Columbia designers and planners will still be talking about 40 years from now.

The Inner Arbor has put forth a bold vision, design and plan the make that dream a reality. A reality that will no doubt create memories for children and adults for lifetime to come. 

Sam Quick

I would like to propose an idea of a "Lyric Garden" as an addition to the park plan. I am wondering if and how I could present my idea. I have developed my idea into a presentation and would like to share it. (Link to presentation here.)

What I would like to propose is a poetry garden dedicated to the words/lyrics of songs and music. What I envision as being part of the Caterpillar is an area where the potted plants are replaced with metallic plates engraved with lyrics from songs, poems, literature, and possibly famous quotes.  These plates would then be lit up at night with the rest of the Caterpillar so people would be able to read them in the evening as well. This section of the park would be a more meditative section where people could come and enjoy their favorite lines from the lyrical arts.  

There could be even be a small place where people could recite poetry whether it be original or old.  It also be a place to quietly read or read aloud books including children's book; "The Very Hungry Caterpillar" for instance. It could serve as an outdoor poetry cafe for adults or an outdoor story time for young children. The Chrysalis seems to be a place for medium to large sized venues so I feel that there is a need for smaller intimate gatherings.  It reminds me of an idealic Renaissance picture of a person reciting poetry in a forest while others gather to listen.

This idea would be expanding the Word Art section of the park but would also tie into the street names that Columbia is made of.  Since the majority of the street names have a root in literature I think this would be an important legacy to emphasis and pass on.I really like this idea and I think people in Columbia would appreciate a portion of the park that is a little more personal and intimate. It reminds me of the bricks with people's names under the People Tree.  I am sure there could be issues of copyright though.

Julia McCready

Please consider: "Captivating Outdoor Musical Instruments designed for Creative Sensory Sound Gardens Commercial Buildings • School Playgrounds • Parks • Therapy • Sensory Gardens perfect for children, adults & seniors!"

Howard County is home to many special needs families. A park with a sensory playground will be enjoyable for all, and especially meaningful to the special needs population.

Pearl Seidman

The presentation for an integrated Merriweather Park was well done. The designs were visionary and imaginative. Equally impressive was the respect for nature and its elemental incorporation into the design features. Energy, material, information, and resources flow across boundaries in nature. This was beautifully embodied in the design of the Caterpillar that opens and restricts the flow between Merriweather and Symphony Woods to two locations. The Caterpillar includes energy through its center; natural resources to attract birds, butterflies, insects, and people to its skin; with portals to information and imagination. The Butterfly is simple and elegant in its design and being powered by geothermal energy emphasizes Howard County values of innovation and conservation.

One thing was missing for me though. According to Howard County Public Schools website, students come from 87 countries representing 77 languages. Our diversity—a quintessential lightning rod of our origin—attracted many of us. How do we honor and celebrate that in design? One simple opportunity is the proposed Letter Garden. Consider letters from many languages instead of all in English. Having only English letters provides an implicit and unintentional boundary. Xu Bing’s brilliant sculpture using letters in twelve languages at the Sackler Gallery could be used for inspiration linking people through language. A cultural letter garden would echo the People Tree. Seize the opportunity for this to be an explicit meeting place across boundaries and cultures.