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 <http://columbia.patch.com/groups/downtown-columbia-development/p/breaking-down-the- 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.