Our SavingThePlaces.com online community is not only focused on restoring and maintaining the wonderful streams, forests, lakes and mountains that were preserved for us by previous generations. We are also focused on opportunities for creating new special places or redefining ones as they change with the growth of our population. Urban and suburban redevelopment will provide us with these opportunities. All of us who desire attractive, interactive, natural settings, will have to work closely together with the planning and development communities to ensure that our visions for new special outdoor spaces become a reality.
There are two places here in Howard County, Maryland that will be going through a metamorphosis in the very near future. Both of these areas have value to us now, but their value and their health could be greatly enhanced with proper thought and attention. They deserve our ongoing interest and support.
Symphony Woods, which lies in the heart of Columbia, is about to change. Since Columbia was first planned, this 36 acre park and the adjacent woodlands have grown up to be a mature woods with open areas for walking. Many offices in adjacent buildings have windows that look out over the woods. These tall trees and green open spaces enrich the entire downtown with their presence. In the very near future however, some of this wooded area, outside of the 36 acre park, will be cut down because it is zoned for development. This will be a shock when it happens. Many of us thought all of the wooded area was part of the park.
There is also a debate on how to best manage the remaining woods within the Symphony Woods Park. Should the wooded lands be left as natural as possible or should they be designed to attract people into the woods? The answer is probably somewhere in between. To date the park has suffered from overuse. Part of the challenge is reaching some sort of understanding of how much “loving” a place can really take. If we overuse a place, it degrades with time. If we restrict access, then fewer of us have as many opportunities to get out into nature. There is a fine balance that needs to be established so we can maintain and enjoy our special places now and in the future.
An underlying challenge is how do we make the woods regenerative? How do we allow enough of an understory of small trees and shrubs to continue to grow so that they can provide adequate habitat for birds and so they can replenish the tall trees that will fall at some point in the future? There are a range of options on the table. For more detail of the current plans visit the Inner Arbor Trust at http://inartrust.org/ and encourage people working with the Trust to protect the woods, the understory, and the streams as much as possible. The access to nature is what makes Symphony Woods so valuable to the residents of this town.
The part of downtown adjacent to Symphony Woods that is scheduled to be developed is called The Crescent. Some of this 68 acre area has served as a parking lot for Merriweather Post Pavilion. The plans call for this area to become an elaborate, mixed-use development with tall buildings as well as outdoor amenities. The goal, of course, is to make it a very people friendly and vibrant environment so it will attract tenants and consumers to its offices and shops. Columbia needs a beautiful and dynamic downtown area with a balance of woods, streams, pathways, as well as restaurants to create a healthy open air space that will attract and rejuvenate visitors and residents alike.
Howard Hughes, the developer for this area, has already spent a great deal of time and money restoring the streams and floodplains, removing invasives, and establishing a balanced ecosystem in parts of this area. It is a great start that should be capitalized on. The plans and vision described by their consultant Biohabitats, certainly aim at responsible and attractive development. Of course, once they build it, it will then be our responsibility to maintain it on into the future.
I look forward to a place where we can all gather, enjoy the new amenities and still be deeply rooted in the natural wonders of Columbia. After all this town is unique with all of the open space. We should celebrate it and support activities and plans that build on its strengths. I hope that Howard Hughes can use their vast experience and expertise to find the right balance and create something wonderful, and green, for all of us to enjoy. If they do, if they build it, we will come.