Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Symphony Woods

Last Friday, the Columbia Association Board of Directors Agenda for our January 24 meeting was released.  Contained within that Agenda was a set of recommendations from CA President Phil Nelson to approve what has been referred to as the "Inner Arbor Plan", designed by Michael McCall, and create a Trust to oversee the implementation of this design plan and take the CA Board out of the business of designing park benches.


This is the Plan Columbia has been waiting for.  This Plan is something to be excited about.  The general nature of a Park is preserved while a new Arts District with CA Headquarters is patched in to create the draw necessary for a fully utilized green space.  The trees in the front are maintained and the waterways in the back are framed in a way that rediscovers a previously unrealized treasure.

The proposed Trust would solicit the participation of Columbia residents, from fields pertaining to the design, funding, and construction of a Park.  There is nothing overtly incompetent about the CA Board of Directors in this regard, but the general function of a biweekly Board, simultaneously governing the administration of a $62 million organization, does not allow for the flexibility and agility necessary to get a plan of this magnitude accomplished.  We need park people to do park things.  

But this Plan surely can lose.  In fact, here is an e-mail that went out yesterday:

This Thursday, January 24th, at 7:00pm, at the CA Headquarters building above Clyde's at the Lakefront, the CA Board will be hearing a presentation on a changed plan for Symphony Woods. This plan was hatched in secrecy. It undoes the work we all promoted in creating a Symphony Woods Park and replaces it with a return to the plan which the community successfully rebuffed. It adds major buildings and other structures to the Woods, destroying the serene, park-like environment which we all supported and which was brought to fruition by Cy Paumier's design and which was already approved by the Planning Board.

 In addition, CA administration is asking for the creation of a separate entity to control Symphony Woods, thereby removing it from the control of the people we elect to make such decisions, the CA Board. This new entity's board would likely be dominated by Howard Hughes Corporation.

Please come at 7pm and speak out at Resident Speak-Out in support of open, transparent process, of a real park in Symphony Woods, and of no giveaways of the people's land to private interests.

~Alan Klein, Spokesperson
The Coalition for Columbia's Downtown

A few observations:
  • A Plan originally presented at the October 11th CA Board meeting was "hatched in secrecy."
  • Diminutive buildings constructed into a hill, replacing gravel and driveway, are "major buildings...destroying the serene, park-like environment" that no one uses, and is otherwise situated directly next to Merriweather Post Pavilion.
  • Cy Paumier's design Plan, the one previously scorned as tearing down too many trees, is now preferred.
  • With all due respect, the projection of this new Trust being dominated by Howard Hughes is a complete fabrication.
This is where we are in all of this.  I respect Alan as a dedicated Columbia activist, but he's wrong here.  The presumption of bad intentions has brought him to distort a Plan that preserves the vast majority of the natural setting, while integrating a limited number of buildings (parts of which are projected to be built underground) into what may make up less than 5% of the entire Park.

We were certain to have opponents of the new Plan.  The fact of the matter is that opponents of change win so many of these battles when those that want something better are staying home.  Then, when nothing happens, the same folks that stayed home throw up their hands and blame the CA Board.  I don't think that happens this time.  I truly believe that this Plan is powerful enough to stir civic pride.  I am confident this Plan will get people, for the first time in their lives, to be heard on Columbia's future.  There is too much at stake, and too large of a window to lose this opportunity, for people to stay home.

The first meeting for the presentation of the Inner Arbor Plan will be on Thursday, January 24th at 7:00 pm (please note the changed time).  The Board vote is anticipated for February 14 (Valentine's Day).  You can e-mail your CA Board representative, or the entire Board, via this link.

"There is a power that can be created out of pent-up indignation, courage, and the inspiration of a common cause, and that if enough people put their minds and bodies into that cause, they can win."
-- Howard Zinn