Friday, November 21, 2014

Breaking All The Rules

Last night, the Howard County Planning Board unanimously approved the Inner Arbor Plan (phases 1-7) for Symphony Woods.  That's a very good thing.  I wasn't able to attend the meeting two weeks ago, but negotiated with my wife to attend last night.  I really wasn't needed.  There was a diverse coalition of support representing all the elements that make Howard County a great place to live.  Nonprofits, cycling groups, young, old, walkers, runners, business, arts.  By the time I left, there was spill-over seating in the hallway outside of the Columbia/Ellicott City Room.

It reminded me of a quote that Dennis used after we first sat down with him to review the plan:

"Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men's blood and probably themselves will not be realized.” - Dennis Burnham (via Jim Rouse)

For it is the magnitude of this Plan that has become its inspiration and its albatross.  The last wisps of opposition remained last night, yet it seemed their tone had changed.  We no longer heard about fountains and I don't recall hearing Cy Paumier's name uttered once.  Instead, critics acknowledged that they wished they could share our enthusiasm, and agreed that these are exciting ideas, but that it was all just too big, too expensive, and not something that could be accomplished in Columbia.

In other words, we're not good enough for this.

At its best, collective action achieves the impossible.  That's why we come together.  What we may not be able to accomplish alone, we can achieve together.  Dreams become plans.  Plans become reality.  Reality assumes the inevitable schema of history.  Rinse and repeat.

But for all those who say the debate is over or the fight is won, I have to yet again bring up my most important personal lesson from working on this project over the last two years - you never get to "win" in matters of public concern.  You just move on.  The good news there is that you also never lose.  You just move on.

One of the more unusual bits of testimony last night was from a professor of architectural history at Stevenson University who said he hoped the Inner Arbor plan was passed because he could write a book about it being one of the greatest failures in urban design in history (or some other hyperbolic slight that I can't quite remember).  He said that he understood that art was subjective, but that an artist needed to know what the rules were before they started.  In the case of Inner Arbor, it "broke all the rules."

Although I couldn't stay for the final decision of the Board, my friend William Cochran paraphrased this quote from Planning Board chair Josh Tzuker:

"Some people accuse this visionary park of breaking all the rules. Well, a cultural park in the shadow of the stage where Jimi Hendrix first premiered his Star Spangled Banner in 1968 probably SHOULD break all the rules."

That's some real rock 'n roll stuff right there.  Let's build this park.