Promoting the Inner Arbor plan

3 minute read

I lay out some thoughts on how best to promote the Inner Arbor plan for Merriweather Park at Symphony Woods.

How can we best promote the future of the Inner Arbor plan? I had a few thoughts following up from my previous post containing my testimony at the joint board meeting of Columbia Association and the Inner Arbor Trust.

“Showing up is half the battle.” Apparently the original quote was “showing up is 80% of life”, which only reinforces the point and is coincidentally apposite, since apparently 80% of the resident speak-outs at the meeting were in favor of the Inner Arbor plan. (Per Julia McCready, of the speakers who expressed a clear opinion on the plan 12 out of 15 expressed support.) Promoting the plan online is great, but I think one speaker at an in-person meeting outweighs dozens of blog posts, tweets, and Facebook likes. There will be other opportunities for Inner Arbor supporter to show up and let their voices be heard, whether through speak-outs or written testimony or both. Let’s continue this practice.

Perception has been diverging from reality. Tom Coale has emphasized that the easement scheme for Symphony Woods, under which the Inner Arbor Trust was granted power to carry out the Inner Arbor plan, provides the plan a very strong guarantee of protection from interference from the CA board: “Let’s be clear—the Inner Arbor Plan is the future of Symphony Woods. CA elections will not change that. The vote from February 2013 became irreversible once the easement was signed, so long as the provisions included therein are followed.” Given that Tom is both a lawyer and a former CA board member, I’ll take his word on this.

That means that talk from CA board members about “going back and reworking the plan”, calling for the “return of Symphony Woods to CA control”, and similar sentiments is for the most part just that: talk. In some ways the Inner Arbor skeptics elected to the CA board are like Republican legislators crying “repeal Obamacare”, who found a hot-button issue that can keep their core supporters outraged and motivated to go out and vote. Whether they can actually keep their (expressed or implied) promises to those voters seems to be beside the point.

Reality has a bias. Tom goes on to write of the irreversibility of CA’s decision: “It would be good, very good in fact, if our local media would clarify this fact for its readership.” I personally doubt this is going to happen. Luke Lavoie and other Baltimore Sun reporters have done great work in providing timely coverage of the Inner Arbor plan and the controversies surrounding it. However by the nature of their positions and the policies of their employers they and their fellow reporters at the Sun and elsewhere are very much locked into what some have called the “view from nowhere”: “a bid for trust that advertises the viewlessness of the news producer”, which “places the journalist between polarized extremes, and calls that neither-nor position ‘impartial.’” If Inner Arbor opponents on the CA board want to distort reality for their own political gain then I suspect their half-truths or even outright falsehoods will get duly recorded in the press without comment or contradiction, except perhaps for an occasional editorial piece in which “opinions” are carefully walled off from “reporting”.

Use the Source, Luke.1 If folks want to really know what’s going on with the Inner Arbor plan then ultimately they need to look beyond _Columbia Flier articles and go to the source documents. Fortunately the Inner Arbor plan is extremely well-documented both in its features and its history. A good place to start is the “Making of the Trust” page on the Inner Arbor Trust web site and in particular Michael McCall’s letter to the Hickory Ridge Village Board. Unfortunately primary source documents like this rarely get linked to from press articles—but that’s what bloggers are for.

Where I stand. That leads in to my final thought, about my own small role in all this as someone who supports the Inner Arbor plan and has written a lot about it. The article I quoted above also had another quote about an alternative to the “view from nowhere”, a quote that I think sums up well how I approach blogging about the Inner Arbor plan and other topics of relevance to Columbia and Howard County in general: “‘Look, I’m not going to pretend that I have no view. Instead, I am going to level with you about where I’m coming from on this. So factor that in when you evaluate my report. Because I’ve done the work and this is what I’ve concluded…’”

  1. The “Luke” here is of course Skywalker, not Lavoie, though I admit the coincidence is amusing.