Help the Community Ecology Institute save this Columbia farm

It’s a six-acre organic farm smack dab in the middle of Columbia’s Hickory Ridge Village that the Shaw family has worked for almost 40 years. The nonprofit Community Ecology Institute (CEI) wants to save the farm from development but needs to raise $300,000 by the middle of May to make it happen. There are a multitude of reasons why we need to support them.

Chief among them is CEI understands the impact that climate change may have on our community. They are committed to being a model for sustainable practices and teaching the skills of Mitigation, Adaptation and Resilience. Learn about their vision and help support it if you can. It’s a worthy cause and important for the future of Columbia and Howard County, Md.

Harry Schwarz – April 11, 2019

Community Ecology Institute: Growing a farm into a living classroom in Howard County [EXCERPTS]

Janene Holzberg (Baltimore Sun), March 22, 2019

Chiara D’Amore wants to transform a small organic farm in Columbia into a living classroom for the nonprofit she founded in 2016 with a mission to reconnect people to the natural world.

Community Ecology Center Site plan (courtesy of Community Ecology Institute) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VERSION

D’Amore said CEI [Community Ecology Institute] is working to raise $300,000 to purchase Shaw Farm, a 6.4-acre property in a residential neighborhood near Atholton High School.

Having a facility at 8000 Harriet Tubman Lane would boost the nonprofit’s profile in the community and permit expanded programming, D’Amore said, while saving a 38-year-old family farm from development at the same time.

Aerial view, Shaw Farm (courtesy of Community Ecology Institute)

“There is a fire in me to protect this land,” said D’Amore, who has a master’s degree in environmental science and engineering and a doctorate in sustainability education.

If the farm purchase moves forward, a 4,000-square-foot barn on the property that is 75 percent finished would become classroom and office space.

The Shaw family sold organic produce for years at county farmers markets and donated thousands of pounds of vegetables and fruit to people in need, he said. They also sold produce in a community-supported agriculture program and later worked with food banks.

Shaw Farm (courtesy of Community Ecology Institute)

“Having been involved intimately with this land for almost 38 years, it is very important to me to find new stewards for the farm,” he stated.

“Working with Chiara and the other members of the Community Ecology Institute will ensure that my family’s values of clean air, water, soil and food — and putting people ahead of profits — will continue,” he wrote.

The Community Ecology Institute

The Community Ecology Institute (CEI) is a Howard County based non-profit organization with a vision for a world in which human and natural communities thrive together. Our mission is to foster socially and ecologically healthy communities by enhancing the connections between all people and the natural world.

We are protecting this unique property from being developed and will be creating a Community Ecology Center where people can come to learn through hands on experiences about how they can have healthier, more sustainable lifestyles through:

  • Farm preservation & agricultural knowledge — There is little agricultural land left in eastern Howard County, especially in Columbia. Preserving this six-acre organic farm is a worthwhile endeavor in its own right!
  • Environmental sustainability & climate action — We will demonstrate and offer educational programming related to: conservation landscapes such as rain gardens, pollinator gardens, and food forests; . . . reducing waste through “refuse, reduce, reuse, and recycle” approaches; . . . energy and water efficiency; . . . and sequestering carbon in the soil.
  • Experiential education programming — CEI’s mission focuses on helping people develop strong connections with the natural environment because research shows how important such experiences are for people’s well-being, the generation of knowledge that makes a difference, and the cultivation of an active environmental ethic.
4,000 sq.ft. barn at Shaw Farm (courtesy of Community Ecology Institute)
  • Health & nutrition programming — farm to table programs that help the community connect with the benefits of eating local produce and space for community health practitioners to run programming
  • African American heritage programming — Local historians believe this area was an important point in the county’s Underground Railroad connections because 17 freed slaves were each given land in the community, hence the original name of Freetown.
Unfinished second floor of barn at Shaw Farm (courtesy of Community Ecology Institute)

Community Ecology Institute provides education on ways to mitigate climate change

As a coastal state and home to the Chesapeake Bay, Maryland is among the states most vulnerable to the effects of climate change through increases in sea levels, precipitation events, summer heat waves, and the frequency and intensity of storms. CEI is a signatory of the We Are Still In Agreement, and through the Community Ecology Center we seek to educate and support individuals, families, organizations, and communities on the local effects of climate change and empower them to harness local opportunities for action through Mitigation, Adaptation and Resilience.

The Community Ecology Center will provide opportunities for people and organizations to calculate their “Carbon Footprint” (the amount of GHG they emit) and provide corresponding actions that can strategically reduce those footprints. Workshops and information sessions will be the platform for discussing the methods of calculations, recommendations for reductions such as carbon sequestration gardens, energy efficiency options and habits that can reduce carbon output.

The Community Ecology Center will assist residents and their communities in building resiliency in conjunction with mitigation and adaptation efforts through a series of educational workshops with topics such as emergency preparedness, urban forestry, water conservation, sustainability, supporting local farms, gardening, and how to engage with local and state political initiatives and planning.

And speaking of climate change —

County Executive Ball Announces Major Commitments to Climate Action [EXCERPTS]

COLUMBIA, February 26, 2019

Howard County Executive Calvin Ball today made a series of environmental commitments that will make the County a leader in environmental sustainability, reduce emissions and stem the causes of climate change. The news conference was held at the County’s Robinson Nature Center, a LEED Platinum facility operated by Howard County Recreation and Parks.

(by Howard County Government)

“It will be on all of us to continue to lead by example in the fight against climate change,” said Ball. “As your County Executive, I pledge bold leadership to make Howard County a safe and healthy place for generations to come.

The Maryland Commission on Climate Change (MCCC) reports that our state is already seeing the effects of a rapidly changing climate, posing a threat to the health, security, and prosperity of our communities. From these threats, there is also opportunity – opportunity to support a green economy in Howard County where our residents receive training and gain critical skills that enable them to be successful in the green jobs of the future.”

Howard County has signed on to [The Paris Agreement] and will aim to reduce greenhouse gas emissions of County government operations 45 percent below 2010 levels by the year 2030 and reach zero emissions by 2050. This will be accomplished by reducing County energy use, lowering its fuel consumption, and increasing renewable energy generation on County property. To learn more, visit

Additionally, Ball committed to reduce land waste by announcing the expansion of the curbside food scraps collections area that will include almost 10,000 additional homes to the program. These residents will receive a postcard with signup information about the service which is set to begin on April 1st. The expanded area being served will include parts of the Villages of Owen Brown and Oakland Mills.


The LGBTQ+ community is under attack; Howard County has PFLAG

Until Trump, the LGBTQ+ community was making real strides in public acceptance and legal support for their rights. Two thirds of Americans endorse same-sex marriages, according to the latest Gallup poll. But the Trump administration has been dismissive of marriage equality and is attempting to roll back recognition and protections of transgender people under federal civil rights law.

I’ve had many gay and transgender friends and family throughout my life. I’ve seen up close the inevitable struggle that folks who are gay or transgender endure to find acceptance in a world full of bigotry.

It’s a time of immense peril for the LGBTQ+ community, but also one of enormous possibility. All of us “coming out” with public support for this minority would go a long ways to bringing our country, our families together. This post is all about the threats to the LGBTQ+ community, and their cause for celebration.

For my part, I was just elected Treasurer of PFLAG Columbia-Howard County, “the extended family of the LGBTQ+ community.”

Harry Schwarz

Obama Gave Us Gay Marriage, Trump The Honeymoon From Hell [EXCERPTS]

by Tim Teeman (Daily Beast), October 4, 2018

But ever since President Donald Trump’s election, the victory and meaning of marriage equality—so hard fought, and a brilliant achievement­­­­­­­­—has become imperiled.

Those opposed to LGBT equality have a new drum to march behind: religious liberty.  The new guard at the White House, with Pence and Attorney General Jeff Sessions [now Whittaker?] at their ideological forefront, have chosen an insidious scythe to chop away at not just marriage equality but also other equality and anti-discrimination measures and protections.

(by Chip Somodevilla, Getty Images)

‘Religious liberty,’ as evidenced in the Masterpiece Cakeshop case, posits that it is fine to not marry gay people, or serve them in shops, or afford them equality of treatment when it comes to adoption and fostering if you, as a religious person, disapprove of them.

The attacks on LGBT people, using “religious liberty,” has coincided with a period of particular trans-focused prejudice. President Trump has announced his determination to ban trans people from serving in the military. States like Texas have tried to pass ‘bathroom bans’ (and in Texas’ case will possibly try once more after failing the first time), which seek to regulate where trans people can and cannot use toilets in public.

LGBTQ Victory Fund

Washington, DC – The Rainbow Wave of openly LGBTQ candidates who won elections nationwide included an impressive number of historic firsts and groundbreaking victories at the state legislative level [winners in Maryland are below]. As of November 7th, at 1:00pm ET, 84 openly LGBTQ Victory Fund endorsed candidates won seats across 36 states.

“The rainbow wave touched down in state capitals throughout the country on Election Day – with an astounding number of out LGBTQ candidates shattering long-standing political barriers and becoming historic firsts,” said Mayor Annise Parker, President & CEO of LGBTQ Victory Fund. “We elected state legislative candidates in three states that had never elected openly LGBTQ state legislators before, tripled the number of out trans state legislators, and elected LGBTQ women and people of color in key states.”

“While our attention is often focused on Donald Trump and Congress, it is in our state legislatures where the most horrific attacks on LGBTQ equality are occurring. But personal relationships matter in these legislative chambers and we know out LGBTQ officials significantly influence the votes of their colleagues on equality issues. Voters chose to send out candidates to their state legislatures – and these leaders will be game changers.”

‘Transgender’ Could Be Defined Out of Existence Under Trump Administration

PFLAG Columbia-Howard County,
The extended family of the LGBTQ+ community

The mission of PFLAG Columbia-Howard County is to support parents and caregivers of lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer children. We welcome all people – gay, straight, bisexual, transgender and queer – as well as their families and friends. Together, we support each other, educate the broader community and advocate for equality.

PFLAG families, friends and allies work together with those who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and queer+ to provide opportunities for dialogue about sexual orientation and gender identity. PFLAG acts to create a society that is healthy and respectful of human diversity.

PFLAG Columbia-Howard County at the Riverdale Independence Day Parade, 2012 (from PFLAG facebook page)

PFLAG is a national nonprofit organization with thousands of members and supporters and more than 400 chapters across the United States. This vast grassroots network is cultivated, resourced and serviced by the PFLAG National Office, located in Washington, D.C., the national Board of Directors and 13 Regional Directors.

Howard’s LGBTQ groups planning first Pride parade, community outreach [EXCERPT]

by Kate Magill (Howard County Times ) June 20, 2018

Advocates, led by the county’s chapter of the LGBT group PFLAG, short for Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays, hope to see [their] work culminate on the Columbia lakefront next June in the county’s first pride festival.

PFLAG Columbia-Howard County at Baltimore Pride Day (photo by Steve Charing, Steve Charing OUTspoken)

Set to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the 1969 Stonewall Riots in New York City, often viewed as a catalyst in the movement for LGBT rights, the festival is scheduled for June 28 [2019] with the theme “Remember, Resist and Rejoice.”

“Howard County [is] such a population center for the state but we don’t have an event to highlight the diversity we supposedly treasure here,” said Jumel Howard, vice president of Howard County’s PFLAG chapter who is leading plans for the festival. “This is a great way to not just show how much we care for the LGBT community [but] to educate the community on some of the issues that affect the LGBT community.”

Queens and Cocktails, PFLAG Columbia-Howard County annual fundraising event. The Queens, with PFLAG Steering Committee members June Howard and Sue Garner (from the PFLAG website)

Howard County’s pride fest joins a growing number of festivals in the area. Washington, D.C., Baltimore City, Montgomery County and Frederick County all have or will hold pride events during the year.

And this Essay by a Local Blogger . . . .

Events: Transgender Day of Remembrance Service at UUCC [EXCERPT]
by Colleen Morgenthau (RoCo in HoCo), November 22, 2018

Bruce was gay, of course, but there’s overlap in the experiences of gayness and trans-ness. I absolutely consider him to be someone who was murdered for being who he was. I watched him plunge into a depression so deep that he took his own life, and the reason he did so is because he thought his loved ones would reject him if they knew he was gay. He murdered himself, pretty much to prevent the pain of having his soul murdered by a cruel society.

In the absolute greatest irony of his whole situation, I’m sure that eventually his parents would have embraced him totally for who he was. They, like my parents and Robert’s parents, were members of the Conservative Jewish tradition, but their politics were very liberal. They had gay friends, and were vocal about being pro-gay rights. But Bruce knew, in his eminently wise way, that when it comes to their own child even the most open-minded thinkers might struggle with the idea that their son was different. He couldn’t risk it, I suppose.

Blandair’s North side to be a nature park

The north side (Part 2) UPDATED

Blandair Regional Park comprises three hundred acres straddling MD-175 in the middle of Columbia. The two hundred acres on the north side consists of open meadows, forests and wetlands, as well as a large manor house, barns, and several smaller outbuildings, including a former slave quarters. This land will become accessible to the public once an interchange is constructed connecting the two sides.

This post (with lots of images) describes the upcoming phases to be constructed in the Park, and what it will mean to open up the north side.

Blandair Regional Park

Capital Project N3102 PUBLIC MEETING NOTICE September 11, 2008

The majority of the land is preserved to protect sensitive environmental features such as small streams, ponds, wetlands, forest stands, hedgerows and meadows that will provide quiet places for nature study and contemplation, as well as including approximately five miles of trails and pathways. The pathways will connect with the existing pathway network.

from the Master Plan, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR VIEW OF ENTIRE PARK

A small nature center will concentrate on backyard and meadow wildlife, with an observation deck and nature activity room. A Children’s Garden will provide three to four acres of creative child-level and hands-on flower and garden experiences.

from the Master Plan, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR VIEW OF ENTIRE PARK

The historic Blandair Mansion will be renovated to provide rooms for meetings, social gatherings and classes, in addition to displaying historic information about the evolution of the agrarian lifestyle of Howard County. The garden/orchard area behind the mansion will be restored as a place to stroll or be seated outdoors.

from the Master Plan, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR VIEW OF ENTIRE PARK

The farm’s outbuildings, including a smokehouse, slave cabin, springhouse, tenant houses, three barns, and several small sheds — all clustered in the central farmstead area — will provide actual examples of a working farm’s structures, and an authentic background for historic re-enactments.

from the Master Plan, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR VIEW OF ENTIRE PARK

Children’s Garden

Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks has not yet begun planning the Children’s Garden but hopes to begin construction in FY2022.  I think of a Children’s Garden as a different kind of  playground, designed to engage a child’s imagination by exposing them to the wonders of nature.

Herb Schaal of EDAW,  who designed the world-famous Hershey Children’s Garden in Cleveland, developed a concept plan for the Children’s Nature Adventure at Blandair using a slightly different configuration than the Blandair Master Plan.  Thunder Hill Park Alliance, a nonprofit organization, organized Schaal’s four day visit here with funding by The Horizon Foundation.

Conceptual drawing, Children’s Nature Adventure, Blandair Regional Park (Thunder Hill Park Alliance) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR BETTER DETAIL

History of Blandair [Abridged]

by Preservation Howard County

Blandair is an exciting property in many ways, not the least of which relates to the many discoveries still to be made about the history of the home, its outbuildings, occupants, owners and the land itself. Because Blandair has only recently come under the stewardship of Howard County, reclaiming its history from the past is a relatively new undertaking, one that is in process and yielding exciting findings even in its earliest stages.

previous state, Blandair Manor House (from Smugmug)


Blandair Manor House today (by Harry Schwarz)

The earliest record of the site can be found in 1757, when Blandair was part of a larger tract of land that was transferred as the patented “Talbott’s Resolution Manor.” . . . Many of Blandair’s occupants and owners have served in elected political positions and appointments, and thus gained prominence or an historical footnote. They were present at meetings of historical significance and their names were signed on documents that set law and policy for hundreds of years to come.

Theodorick Bland (from Wikipedia)
Manor House, Blandair Regional Park (by Harry Schwarz)

Theodorick Bland, acquired it in 1836. Theodorick Bland served in a number of private and public positions throughout his career, advancing rapidly in Maryland politics. . . . At the top of his profession by 1824, Bland became the Chancellor of Maryland, the highest paying judicial post in Maryland at that time, and one he would occupy under ten Governors, resigning just shortly before his death in 1846. The current manor house, which was extensively repaired after a fire, thought to have occurred in the early 19th Century, is believed to date to the years during which Bland served as Chancellor.

badly deteriorating Seed Barn, Blandair Regional Park (by Harry Schwarz)
badly deteriorating Seed Barn, Blandair Regional Park (by Harry Schwarz)

In the second half of the 19th Century, Blandair . . .[became] a working dairy farm under the ownership of Henry & Emma Stern Brossene . . . . The final private purchasers of Blandair were Mr. and Mrs. Henry Smith, who lived on the farm with their daughter Elizabeth, known to many as Nancy. Miss Smith remained at Blandair throughout her life, not marrying.

Blandair Regional Park (by Harry Schwarz)
Blandair Regional Park (by Harry Schwarz)

When she died in testate in 1996, the property transferred to her two surviving and non-local relatives, both of whom chose to sell Blandair. The most recent and final transfer of the property was to Howard County, Maryland, which purchased the property from the heirs of Elizabeth C. Smith.

Many more pictures of the buildings:

More pictures of the land:

Slave Quarters

by Thomas Reinhart (Maryland Historical Trust), June 2004 [Excerpt]

Documentation suggests 1845 as a date for the quarter’s construction. When Bland was negotiating the purchase of the property in 1844, he noted the necessity “of putting upon the land such new edifices as would be indispensably necessary, of which there are none, that is a Negro quarter, stables, etc.” He had a team of carpenters working on the dependencies after closing the sale.

Blandair Slave Quarters (Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress)

The quarter is an excellent example of mid-19th century slave housing and reflects the “reforms” in design and construction implemented by plantation owners who wished to protect their investment in their slave labor force. During this period, planters began to allocate more money, time, and materials to building slave quarters in order to improve the living conditions.

interior, Blandair Slave Quarters (Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress)

The double-pen quarter measures approximately 12-feet by-32-feet, with a gable roof and a large central brick chimney. . . .  The first floor is divided into two rooms by the central chimney stack with passage on either side. Each room has an exterior door, two windows, and a fireplace. A stairway from each room leads up to a separate room on the second floor, but only the south stairway survives.

Blandair Slave Quarters drawing (Historic American Buildings Survey, Library of Congress) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW

From Heritage Matters, National Park Service:

Phasing Plan, Blandair Regional Park

An interchange is planned for construction FY 2020 – 2021 that will connect the two sides and open the north side to the public. According to the plan, Oakland Mills Road will then be closed on the west side of the park.

Overall Site Plan, Phase J, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Public Works) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW


Rendering of Blandair overpass at MD-175 (Howard County Dept. of Public Works)

The Blandair Park Phasing Plan shows Phase 1 and 2 complete, with Phase 3 now under construction. Efforts to rehab the Manor House and stabilize the other historic structures (Phase H) are already underway. Subject to funding, the Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks hopes to begin construction in FY 2022 of Phase 4 on the north side, consisting of basic infrastructure, landscaping the festival lawn, and developing a Children’s Garden. Phase 6 on the south side, consisting of indoor courts and a skate park, may also be constructed at this time.

Phasing Plan, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks). CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW


To see the south side (Part 1):


Playgrounds for all ages at Blandair Regional Park, Columbia

The south side (Part 1)

Active recreation is the theme for the first 100 acres of Blandair Park, a 300 acre regional park being developed in the center of Columbia by Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks. Construction of two phases has been completed on the land south of MD-175 at Oakland Mills Road.  Phase 3, just begun, will introduce additional options for play by all ages and abilities, and nearly complete the south side build out.

Back in 2005-2010, I advocated as part of the Thunder Hill Park Alliance to make the entire parcel a nature park.  Thankfully, the 200 acres on the north side are intended to be a preserve of forest, wetlands, and meadows, with a nature center, children’s garden, and a historic farm complex.  

Read further for an orientation (with lots of pictures) to what amenities are on the south side now and the innovative plans for Phase 3. It’s a long post, but scroll through for the pictures. We’ll look at the plans for the north side in Part 2.

~ Harry Schwarz

What is Blandair Park? [Excerpts]

by Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks

Blandair Park is one of the county’s premier destinations for sports events. . . . . Amenities now available include three lighted synthetic turf multipurpose fields, 2 lighted synthetic ball fields, press boxes and bleachers, along with playgrounds, pavilions, tennis courts, restrooms and a parking lots.

Blandair Regional Park, south side of MD-175, looking West (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks). Phase 2 is in the foreground, now complete. Phase 3, now being constructed, is the undeveloped land upper right center.
Blandair Park, Phase 2 , now completed (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW

The farm [that became Blandair Park] traces its beginnings to lands granted to the Talbot family in colonial times, and it was later owned by members of the Dorsey, Howard, and Weems families. In 1845, Theodorick Bland, Chancellor of Maryland (1824-1846), purchased it and named it “Blandair.”  . . . . The last residing owner, Nancy Smith, passed away in 1997 and the farm, long having ceased operations, was purchased by Howard County with assistance from the State’s Program Open Space in 1998 for use as a park.

Challenge Course playground, Blandair Park (Harry Schwarz)
Challenge Course playground, Blandair Park (Harry Schwarz)

In 2001, a committee of 23 citizens was appointed to advise the County on the direction it should take in developing the park. The Committee determined that the North Area should feature historical interpretation, preserve natural areas, and provide predominately passive recreation and nature education. It also could provide space for occasional large outdoor gatherings. They determined that the South Area should provide more facilities for active recreation, as well as preserve its natural areas.

Approved Master Plan, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW

Report on how the athletic fields are being used

by Michael Blevins, Sports Manager (Howard County Recreation & Park)

Blandair’s next phase has a focus on inclusive play [Excerpts]

by Janene Holzberg (The Baltimore Sun) August 16, 2018

Phase 3 Illustrative Site Plan, Blandair Regional Park  (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks) CLICK ON IMAGE FOR ENLARGED VIEW
Phase 3 existing site, Blandair Regional Park (Harry Schwarz)

A groundbreaking ceremony for the biggest, most expensive — and most inclusive — playground in a Howard County-owned park will take place at 9 a.m. Wednesday [August 22nd] in east Columbia, as development of the third phase of Blandair Regional Park gets underway.

County Recreation and Parks Department officials estimate the $10.9 million project will take 18 months to complete and will open in the late spring or early summer of 2020.

Conceptual illustration of Playground for All, Blandair Regional Park (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks/captions by Harry Schwarz)

Nicknamed “Playground for All,” it is the third of seven phases planned for the 300-acre park site over the next decade.

The playground design’s emphasis on special features for all ages and abilities arose from focus groups the county held with community organizations and residents starting in 2013, he said.

Conceptual illustration of Farm Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 0-2 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)
Conceptual illustration of Farm Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 0-2 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)

Instead of 50 percent of the playground equipment being accessible to kids with disabilities — which is the most common formula for accessibility in county parks — that number was increased to 80 percent for Blandair’s playground.

Six color-coded pods will contain themed areas geared toward various sub-groupings of children from 18 months to 12 years, and the entire playground will have perimeter fencing to help contain those who tend to wander. Shade structures, picnic tables and benches will be incorporated into the layout.

Conceptual illustration of Dino Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 2-4 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)
Conceptual illustration of Dino Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 2-4 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)

“This playground has been intentionally designed for special needs kids and the amount of thought and planning that went into it is incredible,” [Beth Benevides, a Marriottsville resident and former president of the Howard County Autism Society’s board of directors] said. “But the features will appeal to all kids of all ages, so we’re flip-flopping things by pushing the mainstream into the special-needs community.”

Conceptual illustration of Space Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 5-12 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)
Conceptual illustration of Space Playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for ages 5-12 years (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)

An Infinity Web climbing apparatus and other planned playground features were also selected for their innovative qualities.

Musical instruments called Free Notes comprise a feature that sensitivity experts say will relieve stress and soothe park patrons. These include cymbals, chimes and drums. Dinosaurs, the farm and outer space are themes of a few as-yet unnamed areas.

Conceptual illustration of Free Notes playground, Blandair Regional Park, designed for all ages (Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks)

This phase of the park will also contain three bocce courts, two croquet courts and two horseshoe pits, so-called “backyard games” that aren’t available in other county park facilities and will likely appeal to seniors, [Raul Delerme, Chief of the bureau of capital projects for the Howard County Dept. of Recreation and Parks] said.

Delerme said a less flashy but integral feature of Phase III will be construction of a Recreation and Parks Department maintenance facility that will service the entire park. The shop “will give us an even greater presence on-site and that’s important to us,” he said.

To encourage accessibility, the park is connected to downtown Columbia by a paved path and there is a bike rental station in Phase I, Hunter said [Anna Hunter, the department’s public information and marketing director],  and the park has also provided a bus stop on Oakland Mills Road.

We believe in children of all abilities playing together

Our inclusive playgrounds promote physical, cognitive, learning, visual and hearing experiences that enrich play experiences for all children. We believe everyone deserves the highest level of fun.

Consulting with both child development and inclusive playground experts, we incorporated focus on the complexities and developmental benefits of play to include the specific features children need at each stage of growth. Designing an inclusive playground goes well beyond the ADA’s playground equipment requirements or even designing and building playgrounds with wheelchair accessibility.

Inclusive play means:

  • Creating wide paths between playground equipment so all children can walk or roll between playground equipment
  • Creating surfacing which is easy to use with crutches, wheelchairs and other mobility devices, creating wheelchair accessible playgrounds
  • Creating cozy or quiet spaces for children who may become overwhelmed and may need a quiet space
  • Ensuring that special needs outdoor play equipment isn’t in a separate area, but included with other equipment, allowing children to play together
  • Buying playground equipment that can be used in a number of ways, by everyone.

Check out the renovations at Merriweather Post Pavilion

Merriweather Post Pavilion (MPP) in Columbia, MD is in the midst of a $55 million renovation. If you haven’t visited for awhile, you’re in for a treat. The renovations are geared to enhancing the fan experience and providing appealing amenities to the performers in order to attract top talent. MPP celebrated it’s 50th anniversary in 2017 so the facility was due for some upgrades. 

The renovations are being coordinated by the nonprofit Downtown Columbia Arts and Culture Commission, which took over ownership of  Merriweather Post Pavilion in 2016. One of the first acts of the new leadership was to sign a new 40-year contract in 2017 with DC-headquartered I.M.P. to operate MPP.  The Commission hopes to supplement the traditional rock concerts at MPP with other artistic and cultural activities.

Ian Kennedy, Executive Director of the Commission, recently gave me a tour of the renovation work in progress. Here are some pictures for a glimpse of the new Merriweather Post Pavilion.

(Click on any image to begin the slide show.)

All photos are by Harry Schwarz, unless otherwise indicated.

The partners operating Haven on the Lake are fighting in court

The Columbia Association (CA) and Still Point Spas partnered to establish Haven on the Lake, a wellness spa in downtown Columbia, in 2014. Now they are battling each other in court and it doesn’t seem a fair fight. Still Point is accusing CA of “pursuing unrelenting legal actions; CA’s strategy seems to be to ‘bully’ the Still Point into leaving, dragging out the legal process so the costs become too great for a small women-owned business to continue.”

The founders of Still Point, Tori Paide and Marla Peoples, are acupuncturists I know from when I worked at Tai Sophia Institute (now MUIH). They are heart-centered people with the utmost integrity. They are also award-winning entrepreneurs and CA wisely partnered with them for their expertise in creating a healing environment and profitable business model.

Tori Paide, left, and Marla Peoples, founders of The Still Point spa at Haven on the Lake in Columbia, one of two locations

Tori and Marla shared their legal struggle with me, and while it’s their side of the story only, many of the elements are indisputable and the overall documentation seems to me compelling. I am sharing their story so that perhaps the court of public opinion might provide some support in their battle against Goliath. Continue reading The partners operating Haven on the Lake are fighting in court

Autonomous Vehicle Technology coming to Merriweather District

Some famous person once said, the future will be here before we know it.  Well, the development of Merriweather District presages a bright future for Columbia. Rouse’s Columbia was always at the cutting edge of community development. The introduction of autonomous parking, with GREEN building design, and recovery of the surrounding ecosystem as we finish Rouse’s city, makes us a leader once again. 

“Our partnership with Howard Hughes Corporation will transform Merriweather District into the first city in the country to be built for, and operate, fully-autonomous parking technology,” said Anuja Sonalker, Founder and CEO of STEER. “The benefits are infinite.”

Merriweather District Groundbreaking includes announcement of autonomous parking amenity for Downtown Columbia neighborhood [Excerpts]

by Jean Moon (Columbia Patch), April 30, 2018

The Howard Hughes Corporation and Maryland Governor Larry Hogan broke ground today on the first urban, walkable neighborhood to be created within the Merriweather District, celebrating The Howard Hughes Corporation’s continued transformation of the district and the revitalization of Downtown Columbia.

Planned development of Area 3, Merriweather District (image by Howard Hughes Corporation)

The development of a new office building to be anchored by Tenable Inc., one of the largest and fastest-growing cybersecurity companies in the country, marks the latest milestone in Downtown Columbia’s emergence as a vibrant commercial hub for technology and innovation.

In addition, plans were announced for a neighborhood amenity to harness the emerging technology of autonomous parking. The Merriweather District buildings will be powered by STEER technology, the first fully-autonomous parking solution transforming everyday cars into driverless vehicles that self-park. This integration will transform the Merriweather District into the first city in the country to be built for automated self-parking cars.

Aerial view of planned development of Area 3, Merriweather District (image from Downtown Columbia, DTC Partnership)

“The Merriweather District is designed to be a dynamic live-work-play destination with access to unique offerings, great restaurants and an iconic entertainment venue within a beautiful, walkable environment” [said John DeWolf, President, Columbia, The Howard Hughes Corporation.]

STEER Autonomous Parking Video (click to play)

Level 4 Autonomous Parking Coming to Merriweather District in Columbia MD [Excerpts]

by Bryan Jonston (Auto Connected Car News), May 1, 2018

Click on logo for company website

STEER built the first fully-autonomous parking technology to transform everyday cars into driverless vehicles. The first application of STEER’s technology is a Level 4, highly autonomous and cybersecure parking solution – drivers simply exit the car at a destination, and the car parks itself in a designated parking lot. When consumers are ready to go, just summon the car via a mobile app.

The Merriweather District, a Howard Hughes Corporation project, will be the first high-density, mixed-use neighborhood to adopt STEER and power a truly tech-forward experience for residents, businesses and consumers.

“Our partnership with Howard Hughes Corporation will transform Merriweather District into the first city in the country to be built for, and operate, fully-autonomous parking technology,” said Anuja Sonalker, Founder and CEO of STEER. “The benefits are infinite; Merriweather residents can save time and gas getting to and from their cars; reduce stress and frustration hauling bags of groceries in inclement weather; and corporate partners will benefit from increased employee productivity by saving time and frustration looking for and walking from the parking lot to work.”

How Autonomous Vehicles Will Shape Cities

By Brooks Rainwater (National League of Cities), June 1, 2018

Today in America, autonomous vehicles (AVs) are already on our streets, with pilots taking place in cities nationwide. Technology like this can be utilized to make all of our lives better — but even if our hands are off the wheel, we must drive this future together.

Mobility: Tap taxis to tackle isolation

While most automakers don’t plan on selling AVs to the public before 2020, Lyft, Uber and Nutonomy have all started piloting driverless technology in select cities across the country. If you live in a city, your first ride in an autonomous vehicle will very likely be in a self-driving taxi. These taxis have the potential to provide a cheap and inclusive way for people who are isolated—such as the elderly and disabled—to get around.

Prototype Uber driverless taxi (click on image for Uber website)

Sustainability: Weaving a microtransit mesh

If your first experience riding an AV isn’t in a taxi, then it’ll be in a driverless minibus. Unlike the taxis, minibuses have pre-programmed routes and can carry multiple people at once. They will be an economical part of our autonomous future.

A driverless shuttle began operating this fall at the University of Michigan’s Mcity test facility in Ann Arbor (click on image for Mcity website)

Jobs & the Economy: A human touch on robot delivery

You may have expected that a drone would be delivering your takeout burritos, but it turns out robots on sidewalks will probably be doing it first. Autonomous robots will likely be a boon to local restaurants and shops, allowing them to more easily compete with megaliths like Amazon and provide customers with almost instant deliveries.

Autonomous robot (from CitiesSpeak, National League for Cities)

Urban Transformation: Rethinking buses, bikes, and barriers

Just as robots will likely be embraced by local businesses, robots will also likely serve a municipal role. Autonomous street patrol officers and ushers will become a go-between for residents and their built environments, and city infrastructure will become a flexible fabric with which residents can communicate.

Before long, we can expect to see thousands of autonomous vehicles on roadways, autonomous buses and transit vehicles providing rides, and autonomous conveyors shuttling back and forth on sidewalks making deliveries. 

Volvo pioneers self-driving garbage truck (click to play video)

Featured image at top of post

from the Volkswagen Group, currently testing autonomous parking at Hamburg Airport.


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