Monday, February 27, 2023

Creative Possibilities


It’s possible that you have already seen it, but I still want to make a pitch for Rebecca Bryant’s piece on The Merriweather Post.

Reimagining Columbia’s Tot Lots, Rebecca Bryant, The Merriweather Post (guest post)

Bryant is a member of the Oakland Mills Village Board. She is a member of Yards Alive, which I’ve written about here, and helped organize and staff the bike corral for the Fourth of July Festivities in collaboration with Bicycling Advocates of Howard County.

Bryant’s piece does a good job of outlining the current challenges surrounding the network of 175 tot lots spread throughout Columbia. 

Ten years ago I wrote about some of my issues with tot Lots. It was prompted by a video presentation released by CA called “Creating Gathering Spaces” on the short-lived Inspire Columbia website. The link is in the piece but, alas, it doesn’t work anymore.

Looking for a Sign, Village Green/Town², June 27, 2013

While my focus in that piece was about my longstanding frustration with how difficult it was to find tot lots if you didn’t live right on top of one, the CA video was not. I’m disappointed not to be able to share it with you now. (I tried YouTube, no dice.) 

I believe that Columbia Association created the video as away of beginning a conversation like the one Ms. Bryant’s piece describes. My recollection is that they were looking at Columbia’s demographics and made their pitch in a way that leaned heavily on reimagining tot lots for as amenities for retirees and senior citizens. Despite their best efforts, one came away with the feeling that their ideas involved removing a lot of expensive equipment - -  that needed to be maintained and or replaced on a regular basis - - and swapping in signs that encouraged older folks to do stretching exercises and the like.

As I recall parents of young children were…dubious. Ian Kennedy, then a local blogger (I think he still was at this point?) wrote eloquently about this at the time and asked some pretty good questions about what would happen to Columbia if we stopped planning for families and young children. 

In a different corner, quite the hue and cry arose from older residents who felt strongly that the Tot Lots must remain exactly the was that Jim Rouse had created them, and that any change constituted the Columbia Association attempting to steal something from Columbians. We experience waves of this every so often even today, and certainly we have seen evidence of this anti-CA sentiment in recent disputes on the CA Board. 

There’s a point at which this becomes less like preservation and more like neglect.  Like the Victorian habit of maintaining a dead person's room exactly as they left it, a completely static memorial. Lifeless.

If we in Columbia have changed since 1967, and our needs have changed, let’s talk about that and about what could be better. For all of us.

This is my context for reading Rebecca Bryant’s piece. I love that her visions are multi-generational, and since I am a very visual person, I enjoyed the photos that are included to spark the readers’ imaginations. I’m hoping that her proposal will be widely read and that people will have positive conversations about the future of tot lots and want to get involved and advocate on their behalf.

I’m also tickled that CA is doing a pilot study in Oakland Mills, but, you know, that’s just me.

Ms. Bryant closes her piece by saying:

I look forward to the creative possibilities that lie ahead with the start of a pilot to investigate other options for our play spaces.  The play spaces have the potential to be gems of our neighborhoods and add a greater value to all residents. 

I agree.

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