Logo proposal divides council

Plan withdrawn after `People Tree' debate

May 23, 1999|By Erika Niedowski | Erika Niedowski,SUN STAFF

It was among the first debates of the Columbia Council's new session, an emotional, divisive dialogue, "painful" even, in the words of one council member.

Less than three weeks into the new fiscal year, the Columbia Association's governing body found itself weighing this politically polarizing matter: whether to keep the "People Tree" in the association's logo.

"The People Tree is a big thing here in Columbia," said Earl Jones, who is in his first term representing Oakland Mills village on the 10-member council.

Critics of the logo said the signature tree -- which has been the symbol of James W. Rouse's planned community since its founding more than 30 years ago -- isn't recognizable when shrunk on association pamphlets and other promotional materials.

It looks like a cotton ball, they say, or a "puff" ball, or worse: a dandelion with just the fuzz on top.

So divisive, though, was the proposal to discard the tree for two streamlined lowercase block letters -- "ca" -- that it never came to a vote. Cecilia Januszkiewicz, the council representative from Long Reach and chairwoman of the communications committee, abruptly withdrew the proposal last week.

Said Jones: "We love our People Tree. If it looks like a dandelion, so be it."

"It's just too painful to raise that issue again," said council member Jean S. Friedberg Jr. of Hickory Ridge, who, after a lengthy discussion of the matter at the council's last meeting, submitted his own hastily drawn logo that incorporates both the streamlined block letters and the People Tree.

No one, Friedberg said -- including those who support the alternative logo -- is opposed to the People Tree, a 14-foot sculpture of which is displayed at the Town Center lakefront as a reminder of Rouse's vision of inclusiveness. "It just doesn't fit very well into a regular graphics scheme," he said.

Tree, and the practical sort of day-to-day reality of `how do you make it fit on a piece of paper?' "

The current logo, which shows the tree to the left of the words "columbia association," was adopted by the Columbia Council last year after discussion with residents of the community's 10 villages. It marked the first major redesign of the association's logo.

The original logo showed the stick figures that make up the People Tree -- Rouse's own conception -- in a circle; a redesign in the mid-1980s depicted the people growing from a tree trunk.

The idea for another redesign came up when several council members took a liking to the "ca" design icon created last year by the association's graphic artist, Claudia Lafuse, and used on fiscal year 2000 budget documents.

During the previous council session, which ended April 30, the communications committee unanimously recommended adopting a slightly modified version of that icon as its new logo.

"Unfortunately, the `People Tree' does not hold up well in a logo," Januszkiewicz wrote in a memo to council members. "It loses its identity when used in such small proportions. I think you will agree that the proposed logo is much stronger and more easily identified."

The association's vice president for community relations, Pam Mack, sent six samples -- three each of the current and proposed logos -- to village officials for their impressions.

Some samples of the reactions:

"I would rather it stay the People Tree design. It's unique, it represents a way of life, it represents an ideal, a dream that Rouse had when he started the place." -- Henry Dagenais, Long Reach Village Board chairman.

"I've lived in Columbia for over 18 years. To me, the symbol of Columbia is the People Tree. The tree is a symbol of growth." -- Barb Seely, Kings Contrivance Village Board chairwoman.

"The new one? It's flat-out ugly." -- John Snyder, Long Reach Village Board vice chairman.

Noting divisions on the council and in the community, Januszkiewicz said she withdrew the item from consideration at Thursday's public meeting because she believes the council's time can be better spent on other issues.

"I don't expect to bring it back anytime in the future," she said.

The new logo is on hold.

"I think we'll probably attempt to make the People Tree more defined than it is" if the logo is redesigned, said Mack. "There clearly is an emotional attachment to the tree."

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