Fine day for culture

Columbia's diversity shows to good advantage at the park

August 17, 2008|By Andrea K. Walker | Andrea K. Walker,Sun Reporter

Two women sit on a bench and converse in Korean as their kids play nearby, scurrying down a curvy slide and running across a kiddie bridge at one of Centennial Park's playgrounds yesterday.

"Be careful, Angela!" says one of the women, quickly switching to English as she notices her daughter trying to climb the jungle gym by herself.

In another corner of the park, a man calls out to his son in French as the toddler suddenly jolts down a hill. A young girl of Chinese descent and her friend squat under a tree nearby, drawing pictures in the dirt with sticks.

It's a scene typical at the Howard County park most summer weekends as the warm weather brings out members of a diverse community.

They have different backgrounds, but they all come for the same reasons: to enjoy the 325 acres of greenery, kayak along the lake, picnic with friends, or jog and stroll along the 2.4-mile pathway that rims the park. The diversity of people who visit the park is an added bonus, they said. In many ways, the park is a reflection of the community around it. Columbia is a planned community built with the goal of fostering interaction among people from many different backgrounds.

Centennial is by far the most popular park in the county, said John Byrd, chief of Howard County's Bureau of Parks and Program Services.

He said most visitors come from the Baltimore-Washington region, but that people with out-of-state license plates come by as well.

"You'll see plenty of people there," he said.

Yesterday's mild weather and low humidity brought out throngs of people.

Hao Li chased his energetic 4-year-old son, Ethan, around one of the playgrounds, dashing from one of the slides to the jungle gyms to the bridge. He also brought his nephew, 6-year-old Yuxuan Cheng, who was visiting from China.

Li, 38, moved to the United States from China 14 years ago to attend American University in Washington. He said he moved to Ellicott City from Prince George's County a year ago because it is a friendly community with good schools. He brings his son to the park just about every week to feed the geese or play with the other kids. He said he likes that there are people from many places.

"It's good to see all kinds of different people," he said.

Sunil Sinha, 35, walked down the pathway with his 3-year-old son, Hersh, on his shoulders. Sinha, whose family is of Indian descent, said he brings Hersh to the park frequently to feed toast to the geese and watch fish and turtles swim in the lake. He also said he likes that Hersh, who is tall for his age and enjoys imitating a Tyrannosaurus rex, gets to play with a diverse group of kids.

"It's important to me, but it's more important for my kids to see and play with other kids of all different backgrounds and races," said Sinha, a physician. "Children's play sometimes breaks down a lot of boundaries."

Maurice Bellan, 39, an African-American attorney from Ellicott City, said one reason why he bought his house was because it was close to Centennial. He also likes the diversity of Howard County.

He brought his cousin and family to Centennial yesterday as a way to persuade them to move to the county. Bellan has been trying to get the young family to give up their digs in Silver Spring for life in Howard.

"The racial makeup is one of the things that attracted me to Columbia and Ellicott City," Bellan said. "Culture is very important."

His cousin, Sean Mornan, 31, and his wife, Dori, who is of Puerto Rican descent, aren't quite convinced they should move. It's not quite as diverse as Silver Spring, they said.

But as they sat on the dock watching the ducks and a turtle resting on a lily pad, they said seeing the park gave them one more reason to consider the county.

"We're not ready to move yet," said Sean Mornan. "But we're closer."

Norma and Kevin Scott, 51, sat at a picnic table eating wrap sandwiches and drinking cans of soda.

Their 13-year-old daughter, Brandy, sat on a blanket nearby, chatting with a friend. The family was celebrating Brandy's birthday.

The family members, who are white, said they chose to live in Columbia in part because it is so diverse.

"We wanted Brandy to be able to grow up where there would be all kinds of people," Norma Scott said.

She said the family likes to see so many different kinds of people at the park and to smell the various types of food being cooked.

"I think differences are respected here, and at the same time it's not a big deal to see so many people from different backgrounds," she said.

andrea.walker@baltsun.com

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