The U.S. EPA and the Chesapeake Bay Trust, in cooperation with the Maryland Department of Natural Resources, have awarded $727,500 to greening projects - many of them in underserved Baltimore neighborhoods.

The money is coming through the Green Streets, Green Towns, Green Jobs grant initiative. Its goal is to spend money wisely, pursuing green solutions whenever possible to do necessary infrastructure work. Examples include pervious pavement, green alleys, rain gardens and stormwater retrofits in areas that require some of that work anyway and would previously have used old techniques.

The agencies made the announcement at Sarah’s Hope, a homeless shelter in Baltimore’s Sandtown-Winchester Neighborhood. Sandtown-Winchester is the neighborhood where Freddie Gray lived and where some of the city’s unrest began after Gray died in police custody in April.

Sarah’s Hope will receive $75,000 from the Parks and People Foundation, which is receiving the money through the larger federal grant, to reduce the impervious surface on the street, beautify the community, contribute to open and playground space, and change the appearance of the neighborhood. These practices should also help the stream health; Sandtown-Winchester is part of Watershed 263, a mostly paved section where there were once many streams that drains into the Gwynns Falls.

Molly Mullins, the communications manager for the Chesapeake Bay Trust, said these projects were in the works before the unrest. But, she added, “many of our grantees are definitely targeting underserved communities in order to reach new and diverse audiences.”

Other environmental groups have been invoking the unrest as evidence that the city needs to invest in greening projects to better people’s lives.

Sandtown-Winchester is home to Baltimore’s famous Highway to Nowhere. In the early 1970s, the city cleared out nearly 3,000 people, primarily middle-class black families, in order to extend Route 40 so it would connect with Interstate 70 and provide an easy way into Baltimore. They built the 1.5 spur, but never built the rest of it due to lack of funds and community opposition. The road is a wound through the neighborhood, a chute for trash and pollutants as well as a reminder of the vibrant neighborhoods lost.

Other Baltimore projects funded with the grant for greening include: $10,795 to the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association; $35,000 for the Baltimore Tree Trust; $30,000 to Second Chance; and $74,826 to Blue Water Baltimore, $75,000 to Highlandtown Community Association and $99,068 to the Old Goucher Community Association.

Money is flowing into the city and neighborhood coalitions as a result of the unrest, and some environmental groups are hoping that greening campaigns can capitalize on the moment at turn it into something positive.

At the Healthy Harbor report card announcement June 4, Blue Water Baltimore Executive Director Halle Van Der Gaag talked about how a clean water agenda is also about stronger, more vibrant communities. Many people tell Van Der Gaag that it’s hard for some of Baltimore’s roughest neighborhoods to focus on concerns like trash and clean water when they have more pressing concerns, like hunger and homelessness and unemployment. But, she said, these are all quality-of-life issues, and they are not mutually exclusive.

“It all matters, it’s all connected,” she said. “Baltimore is pulling together to work on these issues, to make a more resilient city. And if we act now, we will move this forward.”

Other projects not in Baltimore include:
Friends of the North Fork Shenandoah River, Virginia, $43,615
Land and Cultural Preservation, Inc., Frederick, Maryland, $14,315
Community Action Commission, Pennsylvania, $70,000
City of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, $60,000
City of Staunton, Virginia, $75,000
American Rivers, Regional, $19,880
West/Rhode Riverkeeper, Inc., Edgewater, Maryland, $30,000
Town of Edmonston, Maryland, $15,000