Bay Journal

Bay Trust grants to transform city neighborhoods

$300,000 for projects in Baltimore

  • By Rona Kobell on September 19, 2014

Seven vacant parcels around Baltimore City will be transformed into community gardens, parks and urban farms, thanks to $300,000 from the Chesapeake Bay Trust.

More than a dozen organizations and community groups submitted proposals to turn blighted areas in city neighborhoods into community assets. The Trust worked with the city’s planning, public works departments and office of sustainability to match the community groups with environmental and construction design expertise. They announced the winners Wednesday (September 17) at Clyburn Arboretum’s Vollmer Center. Within the next few months, organizers expect major progress at the sites that city residents will notice.

Baltimore’s latest Growing Green effort dovetails with several others in the city to make its many blighted neighborhoods more appealing. Baltimore already brims with projects such as the Duncan Street Miracle Garden, a 44-lot plot of vegetables and flowers in an East Baltimore neighborhood . Urban hoop houses, new farm-to-table restaurants and colorful, roughhouse-high murals have all moved into struggling neighborhoods in the past decade.

City dignitaries and EPA officials celebrated the project’s winners. Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who had been briefly hospitalized just two days before, made Cylburn her only public appearance Wednesday.

“We know vacant lots are a detriment to the neighborhood. They are sources of trash and crime. Maintaining these lots is costly. But I’m not willing to turn a blind eye,” Rawlings-Blake said. “It’s exciting to think about the communities coming together…this is a powerful example of how we can improve Baltimore as a green and growing city.”

Jon Capacasa, director of the water protection division at EPA’s Region 3 in Philadelphia, came to show his support for the community-inclusive approach. The EPA has encouraged such competitions elsewhere in the country, he said, to look at social, economic and environmental issues - and attempt to tackle them all at once.

“We can’t afford to solve problems one at a time anymore,” Capacasa said. “We desperately need new tools and new ideas and you’re providing those.”

Winners included a community peace park in Druid Heights, a fruit garden near North Avenue, and public art in the Hollins Market area near the B & O Museum. Organizations with environmental experience, such as the Chesapeake Bay Foundation and Civic Works, partnered with churches and community groups to put together the projects.

As a result, longtime environmental advocate Dru Schmidt-Perkins found herself in an odd place - a room where she didn’t know many people. The event drew some of the usual environmental-policy crowds, but many people came because they want a better future for their neighborhoods.

“We’ve been fighting over storm water fees at the state policy level, and here we are bringing things down to the “fix-it” level, to the neighborhoods,” said Schmidt-Perkins, executive director of 1,000 Friends of Maryland. “The most diverse group of people are here and it’s so exciting.”

Rawlings-Blake said that’s as it should be.

“I think this shows what happens when you do the proper outreach and get people engaged,” she said.

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About Rona Kobell

Rona Kobell is a former writer for the Baltimore Sun. .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).

Read more articles by Rona Kobell

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