Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Baltimore's urban green becomes famous for more than carrots and sticks

Baltimore's parks, gardens and food farms have been discussed in the context of food deserts, equity, social determinants of health, Vacants to Value (V2V), stormwater management, resilience and workforce development. Last Friday the national organization Project for Public Spaces (PPS) added its voice reporting about yet another purpose: Urban gardens as a place for immigrants and refugees.
Sustainability Open House at the War Memorial Building last week
(Photo: Philipsen)

The Office of Sustainability inside Baltimore's Department of Planning, can put up a good show and get an excellent response as became quite obvious at last week's Sustainability Open House Baltimore. The large exhibit space at the lower level of the War Memorial was teaming with activity and the wide array of displays clarified how green spaces relate to all those topics. The Baltimore Sustainability Plan is up for comment here.

Baltimore has a robust culture of urban gardens, urban farms and CSAs which government agencies such as the Office of Sustainability, non-profits such as Baltimore Green Space or Hunanim (City Seeds and School of Food) have cultivated for years.

Some of the harvest has been part of Baltimore student's cafeteria food for years. Some is coming together in advanced operations such as the Baltimore Food Hub which opened last year in East Baltimore. The activities have made Baltimore a go-to place for connecting schools, education, equity and urban food production. 

The Planning Department is hoping to open a new green chapter with the new Green Network Plan which has been in the works for several years and is now out for final comment. A single plan is trying to tie all green spaces together with a special emphasis on under-served communities.
The Baltimore Green Network plan's vision promotes urban resiliency through land use equity. The plan seeks to transform vacant properties into green community assets - and to connect these spaces to schools, homes, retail districts and other activity centers. 
Baltimore Green Network: Draft out for comment now
At the root of the plan lies the insight that green islands won't do much if one can't get there or if they are not connected. Or as Ryan Dorsey likes to say about inaccessible assets: “If you can’t get there the opportunity might as well not exist”.

The Baltimore Green Network Plan (BGN), therefore, consists of nodes and corridors whereby some of those nodes and corridors already exist and some would need to be created to create a network. 

In many respects the draft plan is reminiscent of Baltimore's 2015 bike masterplan which included everything that an ideal bike city would offer but didn't offer an implementable plan with priorities and a clear strategy how one could achieve the end plan. Something the Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee achieved with its 2017 plan update. Similarly, the BGN needs that kind of simplification to be actionable plan. 

As far as urban gardens as a forum for immigrants to grow roots in a new community, PPS got involved in Baltimore in 2017 in a new kind of place-making effort.  PPS writes:
BGN overview plan: A confusing array of corridors and nodes
In addition to the crops the refugees were planting, Baltimore’s gardens began to nurture a sense of social cohesion among residents. In the fall of 2017, PPS joined the International Rescue Committee (IRC) staff in Baltimore to help the New Roots gardens reach beyond their initial purpose, and combat social separation in refugee communities. PPS and IRC staff, along with several community partners and stakeholders evaluated the urban gardens and discussed whether they were bringing long-time locals and refugees together. 
Thus, what some Old World countries with their urban garden-colonies have never forgotten was reborn in Baltimore. Using current terminology, gardening was rediscovered as as place-making and as a place to build social capital.  Again PPS:
Baltimore farm food truck (source: PPS)
More than a space just for refugees, the gardens would be even more valuable as spaces designed to attract everyone; bringing about the small daily interactions that break down barriers between people. Now, the New Roots program is part of “a grassroots approach, helping people to see across difference,” through the lens of agriculture.
This is precisely what Baltimore needs, places where people can see across their differences. If the new bike and trail network plan (including the Rails to Trails loop), the Green Network and PPS' work with refugees get connected the right way. a lot could be gained. Don't forget to leave your BGN comments here
Rails to trails loop plan: Simplicity!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

PPS Baltimore article
Baltimore SUN, 2015: Refugees find comfort in an alley garden in Highlandtown
Video of Mayor's Green Network announcement

Related on this blog:

Urban Farming - A passing Fashion or a viable Solution?

Space for urban regeneration

Sustainability Plan 2.0

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