Finalists present ideas in design competition

June 11, 1994|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,Sun Staff Writer

Baltimore's Gwynns Falls Greenway could be the site of the city's first "Growing Center," a supernursery and educational facility where ecologists-in-training could grow flowers and produce for distribution to 20 communities along the trail.

Or it could be the setting for "Four Seasons Festivals" featuring historical, ecological and cultural events designed to attract visitors from throughout the region.

Or it could be a design laboratory for high school students, who would help create footbridges, benches and other amenities as a way of developing a sense of stewardship.

Those ideas grew out of a design competition held to generate ways to enliven the greenway, a proposed linear park and recreational trail that will follow the Gwynns Falls stream valley south for six miles from Leakin Park in northwest Baltimore through the city to the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River.

Three teams of artists, architects and landscape architects presented their ideas yesterday, and a winner is to be announced soon.

All three groups expressed a desire to promote public access to the greenway and to use it to link nearby communities with the stream and with each other.

A group headed by landscape architect Diana Balmori and environmental sculptor Meg Webster suggested that an abandoned city recreation center and quarry near the Carroll Park-South Hilton neighborhood be transformed into the "Growing Center." They described it as a "gardening park" that would be a place for environmental advocates to meet and train others.

Flowers and shrubs could be cultivated there to replant the trail or sold to support neighborhood enterprise, making it a "self-sustaining school, business and community resource," they said.

The group also proposed a series of places where people could just "hang out and look at the water," including treehouses, coffee shops, snowball stands, and message centers.

"We're trying to connect the people to the resource, and to make the resource fully serve the people's needs," Ms. Webster said.

A consortium called Graxis recommended that the greenway be connected with nearby communities by "links and loops" that would encourage exploration. They also proposed a series of "sculptural events" that would teach visitors about the history and topography of the area.

For a site near Interstate 70, they proposed that a freighter be set up along the stream bed to serve as a lookout point. For other locations, they proposed wind-activated sound sculptures, pontoons, "talking bridges" that convey information, and the Four Seasons Festivals.

Instead of presenting a design, artist Jody Pinto and landscape architect Lee Weintraub proposed to work with students from four public high schools to come up with one. They argued that the young people would feel more ownership of the greenway if they helped create it.

"These are the poets for our team. These are the artists," Ms. Pinto said. The students would be involved "not

as janitors, to clean up the trash, but as designers and, perhaps, as managers."

They also suggested that part of the design fees could be used to purchase computers and other equipment for the high schools near the Gwynns Falls -- Edmondson, Walbrook, Southwestern and Western.

The design competition was sponsored by the Municipal Arts Society of Baltimore City and administered by the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Art and Culture.

The finalists each will receive $3,000, and the winner gets to negotiate a contract to carry out its design. So far, sponsors have raised $1.9 million to carry out the first phase of construction. The estimated cost is $4.5 million. Work is due to begin in mid-1995.

Several community members who watched the presentations yesterday said they believe the city will benefit no matter who wins.

"If they could just do something about some of the trash" in the stream, said West Baltimore community leader Michael Clark, "that would help."

"If we could take some ideas from each one, we would really have an outstanding project," said Dolly Jefferson, president of the Edgewood Neighborhood Association.

Barbara McClinton, a landscape architecture student at Morgan State University, said she thought the third team's idea of using high school students was "fraudulent."

But another Morgan State student, Judy Smith, liked the idea. "If they don't own it, they won't take care of it," she said.

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