Project to transform vacant lots in city into parks gets started Volunteers help plant tree in East Baltimore

September 19, 1998|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A tree and a new program started growing yesterday on a vacant lot in East Baltimore, marking the debut of an urban reclamation project sponsored by the city's Department of Housing and Community Development and the nonprofit Parks and People Foundation.

Informality -- including gardening clothes -- was the order of the day for the Vacant Lot Restoration Program's inaugural effort near Pratt Street and Broadway, where volunteers, including students from nearby Lombard Middle School, planted the tree.

It was an all-day community garden-raising: Volunteers began getting their hands dirty at 9 a.m.

"A year ago, I was dispirited and ready to move out of the neighborhood after 13 years," said the project leader, Gil Queen, 50, an Internal Revenue Service customer service representative who lives around the corner.

Now Queen is optimistic that the 108- by 72-foot plot -- for years a blighted, rodent-ridden magnet for the drug trade and prostitution -- will be transformed into a welcoming East Baltimore "gateway" to passing traffic.

That gateway was designed by Queen as a green space to be graced eventually by Southern magnolia trees, flower beds and a rowhouse mural. He said his neighborhood is slowly "turning the corner" on crime and grime. Now, "instead of eliminating the negative," he said, "let's start doing something positive."

Adult AmeriCorps volunteers worked side by side with the middle school students. Dennis Taylor, a housing department official who oversees neighborhood projects, came to see the results.

Taylor said the city hopes the vacant-lot project will complement the department's efforts to demolish abandoned, deteriorating homes.

Taylor said as many as 1,700 vacant homes will be torn down this year and 2,000 next year because Baltimore has become "an undercrowded city."

"As we tear down properties, we hope neighborhoods will take on ownership of these lots. It's an excellent opportunity for neighborhoods to get away from concrete, bricks and mortar and get some green space."

Ten other vacant lots in city neighborhoods -- among them Park Heights, Charles Village and Coppin Heights -- are scheduled to be spruced up on Saturdays over the next few months, said Bryant Smith, 23, project coordinator for the Parks and People Foundation.

The foundation's mission, said Jacqueline Carrera, executive director, is to help create urban community by promoting "beautiful and lively parks."

Looking at the small Canadian rosebud planted yesterday, Ameri- Corps worker Lucretia Williams, 57, said, "I hope that tree survives."

Pub Date: 9/19/98

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