Lending a hand in Mount Vernon

URBAN LANDSCAPE

Group: The Friends of Mount Vernon Place wants to help the city promote and take better care of the neglected historic squares.

March 16, 2000|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

MOUNT VERNON Place is unquestionably one of the finest urban spaces in Baltimore.

But the public parkland near the base of the Washington Monument is not maintained as well as it could be. Litter is pervasive. Plantings are sparse. Sections of lawn are spotty or bare.

A citizens' group has formed to help the city Public Works Department, the Mount Vernon Cultural District and other organizations take better care of the four public squares near Charles and Monument streets.

Friends of Mount Vernon Place is a nonprofit group established last year to revitalize and transform the public squares and promote them as an amenity for area residents and visitors.

Leaders of the group will hold a meeting from 5: 30 p.m. to 7 p.m. on March 23 at the Mount Vernon Club, 8 W. Mount Vernon Place, to discuss its mission and sign up new members.

"We see ourselves as advocates for the parks," said Rebekah Kennedy, co-chair of Friends of Mount Vernon Place with another Mount Vernon resident, Helen Schlossberg Cohen. "We're trying to build an organization that will safeguard and protect the parks for a long time, not just today."

The group doesn't want to usurp other groups but to supplement their efforts, said Cohen. "We want to do a lot more than has been done in the past."

Friends of Mount Vernon Place grew out of the success of Our Front Yard, a planning effort launched by the Midtown Community Benefits District and Project for Public Spaces, a national group. As Our Front Yard grew, the group renamed itself Friends of Mount Vernon Place to reflect its ties to that area.

Kennedy and Cohen said the group was formed to address a need. Though several groups represent the businesses, residents and institutions in the Mount Vernon historic district, Kennedy said, no group has been focused exclusively on the public spaces between the buildings.

The Friends of Mount Vernon Place is poised to serve as a constituency for Mount Vernon's public squares and to help maintain and beautify them.

Immediate needs include making sure the plants are watered and trash is picked up regularly. Kennedy said she agrees with the Mount Vernon Cultural District's master plan that the area needs an underground irrigation system and a part-time gardener.

Cohen said she'd like to see the Washington Monument open more often for tours, the sculptures well maintained and the area promoted better.

Other goals of the groups are to:

Raise funds to control the maintenance, use and improvement of the parks.

Build coalitions with other neighborhood institutions.

Consider developing a Conservancy for Mount Vernon Place, with an endowment that could help protect its legacy.

Develop a master plan to guide maintenance and development of the parks, just as the city has been creating master plans for Druid Hill Park, Patterson Park and Carroll Park. The cost of hiring a consultant could be $100,000 to $200,000.

Above all, Kennedy said, she hopes the group can reverse a widespread perception that the Mount Vernon area is seedy.

"We want to revitalize it. We want to get more people to use the parks," she said. "We want to bring in more activity. We want to address the problems of crime and grime so it doesn't seem seedy any more. We're trying to make Mount Vernon a magnet and attraction, not just for Baltimore but for the entire nation, because we feel what we have here is so unique."

The guest speaker March 23 will be Peggy Stansbury, president of the Baltimore Conservancy, which supports the Baltimore Conservatory and Gardens in Druid Hill Park. She will discuss how that group was formed and operates, and how that effort relates to the one in Mount Vernon.

Admission is $15 at the door, with proceeds going to the Friends of Mount Vernon Place. Reservations can be made by calling 410-234-0749 or 410-659-6735.

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