Foundation shares its vision of cleaner, greener Baltimore

Report lists strategies to clean up empty lots

July 25, 2000|By Kevin Van Valkenburg and Gady A. Epstein | Kevin Van Valkenburg and Gady A. Epstein,SUN STAFF

There are more than 14,000 vacant lots in Baltimore, many of them covered with trash, rubble and weeds - eyesores and hazards that a nonprofit group wants to see cleaned up.

In an effort to interest more community groups in improving the lots - and revitalizing neighborhoods - the Parks & People Foundation presented a report last night on ways to create and preserve urban green space.

"The report shows the benefits, such as community gardens, small parks and playgrounds, that often lie beneath the trash and rubble of vacant lots," said Jacqueline M. Carerra, executive director of the group. "We hope this report will change how people view vacant lots."

The foundation has already taken its own small steps toward transforming vacant lots, providing grants of up to $1,000 to 250 greenery projects in city neighborhoods, including many aimed at turning neglected, glass-strewn patches of dirt and rubble into gardens and green spaces.

"This is very good money well-spent," said Guy Hager, who presented the report at the Baltimore Streetcar Museum on Falls Road. Hager is director of the group's Great Parks & Stream Valleys program. "Over time it is our hope, with the city government and [nonprofit groups] that we can beautify the entire city and bring it back to life."

But Hager told an audience of 50 people that the city needs to help neighborhoods go further, by offering a way for communities to take some form of ownership over neglected spaces so they have more incentive to beautify them. He cited a program in Chicago that helps ensure some once-brown patches of land will remain community spaces for a long time.

The report, titled "Neighborhood Open Space Management: A Report on Greening Strategies in Baltimore and Six Other Cities," points to programs in other cities as well - Atlanta, Detroit, Boston, New York and Philadelphia - as examples of how to transform unused lots into community green space.

Hager also said the city needs to address inequities that leave some neighborhoods without green space, and it needs to do so as part of an open space plan.

"Everybody could be close to a neighborhood park. There's plenty of space out there," he said. The report was put together, he said, in an effort "to help develop a policy and strategy" toward implementing improvements citywide.

"We've been working for some time to help people who want to revitalize their neighborhoods socially as well as physically," Hager said. "Usually seeing these lots get cleaned up is a good sign the neighborhood is taking care of itself."

"There is a very strong consensus that these lots are intertwined with drugs and crime," he said.

For information: 410-448-5663.

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