The Friends of West Baltimore Squares is a new partnership-driven initiative connecting historic preservation, urban greening and neighborhood revitalization through the celebration of West Baltimore’s unique historic squares and parks. Working as a Partner in the Field promoting neighborhood revitalization in African American communities, I often discover parks, gardens, and vacant lots, some well loved and cared for and others not, just next door or across the street from the historic buildings that we’re fighting to save at Baltimore Heritage. The aspirations of gardeners in West Baltimore have much in common with our efforts to reuse buildings – like the Sellers Mansion on the southeast corner of Lafayette Square – and return activity to a neighborhood that struggles with disinvestment and concentrated poverty. The Friends of West Baltimore Squares reflects these common goals of supporting more livable and vital neighborhoods through a partnership between Baltimore Heritage, the Parks & People Foundation, and neighborhood residents around five historic parks to organize events, conduct outreach to residents and visitors, and advocate for the long-term vitality of West Baltimore’s parks and neighborhoods.
We launched this new effort in February 2011 working with neighborhood leaders in Franklin Square, Harlem Park, Lafayette Square, Perkins Square, and Union Square. These five parks are used by over a dozen West Baltimore neighborhoods which include many more pocket parks and community gardens. While these neighborhoods are distinct and diverse, they also share many common challenges – vacant and abandoned properties, and illegal dumping all come to mind – but also share common assets such as handsome historic rowhouses, generous green space, and the potential for transit-oriented community development around the new Red Line light rail route proposed to connect West & East Baltimore through downtown. We decided to focus initially on organizing public events to engage a broad cross-section of neighborhood residents and begin growing a network of contacts across the area. Our first event, the West Baltimore Squares Spring Walk & Celebration, at the end of April. The walk connected over 60 residents from the area to four of the major squares, and ended with a community BBQ at Lafayette Square.
We’re promoting our programs through neighborhood meetings, a growing e-mail list, as well as Facebook, Twitter, and Flickr. This range of outreach efforts is essential to connect with the many young people and families who often do not participate in neighborhood organizations and also offers an opportunity to recognize the neighborhoods many real assets like the new Harlem Park School Community Garden. We’re launching a new tour program in early June at the West Baltimore Farmer’s Market that mixes interpretation of the area’s Civil War history in the 1860s, struggles with urban renewal in the 1960s, and innovative new approaches to urban forestry and sustainable stormwater management.
This is a new effort for Baltimore Heritage and we are excited about the opportunities to reach out and engage, not only with people who love old buildings but also with those who are working hard to create more sustainable historic neighborhoods through supporting parks and gardens. Through building up community around a shared commitment to sustainable and unique historic neighborhoods and connecting our efforts to the transit-oriented development, we see a bright future for the residents and neighborhoods around West Baltimore Squares.