Community leaders, partners and supporters came together recently to celebrate the completion of a vacant lot restoration in the neighborhood of Druid Heights, Baltimore.
The National Wildlife Federation (NWF) was awarded $66,451 in May 2018 to revitalize a vacant lot in a priority area of the Baltimore City Office of Sustainability’s (BCOS) Green Network Plan, which identifies significant locations for recreation, greening, and other community amenities. Revitalizing vacant properties with green space not only provides environmental and social benefits, but also signals that the community is reclaiming their neighborhood by creating spaces to exercise, convene, play, and learn.
For the past 6 years, the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation (DHCDC) has attempted to address the lack of open space and connection to nature in this area. The McCulloh Street lot was one of the priority locations identified because of its central location within a highly populated area as well as its large size, both of which will maximize the potential for positive communal gathering, and outdoor appreciation and activity. “You took a lot where people were throwing garbage and dumping and you turned it into a place where children and others can come and feel a little bit of life,” said Congressman Elijah Cummings who spoke at the event.
The NWF partnered with the DHCDC and their “Green Thumb Club” on this project and received an award through the Chesapeake Bay Trust’s Green Streets, Green Towns, Green jobs (G3) program. The goal of the Chesapeake Bay G3 Grant Program is to help communities develop and implement plans that reduce stormwater runoff, increase the number and amount of green spaces in urban areas, improve the health of local streams and the Chesapeake Bay, and enhance quality of life and community livability. With funding from the Trust and the BCOS, the work began in Spring 2019.
“85% of Americans live in cities and towns across the country. But so do two-thirds of our wildlife. So, it’s incredibly important that we create green spaces like this; that clean our air and water, that provide habitat for birds and butterflies, and also create spaces for our community to gather and our kids to play,” said Jen Mihill, regional executive director, National Wildlife Federation.
The families on McCulloh Street did not have easy access to green spaces or recreational areas, and the high density of occupied housing units on this street provides a captive audience for engagement around environmental stewardship, with the nature space as a venue and inspiration for environmental action. This project directly engaged over 50 community members, with over 200 residents benefiting from their work. “Creative play outside is the biggest single factor determining whether kids grow up to care about the environment and natural resources,” stated Ms. Mihill.
And as community leaders and supporters repeated during tours of the newly installed gardens and play space, “it’s a positive space. A positive place for positive people doing positive things. You can’t get any better than that.”