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Past city neighborhood revitalization projects transformed a vacant lot in the Pigtown neighborhood into a grass horseshoe pit and turned a Reservoir Hill lot into a community farm. (The Daily Record/Maximilian Franz)

Baltimore’s neighborhood revitalization targets vacant lots

Baltimore is turning to community groups and design firms to beautify neighborhoods through a grant competition.

The Growing Green Design Competition targets vacant lots to improve the safety and aesthetic look of surrounding areas and to increase community engagement. The competition is part of an initiative announced by Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake in May to improve city sustainability practices.

Community members will be able to partner with nonprofit groups, landscape architects and design and engineering firms to apply for grants by Aug. 15. A total of $300,000 is available to team projects.

The city’s Office of Sustainability and Department of Housing and Community Development compiled a list of sites that teams can select for their development plans, but groups can apply for approval of an alternative lot.

Vacant, unmaintained land can increase crime statistics, reduce public health and lower surrounding property values, said Beth Strommen, Baltimore Office of Sustainability director. A 2011 University of Pennsylvania study found that greening of vacant lots led to fewer gun assaults and vandalism incidents in parts of Philadelphia.

“When communities adopt vacant lots, the increase in social interaction helps people get to know each other better and they are more likely to look out for one another,” Strommen said. “The community is more beautiful, so the property values begin to stabilize.”

Past city neighborhood revitalization projects transformed a vacant lot in the Pigtown neighborhood into a grass horseshoe pit and turned a Reservoir Hill lot into a community farm.

For the Growing Green competition, team members must submit a budget proposal and attend a competition workshop this Saturday or June 26.

The office hasn’t received any applications, but Growing Green Initiative coordinator Jenny Guillaume said a few groups have submitted queries about alternative sites. Strommen said 16 people from community associations and design and engineering firms attended the first workshop.

The Office of Sustainability and Department of Public Works will work with the Environmental Protection Agency and the Chesapeake Bay Trust to choose the winning projects.