Baltimore officials hope their plan to bolster struggling communities by improving connections to parks, green spaces and trails can also be an incentive for investment and workforce development.
The Baltimore Green Network Vision Plan was officially launched on Tuesday by Mayor Catherine Pugh following two years of groundwork by stakeholders and the Department of Planning. Its goal is to better connect struggling communities with green amenities that will bolster safety, attract investment and improve health.
“This plan harnesses the value of our city’s existing green spaces and expands opportunity to neighborhoods blighted by abandoned properties and vacant lots to transform them into community assets such as recreation areas, trails, and urban gardens,” Mayor Catherine Pugh said in a statement.
Goals in the plan include increased economic activity, improved public safety and a healthier environment. The plan identifies three focus areas in southwest, west and east Baltimore consisting of groups of two to three neighborhoods. These areas were selected because of their high levels of vacant property and potential for economic development.
“Rooted in a triple bottom-line approach (people, prosperity, and environmental sustainability), the Green Network Vision transforms vacant properties into green community assets. It also connects these spaces to schools, homes, retail districts, and other activity centers,” according to the plan’s executive summary.
Tom Stosur, the director of the Planning Department, said the city views the program as a workforce development opportunity. It presents an opportunity, he said, to connect hard to employ residents with jobs associated with creating these green spaces, such as in deconstruction and design.
“We’d like real estate developers, homebuilders and others to take note of this when considering future projects in the city, and reconsider places they’ve written off for the last 20 years,” Stosur said.
An open house for the plan is scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Thursday, at Mother Seton School, 2215 Greenmount Ave. A sustainability town hall is also set for 6 p.m., on April 11 at the War Memorial, 101 N. Gay St. The city intends to finalize the plan in May and June with the intention of adopting it in July.
Residents should begin to see tangible evidence of progress, Storsur said, in the next one to three years following the plan’s adoption.
Funding is expected from a variety of sources, and Baltimore has committed to investing $2 million dollars in the plan during the next two years via general obligation bonds. Funds from Project C.O.R.E., a city-state partnership launched roughly three years ago to demolish vacant properties and attract private investments, will also be used to help implement the plan.
Baltimore has struggled for decades to transform communities hard hit by economic decline and population loss. Both the city and state have invested heavily in various initiatives aimed at converting problem properties with little or no market value into assets for downtrodden communities.
Those efforts have had some success, but the city is still littered with thousands of unwanted lots and homes. Activists have also been skeptical of some of those efforts, fearing that they will gentrify neighborhoods and displace longtime residents.