In April, NDC received the Spencer Ellis award from MD-ASLA in recognition of our 50 years of community design services. The award was given at the chapters annual gala, and was received by Programs Director Marita Roos. We’re honored to have been selected for this honor, and grateful to ASLA for many decades of support by its members committed to excellence in community design work throughout the state of Maryland. The event took place on the evening of 4/11 at Cylburn Arboretum in Baltimore.
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In March, NDC team membersJennifer Goold and Allie O’Neill were honored to join the first Cities Summit at SXSW in Austin. The Cities Summit at SXSW is an opportunity for civic leaders, creative citizens, and urbanists of all disciplines to learn, strategize, and form partnerships to create more equitable, resilient, and livable cities.
We got to connect with some of the rockstars joining us for Reverberations in June. Antionette Carroll of Creative Reaction Lab gave us some insights into her practice and Mike Ford (Hip Hop Architecture Camp) talked about the role music has played in the economies, growth, and branding of cities. It wasn’t all work, though. We found some time to rock out to some Baltimore favorites.
The past few months, NDC has partnered with Noisy Tenants, an organization working with the Greenmount West community to develop entrepreneurial projects as learning experience for neighborhood youth. With an attitude of local pride and celebration of community DIY mentality, Noisy Tenants had the idea of bringing the spirit of Baltimore’s Light City to Greenmount West, in the form of ‘LIT! City,’ and invited NDC to help on the project.
Our goal was to design and build an illuminated space for a one night pop-up cookout and movie night at the Wonderground (a park at the corner of Barclay and Lanvale which NDC has worked on in the past). Around this idea of vacant lot activation and public art engagement, we formed a team of designers. Jason Neal and Edrie Ortega of J. Neal Design and Jay Orr of ARQ Architects worked closely with Neighborhood Design Center to develop a plan. Nicholas Mitchel, the co-founder of Noisy Tenants, took the lead on community engagement and event organizing. Through this prototyping process, we discovered the many challenges and opportunities that temporary builds on city lots present, valuable experience for future projects.
Wednesday, April 18th was the culmination of all our work, when the community came together to help install a light-up art piece, enjoy food from Noisy Tenant’s Pop-Up Noisy Burger, and watch a movie under the stars (or rather, the blinking LEDs of our installation). It was a hit: kids from the community center helped up with final installation, all the while dancing to the local DJ’s old-school tracks. Soon enough, a professional movie screen showed up and burgers were sizzling.
The balloons have all come down, but the sense of place created at Wonderground that night remains. Chock full of ideas from our prototyping sessions, our team hopes to continue collaborating. As always, the Neighborhood Design Center looks forward to the next project– It’s not everyday you get to play with balloons at work after all!
Registered Landscape Architect (ASLA) and Certified Professional Horticulturalist
How long have you been in the Baltimore/DC area?
I graduated from Liberty High School in Youngstown, Ohio, in ’96 and came to the University of Maryland for college. I have been exploring the area since graduating in 2000. Marylanders were nice, jobs were plentiful, and the area had a lot to offer, so I decided to stick around.
How did you get into design?
The reason I’m a landscape architect is because of my family. I loved spending time with my grandfather. He taught me all about gardening; he had the patience to walk around his garden with me, deadheading flowers and planting vegetables that we had started from seeds under grow lights. My mom took master gardener courses at the local park. She had this beautiful garden that we would tend to. I loved helping them and being a part of the beauty and joy that the gardens created.
My other grandfather was an architect. I loved design, buildings, and figuring out how things worked. But the architect’s view of outdoor spaces seemed like an afterthought. So I tried to combine architecture, drafting, design, and horticulture and found landscape architecture—the best of both worlds. You get to think about things that nobody else thinks about. You get to see people enjoy a space without realizing all the components, all the effort, planning, design, and coordination behind it. It’s amazing and gratifying to see people using a space that you helped design.
How did you first get involved with NDC? What is your history with the organization?
I went to University of Maryland and was in a studio class with Jan Townshend who used to run the Prince George’s NDC office. I remember how passionate she was about it. She always tried to get me involved with projects, but I never had the free time or the gumption to join her. When I was going through a personally rough time a few years ago and had more free time, I thought I should do something with my life—something different and gratifying. I looked up NDC and got accepted to be a part of the West North Avenue project. I really enjoyed the time I spent working with the NDC team, City council members, and Coppin State University staff. It made me feel like I could make a difference—like we could accomplish something better for the City of Baltimore.
What motivates you to volunteer with NDC?
Making people happy. It really starts at the local level. If you think you can’t make a big change or a positive impact, you’re wrong—it just takes little steps. And even if you can’t make that big, national or state-wide change, you’re still doing something better for your immediate area, so why not?
What do you find most rewarding about your work with NDC?
I think there are a couple different points. First, when you have that initial meeting and people get excited and energized. People want to be heard—really listened to—and feel like their opinion counts. So at the beginning it’s gratifying to get excited for a project. At the end, when you see a project through, and the community can see that there is forward progress, that’s exciting, too.
What is inspiring your work now?
I’ve been keeping up with continuing education credits through universities, professional groups, through the regulatory agency and learning about different things I wouldn’t come across on a regular basis. It’s been very refreshing, it renews my passion to be around other people who are passionate about their craft.
Has working with NDC changed the way you practice design? If so, how?
It’s given me an outlet for being creative and having my ideas heard. I work for a planning and engineering firm, so usually the civil engineer comes to me and says, “I need this in this area and that in that area and I don’t care what it is, and stay within this budget.” You get to design to a point, but it is already constrained by someone else’s work. NDC is a refreshing outlet where I can expand the boundaries of my creativity, work with communities who are grateful for my efforts, and make a difference.
Largo Government Center, the new home of Prince George’s County government, is going greener with a streetscape revitalization starting March 2018. NDC worked with County Department of Public Works & Transportation to plan streetscape designs for the network of streets linking County offices for the Executive Director, Department of Environment, General Services and DPW&T.
NDC (Ossana Woolf & Marita Roos) conducted multiple days of fieldwork, assessing trees for removal and locations for new canopy and flowering trees. Sites were geolocated in ArcGIS and a plant palette chosen in collaboration with County DPW&T. NDC (Kendra Hyson) developed photo-illustrative plans and perspectives to describe the changes to the resident agencies and visitors.
In February, NDC presented the streetscape plans to DPW&T leadership, which were very well-received. Director Mobley approved removals and replacement of Bradford Pear trees along Peppercorn Place in early March. New trees – lacebark elms, zelkovas, willow oaks and red maples line the street, creating a healthy and attractive canopy for visitors. Ornamental cherry trees and redbuds add a touch of color and vibrancy to the streetscape.
The county is anticipating additional streetscape phasing for McCormick Drive and other roadways in Largo Center. Stay tuned for more news of this high-profile project!Peppercorn_Flier_March2018 1
NDC Project Coordinator Maria Isabel Garcia Diaz is back in the office after participating in the International Development Design Summit (IDDS): Construyendo Paz, Reconciliación desde la Co-Creación. IDDS is a program that runs from MIT’s D-Lab and serves to educate participants on co-design methods while engaging in place-based challenges of the summit’s host country. In partnership with the Universidad Nacional de Colombia, the IDDSCPaz, for short, was focused on how to construct peace, especially after the Colombian government signed a peace accord with the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) to end their 53-year civil war. The summit ran from January 20 to February 4 in the ECTR Jaime Pardo Leal, a designated zone in the Guaviare region of Colombia, where ex-combatants have been placed as they reintegrate into civilian life.
Here are three lessons Maria brought back after co-designing with fellow professionals, university students, ex-combatants, and local residents:
Three Lessons from Colombia by Maria Isabel Garcia Diaz
- Building confidence…literally: To get us comfortable with building items from scratch, we did different DIY challenges, like building a water pump. a wooden tool to turn plastic bottles into thread, and a table to use in our group projects. It made me excited to come back and finally put my Station North Tool Library membership into good use.
- Forgiveness through action and interaction: This was a professional development opportunity for me, but the topic hit on a personal level. When I left Colombia with my parents violence was at an all time high and the FARC were seen at the forefront of it. By being in teams with ex-combatants, we focused our energy on working together to design interventions to build peace in our country. We discussed past experiences and laughed quite a lot as we worked until the hours of the night to finish our projects.
- Sustainability can be accessible: At IDDSCPaz, we were always thinking about innovative ways of caring for the earth, but in a practical and accessible way. We did it for two reasons: one, the FARC ex-combatants take pride in caring for the earth, especially after spending decades living with the jungle ecosystems. The second reason: basic resources, like water, were always scarce. As participants we learned to be conscious for the earth as we went through our packed schedules for each day.
This experience was unforgettable in many ways—I met some incredible people through IDDS, and I brought back many lessons to integrate in my work at NDC. However, the thing I miss the most is seeing the sunrises and sunsets in Guaviare.
The Neighborhood Design Center has been partnering with the Darley Park community since 2015 to create a public space on the corner of Harford Road and Normal Avenue. Originally a vacant dirt lot, this neighborhood gateway park has become a multi-generational, multi-use gathering place through the hard work of the community and partnering organizations. In the past two years the community has secured a playground, mural, and performance stage at the park.
In the design for the stage, an overhead structure was planned as a sun shade made out of sail material (see photo above). This project, funded in part by BOPA’s Transformative Arts Prize, has evolved into a community arts project, a collaboration between artist Whitney Frazier and the women’s senior group of the neighborhood. Inspired loosely by the quilts of the black women of Gee’s Bend, Alabama, the artists have been developing abstract quilt designs to be sewn into shade sails.
NDC welcomes all to see the unveiling of this art piece at the Light City event at Darley Park on April 13th at 6pm. The event will feature projected artworks by Baltimore’s own Kyle Yearwood, music by TT the Artist, and much more.
The arts group meets every week to design and create the stage sails at the local community center. Contact Whitney Frazier if you are interested in getting involved in the project, and check back for updates as the project moves forward!
NDC Deputy Director Briony Hynson attended the Active Living Research Conference at the Banff Centre for Arts and Creativity this month, presenting research entitled “Activating Public Spaces for Play: Opportunities for the Built Environment as a therapeutic tool in Neighborhoods Exposed to High Levels of Community Violence.” The research was conducted in partnership with Gwen Brown (BUILD), Colin Lyman, (The 6th Branch) and Dr. Carol Vidal (Johns Hopkins University), and supported in part by grants from the Urban Health Institute and the Robert W Deutsch Foundation.
With the Canadian Rockies as an inspiring backdrop, temps down to -12degrees F kept conference attendees mainly indoors and focused at the 4-day convening. Practitioners and researchers from the fields of public health and planning explored a wide range of content. Here are Hynson’s top 5 picks from the conference:
Active Living Research Conference: Top 5 Sessions
- LA DOT General Manager Seleta Reynolds’ keynote on the future-proofing transportation (hint; it takes self driving cars AND road ‘buffets’ AND arts and creativity.
- Simon O’Byrne of City of Edmonton’s approach to become a top WINTER city, using design. And iceskates.
- Poster Sessions! So many smarts in one room.
- Salud America’s campaign to encourage shared use agreements, so that communities can access public land at schools outside of school time.
- Measuring Inclusion in Place with Gehl Institute’s Jennifer Gardner and Andrea Marpillero-Colomina, and Baltimore’s own Prof. Keisha Pollock
All in all, a great gathering of researchers, planners and public health experts. One last takeaway; every single round of applause at the Active Living Conference was a standing ovation, because (as research shows), sitting kills.
The Neighborhood Design Center was pleased to join the Central Baltimore Partnership and more than twelve other partners in planning and implementing the Jones Falls Visioning Workshop last month at the Motor House. At this event, stakeholders and community members came together to discuss existing projects, shared interests, and future visions for the Jones Falls Valley with the ultimate goal of developing a strategic plan with actionable recreational, environmental and transit recommendations for enhancing the corridor.
The Jones Falls runs through Baltimore from where it is impounded to create Lake Roland all the way down to the Inner Harbor. The valley of this stream falls directly below Interstate 83 and shares borders with a variety of neighborhoods. The Jones Falls is a unique asset; with better access it could be used by thousands of city residents.
The workshop was attended by over 75 residents, artists, business owners, and city agencies and consisted of project leaders in seven topic areas giving a brief overview of their vision, then leading small breakout groups with interested participants. The topic areas discussed ranged from arts and performance to environmental projects to the development and/or repurposing of existing assets. All of the above mentioned groups were facilitated by Neighborhood Design Center volunteers and/or board members (listed below)!
An important outcome of the workshop was the establishment of the “Friends of Jones Falls” group and the Central Baltimore Partnership has organized the Friends of Jones Falls kick-off celebration at Union Craft Brewing on March 8th from 6pm-8pm.
If you are interested in receiving the post-workshop report or getting involved with the work along the Jones Falls, please contact Aaron Kaufman, the Central Baltimore Partnership Community Projects Manager, at firstname.lastname@example.org
For reference, the presenters and their topics can be found below:
Arts and Performance Along the Jones Falls
Presented by Richard Best (Section 1)
Facilitated by LaShauna Jones
Development and Land Use Along the Jones Falls
Presented by Al Barry (AB Associates), Andrew Cook (Baltimore City Office of Sustainability/Made in Baltimore), and Reni Lawal (Baltimore City Department of Planning)
Facilitated by Nariman El Said
Creating a “Friends of the Jones Falls” group
Presented by Sandy Sparks (Friends of Stony Run) and Molly Gallant (Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks)
Facilitated by Ryan Patterson
Joint User Group Greenway Visioning
Presented by Jed Weeks (Bikemore)
Facilitated by Ren Southard and Teddy Krolik
New Life for Existing Assets: Roundhouse Alternative Uses
Presented by Doug Bothner (Ziger/Snead Architects)
Facilitated by Gerald Neily
Beautifying Access Points
Presented by Zoe Clarkwest and Amanda Cunningham (Baltimore City Forestry Board)
Facilitated by Rachel McNamara
Ecological Resilience and Usable Green Spaces
Presented by Laura Connelly (Parks and People Foundation) and Ashley Traut (Blue Water Baltimore)
Facilitated by Kelly Danz
Longstanding Neighborhood Design Center collaborators the Baltimore City Office of Sustainability and Parks & People Foundation are expanding access to landscape design services for community-based activation of vacant land through two new initiatives:
- Parks and People Foundation Design Grants are available through Parks and People’s Greening Grants program, and the visioning workshops and conceptual designs provided by NDC prepare recipients to re-apply for implementation funding in future Greening Grant cycles.
- The Baltimore Office of Sustainability is supporting community-based visioning with NDC of open spaces identified as priorities through the new Green Network Plan and/or the INSPIRE plans for neighborhoods surrounding 21st Century Schools.
Four pilot projects have received conceptual design assistance from NDC staff during Fall 2017, including community groups in Sandtown-Winchester, Carrollton Ridge, and two groups in Park Heights. NDC staff Johnny Macon, Laura Wheaton, and Rachel McNamara facilitated visioning workshops near each site with core stakeholders to determine the consensus vision, then documented that vision in a conceptual landscape plan.
One pilot projects is for the YO! Baltimore program in Sandtown Winchester, to create a meaningful place for youth who are engaged in their programs. The design is needed to be cost effective, maintainable and beautiful. This green space for youth includes tailored concepts with thoughtful details while still addressing concerns of ponding rainwater and unregulated parking. For example, the design includes a Celebration Garden featuring a directional sign that “graduates can use to show the destination of their future”. A special outdoor “social room” with both tiered and movable seating can be adapted for sitting alone, in groups, or as a classroom. An entrance bridge, rain garden, natural boulder bollards and ornamental trees continue the peaceful vibe.
NDC brings years of experience in design for urban open spaces to these projects, ensuring that the resultant plans incorporate best practices in sustainability and maintainability. These plans will serve as the starting point for implementation of native plants, edible gardens, pathways, fencing, and other elements with funding from initiative sponsors and other sources.
View the YO! Baltimore Vacant Lot Design here: 3243 PP YO Baltimore Design Plan_small (2)