In Curtis Bay, organizers with United Workers, students from Benjamin Franklin High School, and members of the Curtis Bay community have been working on a community-built gathering space on a formerly vacant lot in this residential neighborhood. Throughout the 2018-19 school year, NDC worked with a team of students to research, do outreach, create a vision, prototype and build interventions on this green space. In spring 2019, the project garnered funding from the Greater Baybrook Alliance, and with the good will and hard work of many, the space is taking form. These photos show the Inner Circle lot in action, at a Memorial Day community celebration and work day. Project leads include Meleny Thomas, Greg Sawtell and Destiny Watford, and partners include Nicole Fabricant and Melissa Holler of Towson University.
On June 21, NDC gathered at Ambrose Kennedy Park, (soon to be renamed the Henrietta Lacks Educational Park), in the Johnston Square community to celebrate NDC’s family of dedicated designers and leaders. We honored the following awardees with this year’s round of NDC Annual Awards:
Larry Reich Award: Lewis Sharpe and Miriam Avins
Prince George’s County Lifetime Achievement Award: Brooke Kidd
Baltimore Community Advocate of the Year: Jennifer Goold
Kelley Oklesson Community Advocate of the Year: Sawa Kamara
Volunteers of the Year, Prince George’s:
Lauren Wilson, Lex Lesley, Shayda Musavi, Kim Young
Volunteer of the Year, Baltimore: Jay Orr
NDC Hall of Fame: Jimmy Leonard
For the past 6 months, Quinton Batts has been the Neighborhood Design Center’s Social Design Fellow. A recent graduate of MICA’s Social Design program, Quinton has spent his tenure at NDC working with longtime community partner Mr. Lewis Sharpe of the Duncan Street Miracle Garden. There, he has supported Mr. Sharpe’s efforts to make the farm a sustainable, happy place to grow vegetables and welcome neighborhood life. Last week, Quinton talked to NDC’s VISTA Maura Dwyer—with whom he’s collaborated on the Miracle Garden project—about his experience.
Maura Dwyer: Where are you from? What brought you to Baltimore?
Quinton Batts: I’m from Virginia, originally a small town of Petersburg, but I’ve been in Richmond for about 6 years. I’ve seen a lot of change in the community around me; rapid development is happening, especially around the downtown areas and campus. I graduated from Virginia Commonwealth University, and the school has really changed over the years. Seeing that shift made me interested in urban development and how that affects people in surrounding areas. In my undergrad, I started doing more research on how equitable development can shift the rapid process that’s happening in Virginia.
MD: How did your experience at VCU influence your work in Baltimore?
QB: I studied small business management, mostly making business plans and finding creative solutions to business ventures. That foundation gave me skills to start doing deeper research, in a more human-centered way, focusing on complex problems and urban social issues more than just business development.
For example, the VCU campus was originally designed to be integrated into the heart of the city, with several local businesses like barbershops and family-owned restaurants strewn throughout. In the five years I was there, I saw the University slowly take over the whole downtown area, and push out the mom and pop shops and raise the rent to sky-high prices. It erases the indigenous value that area originally had.
With Baltimore, where MICA’s Social Design program comes in, is while it moves within the art and design sector, it’s more about building equity with those tools—bringing in community members, stakeholders, and activists as co-creators. You can see these similar values reflected in NDC.
MD: What is the fellowship program and why did you choose to work with NDC?
QB: The fellowship is a learning experience for us to put new skills into a higher level of practice, and actually see things come out of it that have social impact. With NDC, I had the opportunity to do a lot more organizing and planning. To me, those skills were incredibly useful coming from a business background where I was mainly working on business plans. This was more hands-on, grass-roots work to connect to people foremost and build relationships.
MD: What was your main goal with the NDC Fellowship?
QB: I was brought in to connect with the current community partners, especially in Broadway East, to deepen the resources NDC had already established in their relationship to the Duncan Street Miracle Garden.
MD: Coming from a business background, can you share why community development at Duncan St Miracle Garden sparked your interest?
QB: It’s sparked an interest in me because I’m from a rural setting originally. I came from a lot of gardening and farming. I grew up on a farm; my parents are farmers, my grandparents were famers, I have gardens at home and I have one here. It always felt natural to me to be around agriculture and bring the importance of it to the city. During my undergrad, I had the opportunity to research food deserts and sit down with local gardeners to help think through a sustainable business system for urban farming. Once I saw the opportunity with NDC to do something similar but more focused on youth and community capacity building, I saw an opportunity to use my skills in a different way. I really want to focus on a hands-on approach, building up from the ground level, something more grassroots. That’s where the impact has to start—for something really big to happen, it should start small, and give it time to grow. Coming from a similar background of communities that have been given the short end of the stick from the beginning, I understand how different processes affect people directly.
MD: Can you explain the process of your fellowship?
QB: When I first started, I had the opportunity to get to know the community. NDC gave me access. I sat down and talked with several residents and groups, especially people who have seen the garden transform over time and who have been working in the area for years.
My job was to help leverage my own connections and resources. Through my exposure at MICA, that opened me up to people that could help in various ways–sometimes mysterious ways that you would never have known otherwise! For example, I was given the charge of finding youth-based organizations that would like to participate in the upcoming Day of Play, an event at the end of summer to celebrate the garden. I was able to bring in BYKE, Baltimore Youth Kinetic Energy, an organization I learned about through several different projects at MICA.
It was a great connection because the owner was already interested in finding more places for kids to bike in that area, I just had to connect the dots.
I was also able to leverage MICA’s Day of Service in their Community Engagement Office. They have several days every year where they donate volunteers for community initiatives. They came to Duncan during the Day of Service this spring, and that’s something I’m hoping can continue moving forward each year. It’s more so about coming in and leveraging myself, and creating relationships that can move forward even if I’m not there.
MB: What is the next step to get ppl to commit to the garden?
QB: I think the next step is making sure Mr. Sharpe’s vision for the garden is widely known.
MD: Can you talk about how this fellowship influenced your thesis work at MASD?
QB: The transition looked like me actually being in the neighborhood more and becoming a face in the neighborhood, not as a NDC fellow, but as a resident of Baltimore. I worked hard to develop a relationship of authentic trust. I think that experience was the most valuable thing that came out of this fellowship.
MD: How did that experience connect to your thesis about slowing down gentrification?
QB: I saw an opportunity to mediate the conversation of gentrification around resident-centered community development. I want to make this a 360 cycle of communication and collaboration, and build a platform for an equity-centered design plan; a plan that could help prepare residents to be more involved in the neighborhood, and want to stay and grow with it at a steady pace. Gentrification speeds up the growth of the economy in a way that makes it impossible for the people who already live there to catch up. In any low-income city, people are always going to be playing a game of catch up because they’re three steps behind from the beginning.
I’m not anti-business and anti-development, but I want those things to work for the existing residents, the end-user. The tricky thing is, you can’t always know your end user, that can change over time.
MD: How does that view fit into Mr. Sharpe’s vision for the garden? He has no interest in making a profit with the food grown.
QB: I absolutely think a sustainable plan can be built for the garden, we just need a new model tailored for that space. Moving forward, I’m going to help craft that model as Mr. Sharpe’s right hand, doing ground-level advocating that can help make his dream come true.
MD: What’s one take away from working with NDC?
QB: I like how NDC works on social issues that vary across the board, but have the core value of partnering with existing community leaders. The direction of a project comes from building relationships, and seeing and taking hold of opportunities that arise. In my view, MASD is the people, NDC is the land, but really, the people are the land; the land is the people.
The Duncan Street Miracle Garden was founded in 1988 by community member, Mr. Lewis Sharpe. The Pharoah’s Club started it off with a small plot of land behind their building on N. Collington street, but in the past 30 years, the garden has grown from one plot of green to almost the entire 2100 block of North Avenue in Baltimore’s Broadway East neighborhood. Among the thickly planted lots, you can find almost every kind of fruit or vegetable a gardener can grow in this climate. Mr. Sharpe calls it “God’s little acre.”
NDC’s Executive Director, Jennifer Goold, met Mr. Sharpe in the fall of 2016 while doing field work for the East North Avenue LINCS plan. Once it became clear he had an ambitious plan for the garden to bring in more community members, NDC partnered with him to fold Duncan Street Miracle Garden into our Place Matters initiative, which works to increase the capacity, resources, and power of people oranzing around a place.
We are continuing our partnership with Duncan Street Miracle Garden this spring, and are grateful to all the volunteers who have helped with clean up, weeding, and prepping the dirt for planting. During the spring and summer, the block-size garden becomes a haven of colorful flowers and fresh vegetables for the neighborhood, but there’s still plenty to do to get the space ready! On a weekly basis, you can find Mr. Sharpe and volunteers coordinated through The 6th Branch, installing wooden edging, trimming trees, clearing debris, planning out a new fence, and coordinating a new shed and picnic tables. We are in the process of gating the alleys to make the area safer for neighbors walking or biking through the space. Last spring, the muralist, GAIA, painted a large portrait of Mr. Sharpe on a building facing North Ave. Mr. Sharpe aims to continue adding public art to the garden, creating an outdoor gallery of Black history as a backdrop to this East Baltimore oasis. The ultimate vision will look more like a neighborhood-enclosed park with an overflowing garden, activity areas for families, and open green space to host community events.
Along with this vision, we are excited to announce an event in early summer, the “Day of Play”, which will serve to bring more youth involvement to the Duncan Street Miracle Garden. Recently, we helped secure a BMORE Beautiful Mobilization grant to install a new wooden fence, and collaboratively plan this event. You can look forward to a celebration with music, hamburgers on the grill, live mural painting in the alley, play-oriented workshops, and a chance to welcome kids, parents, grandparents, caregivers and neighbors into the garden to make it a truly multi-generational community space.
Hear more about the Duncan Street Miracle Garden from the founder, Mr. Lewis Sharpe:
As told to NDC’s Americorps VISTA, Maura Dwyer:
“The Pharaoh’s association started the garden in 1988 on a small plot of land behind their building on N. Collington St. I came in and asked them about getting a lot. They asked me how much I know about gardening, and I said plenty! I wish I could show everyone this garden like it was back when we started- brand new wood chips, gravel all laid out, brand new green border walls going down the lot, and flowers going all the way down both sides, it was the most beautiful thing, and I just can’t believe it’s been 30-some years, but we gotta put it back again.
This spring, I am lookin’ forward to all kinds of fruits and vegetables, cabbage, collard greens, mustard greens, tomatoes, string beans, and I may try some sweet potatoes this year, and I want to get more apple trees. I have one called a fruit cocktail tree – there’s five different kind of apples on that tree, once they get ripe you can go ahead and pick it, they’re all different colors.
I’m also really looking forward to getting my fence put up, all the way from one building to the other. Right where they just tore down those buildings, I want to put a pavilion there. I’d like to put a round one in that space, put some picnic tables there, with a round roof, with benches and tables underneath.
What I really want is to get some animals-not no dummies, no statues- live animals- small ones. I want some animals that will stay in the garden, like a little farm on one of these lots. The kids would love to get on a pony and ride it around. I want ducks, goats, and chickens too. That’s the vision.
When we started the garden in 1988, it improved the whole block. It would be better for neighborhood kids to have somewhere where they can play that’s safe, where no one is running in the street, and they feel protected. It’s all about the kids to me because I think they need somewhere to go these days. Really I want people from Broadway East to have somewhere to go and relax, I would like them to feel welcomed. I am growing food for the people.”
“God gave me a vision. I could have been somewhere, making money to put in my own pocket, but instead I came here to spend money on the garden that I didn’t really have; whatever I had, I split it with the garden. This was my heart’s desire: Get this place fixed up nice and beautiful. Broadway East should be beautiful- you’ll see, it’s comin, it’s comin.”
In collaboration with AIA Baltimore, we’re excited to share a new video, Blueprint for Better Communities—McKeldin Plaza, documenting the AIA and NDC’s research at McKeldin Plaza, in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor.
The Inner Harbor is Baltimore’s living room. It’s where we as a city gather for events, and where we welcome visitors from outside our metropolis. Located at the corner of the harbor, McKeldin Plaza is an ideal gathering place. The Brutalist fountain that once anchored this space has been removed, and temporary landscaping awaits the plaza’s revitalization as a civic space. Architects from AIA Baltimore’s Urban Design Committee (UDC) and the Neighborhood Design Center (NDC), and students from the Morgan State University School of Architecture + Planning used methodology developed by the Gehl Institute to study how the plaza is functioning as public space, and how it might be modified to be a more welcoming and inclusive place. The team also collaborated with students from the University of Maryland Landscape Architecture program who developed design concepts for this public space. These design concepts, along with the site analysis were presented at a D Center Conversation on December 5 2018, at a public forum for discussing design in Baltimore.
— Laura Wheaton and architects from the AIA Baltimore Urban Design Committee
A recent Chesapeake Bay Foundation report indicates that the Bay “became more polluted last year for the first time in a decade.” That’s despite the fact that the Chesapeake is protected by one of the most comprehensive interstate environmental plans ever: the Chesapeake Bay Watershed Agreement, signed in 2014 after more than three decades of groundwork. How do we explain this unexpected development? Because with climate change has come increased, and increasingly erratic, rainfall events. With these more infrequent, higher-volume rains, more pollution ends up getting swept from farms and city streets into rivers and streams.
So what can designers like us—and the communities we work with—do about the situation? First and foremost, we can keep that water out of our waterways until it has either been soaked up by vegetation or cleaned of its pollutants, especially excess nitrogen. That means investing in biological infrastructure like street trees, which sources like the local Baltimore Ecosystem Study and the national EPA have recommended for years. Not only do street trees slow, sink and spread storm water—and by sink, we mean that the water is allowed to percolate into the soil, rather than run over its surface—they also provide dozens of other co-benefits, like urban heat island mitigation, crime reduction, and even improved birth outcomes!
These are some of the many reasons why the Neighborhood Design Center partners with Prince George’s County’s Department of Public Works & Transportation on its Right Tree, Right Place program. We reach out to potentially interested communities—prioritizing those with large numbers of hazardous trees and/or low existing urban tree canopy—and then help the county plant as many as 5,000 trees per year. We hope to thereby grow Prince George’s County’s urban tree canopy, for the benefit of all of its residents.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Right Tree, Right Place program, feel free to reach out to Yasha Magarik, RTRP Program Coordinator, at firstname.lastname@example.org, or 301-850-1462.
The Neighborhood Design Center’s work has always been rooted in building equity: by creating professional plans with our community partners, we work to redirect public and private resources to the neighborhoods that need them most. But, like many nonprofits, the makeup of our organization hasn’t always adequately reflected the communities that we serve.
Central to our current strategic plan is building the diversity of NDC’s staff. And we’re thrilled that our Senior Program Manager (Prince George’s County) Marita Roos was recently selected to participate in the University of Baltimore’s year-long Maryland Equity and Inclusion Leadership Program. The program, which begins this month, trains people working in public service, teaching and the private sector to advance inclusion equity and diversity in their organizations.
Over the course of the coming year, Marita will be immersed in a constructive, systemic approach to exploring, experiencing, and deepening NDC’s understanding and awareness of structural, social, and cultural inequities in our workplace and communities. In particular, the program places a focus on a deeper understanding of race and racism—what those terms mean, where they come from; how they operate for individuals, groups and for society as a whole; and why it continues today.
Stay tuned for updates from Marita over the course of 2019!
We were thrilled to see the construction has begun at German Park, a city-owned recreational space in Reservoir Hill for which NDC produced a conceptual design. German Park is adjacent to the successful revitalization of Reservoir Hill’s Whitelock Street core, including the Whitelock Farm and community space and expected expansion of St. Francis Neighborhood Center. A new collaboration between City agencies, nonprofits, and the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council (RHIC) is poised to make German Park a premier neighborhood asset that contributes to the vibrancy of Reservoir Hill.
With assistance from the Baltimore City Department of Planning’s INSPIRE program, German Park transferred ownership from Baltimore City Department of Housing to Department of Recreation and Parks, which will maintain the site. INSPIRE is funding nearly $100K in improvements designed to provide a foundation for additional investment. RHIC is working with community residents to envision these changes with NDC, and conceptual plans will be further developed by Rec and Parks for these capital improvements.
RHIC initially reached out to NDC to lead a collaborative design effort for German Park that would help make the park a destination for neighborhood youth. To support this goal, NDC hosted a “kids only” visioning session, among other engagement efforts, in 2016. The final design, selected by community members via an online survey, offered new play opportunities, open sightlines and views into the park, and an ADA accessible concrete path. The INSPIRE-funded improvements that are currently underway include strategic demolition to improve visibility, new walkways connecting park amenities, new entryways at Whitelock Street and Linden Avenue, and new murals by the Baltimore Office of Promotion and the Arts and Jubilee Arts Art @ Work program.
Stay tuned for more updates as work continues at German Park!