Cultivating Community: Gardens Sprout in Former Vacant Spaces

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Lindsay Thompson and Hasdai Westbrook

Courtesy of Bmore Media – When Shekita Wilkins shares how elementary-school students interact with nature at a community garden just north of Penn Station, her pride is evident.

“Every time the students find a worm in the soil, they call everyone to check out the ‘fat, juicy’ worm they found,” laughs Wilkins, director of Barclay Youth Safe Haven.  The site at 302 East 20th St. used to be a vacant lot, but became an outdoor classroom in the spring.

“I love that they have gone from wanting to knock birds’ nests out of trees to observing and protecting the baby birds.”

Unlike the Safe Haven garden, many abandoned lots in Baltimore City are breeding grounds for crime and illegal dumping. Two local initiatives, Power in Dirtand Baltimore Green Space, work to preserve green spaces in Baltimore.

Power in Dirt, a Baltimore City initiative has transformed more than 700 lots and hopes to reach 1,500 by year’s end, says its citywide coordinator Christine Kingston. Baltimore Green Space has purchased three established, community-managed green spaces in Pigtown, East Baltimore, and Upper Fells Point and is currently processing four applications.

Power in Dirt works with Baltimore City’s water-access program, where garden-setters are installed and gardeners can hook up a hose for a $120 annual fee. Baltimore Green Space purchases abandoned land from the City for as little as $1 to guarantee land rights for the gardens.

The benefits of community greening can be far reaching. A study of Philadelphia, where similar efforts have launched, has  linked the greening of more than 4,400 vacant lots to reductions in gun assaults and vandalism. Another study found that vacant lots accounted for a $3.6 billion loss in property values.

Here’s a look at several efforts in the city to turn vacant lots into green spaces.

Oliver: The 6th Branch

The acre-and-a-half lot at 1501 North Bethel St. in Oliver was overgrown with invasive trees and trash accumulation. The 6th Branch, a veteran-led nonprofit, recruited volunteers to paint murals with the Veteran Artists Program and plant more than 100 trees and shrubs.

Read more at Bmore Media



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