Baltimore City hopes to repurpose and beautify vacant lots like this one with the help of community organizations as part of Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s “Clean It Up!” campaign. Photo via Green Network Plan/Baltimore City Department of Planning.
Baltimore City hopes to repurpose and beautify vacant lots like this one with the help of community organizations as part of Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young’s “Clean It Up!” campaign. Photo via Green Network Plan/Baltimore City Department of Planning.

Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young rolled out the latest additions to his “Clean It Up!” campaign today, including initiatives aimed at repurposing and beautifying some of the city’s vacant lots and surveilling frequently used illegal dumping sites.

Young first launched the campaign last month, branding it an “all-hands-on-deck” effort to clean up “crime and grime” in Baltimore.

The Mayor’s Office of Criminal Justice (MOCJ) will fund the expansion of the Care-A-Lot program, which provides grants to community organizations for the purpose of cleaning and maintaining vacant lots.

When BMORE Beautiful, a city-led organization focused on community beautification, took over the program from the planning department in 2018, Young said they were able to increase the number of lots being maintained from 150 to 423 during the grow season. That number grew to 586 lots in 2019, and Young said with MOCJ funding the city hopes to cover 700 lots.

Over the years, the city has worked on several initiatives to bring new life to vacant lots. Just last summer, the city launched its Lots to Love program to convert 47 vacant lots into green spaces for residents to care for along the Frederick and Pennsylvania Avenue corridors.

Rebecca Woods, executive director of the Environmental Control Board (ECB), said community organizations participating in Care-A-Lot can apply to maintain up to 25 vacant lots in their neighborhood. 

Those groups are eligible to receive up to $6,000 in grant funding for a maximum of 10 community clean-up events.

Participants in the Care-A-Lot program will have an addition opportunity: the Activate This Space initiative.

Through a partnership with MOCJ, Woods said BMORE Beautiful will be funding 14 projects for up to $5,000 each to “to design and implement placemaking and safeguarding projects on vacant lots.”

The projects will “activate” vacant lots by turning them into community assets, Woods said.

“These projects will protect and enhance the overall quality of vacant lots in Baltimore neighborhoods,” she said. “This partnership highlights the important connection between vacant lot maintenance, community stewardship and public safety.”

Applications for Care-A-Lot and Activate This Space are available online at under the “Resources” tab.

The deadline for Care-A-Lot applications is March 20, and Activate This Space applications are due April 20.

To qualify for Activate This Space, the applicant must also be participating in the Care-A-Lot program, Woods said.

Anyone interested in more information about Activate This Space can attend ECB’s “Activate Your Vision” workshop on Wednesday, Feb. 26, from 11 a.m. to 12 p.m. at 1 N. Charles St. Attendees are asked to RSVP by Feb. 24 by emailing

The second addition to the “Clean It Up!” campaign is the “Clean and Safe” initiative, which will involve city staff collaborating with community leaders to clean up “crime and grime” in four neighborhoods, Young said.

Young said he asked city staff to look at public safety and 311 cleaning data across the city. Based on that data, the city identified four neighborhoods that could use more cleaning and safety support: Penn North, Broadway East, Milton-Montford and Carrollton Ridge.

In each of those neighborhoods, city staff and community leaders will work to repurpose vacant properties and target enforcement efforts at known dumping sites, Young said.

The city will also work with community groups to develop and implement action plans tailored to the specific needs of each neighborhood, including strategically deploying CitiWatch cameras in problem areas of those neighborhoods, Young said.

Pastor Donald White of Gethsemane Baptist Church in the Penn North neighborhood listed some of the challenges his community faces.

“We have trash, we have blight, we have abandoned homes. We have some of the most underserved persons that are sometimes living in those abandoned homes. There’s criminal activity. There’s illegal dumping.”

But White also said Penn North has people working hard to make their neighborhood a better place, and the “Clean and Safe” initiative will help bring their efforts to the next level.

Baltimore City Police Commissioner Michael Harrison said this new program works hand in hand with his department’s continued efforts to target micro-zones that are hot spots for crime. But he said more officers on the street is not a cure-all for every type of crime.

In addition to deploying more officers to those zones, Harrison said the BPD will also be using closed-circuit television (CCTV) resources in these neighborhoods as a “force multiplier.”

Clean streets are a part of the equation.

“Eliminating environmental and quality of life issues that breed criminal activity is vital as we work together to engage and empower residents to assist us in the crime fight,” he said.

Marcus Dieterle is the managing editor of Baltimore Fishbowl. He returned to Baltimore in 2020 after working as the deputy editor of the Cecil Whig newspaper in Elkton, Md. He can be reached at