A new pocket park in Baltimore is helping to start a neighborhood revitalization.

In a corner of Baltimore surrounded by wasteland and boarded up buildings, Gold Street Park is easy to miss. Built on a former coal yard in the Druid Heights neighborhood, the Pocket Park features a winding brick path that leads into a circular gathering space with a star mural at its center. Steps along one edge can be used as seating or as a de facto stage, and the simple planting scheme includes a few roses and saskatoon trees.

Druid Heights is a historic African American community that once had a thriving social scene, where jazz great Cab Calloway sang “Hi De Ho Man” in clubs and affluent black families raised their children. In the late 1960s, the uprisings that followed the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. led to a period of urban divestment from which the community is still struggling to recover. A local nonprofit, the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation, takes a holistic approach to revitalization through real estate development, food and work aid, as well as homeownership incentives and pathways. .

Among the obstacles Druid Heights faces is the lack of green space: canopy cover in the community is 14 percent, just half the city average. To address this, the community has partnered with Byoung-Suk Kweon, ASLA, associate professor of landscape architecture at the University of Maryland, on a green community master plan that includes the development of pocket parks and larger green corridors and connections.

Plan of Gold Street Park. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland Landscape Architecture Studio.

Gold Street Park is one of the first such parks to be completed, a collaborative design of four of Kweon’s graduate landscape architecture students: Jason Poole, Jennifer Ren and Laura Robinson, who produced the original design, and Vince (Che-Wei) Yi, who did revisions and construction drawings. The star-shaped floor mural is by LaTosha Maddox, the Development Company’s Artist-in-Residence. “At first, we went to the community and to community meetings and asked them what they wanted in the space,” says Kweon. “We thought they would want a community garden, but they really wanted a nice place to sit. The students’ plan includes space for more plantings and meditation spaces to be built over time.

“We put it in place because we learn with all the parks,” says JohnDre Jennings, director of housing development for the Druid Heights Community Development Corporation. “Maintenance is a huge thing that we are working on. We [realized] you have to have a maintenance plan and it has to be strategic. According to Kweon, grant funding resources in Maryland tend to prioritize building community-managed open spaces over ongoing maintenance. Across from Gold Street Park, several vacant lots will be redeveloped into Cab Calloway Legends Park.

Druid Heights Green Community Master Plan. Image courtesy of the University of Maryland Landscape Architecture Studio.

“[Gold Street Park] is a great example of a community driven project and what can happen when you have a really good integration of many partners, ”says Robinson, now a landscaper at the nonprofit Neighborhood Design Center in Hyattsville, Maryland. “There was funding from the city, from the Chesapeake Bay Trust and others, and there was the pro bono design from the University of Maryland. Even though it was a longer process [2015 to 2021, from conception to construction], I think it was worth it. It was so much more personal for the neighborhood.

Neighbors gather for the grand opening of Gold Street Park, whose star-shaped centerpiece symbolizes the hope and recovery of a Baltimore neighborhood. Photo by Edwin Remsburg.

Posted in CITIES, ENVIRONMENT, ENVIRONMENTAL JUSTICE, HEALTHY COMMUNITIES, NOW, PARKS, PEOPLE, PLANNING, LEISURE, THE CUSTOMER | Tagged Baltimore, Byoung-Suk Kweon, community development, Druid Heights, Druid Heights Community Development Coporation, Gold Street Park, Kim O’Connell, landscape architecture students, pro bono | leave a comment


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