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Behind the scenes with baltimore green space

When we preserved McAllister Park in Greenmount West a few weeks ago, a long-time resident noted, “The sound of children playing in the street is more aggressive; in the park, it’s more adventurous.” What does it take to ensure that a community’s hard work can endure as a lasting refuge?

Countless resources and hours of neighborhood work go into Baltimore’s more than 200 community green spaces. When Baltimore Green Space preserves a community garden, park, or forest patch, both we and the community will be committed to the space forever. We now preserve 10 of Baltimore’s treasured spaces. We’re honored to be trusted with this responsibility.

Because our commitment to green spaces is a long-term commitment, the application process is a serious undertaking. What should you expect if your neighborhood applies?

The application process involves many conversations – because you should get to know us well before you trust us to protect and own a space that so much love and energy have gone into. It also involves a lot of research, so we can ensure that the land is safe for community use, has true community support, and that the community is truly ready for all that forever means. Through this process we get to know the folks with the bold hearts and minds who sustain green spaces amid the bricks and bustle of Baltimore’s day-to-day rhythms.

Here’s what we do during our due diligence process:

We look at historical maps of your green space’s land. Sometimes those maps show old streams. For one site, we learned that the street name changed several times over the course of decades. This knowledge becomes important when we track down the property’s deeds.

We use the Criss Cross phone directory to see what types of businesses could have used the land over the years. We are most interested to see if there was a use that would generate toxic waste, such as a tanner or dry cleaner. More often we are able to see the patterns of families that move in and out of a space, though we found a jeweler on one of the spaces and a bar on another.

We interview older residents to find out what other secrets the land might hold. For instance, were there wells, outhouses, or illegal dumping? This information can help us to understand what to consider when we take soil samples.

We take multiple soil samples and test them for lead and heavy metals. Lead levels are low more often than people expect. Out of 17 sites that have applied for preservation, only 4 have tested high for lead. Three were easily addressed to be safe, so we could preserve them.

We conduct a baseline survey with green space leaders to learn about possible future issues and aspirations for the green space. For example, if you want to build a greenhouse in a few years, this is the part of the process where you share your dreams with us and we help you plan for them.

We research the deeds associated with your land to make sure that the land doesn’t come with any hidden requirements and to ensure that there isn’t a landowner who has claim to the land. Deeds can restrict properties from certain uses. We’ve never had an incident of this so far in our research.

We talk to the area planner to find out if there are sewer lines or other city owned utilities connected to the property. If there are, then the land disposition agreement must address how the city will handle maintenance of these long-term. Two of our preserved sites have sewer lines running beneath them.

In the course of our due diligence proceedings, we rarely uncover environmental issues that prevent a site from moving forward with preservation – though we have discovered obstacles that need to be addressed, such as keeping the site neater or amending slightly elevated levels of lead in the soil.

Once sites are safely through our due diligence process and receive a green light vote from our board, we generally apply to the City of Baltimore for preservation. At times the process is quick, but often the procedures associated with a property make the process take some time. A little bit of time is a small price to pay to successfully protect a green space forever.

For more information or to set up an application consultation email [email protected].