In preparing to write my June 16 column in the Sun, two things – I visited Kirby Lane Park in West Baltimore and came across a story in Popular Mechanics about how green Baltimore is. It’s a good piece, worth reading, and will make city dwellers feel a great deal of pride for the amount of tree canopy we have.
But here’s the thing: When you look at a “green map” of Baltimore, you see a virtual desert in the inner-city, and especially in East Baltimore and West Baltimore. As leafy as the city is — Leakin Park is immense, and the other parks, such as Patterson and Druid Hill, are impressive — there are acres of vacant lots and treeless streets in low-income neighborhoods. That’s one of the things the Baltimore Green Network seeks to address. It estimates more than 25,000 vacant lots across the city and offers a plan to turn them into neighborhood assets.
The Baltimore Green Network was adopted by the city’s planning commission last year and now needs private-public funding and political support. It’s not just a beautification plan. It’s holistic aim is to connect neighborhoods and to create pathways through the city, making them more attractive and healthier and literally seeding them for future redevelopment. It also has tremendous potential as a job creator. Roland Harvey, a landscape contractor I met and wrote about a few years ago, is keenly interested in creating jobs for people in Baltimore who have had a tough time in life — emerging from poverty, drug addiction and, in many cases, prison. We have discussed different ideas. The Baltimore Green Network seems to be a good way for him to get involved and put more people to work. I plan to write about it more in future columns about the city.
One thing I noticed while visiting Donald Quarles and his helpers on West Saratoga: They already have some big, healthy trees on the vacant lot they are converting to Kirby Lane Park. My iNaturalist app identified one of them as a type of elm. There were other trees that, cleaned up and incorporated into the landscaping, will crown a great little park.
By the way: I had this interchange with Mr. Quarles. Me: “So who was Kirby Lane?” Quarles: “Who?” Me: “Kirby Lane . . . Isn’t this park named after him?” Quarles (pointing to the adjoining alley): “That’s Kirby Lane.” Me: “Oh.”
For the record: There was no one named Kirby Lane. There is only a lane named Kirby Lane, and it’s not as long as it used to be. These days Kirby Lane is a short alley running from West Saratoga Street to a vacant lot behind the one Mr. Quarles and his merry helpers are making beautiful.