Green­ing North Av­enue

Our view: Bal­ti­more should take ad­van­tage of a fed­er­ally funded up­grade of the cor­ri­dor to ex­pand the city’s tree canopy

Baltimore Sun - - MARYLAND VOICES -

North Av­enue was once a lovely tree-lined boule­vard that marked the north­ern limit of Bal­ti­more City. Yet the pas­sage of time has not been kind to the his­toric thor­ough­fare, which has long needed an up­grade.

That’s why we wel­come the an­nounce­ment that the U.S. Trans­porta­tion Depart­ment will help fund a $27 mil­lion makeover of the cor­ri­dor next year that in­cludes repaving the road and adding ded­i­cated bus and bike lanes along its five-mile length. The changes aim to in­crease lo­cal res­i­dents’ ac­cess to em­ploy­ment and essen­tial ser­vices and im­prove the qual­ity of life in nearby neigh­bor­hoods.

But the im­prove­ments to North Av­enue have the po­ten­tial to be far more than just a much-needed tran­sit project aimed at spurring eco­nomic devel­op­ment. They also rep­re­sent an op­por­tu­nity for the city to ex­pand the net­work of new green spa­ces that are be­ing planned to re­place the area’s di­lap­i­dated and va­cant prop­er­ties, and to plant hun­dreds of new trees along­side the re­fur­bished route. Trees make any city more beau­ti­ful and more liv­able, and Bal­ti­more should jump at the chance to use the com­bi­na­tion of fed­eral, state and lo­cal funds that have come to­gether around the tran­sit project to en­large the leafy green canopy that acts as the city’s lungs and air con­di­tioner.

The North Av­enue makeover in­cludes some $8.9 mil­lion for “streetscap­ing” projects in­tended to beau­tify prop­er­ties along the road­way. Bal­ti­more City ar­borist Erik Dihle says he will work with city plan­ning di­rec­tor Thomas Sto­sur and fed­eral and state of­fi­cials to flesh out a de­tailed plan for in­creas­ing the size of Bal­ti­more’s tree canopy — the pro­por­tion of the city shaded by trees — as part of the av­enue’s trans­for­ma­tion. Mr. Dihle also plans to work with long­time ad­vo­cacy groups like TreeBal­ti­more, a public-pri­vate part­ner­ship whose vol­un­teers plant hun­dreds of trees an­nu­ally, as well as with lo­cal en­vi­ron­men­tal ac­tivists, com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions and neigh­bor­hood as­so­ci­a­tions from the sur­round­ing area, all of whom he hopes will be closely in­volved in the plan­ning process.

The fed­eral and state fund­ing for North Av­enue’s restoration comes on the heels of Mayor Stephanie Rawl­ings-Blake’s an­nounce­ment last month that the city has cre­ated its own “Green Net­work Plan” to cre­ate new parks, com­mu­nity gardens and ur­ban trails in some of Bal­ti­more’s most blighted neigh­bor­hoods. There’s ob­vi­ously the po­ten­tial for syn­ergy be­tween two projects whose aims — cre­at­ing new green spa­ces that will make the city a more at­trac­tive place to live and work — co­in­cide so closely. The trick will be to co­or­di­nate the city’s ef­forts to max­i­mize their ben­e­fits for lo­cal res­i­dents.

North Av­enue, which con­nects East and West Bal­ti­more, is the sec­ond-most-trav­eled bus route in the city and one that has a long and sto­ried his­tory that needs to be pre­served. Mr. Dihle says his of­fice will plant as many new trees there as possible to ful­fill the city’s green­ing goals and that the North Av­enue restoration, de­spite still be­ing in the plan­ning stages, looks to be one of the most ex­cit­ing ur­ban recla­ma­tion projects to come along in years. It rep­re­sents a once-in-a-gen­er­a­tion op­por­tu­nity to trans­form com­mu­ni­ties and the lives of lo­cal res­i­dents in a still vi­tal part of the city through in­no­va­tive think­ing and col­lab­o­ra­tive prob­lem-solv­ing, and Bal­ti­more must seize it.

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