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