Fed­eral grant boosts parks

White House task force of­fers a pi­lot pro­gram for Bal­ti­more

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By John Fritze

Work­ing on the idea that ac­cess to green space can trans­form city neigh­bor­hoods and im­prove lo­cal economies, the Obama ad­min­is­tra­tion is set to an­nounce a series of mea­sures in Bal­ti­more aimed at in­creas­ing the num­ber of com­mu­nity parks, out­door class­rooms and gar­dens in the city.

The ini­tia­tives, which White House of­fi­cials will un­veil at a meet­ing with city lead­ers to­day in West Bal­ti­more, in­clude a pi­lot pro­gram in­tended to help neigh­bor­hoods re­claim va­cant lots and the in­stal­la­tion of a mon­i­tor at the In­ner Har­bor that will pro­vide real-time data about wa­ter qual­ity.

Though fed­eral of­fi­cials stressed the ef­fort is more about de­vel­op­ing a vi­sion than fund­ing, the ideas will be backed with about $750,000 in grants.

The fo­cus on Bal­ti­more comes at a time when pub­lic money for parks has shrunk, and gov­ern­ments are in­creas­ingly scout­ing for new ideas to main­tain and ex­pand them.

It is also the lat­est man­i­fes­ta­tion of di­rect in­volve­ment by the White House in Bal­ti­more since last year’s ri­ots fol­low­ing the death of Freddy Gray pushed the city — and its deep so­cio-eco­nomic prob­lems — onto a na­tional stage. The ad­min­is­tra­tion cre­ated a task force last year that is work­ing to bring fed­eral agen­cies to­gether to de­velop ex­actly these kinds of programs.

The ad­min­is­tra­tion has an­nounced mil­lions in Depart­ment of La­bor grants for job train­ing programs in the city. At the same time, the Depart­ment of Jus­tice is ne­go­tiat-

“En­vi­ron­men­tal in­vest­ments at the com­mu­nity level can re­ally re­vi­tal­ize the com­mu­nity.”

ing a con­sent de­cree with City Hall fol­low­ing a scathing report this sum­mer that laid bare a his­tory of dis­crim­i­na­tory policing.

“The whole im­pe­tus here is to show that en­vi­ron­men­tal in­vest­ments at the com­mu­nity level can re­ally re­vi­tal­ize the com­mu­nity,” said Christy Gold­fuss, man­ag­ing di­rec­tor of the White House Coun­cil on En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity.

“This is not an ex­er­cise in just re­spond­ing to so­cial prob­lems by build­ing play­grounds,” she said. “This is re­ally about en­vi­ron­men­tal jus­tice and look­ing at the changes that are needed to im­prove qual­ity of life.”

Among the ideas is a pi­lot pro­gram by the Depart­ment of Agri­cul­ture that would help res­i­dents ac­cess free or low-cost tools and train­ing needed to turn va­cant city lots into gar­dens, aug­ment­ing lo­cal ef­forts on that front.

Fed­eral of­fi­cials said they en­vi­sion a brick-and-mor­tar cen­ter where res­i­dents could, for ex­am­ple, buy or bor­row gar­den­ing tools or top­soil.

About 1,080 city-owned va­cant lots were adopted by neigh­bor­hood groups and res­i­dents last year, and sur­veys in­di­cate that nearly 80 per­cent of those are now “work­ing green sites” or in progress, ac­cord­ing to the Parks & Peo­ple Foun­da­tion. There has been a small uptick in lot adop­tions this year, the foun­da­tion said.

The group, based in the Mon­dawmin neigh­bor­hood where last year’s un­rest be­gan, was in­volved with shap­ing many of the ideas that will be an­nounced and will host of­fi­cials from the White House, non­prof­its and city to­day.

“The big­gest im­pact is the scale of so many projects, and so many con­nec­tions be­tween them,” said Lisa Millspaugh Schroeder, the group’s pres­i­dent and CEO.

“This series of an­nounce­ments is a way to put for­ward what is re­ally a com­plex net­work of things go­ing on, and also bring fed­eral at­ten­tion to Bal­ti­more.”

Fed­eral of­fi­cials will also an­nounce that the Fish and Wildlife Ser­vice is ex­pand­ing a wildlife refuge part­ner­ship cre­ated in 2013 at Ma­sonville Cove to in­clude the Mid­dle Branch wa­ter­shed through South and West Bal­ti­more.

The move would not trig­ger new en­vi­ron­men­tal reg­u­la­tions, of­fi­cials said, but it could open a door to ad­di­tional fed­eral re­sources for green spa­ces.

Given the in­vest­ment pro­posed for Port Cov­ing­ton by Sag­amore De­vel­op­ment — the pri­vate real es­tate firm owned by Un­der Ar­mour CEO Kevin Plank — many be­lieve the Mid­dle Branch shore­line will be­come a de­vel­op­ment hot spot in com­ing years. Parks sup­port­ers hope to en­sure a bal­ance of de­vel­op­ment and pub­lic space when that hap­pens that will ben­e­fit nearby neigh­bor­hoods.

Sag­amore’s plans in­clude about 42 acres of parks in Port Cov­ing­ton, in­clud­ing shore­line multi-use trails and play­ing fields.

Ex­pand­ing the refuge part­ner­ship is an ini­tial step in an ef­fort to “start to think about the vi­sion for the Mid­dle Branch, and how the fed­eral gov­ern­ment can be a part­ner,” said Nate Loewen­theil, a se­nior pol­icy ad­viser at the Na­tional Eco­nomic Coun­cil who leads the White House task force on Bal­ti­more.

“That could have real im­pact on those neigh­bor­hoods, not next year but five years, 10 years from now,” said Loewen­theil, a Bal­ti­more na­tive.

Loewen­theil’s task force has been work­ing largely un­der the radar for more than a year to cut through fed­eral bu­reau­cracy, en­cour­age de­vel­op­ment and iden­tify fund­ing for the city.

Ad­min­is­tra­tion of­fi­cials also plan to in­stall a wa­ter qual­ity sen­sor by the trash wheel at the mouth of the Jones Falls to col­lect real-time data that will be pub­lished on web­sites main­tained by the En­vi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency and the U.S. Ge­o­log­i­cal Sur­vey.

The sen­sor, which will cap­ture data on chem­i­cals and other pol­lu­tants en­ter­ing the har­bor, is mod­eled af­ter programs in other cities that mon­i­tor air qual­ity.

The For­est Ser­vice, the EPA and oth­ers will an­nounce a plan to build “school­yard habi­tats,” or out­door class­rooms, at 10 city schools, in­clud­ing at the Green Street Academy, a char­ter school on Hil­ton Street.

Christy Gold­fuss, White House Coun­cil on En­vi­ron­men­tal Qual­ity

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