The city of Baltimore, South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, Parks and People Foundation and James Corner Field Operations unveiled an urban renewal project. It will renovate more than 11 miles of shoreline along the Patapsco River in South Baltimore.
Called the Middle Branch, the area traditionally was inaccessible to the predominantly minority communities nearby. Incorporating these previously segregated populations into the hub of river activity was at the core of the planning process. So much so, in fact, the planning team eliminated the term “masterplan,” deeming it a slave reference, and replaced it with the project name “Reimagine Middle Branch.”
The overall design plan features a connection to nature with new parks, playgrounds, fishing piers, wetlands (to improve flood resiliency) and pedestrian bridges. Planners are including a sports area with a baseball field called Black Sox Park, which is named for the Negro League Baseball team that used to play there. The park also takes advantage of other historically and culturally significant sites in the area through a connection with the African American Heritage Trail.
Although a primary goal of the project is to increase equitability within the region, attention is equally given to public health and the environment. A press release outlined the three guiding principles of the project: “Protect and connect the shoreline; transform barriers into connections; and strengthen communities with parks and programs.”
“Our work to ‘reimagine Middle Branch’ is a key component of our larger strategies to revamp and reinvigorate recreation opportunities and outdoor spaces throughout our city,” said Mayor Brandon M. Scott. “This is about providing clean, accessible and modern spaces that show our residents, particularly our young people, that they matter. That we care about them and are going to do everything in our power to give them the best quality-of-life possible.”
The project has been in the works for many years and the public has repeatedly been invited to contribute to the conversation. There is hope of balancing the needs of the community with the goals of investors and other stakeholders.
“The plan integrates physical planning with economic development that prioritizes job creation, entrepreneurism and increasing the future earning potential of local residents,” said Brad Rogers, executive director at South Baltimore Gateway Partnership. “Alongside new public space amenities, we are equally focused on local workforce development and business incubation opportunities, such as green jobs involved in maintaining and monitoring the restored wetlands and pop-up markets for local vendors.”
Funding for this work comes from a variety of sources. This includes casino local impact grant funds, managed by the City of Baltimore, and by South Baltimore Gateway Partnership. There is also a Maryland state capital grant and a mixture of grants secured for wetland construction and trail projects.
Finally, there will be a new boathouse, fishing piers, playgrounds, gathering spaces, pedestrian and biking trails. It will connect several parks and other surrounding points of interest, skate park, wetland areas and a marketplace. In addition, traffic flow will be redesigned and slowed for safety throughout the area.
Images via James Corner Field Operations