Right on the corner of North and Greenmount Avenues stood a vacant lot – decrepit and overgrown, the area served as a seedy home to drug traffic and other contentious activity until recently. In the spring of 2012 the Board of the Greater Greenmount Community Association decided the area, which is part of a main thoroughfare for not only the community but Baltimore commuters as a whole, needed to be improved. GGCA adopted the lot through Baltimore City’s Adopt-a-Lot program, committed association funds for cleaning up the lot and, with the help of community residents, volunteer groups and the Civic Works Community Lots Team, began work. Over the course of the last year, the vacant space began to be converted into an ornamental, community garden, taking it from an eye-sore to a beautiful attraction to any walker, biker, or driver heading through Station North.
After years of observing how the vacant lot facilitated illicit activity in his neighborhood, Lowell Larsson, GCCA’s Treasurer, decided something needed to be done. Transforming the space into a garden was the most realistic and beneficial option. Adopting the property from the city and working with Civic Works and Parks and People, Larsson, Sandra Coles and Linda Johnson started the transformation.
Last fall the GGCA board asked Larsson to be project manager for a grant application to the Central Baltimore Partnership, which was distributing Spruce-Up grant funds provided by The Deutsch Foundation. The funds were used to continue to build community cohesiveness by enhancing the garden and by commissioning artists to incorporate their work within the garden. Local visual artist and MICA grad, Emily C-D was the mastermind behind the wonderfully vibrant Mexican-style, macrame weave that lines the fence surrounding the garden. She brought in other artists and recruited community folks to help.
I tried to sit down and chat with Emily but she’s jetting back to Mexico, luckily she took the time to answer a couple questions about her role in the garden via email. “We created one art piece made by many different hands, the coalescence of many ideas and colors and people into one cohesive work,” she wrote. “Response has been incredibly positive, from neighbors, from the folks who hang out on the corner, from friends, and from the fibers faculty at MICA. Public fiber art at its best!” Emily has been involved in the Greenmount community for several years now – I’m sure this won’t be the last time her art graces the neighborhood.
Johnson serves as the current president of the Greater Greenmount Community Association, and constantly asks the question: “What can we do to better our area?” The Greenmount North Garden is certainly a great first step and there are preliminary plans to implement the same garden project at other vacant lots throughout the neighborhood. Coles has lived in the area for nearly 30 years and wasn’t willing to accept the neighborhood’s decline several years ago so she too got involved. Like Briony Hynson and her Playscape project in Oliver, Larsson, Coles and Johnson are active community members that strive to improve their neighborhood, which has seen significant change over the last five years. “We know it’s getting better,” Larsson said. “But there still is a lot more to do.”
On a sunny afternoon, take a stroll or drive past the corner of Greenmount and North Ave to see innovation, social change, and art used as a tool to improve a community. I promise you’ll feel enriched by the power of this tranquil garden amidst a bustling Baltimore street corner. Most likely you’ll find Lowell out in the garden, being an active participate to make Greater Greenmount much, much greater.