Alley Gating & Greening
The Baltimore Story
Click the play button below to listen to Baltimore's WYPR interview with Community Greens Director Kate Herrod - (November 2008)
Baltimore has been the primary pilot site for Ashoka's Community Greens. Since we began working in Baltimore in 2003 we championed two pieces of historic legislation, one at the state level in 2004 and one locally in 2007, that allow Baltimore City residents to gate and green their alleyways. Since then, Community Greens has been operationalizing its work in Baltimore. Besides pioneering the Alley Gating and Alley Greening in Baltimore, Community Greens has also spearheaded the first attempt to measure the impact of the gating and greening on residents’ lives by through an in-depth sociological study of the residents on several blocks.
Community Greens had indeed started its pilot project in the Patterson Park neighborhood in Baltimore in 2003 but it was only after city Mayor Sheila Dixon passed the local ordinance, that the whole project really kicked into life. The city ordinance allows neighborhoods to gate and green their alleys. It requires that 80% if the people living in block(s) immediately annexed to the alley agree to gate and green the alley for them to be granted permission. The high 80% requirement is to ensure that a significant majority of the neighborhood are comfortable with the project which aspires at building community. In the event that the neighborhood wishes to green and gate their alley in such a way that no vehicle can go through, a 100% of the neighborhood is required to sign on. The Patterson Park neighborhood was more than thrilled to help test the initiative. They had unanimously agreed to gate and green their alley.
Alley Gating and the Arts
The Alley Gating and Greening project has also attracted interest for artists. A group of art students from the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) approaced ACG and wanted to get involved in the project by designing the gates. Daniel Alende and Jonathan Taube, from MICA met with the people on the 1500 Block, Baltimore Street to brainstorm ideas about the kind of gates that they wanted to have for their alley.
Some people wanted to have a regular barred gate while others wanted it to be representative of nature. Daniel and Jonathan put their artistic skills at work and their chef-d'oeuvre now proudly guards the alley way of the 1500 Block Baltimore street. The students designed a gate which is a subtle combination of bars, a couple of which also serves as the trunk of a tree, and the use of metal to form a beautiful tree and a flower.
MICA students' chef-d'oeuvre: Artistic gates!
The pilot project allowed us to spot many challenges, some of which are: the taxing and lengthy process of collecting signatures. The process gets complicated whenever there are absentee landlords who are difficult to track down to get their signatures.
Even a 100% interest to gate and green an alley does not necessarily guarantee that the initiatve will be approved. Final approval is granted only when the agencies concerned with or immediately affected by the gating, see no problem to it. Of those agencies, thee ones have veto, namely: Fire, Police and Utilities. The major concern of these 3 agencies is their limited accessibilty to the alleys once the gates are up. Neighborhood improvement can of course not inhibit fire and police responsiveness.
Facing the challenges
Instead of despairing in the face of the lengthy process, the neighbors managed to make the most of it. Neighborhood leaders, who stand up to the task of mobilizing the people living on the block, use this opportunity to organize multiple community building events. The expected benefits of the Alley Gating and Greening process clearly outweigh the hassle which the process poses.
Batimore police has endorsed the Alley Gating and Greening Project. They recognize the clear benefits that it can bring to safety and to limit crime in the city. A very entrepreneurial solution (very much in line with the Ashoka model!) was found regarding the accessibilty question. Three know boxes are placed outside the gates to which only the Fire, Police and Utilities have access using their own special keys. Hence, in the event of an emergency, they can have fairly rapid access to the alleys.
ACG has also been providing Neighborhood Leadership Training to the people of Baltimore. Participants in the training learn how to become effective community organizers. They learn about the various personality types of individuals and how to improve on their own interpersonal skills to be able to garner support and to also build a strong team of neighbors. The aim of training is to empower people to build and foster community. This acquired skill also helps them to handle the Alley gating and greening application more effectively.
ACG has also put together an Alley Gating and Greening Toolkit which helps people of Baltimore to familiarize themselves with the ordinance and which also walks them through the whole application process. This toolkit is available upon request.
Community Greens involvement ranged from providing resources and support to the people to reach the required number of signatories to helping them fundraise for the gates. Community Greens also assisted the neighborhoods to fundraise for acquiring and putting up the gates.
Community Greens currently works in close collaboration with the Fire, Police and Utilities as well as the Deparment of Public Works of Baltimore to process applications to gate and green alleys from other neighborhoods in Baltimore. Community Greens has a staff member who works with DPW twice a week to process the applications. We have created a streamlined application process for the Initiative and a spreadsheet template and filing system which tracks the status of ongoing applications as they obtain the necessary approvals from city agencies as well as 80-100% of block residents.
Reaping the benefits
Community Greens has also been working with sociologists and researchers from various universities in Maryland. With their help and guidance, a survey was devised and carried out in some of the neighborhoods. ACG will use the results of these surveys to measure the impact that the Alley Gating and Greening Project is having.
Find out more...Measuring the Impact
Since the first pilot project in 2006, 3 more alleys have been gated and greened and 3 footpaths have been created. There are currently over 72 applications that are being considered with at least 25 of them with a near certainty of being completed. ACG is working in close collaboration with the Department of Public Works of Baltimore to accelerate the processing of the applications.