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A Community Effort to Be the First Climate-Resilient Block in Baltimore A Community Effort to Be the First Climate-Resilient Block in Baltimore

A Community Effort to Be the First Climate-Resilient Block in Baltimore

by Jonathan Erwin
September 18, 2013

Ten years ago, the 2400 block of Jefferson Street was one of the deadliest in East Baltimore. Today, thanks to enormous efforts from neighbors, community groups, and local nonprofits, this block has become a positive model of grassroots urban renewal. Street and violent crimes have stabilized, drug markets have either shut down or moved elsewhere, and residents have taken back their block and a sense of community with it. But for these neighbors, improving the safety of their community isn’t enough, so the 2400 block of Jefferson Street is evolving again.

This time, this East Baltimore block is working to become the first climate resilient block in Baltimore.

Climate resiliency lends a softer approach to dealing with changing weather patterns and more frequent natural disasters. Traditionally, increased strains due to climate change on cities lead to major infrastructural overhaul, costing billions of dollars and decades to build out. In comparison, climate resiliency utilizes the collective power of communities to provide more sustainable protection against increased temperatures, downpours, and drought—and at a fraction of the cost. However, creating climate resiliency in an often-troubled 100-year-old neighborhood of row houses is a challenge. Through the Robert W. Deutsch Foundation Social Design Fellowship, I have been funded to tackle these issues on the 2400 block of Jefferson Street.

All summer I have been on the ground, talking with neighbors and exploring what we can implement to better equip the neighborhood for a battery of climatic challenges. My work navigates the incentives available through city, state, and federal governments to match resilience strategies with financial need and creative drive. Early on I recognized that "one-size-fits-all" strategies are not sustainable—you have to meet people where they are. Creative solutions mean working with what is already there.

To kick off the efforts this summer, we have begun repurposing an underused community garden into a low-maintenance rain garden. Over the years, outside organizations have come in to create a space, only to leave soon after. With a lack of long term motivation and community ownership, the community garden fell quickly and became overgrown, which attracted illegal dumping and rats. Learning from past mistakes, we are taking a different approach.

Through community workdays and collaborative planning, we are making sure that residents are involved with what they want on their block—and helping to build it. Through this process, the garden will also help: with storm water mediation, by increasing the amount of permeable surfaces in the area; by providing water for other greening projects or a back-up supply in case of disaster, through water collection off of neighboring roofs; and by offering further education on climate resilient strategies in the neighborhood.

During the next year, I am continuing to work with residents to develop strategies that are effective and sustainable in the long-term. I hope to merge together many programs and services available in the area and create new solutions for unthought-of challenges. By focusing on the community side of climate change, I plan for my work to become a model for the greater region of Baltimore. Be sure to follow my work over the coming year here on good.is or at micasocialstudio.com.

Images courtesy of Vincent Purcell

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