SDP 2021- 2022 Week 5: Industry, Inequality, and Environment in South Baltimore

This week we visited the South Baltimore Community Land Trust Curtis Bay site with Greg and Shashawnda and began the ideation phase of our human-centered design process.

On the way down, we discussed the neighborhoods of South Baltimore and their futures. With ongoing development, as well as massive initiatives such as the Port Covington project, not only is there the question of whether communities will be equitably involved in the processes, but also the threat of displacement. The needs of the community as determined and desired by the community should always be privileged over notions of progress for progress’s sake. We also drove by several of the facilities we’ve been reading and thinking about, such as the infamous BRESCO incinerator and coal storage sites, but also places of inspiration, such as the Benjamin Franklin High School. Seeing these places in ‘real life’ really heightened the importance and the scale of the work, which this week has really begun to have momentum. While of course we all know that these are real, physical places, going to them and being there, attuning yourself to the energy, physicality, and spirit of the place hones one’s understanding of it.

As we walked the Curtis Bay site, we were struck by the expansiveness of the land, and in some ways it felt sequestered away from the city while also being in the city. The site itself felt charged with potential; I know I kept imagining what it would look like with a composting facility and other community sites. But that potential has a time limit, and the city government could sign a contract promising the site away to another entity at any time, which means that it is so important to seize the opportunity while possible to create equitable environmental infrastructure in the city. At the same time, one of our classmates spoke at length about making the environment match the community’s people — people know what they want, and what type of environment they want, and it makes no sense to impose a framework that won’t match those desires. This is an inherently dynamic project, with many moving pieces to think about on the levels of individual, neighborhood, community, city, and developers.

Finally, we convened in the basement of a church next to Benjamin Franklin high school to begin our collaborative design process. We have two paths on this project which will ultimately converge: one focuses on the residential neighborhoods of Baltimore, the other focuses on anchor institutions like Hopkins. While some of us will focus more on one path than the other, they’re not separate, but instead two ways to achieve the same thing — getting Baltimore to become a zero-waste city. In this manner, we all brainstormed ideas for both paths: what we want to achieve, who we need to contact, ways to achieve our goals, etc. And, when I say our, I truly do mean our; all of practicum’s goals are determined and checked by the SBCLT at every step of our process. As we walk towards realizing an environmentally just initiative at the Curtis Bay site, we need to co-create that future on every level, at every step, between ourselves, the SBLCT, and our local communities. We need to dare to imagine a new, mutual future.