Park School of Baltimore students revitalize neighborhoods

In response to the unrest following the death of Freddie Gray in the spring of 2015, a group of students from The Park School of Baltimore (Maryland) volunteered with the Community Lot Team of Civic Works, a community service organization, and later joined residents and community organizations to address blight in the central Baltimore neighborhood of Barclay.

“We learned of Park School’s interest in greening and transforming community initiatives through our relationship with Civic Works, an organization known and celebrated throughout East Baltimore for its transformative greening efforts,” says Lottie Sneed, a community organizer for the Barclay neighborhood. “The Park School team was invited to see the site, meet neighbors, and learn about Barclay and its challenges.”

In late 2015, the students, who formed a group called the Neighborhood Revitalization Club, began attending strategy meetings with Barclay residents, community organizers, and Civic Works. This larger collective focused its efforts on a series of contiguous vacant lots in Barclay. The students focused their energy on revitalizing one of these lots — a rectangular space dotted with patches of grass, construction debris, and household trash.

Sneed and members of the collective discussed community engagement, design, and fundraising opportunities. The group’s first steps included touring the neighborhood, picking up trash at the lot, and measuring the space. In design meetings, residents and their young children voiced concerns about the ongoing issue of trash, a lack of lighting, and whether the new green space might encourage loitering. The conversation led to a design that includes a walking path, shade trees, planting beds, seating, a large open space, and artful barriers that will prevent vehicles from accessing the lot.

To pay for the lot revitalization, students participated in the grant process, attending planning meetings, writing sections of the proposal, and revising the final proposal seeking more than $15,000. In May, the group learned that its proposal had been fully funded with a Spruce Up Grant of the Central Baltimore Partnership, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, and Johns Hopkins University.

Morgan Soudry, a Park student who became a leader for the project, appreciated the opportunity to be a part of the collaboration: “Even though this is only the beginning, I feel like so much has happened,” she says. “Revitalizing the lot is amazing, but getting to know the people who live next door to it, having the opportunity to work side by side with them, and seeing their community thrive is the most beautiful part of this experience.”

In a separate fundraising effort, the students raised more than $8,000 to contribute to the project. The success of the partnership has also sparked new curricular connections for the school; in the fall, upper school students designed and built objects for the neighborhood in a new visual arts course created to support the transformation of vacant lots in Baltimore. Park students will continue working alongside their community partners as the lot is transformed over the next year.