How Do We Build Community When We Can’t Be Near Each Other? (with PeacePlayers Baltimore and TAP Druid Hill)

This is the second part of a series. Click here to read Part 1.

Baltimore City reported its first case of coronavirus over the weekend. Mayor Young announced a second case yesterday, though Maryland’s official count still has it at one. The state has 57 confirmed cases as I write this, with the majority in the DC suburbs, and six in Baltimore County.

Today Governor Hogan announced a set of new measures to deal with the outbreak. Among other things, all state emissions inspection locations will become drive-thru testing centers, and MARC train service is being cut in half.

The Baltimore Sun has live updates here, and the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health has a podcast dedicated to issues around COVID-19 that you can subscribe to.

If all this is stressing you out, Hopkins mental health researcher Laura K. Murray offered steps to manage anxiety in The Sun yesterday. One of the recommendations is to limit your media intake. Yes, you can go ahead and close the browser now if you need to.

Always B-Mo small

For those looking to help out, Delegate Robbyn Lewis pointed out on Twitter that blood donations are especially important right now. You can schedule an appointment at a Red Cross donation center here.

Here’s a a mutual aid spreadsheet for Baltimore residents to offer help with childcare, pet care, emotional support and any other issues that might come up for neighbors and visitors. There are also sign-ups to support vulnerable neighbors in several Baltimore neighborhoods.

A number of rec centers, senior centers and schools are operating as food distribution sites. Click here for the map. You can also find food pantries through the Maryland Food Bank here.

Learning packets for students in city schools can be downloaded here.

Please email me if you have any more resources to add.

Continuing this series of asking people, How do we build community when we can’t be near each other, I reached out to LaToya Fisher of PeacePlayers Baltimore and Graham Coreil-Allen of TAP Druid Hill. Here’s what they said…

PeacePlayers Baltimore

PeacePlayers is an international organization that uses basketball to bring young people together across racial and geographic divides and develop them as leaders. LaToya Fisher is the Director of the Baltimore site, which works in Park Heights and Oliver, and is expanding to Northwood soon.

While this particular situation is new to LaToya, she worked with PeacePlayers in Israel and the West Bank during the wave of violence that began in late 2015. Palestinians had their movements severely restricted, which made it difficult for LaToya and others in the organization to engage with them. The advantage for PeacePlayers in that situation, however, was that it could operate as a safe space when Palestinian players did show up. They could let loose with their teammates, Arab and Israeli, in a way they couldn’t off the court.

A physical sanctuary like that isn’t possible right now in Baltimore, so it’s become necessary to stay in touch with players remotely and drop off care packages in some cases. “Just really trying to check in and let them know … that even though programming has stopped we still care for them, I think that’s the biggest thing.”

The PeacePlayers program has always been more than basketball, LaToya said. But this situation may prompt her to think more about the off-the-court programming and how to engage players in a variety of ways. Even if this situation is unique, there will always be disruptions and it’s important to be able to maintain relationships during times of disorder.

TAP Druid Hill 

The outdoors, where we can keep the recommended six feet of distance between each other, is one option for those who want to get out of the house. But for those without a car, Baltimore’s outdoor spaces can be difficult to get to.

The Access Project for Druid Hill Park, or TAP Druid Hill for short, represents a group of stakeholders advocating for Complete Streets to be implemented around Druid Hill Park. That means making the area more accessible for pedestrians and those on mobility devices, scooters and bikes.

Graham Coreil-Allen is a transportation advocate and public artist who believes in “inverting the pyramid,” as I wrote in November. That means prioritizing the most vulnerable street users first: namely, the elderly and disabled. Then we would work our way down to the less vulnerable, with personal cars coming last. In the end, everyone is safe and everyone gets where they want to go.

Graham weighed in on how the coronavirus threat hurts less privileged people when it comes to transportation, and what lessons we might learn from it going forward:

One risk factor of coronavirus transmission is close proximity to others, which exacerbates the vulnerability of working people. For those who drive, transportation is safe and enclosed. However those who rely on and/or operate transit, such as bus riders and drivers, are more at risk of exposure. A third of Baltimoreans rely on these close-quartered spaces to get to work and home. For its part MTA has been proactively cleaning its buses and subways. But that most Baltimoreans only have access to either driving or taking buses/trains reveals the weakness of our incomplete streets and transportation systems.

Complete Streets are streets designed and operated to provide safe and convenient access to all people, including those who walk, take transit, ride wheelchairs and bicycles, and rent e-scooters. Streetsblog reported today that, “Philadelphia bike-share Indego’s had almost twice as many users so far in March as this time in 2019… New York City’s Citi Bike is also surging.” In Baltimore our alternatives to not owning a car or wanting to risk close proximity exposure in buses leaves us with limited, risky options for transportation. With respect to the coronavirus, walking outside is still considered safe, but the conditions for doing so on may of our main streets in Baltimore are lacking. Cars drive too fast and do not yield to pedestrians, further endangering residents. Our city-funded bikeshare system failed years ago, but we do have several e-scooter rental options, for those who can afford them and are willing to risk riding a scooter on streets without protected mobility lanes.

“Mobility lanes” is a more inclusive term for what have historically been called “bike lanes.” Mobility lanes acknowledge that we need protected lanes not only for those who rely on bikes, but also those who use motorized wheelchairs as well as the newer e-scooters. That our mobility lane network remains dangerously unfinished means that people who would prefer to not take the bus and instead avoid coronavirus transmission by relying on bikes, wheelchairs, and e-scooters are at risk of being killed by cars as they navigate streets that induce motorists to behave in unsafe ways.

As Baltimore City DOT moves forward with implementation of the Complete Streets law, our city streets will slowly get safer and more accessible. These improvements will take time, but DOT is moving in the right direction. Unfortunately, in this moment of crisis our streets are too dangerous and car-focuses to truly meet the needs of our residents most vulnerable to coronavirus.

To share your own thoughts about how we build community while keeping social distance, email interactionbaltimore@gmail.com.

Go to Part 3.