TAP Druid Hill: Reclaiming the Park for the People

On Wednesday afternoons between June and September, residents who live near Druid Hill Park have the opportunity to shop for fresh, locally-grown produce – not to mention enjoy smoothies, baked goods and even massages – at the farmer’s market held at the southwest edge of the park.

If they can get there, that is…

That’s easy enough for Graham Coreil-Allen, an artist and transportation advocate who lives in the Auchentoroly Terrace neighborhood. All he has to do is wait for the right moment to dash across the nine lanes of expressway that separate the park from the homes to the west.

For some of Graham’s elderly neighbors, though, that’s not an option. It’s also not easy for them to walk several blocks up to Gwynns Falls Parkway, take two traffic signal cycles to cross Auchentoroly Terrace and McCulloh Street, and walk another several blocks down to the farmer’s market.

So instead of going to the market just across the street from their homes, Graham said some of his neighbors would “just sit in their lawn chairs and watch and listen to the farmer’s market” from their property.

“But they were unable to go,” he said. “And that’s not fair.”

Graham is part of a group of community stakeholders trying to fix that. They’re pushing to redesign the streets around Druid Hill Park in order to make it more accessible to the surrounding neighborhoods: particularly Reservoir Hill, Penn North, Auchentoroly Terrace and Mondawmin. The public face of that stakeholders group is called The Access Project for Druid Hill Park, or TAP Druid Hill for short.

TAP Druid Hill.jpg

In the first half of the twentieth century, this wasn’t a problem. Residential streets in Auchentoroly Terrace like Bryant and Whittier Avenues led directly to the park. When looking at aerial photography from the 1920s, Graham counted more than 20 access points to the park from the surrounding neighborhoods. Today there are only five from the south and west, and only three more from Roosevelt Park and Woodberry on the other side.

The loss of access is the result of two expressways – the Druid Hill Expressway and the Jones Falls Expressway – built between the late 1940s and 1960s. As part of the new construction, Auchentoroly Terrace and Druid Park Lake Drive went from two-lane, meandering park roads to five-, eight- and nine-lane arterial roads to shuffle cars between the northwest outskirts and downtown.

As you might expect, there was resistance from the community at the time. The NAACP opposed the street-widening, arguing that it would hurt black communities, as did multiple community associations. But the primarily black and Jewish working-class neighborhoods lost the fight. It’s worth noting that a powerful advocate of the expressway plan, legendary political boss Jack Pollack, lived near the northern end of Auchentoroly Terrace. As Graham put it during a walking tour he was leading around the park, Pollack essentially gave himself an express route to downtown.

Continue reading