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

No Boundaries Coalition: “Baltimore Is a City of Innovation”

In December 2015, during an uptick in drug trafficking, representatives from No Boundaries Coalition lobbied the police department for more foot patrols along Pennsylvania Avenue. That’s the corridor where the historically black neighborhoods of Sandtown-Winchester, Upton, Druid Heights and Penn North intersect.

The police told them there were no resources for the patrols.

A day later, the same police department announced that after a recent surge in robberies in Bolton Hill, it would be tripling the patrol in the area by deploying four more officers.

Bolton Hill, as it happens, is on the other side – the whiter side – of Eutaw Place.

All these neighborhoods – along with Reservoir Hill and Madison Park – share a zip code: 21217. But for generations, that boundary of Eutaw Place has split Central West Baltimore into two different worlds.

21217

No Boundaries Coalition was formed in 2008 in an effort to erase that boundary. As CEO Ashiah Parker told me, the organization’s vision is a Central West Baltimore in which “neighbors can advocate together for issues that are important to these neighborhoods regardless of race, class or gender.”

It started with the Boundary Block Party, now an annual event to bring all the communities of 21217 together. In addition to food and entertainment, block parties over the years have also provided space for voter registration, listening campaigns, walking tours and other activities to connect residents to the broader community.

The block parties – which are now complemented with a more issues-oriented “CommUNITY Gathering” – gave rise to resident-led advocacy efforts in four main areas: public safety (including police accountability), health and food justice, youth organizing, and civic engagement.

The story I related above about the foot patrols came from a 2016 report called Over-Policed, Yet Underserved, which No Boundaries released in partnership with BUILD and UMBC. Later that year, the U.S. Department of Justice referenced that report multiple times in the summary of its investigation of the Baltimore Police Department. And as the consent decree took shape in the months that followed, No Boundaries played a significant role.

Over-Policed, Yet Underserved highlighted a dissonance that plagues residents in and around Sandtown. They feel unsafe because of the lack of police presence in the area to deter serious crime, and yet they also feel unsafe because of the overzealous policing of their everyday existence. A survey of 453 residents revealed 57 “unique accounts of misconduct,” including verbal harassment, humiliation and excessive use of force. Beyond that, 92% of the respondents refused to be on the record, “showing the extremely high level of fear community residents have of police retaliation.”

Continue reading