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Extreme Green Makeovers for Vacant Lots

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PHOTO: Baltimore is encouraging citizens, groups and businesses to be creative with proposals to turn vacant lots into spaces that benefit neighborhoods, and the environment. Photo courtesy Chesapeake Bay Trust
PHOTO: Baltimore is encouraging citizens, groups and businesses to be creative with proposals to turn vacant lots into spaces that benefit neighborhoods, and the environment. Photo courtesy Chesapeake Bay Trust
 By Deborah Courson Smith/Deb Courson Smith, Public News Service - MD, Contact
September 17, 2014

BALTIMORE - Taking an eyesore and turning it into neighborhood "eye candy."

Winners are sharing nearly $300,000 in funding in the Growing Green Design Competition: Vacant Lots Transformed. Their projects will improve neighborhoods and include environmental benefits, such as reducing stormwater runoff.

Jon Capacasa, director of the Water Protection Division for Environmental Protection Agency Region III, was on hand for the awards presentation Tuesday night.

"We want folks to be clamoring for these," he said, "these opportunities to 'green' their own neighborhoods and to adopt more sustainable practices that keep water on the land, have cleaner streams, cleaner rivers and a cleaner Chesapeake Bay."

Seven winners were chosen. Projects include a fruit garden, native plant restoration, a green space featuring a walk-through for children on their way to school, and a flower farm.

A project guidebook was unveiled at the same time. Beth Strommen, director of the Baltimore Office of Sustainability, said it will help groups, nonprofits or other organizations interested in turning a neglected lot into a park, community gathering space, or a garden.

"Each lot is unique," she said. "They're not all the same. We have 14,000 vacant lots and - depending on if it's south-facing, north-facing, in the middle of the block - the different designs that you might want to choose come into play."

Strommen explained that projects may be in place for a couple of years, while others might stay longer. The lots will stabilize the land and improve neighborhoods - holding the space and making it more attractive to developers.

"Some of the land, in the long run, will stay green," she said. "Perhaps it might stay an urban farm, or perhaps it might stay a community open space, but most of it is being held for future economic redevelopment."

The competition was sponsored by Baltimore City, the EPA and Chesapeake Bay Trust. A list of winners and projects is online at CBTrust.org.

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