Darley Park Gateway Park

Natalia Sanchez

For decades the lots at Harford Road and Normal Avenue in Baltimore City have sat unused and blighted. As with many post-demolition sites, the space became a dumping ground and an eyesore. Residents in the community sought to transform the vacant lots from a liability to an asset.

The site of Gateway Park is strategically located at the center of the community and has been the focus of neighborhood activity through a cleaning and greening strategy. Pauline Charles, a Darley Park resident of forty years, states “We began to have community meetings and doing some door knocking and getting residents involved. And pretty much it was like everyone felt the same way, that we needed something safe and we needed something nice for our community and for our children.”

The community amassed a large number of nonprofit partners to help them achieve their vision. The 6th Branch, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), Civic Works, and others had taken the neighborhood park as far as possible without major renovation. 

The 6th Branch, a nonprofit organization that aims to build community by bringing together service-minded veterans and civilians has a strong record of working with communities in east Baltimore and transforming vacant lots into green spaces. Scott Goldman, the Executive Director of The 6th Branch said: “How do we come to projects like this? Honestly they have all come to us. We're community guided. It's very important to us to listen to people like Ms. Pauline and make sure we're actually doing the things that people ask for and meeting those community needs.”  In 2015 volunteers and staff from The 6th Branch started by removing decades worth of junk and have since installed playground equipment and a stage. Murals have also been painted on buildings surrounding Gateway Park.

The transformation and commitment by the community did not go unnoticed. Parks and People worked with residents and partners to create a concept for Gateway Park and Ayers Saint Gross, an internationally recognized design firm with expertise in landscape architecture, donated their time to design the space. Funding from the Chesapeake Bay Trust got the community engineered drawings for stormwater management features and cohesive, beautiful landscaping.

With all these pieces in place the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development (DHCD) and the Maryland Department of Natural Resources (DNR) funded the installation of a more holistic community park that will provide the amenities and green space desired by the community along with the stormwater enhancements that improve water quality and control flood risk.

When asked what made the Gateway Park project in Darley park attractive, Sara Luell, the Director of Communications at DHCD said “The development of Darley Park’s Gateway Park will not only serve as an attractive gateway into the community but will also help to transform the neighborhood. DNR has been a constant partner in the application and review process for DHCD’s community enhancements grants as part of an interagency effort. Together we have worked over the years to identify projects that not only strengthen community housing and economic opportunities, but also restore and protect the local environment. This collaboration led to a further discussion of how to streamline the application process and identify projects that leverage funds and provide multiple benefits.”

The park includes 20 urban trees and 4 bioretention projects that total 2,194 square feet in size. The park also remediated 11,500 square feet of soil and decreased impervious cover by 5,000 square feet. Most important to the community is that Gateway Park is now an asset for the City and its residents. According to Scott Goldman, “This was a place that would scare people away before we all started here and now it's a place where there are kids playing in the swing set and the tire pyramids. There are people using the stages.” 

And it will stay that way for the foreseeable future because The 6th Branch has committed to maintaining the park. You can find volunteers and staff in Gateway Park every Wednesday keeping the site in prime condition. “We built the benches and the stage. We raised the money for the swing set. We placed all these boulders and contracted out to put all these curbs and planter boxes. On a nice spring day these planter boxes are all full of wildflowers. We did all that with the neighbors, and with the community, and all at the direction of Ms. Pauline, and again with just amazing volunteers, and a lot of support.”

Project Location: Baltimore City, MD

Type of Project: Other - Reclaiming and Repurposing

Size: 20 trees & 4 bioretention areas totaling 2,194 ft2

Pollution Reduction: 5.72 lbs nitrogen, 0.6 lobs phosphorus, 221.94 lbs sediment

Total Cost: $629,175

Funding Sources: Maryland Department of Natural Resources, Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development, Chesapeake Bay Trust, Under Armour/ESPN

Partners: Parks & People Foundation, The 6th Branch, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development (BUILD), the Waterfront Partnership, the Neighborhood Design Center, Civic Works

Contact: Laura Connelly | Parks and People | laura.connelly@parksandpeople.org