Creative Placemaking in Baltimore

Written by Deborah Patterson, director of ArtBlocks

Once upon a time, people with good intentions found ways to put murals, gardens, and other such “improvements” in neighborhoods that were not their own. While a nice idea, the residents were more often than not left out of the process, in part or in entirety. And with no support, involvement, or buy-in from the community, there was no sustainability either.

But, you ask, this is all a thing of the past, right?

It is, if the process begins with Creative Placemaking— the next big buzzword you are going to hear. To back up this statement, we can give you example after example of cities — small and large, rural and urban – throughout the world that have used Creative Placemaking to re-envision public spaces that are uniquely theirs. Unique is the operative word here because, if created by the residents themselves, each community’s designs, artwork and creative projects will inherently be different from all others. Real placemaking leads to ownership and sustainability of projects while also hampering gentrification.

Another factor that has led to the success of Creative Placemaking is that it is an actual grassroots process that can be taught in, and learned by, any community. It produces a comprehensive vision that generates a greater number of projects and, in turn, increased opportunities for collaboration among residents, artists, and stakeholders. Although it has been utilized for the past three decades as a tool predominantly at the upper levels of city planning (ex. Rockefeller Center and Bryant Park in NY), it has been used very little, if at all, in underserved communities.

Until now.  Formally trained in placemaking in NY, the mission of local nonprofit, ARTblocks, is to offer the tool to communities in Baltimore City that do not often have a voice in its planning. Beginning this spring, ARTblocks will hold Creative Placemaking Workshops and training for the leaders of five Baltimore City communities that have expressed interest — the sole criterion for inclusion — in learning the process.

The workshops will yield ten short-term and ten long-term goals for each community. ARTblocks will help facilitate the short-term goals in two ways: first, by linking projects to community artists, gardeners, craftspeople, designers, architects, transportation officials, and volunteers; and second, by providing a stipend for their realization. In terms of the long-term goals, ARTblocks will assist the communities in their fundraising efforts with the aim of teaching communities to fish for themselves.  Each community workshop will provide the opportunity to train five new Creative Placemakers, and so on, and so on.

The objective of ARTblocks is to create, intentionally and systematically, a Creative Placemaking model that can be replicated in any community, especially those that are underserved. By providing the opportunity for all voices to be heard, our hope, wish, and yes, prayer, is for healing to occur in Baltimore so that together we may transform the fabric of Baltimore into one that is strong, authentic, and vibrant!

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