Creating New Urban Commons: A Baltimore Case Study

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"In 2003, Baltimore was a city in distress, with over 14,000 vacant houses and a population that had dropped by more than one-third since 1950. Tired of alleyway crime, residents decided to gate and beautify their alleys, creating common spaces outside their backdoors. Residents faced significant legal and political challenges before, in April 2007, a landmark ordinance passed allowing for alley gating and greening. This historic legislation culminated from the efforts of government, residents, private sector and nonprofit partners, including Ashoka’s Community Greens. This new ordinance protected the city from frivolous law suits and provided residents with a transparent, reasonable, and replicable process. Dozens of blocks in Baltimore are now taking advantage of this ordinance. Because of the social, environmental, and fiscal benefits it provides, other cities are beginning alley greening programs, customized to their unique needs. None, however, appear as community-driven as Baltimore. Baltimore’s program rests at a unique intersection of grass-roots responsibility (residents must undertake the process primarily on their own including gaining their neighbors’ consents and raising funds for improvements) and top-down, municipal authority (a city wide ordinance and application process that must function in order for the program to spread city-wide). This paper will explore the context for and the challenges of creating Baltimore’s alley gating and greening initiative. It will also cover the process residents underwent, the legislation that was ultimately passed and the impact alley gating and greening has had to date. In addition, it will address how other cities’ green alley programs are evolving and key elements for replication."
commons, green economics, urban affairs