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Guerilla Planning in Baltimore City Creates a Mix of Inclusive and Exclusive Spaces

In 2012, Baltimore City's population grew for the first time in over six decades only to face a disappointing decline in population in 2013. The residents who remain are not blind to the city's flaws, but choose to work through changes that come to pass in their neighborhoods. Conversely, new residents are bringing in new perspectives in urban design to make the city what they want it to be. While most residents file 311 complaints, use wishful thinking, or relying on city government for change, a handful of residents practice more of a "do-it-yourself" approach to city planning. The following are recent guerrilla or DIY planning efforts in Baltimore:

  • Hampden resident painted temporary DIY crosswalks after none were painted following repaving.
  • Johnston Square residents rebuilt and maintained Ambrose Kennedy Park after waiting over a year for the city to do so.
  • Charles Village "occupiers" declared a vacant, fenced-in lot a public park and invited neighbors to join them.
  • Patterson Park residents piloted a project to gate and green an alley that was attracting crime and rats.

These guerrilla efforts represent Baltimoreans' unmet expectations of city agencies, whether it is the department of transportation, police, or recreation and parks. City agencies may have many reasons for lack of action in these cases. Agency resources may be stretched thin or incompetencies may exist. However, not all agencies have viewed these guerrilla efforts as an assist from the residents but as an annoyance.

Ambrose Kennedy Park, Johnston Square, Baltimore City, Maryland

How have the agencies reacted to these guerrilla planning incidents? The city's department of transportation frowned upon the DIY crosswalks but sent crews to paint official crosswalks within days of the DIY paint job. The recreation and parks department admitted to poor relations with the Johnston Square community, but could not provide a reason for the neglected park maintenance. The empty lot in Charles Village was the result of a block of row houses being demolished to build condos or apartments; it does not appear the City or the property owners looked down on the guerrilla picnic that took place on the lot. Before Patterson Park residents acquired a temporary permit for their alley gate, the city did not permit gating alleys because alleys are considered a public right of way. After the residents' gated the alley on their own, the City showed full support and legislation was passed, but set specific and costly criteria for residents to follow in order to obtain a permit. Essentially, the cost and effort of gating an alleyway falls entirely on the residents who share it, but the City will approve a building permit for a gate should the neighbors succeed in meeting the many criterions. One such criterion requires residents to form a consensus on the need of a gate.

Gate and Green Alley, Patterson Park, Baltimore City, Maryland

The nonprofit who piloted the green alleyways initiative in Patterson Park noted that the residents refused to green the alleys unless they were gated off. The exclusiveness of the gate is in contrast to Baltimore's other resident-initiated actions, which are intended to benefit everyone. In other neighborhoods, residents opposed an alley gate because they did not want to use urban planning as a way to separate themselves from other people. The divisive-nature of a gate is reminiscent of the controversial poor doors in New York, coverage of which echoes the idea that "dividing rich and poor is unhealthy for people, cities, and society."

How has your city government reacted to guerrilla planning? Are there stories in your city of guerrilla planning dividing instead of uniting residents? Share your stories in the comments below.

Credits: Images by Jade Clayton. Data linked to sources.