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Reimagining Conkling Street GardenEmily Lewis

When asked why I wanted to be a landscape architect, the answer I always come to is the ability to connect people with their communities and their surrounding environment. It’s part of the reason I love living and working in Baltimore – I get to see the impact of the work we do first hand. So, when the Highlandtown Community Association (HCA) won our Community Grows Here competition for 2018 I knew I wanted to be a part of the team for a design located just a few blocks from my home.

Community Grows Here is Floura Teeter’s way of giving back to the community through pro bono design services for an organization making a difference every day in our region. This year the Highlandtown Community Association in east Baltimore was nominated to receive our help developing a master plan for the Conkling Street Garden, located near the intersection of E. Baltimore Street and S. Conkling Street, near the border of the Highlandtown and the Baltimore Highlands neighborhoods. The garden was developed as part of a 10-year lease by the HCA beginning in 2014. They have a dozen raised planting beds, space for community functions, and a native plant garden. Their hopes for the space are to increase the number of planting beds available for community members to rent and to better utilize the space for events and fundraising.

We started the project by meeting with several key members of the Association and their partners at the Southeast CDC to understand their wish list along with the site’s opportunities and constraints. Currently, the garden is divided into several distinct parts – the entrance with existing metal trellis, the ground level with planting beds, a 4’ elevated platform with three existing-to-remain shipping containers, and a rear section that is slightly disconnected from the rest of the garden. The goals included removing part of the elevated section to increase the gathering area, adding more planting beds, and creating better access and connectivity through the entire site.

Our office worked together to develop several concept designs and precedent images to present to project stakeholders. Incorporating that feedback, we created a final master plan design that included an expanded entrance with room for events; amphitheater seating and a demonstration kitchen area; better access to the remaining elevated section of the garden with additional planting beds, including some at standing height for those unable to kneel down; relocation of the storage shed; native plant gardens; and clear access through the site from end to end. The HCA can utilize the master plan to gain grants and funding to start to make their vision come to life.

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