"Greenmount West Revitalization", Architecture and the City Final Project, Fall 2012
Greenmount West, Baltimore, Maryland
When developing a foundation for project ideation I made many trips to the neighborhood of Greenmount West. Initially my practice involved sketching and photographing areas that had a significant spatial quality. Through this process of examining conditions within the neighborhood I began to notice a trend of border conditions, and an overwhelming lack of the sense of ownership within a community that deserved to thrive as any other neighborhood would. In addition, many elements of structure were being effected by unkempt natural growth, creating interesting spatial conditions as well as said border conditions.
I began to ponder the significance of the natural environment within such an urban setting. Perhaps it could be reworked in a circumstantial manner, one which would benefit the community rather than hinder it. My final project goal was decided as such, “To reinstate a sense of ownership within the community of Greenmount West through the revitalization of nature.”
Choosing a site was one of the first steps in beginning this project. However, in an area that offered so many possibilities it became difficult to narrow them down. I created a map of the neighborhood that marked all utilized and unutilized lots. (Figure 1) Visualizing this tactic allowed me to focus on the need for more than one structural intervention. I decided to work with all 16 unutilized lots, as well as a “gateway” site located on the border of the Jones Falls valley.
Inhabiting the gateway site became a method of taking back land that would have belonged to the neighborhood before the demolition of the Jones Falls river and the construction of the railway. It is located on N. Calvert Street, a popular north bound access road within Baltimore.
Though each of the neighborhood sites are marked as unutilized, it is apparent that they often have a purpose. Through studying the paths that were worn into the lots, as shortcuts for pedestrians, I felt there would be a way to alter these sites without detracting from the purpose in which the neighborhood found within them.
My final design deals with the cyclical filtration of water. Within the past year Baltimore has seen the effects of crumbling infrastructure, evident by multiple water pipes bursting throughout the city. This is in result of a sewage and runoff system over 100 years old. I decided that the best way to approach this idea of reinstating a sense of ownership was to provide the neighborhood with a cyclical system that would diminish its reliance on public systems for both clean water and waste removal. (Figure 2) This design involved harvesting black water from neighboring houses, (Figure 3) transporting it through a three tank mechanism for filtration, and eventually into a constructed wetland that would further filter it to potable levels. (Figure 4) The three tanks that the water would enter included a solid settling tank, equalization tank, and an anaerobic digestion tank. This filters out all solid material, leaving only black water to be filter by the constructed wetland design.
Taking advantage of its prominent location, the gateway site acts as an educational path as you walk through the steps of filtration, ending at an urban farm that utilizes the filtered water for the purpose of crop growth. (Figure 5) The neighborhood sites memorialize their shortcuts through the construction of paths that travel down into the wetlands, and emerge at their final location on the bordering street. (Figure 6) In addition, the design incorporates a motion activated installation that illuminates tanks of freshly filtered water from underground, creating a lantern on the mounds of earth not designed with the constructed wetland within the site. This would act as a visual tool to communicate the processes taken within the site.
The design of the wetlands was creating by overlaying a map of the Jones Falls Watershed, where each lot took the design of the rivers it overlapped. (Figure 7) Each lot was fitted with enough square footage of constructed wetlands to handle the capacity of the connected houses.
The construction of each site involves the process of land excavation, which can often be very expensive. (Figure 8) For this purpose, all material excavated was kept within each site to create the undulating topography that allows the viewer to feel immersed within the landscape.
As I stated prior, my intent with this project was to reinstate a sense of ownership within the neighborhood of Greenmount West through the revitalization of nature. Though this was my singular priority, the sites themselves begin to create additional effects. The gateway site acts as an educational ritual, by traveling through the process of water filtration and visualizing the outcome of its process.
In addition, all sites provide clean water to surrounding urban farms that often struggle during the summer months to sustain growth due to lack of water. These urban farms work towards the availability of healthy food options within neighborhoods, and often reinstate a sense of pride as it is the residents’ hard work that allows for the production of all produce.
Ultimately, this design is one that could be applied to neighborhoods all over Baltimore. By relinquishing the neighborhoods dependence on public infrastructure, the city bears a lighter load than it is currently asked to handle; while the issue of unutilized lots within Baltimore is addressed through local and historic significance.