More than 50 years ago, City of Baltimore transformed its Inner Harbor into a world-class attraction that set the standard for urban waterfronts. Once again, Baltimore has the opportunity to make lasting, positive change with the transformation of the waterfront along the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River in South Baltimore. The moment has arrived to unite nearby neighborhoods by providing amenities along with a connected system of parks and trails, with a focus on restoring wetlands and creating opportunities for recreation. The Middle Branch Waterfront will be the newest crown jewel in Baltimore’s inventory of great public parks: one of the country’s next great waterfronts.
The local neighborhoods, businesses, public institutions and community groups that surround Middle Branch have been laying the groundwork for this ambitious undertaking for years through efforts to replace post-industrial landfills and brownfields with trails and parks.
To further to their efforts and launch a holistic movement to transform the shoreline, the City of Baltimore engaged the Parks & People Foundation to reach out to stakeholders in the area and help identify professional design teams with the appropriate talent and experience to re-envision the waterfront with active community input. Starting in 2018, Parks & People engaged hundreds of community members and stakeholders to identify goals, document priorities and launch a process that will bring this long-held dream to reality.
Based on feedback, Parks & People worked with Jones Kroloff Associates to curate an invited design competition for the project in Spring 2019. This process identified a list of qualified firms with a national and global scope of experience in their past work, with a focus on urban waterfronts. From this list, three firms were invited to develop design proposals for the Middle Branch, based on priorities gleaned from the community’s input.
The public received opportunities to interact with competition teams and comment on their proposals. This feedback was provided to jury of professional experts and local representatives who reviewed the teams’ proposals in detail and ranked the entries.
Who is leading this initiative?
Parks & People Foundation (Parks & People) managed community engagement and design team selection for City of Baltimore under a contract with the City of Baltimore and the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership. This structure helped to identify the best team to work with City of Baltimore on this exciting initiative. The project is supported by a dedicated working group, committees and a variety of active stakeholders, including a Steering Committee, comprised of property owners, community representatives, government leaders, elected officials and technical experts.
Where is the Middle Branch?
Why a design competition?
The Middle Branch Waterfront stretches for more than 11 miles, including a number of neighborhoods and a variety of land uses. The project will be complex and multi-faceted, requiring diverse expertise in many disciplines of design and planning led by a landscape architecture firm with a demonstrated track record of success working at this scale and with local talent.
Who is involved in the planning effort?
This project is being led by the City of Baltimore and the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership (SBGP), in collaboration with the Parks & People Foundation, SB7, State agencies, and others. In addition, roughly 150 local residents and technical experts are serving on advisory committees that will help guide the project.
What is the current status of the Master Plan?
The Master Plan is moving forward. The City and SBGP are assembling a team to complete the first essential element of the Master Plan: the Project Brief. The Project Brief will be the guiding document that shapes the Master Plan — the road map that spells out our objectives and establishes shared definitions of success. West 8, the firm originally leading the Master Plan’s design team, was selected after an extensive public process but recently withdrew from the project. Other firms previously working under West 8 are continuing to complete their research and analysis for the Project Brief.
Is there any work under way in the Middle Branch now?
Yes. Several major projects are moving forward in coordination with the Master Plan as a whole. Baltimore City’s Department of Recreation and Parks broke ground in September on the Middle Branch Fitness and Wellness Center, a $23 million regional recreation complex in Cherry Hill’s Reedbird Park. The complex includes a multi-purpose field to be built by the Cal Ripken, Sr. Foundation, which will provide a safe, clean space for team sports, including baseball, soccer, lacrosse, football, and flag football. (SBGP and others are contributing funds to these projects.) In addition, the Gwynns Falls Trash Wheel is currently under construction and is expected to be in operation by the end of 2020. And we are pursuing funds for shoreline projects that foster resiliency to climate change and improve the ecology of the area.
How will the Master Plan address racial equity and social justice as community priorities?
Racial equity and social and environmental justice are key drivers for this project. We are reaching out to local and national experts in Justice, Equity, Diversity, and Inclusion (JEDI) to help enshrine these topics in the Project Brief, which will inform our understanding of what skills and tasks we need in creating the final design. JEDI principles will not just be theoretical language tacked onto the Master Plan, but will be enshrined in tangible goals, clear definitions of success, and measurable outcomes. This is our commitment, and we want to get it right.
How will community residents learn about the project and express their views?
A detailed communications and community engagement strategy is being developed as part of the Project Brief. This will include a range of COVID-safe approaches, like one-on-one phone interviews and a virtual Open House on social media. An experienced, local minority-owned firm is taking the lead on this aspect of the project.
How can I keep up with the latest news about this project?