by Kallan Lyons
Kallan is a journalist who has blogged for Journalists for Human Rights and has contributed to the Kingston Whig-Standard newspaper. In 2013 she spent 6 months as media trainer in Ghana at the African College of Communications. She wrote this guest blog after attending the last part of the Baltimore SafeGrowth course.
“I had an overall instinctual sense that I was not safe.” - Community member who uses the Tot Lot, Pigtown, Baltimore
When the SafeGrowth Tot Lot team in Baltimore met Edith Nelson, they knew they had found an ally.
Tasked with transforming the park in Pigtown into a safe space for families, they consulted with Ms. Nelson. As reported in the last blog, A Baltimore trailblazer - Part 1, Ms. Edith has played an integral part in the process.
Now with her support, the team plans to clean up the lot and capitalize on community partnerships in an effort to decrease criminal behavior in the area. The team brought new energy to the project with representatives from the community, the Mayor’s Office, and the police.
STEPS FOR CHANGE
Here are just a couple of the recommendations put forward by the Safegrowth team members who are determined to build on the foundation laid by Ms. Nelson.
Throughout the Baltimore SafeGrowth training, the team addressed potential factors inhibiting locals from using the space. Surrounding the park are several abandoned homes and a liquor store; in addition, the tot lot is poorly lit in the evenings. Instead of people gathering in the park for block parties and barbecues, frequent activities include drug use and drinking.
While Ms. Nelson often peruses the park for trash, picking up empty bottles and other items left behind, the job is becoming too big for just one person.
That’s where the SafeGrowth team stepped in. The team’s vision includes volunteer clean-up crews and regular outdoor programs led by community groups. They plan to contact owners of abandoned homes to negotiate improvements. Other strategies included:
- building social connections by contacting the nearby school and church to involve them in activities such as mural painting
- increased police attention to the tot lot
- community events such as movies-in-the-park to build social cohesion
- better signage, installing LED lighting, reinstalling benches and adding play equipment.
The goal is to restore the Tot Lot to its original use: a welcoming, family-oriented environment where parents and their children feel safe. Now that the wheels are in motion, and with Ms. Nelson on their side, a possibility is being turned into a promise.
The Tot Lot transformation started with one woman, and thanks to the SafeGrowth team, it will resume with the community.