Other, smaller projects have included enlivening a neglected plaza outside a Metro stop near 7 St. Paul St. by installing several dozen planters and creating an eating area, and adding planters and tables and chairs to an empty plaza behind 36 S. Charles St.

As soon as the tables and chairs were added, "people started sitting there," Fowler said of the plaza. He added, "Even minor improvements to the environment can make a difference."

One site identified in the open-space plan became the focus of a project by landscape architecture students at Morgan State University. At a final presentation in early December, second-year graduate students showed ideas for a temporary public space at Park Avenue and Lexington Street. The 1-acre grass area enclosed by a wrought iron fence had been cleared for future development.

Student Liz Carroll said she envisioned the grassy parcel becoming a family-oriented neighborhood park, where people could toss Frisbees or bring their dogs, with a stage at one end and farmers' market tents at the other.

Jim Brown, another student, envisioned an outdoor cafe/bar, artists' stalls and a farmers' market, using materials that could be packed up and moved to other empty lots.

The students' research took them to sites in Baltimore and New York. Mark Cameron, the students' adjunct instructor, said the idea was to inspire ideas "for how we might look at public space in the 21st century."

Kent, of the Project for Public Spaces, says underused lots and plazas in downtown Baltimore offer opportunities for "lighter, quicker, cheaper" solutions — lower-cost strategies that rely on temporary activities or amenities and small design changes.

"A lot of the plazas were built at a time when people were more afraid of cities," he said.

lorraine.mirabella@baltsun.com

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