Buy a brick -- preserve Baltimore's waterfront 7.5 miles of continuous harbor


FROM Federal Hill I watched the sun rise, the morning light a spectacular pastel backdrop to the city skyline. On a Fells Point pier, in the shadows of a balmy spring evening, I kissed a lover for the first time. It was summer, I think, when I sat on a bench on the Canton waterfront with a friend, gazing at Fort McHenry and talking about life.

Experiences on the waterfront connect, like follow-the-dot games played in memory. These small pleasures add up, become treasures to share with others.

Baltimore's shoreline is not a jumble of disconnected piers and wharves. It is something else we can treasure -- a well-traveled and used trail of history and community.

Abolitionist Frederick Douglass worked the waterfront. Edgar Allan Poe liked to sit on the piers watching ships come and go. Many of our parents and grandparents stepped off the boat in Locust Point or Fells Point, some carrying little more than a valise and hope for a prosperous future. Transient seamen bunked in workingmen's row houses or rented narrow rooms in the Anchorage Hotel, now the considerably spiffier Admiral Fell Inn at the foot of Broadway.

Our harbor connects us with the past and beckons us in the present. Witness the countless numbers of us strolling, picnicking, romancing along small stretches of shoreline.

There is something here for our future as well -- the Baltimore Harbor Promenade.

By 1992, people will be able to walk 7.5 miles of continuous harbor shoreline stretching from Canton to Key Highway. Along the route we'll have benches for relaxing, gardens and greenery to admire, new harbor vistas to take in, plus signs, maps and graphics to guide and flesh out our tour.

Halfway complete, the promenade project is spearheaded by the Baltimore Harbor Endowment, a non-profit organization working with the city, private property owners and developers to assure public access throughout the route. To raise funds for the walkway, the endowment has taken a cue from several other cities' experiences in beautifying public spaces; it is selling bricks.

"Buy a brick," urges the endowment's director, Roxanne Ward Zaghab. "We need help from everyone who enjoys the harbor now and who will gain even more when it's done."

Working with an assistant in a cramped office in Canton, Zaghab coordinates volunteers, vies for corporate and foundation funding and administers the endowment's business of revitalizing the shoreline, which, she says, is not to be confused with development. "We're talking about green spaces, trees, an environmentally sensitive shoreline designed to help bring back marine life."

Once sold, these rather ordinary bricks will be engraved with the name of the buyer, family member -- or in honor of an ancestor who landed in Baltimore harbor. Set in place at a site along the promenade, the bricks become landmarks, small yet stalwart pieces of history.

There is a wistful quality to the selling of bricks, which is really the selling of Baltimore to itself, calling attention to something substantial, that which is ours. We owe it to ourselves to walk our shoreline unobstructed, to venture beyond Harborplace and other crowded spaces, gaining new perspectives at every curve of the water's edge.

When writer Sharon Bondroff is not on the waterfront, she is a volunteer for the Baltimore Harbor Endowment.

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