Greenways: an old idea matures


The plan to turn the currently debased Gwynns Falls stream valley into a system of greenways connecting Leakin Park to Camden Yards seems to trigger extreme reactions. Environmentalists love it. Skeptics hate it, deriding it as a boneheaded idea that would subject would-be strollers to the mercy of muggers and anti-social misfits.

This debate, of course, reflects the typical Baltimore way of doing things. Remember the opposition Harborplace triggered? And Oriole Park? Yet once they were built and became successes, everyone wanted to take credit for them.

The greenways idea is all of 90 years old. The Olmsted brothers, in their 1904 master plan for the development of parks in the new suburbanizing parts of Baltimore, recommended that the city move on three fronts. Small squares and playgrounds would make urban living more tolerable, they suggested. Expansion of such multi-purpose parks as Druid Hill and Patterson would serve a dense population. Lastly, the Olmsted brothers recommended the acquisition of stream valleys to link neighborhoods together.

Their vision has now been revived by a coalition of environmentalists and land preservationists who have teamed up with the city to make a greenways network a reality. Because public and private funding is available for such projects, these groups have been able to raise $1.9 million of the project's estimated $4.5 million cost. Work is due to begin in mid-1995.

Diana Balmori, a prominent landscape architect from New Haven, Conn., is one of the members of a team working on the Baltimore greenways plan. She sees greenways not as mere parks but as active "ways," or connectors.

"This kind of park, which accommodates movement on foot or bike, might be a possible re-stitcher of the urban fabric, joining urban centers to one another recreationally and culturally," she says.

Baltimore is not alone in developing greenways.

In Connecticut, Ms. Balmori is working with her husband, famed architect Cesar Pelli, to turn the 80-mile Farmington Canal into a sliver of greenery and walkways that would connect such diverse places as the Yale University campus, the science park in Elm Haven, Sleeping Giant State Park and the Farmington antiques fair.

The Baltimore greenways proposal offers an intriguing opportunity to breathe new life into neighborhoods along the Gwynns Falls stream valley. It is a modest proposal that is worth attempting.

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