ON A trip to New England one summer, I fell in love with a concept foreign to me in my 30-some years as a Baltimore native: the towns' epicenter of activity, the village green.
On these humble grassy knolls, sometimes no bigger than a football field, town residents came together to throw Frisbees, walk dogs, exchange gossip, fly kites, enjoy concerts or simply linger. In winter, I was told, the activities changed mainly to ice skating and ice hockey, but the notion remained the same: an open green space where people gathered and, ultimately, bonded as members of a community.
I longed for such a space in my life. Not a contrived "avenue" where brand-name stores and coffee shops vie for consumers' attention. Not a string of bars whose neon signs brashly beckon to passers-by. Not a park divided sharply into playing fields where, when the games end, so too did the crowds.
The space I wanted was a piece of preserved land that residents could claim as their own, secure in the knowledge that it would never be taken over by developers of any sort. A village green.
Last summer, my husband and I bought a little brick rowhouse with a square patch of a yard in the inner suburban neighborhood of Gaywood, an extended horseshoe-shaped development of 144 modest dwellings just north of the city line in Rodgers Forge. When we purchased it, we didn't realize that we could look out windows in two of the house's bedrooms onto the Gaywood Green. Indeed it was so.
Early one evening, my husband and I, with our then-18-month-old daughter in tow, sauntered out to the green to catch fireflies. There we met longtime resident Chuck, with his dog Amanda. I mentally dubbed him the unofficial Gaywood historian; he's lived here over 35 years. "Somehow or another there's always a breeze out here, even on the hottest day," he told me.
He was right. Sitting on a couple of donated Adirondack-style chairs, we reveled in a subtle yet inviting breeze despite the stagnant, humidity-saturated air.
We soon met other green-goers. Invariably, something was always happening on the green, be it an impromptu soccer game with folks ages 5 to 45 or a couple of neighbors sitting at an old picnic table, some slurping snowballs, others sipping beers.
Maintenance of the green is low, and has been since the developer of Gaywood, Morton Macht, ceded its title to residents in the 1950s. As history has it, original residents seeded the plot, planted a few trees and used reel mowers to maintain the grass. Not much has changed.
The green gets its fair share of action in all seasons, not just summer. An impromptu idea by one of the neighbors for a New Year's Eve party on the green quickly turned into a reality this winter, replete with heated tent, disc jockey, dance floor and 50 or so couples ringing in the new year in their back yards, literally.
In what other rowhouse community can you walk out your back door and be within yards of an open space where you can throw a ball to your dog as far as your arm will allow without fear of breaking a neighbor's window?
Where else can you send your kid out to play ball, look out your kitchen window and have a full view of the game? Where else can you call a neighbor after a long week and meet at a picnic table for a couple of beers and a pizza within the time it takes for the delivery guy to get there?
A little land preservation can go a long way to building a thriving community.
Elizabeth Heubeck is a writer who lives in Rodgers Forge.
Metro Journal provides a forum for examining issues and events in the state and welcomes contributions from readers.