- Supporting biodiversity and providing ecosystem services;
- Providing urban residents with natural environments;
- Influencing the physical and mental well-being of users; and
- Offering social benefits and a shared space within diverse communities.
The fourth bullet point is not always a reality in public spaces, including one of the largest and oldest parks in Baltimore City, Druid Hill Park. Over 700 acres of land were developed into Baltimore City’s first large municipal park two years after New York City’s Central Park, during a movement of green planning in the United States to relieve the depressed residents of its industrial cities. American parks followed the influence of European parks developed in the eighteenth century; Druid Hill’s landscape architect, Howard Daniels, toured European Parks for inspiration.
Another movement in some parts of the U.S. was that of equality and human rights. In the 1860 dedication of the park, Thomas Swann, then Mayor of Baltimore, described a park intended to be inclusive of people from all origins, religions, and classes. While the ideas of green planning were well received by all, the idea of equality was not as popular. Despite Mayor Swann’s statements of true equality, the history of the park shows the City was fonder of “separate but equal” development in practice.
A copy of the park’s 1995 updated master plan summarizes the history of segregation in the park. Segregated pool areas and tennis courts were built and at least two generations of African-American families experienced segregation in Baltimore’s public spaces. Being the only public outdoor pool for residents of color, swimmers were admitted in shifts to avoid overcrowding. An integrated pool opened in June of 1956, and the segregated pool no. 2 was closed, remaining a concrete ruin within the park well through the nineteenth and twentieth centuries.
In the mid-90s, the updated master plan recommended adapting the abandoned pool into a memorial. The design of the memorial was simple and understated: the pool once filled with water and playful swimmers was filled with dirt, and grass has since grown to cover the area. Signage in the area provides a brief description of the park’s segregated past, and the once decorative walkways, blue tiles, and other structures of the pool still remain, though faded and worn with time.
The subtle addition of green space to the memorial pool symbolizes what should have been there this whole time: the lack of redundant, segregated areas. Had the park not been segregated, there may have been more trails, more trees, and overall more green space. Instead the park, much like Baltimore and other cities, has several disconnected pockets where segregation is not just a memory, but something with a physical presence.Baltimore’s history with segregation has left permanent and unnecessary sprawl created by “separate but equal” development, sacrificing green space to avoid integrating with residents of other races, classes, and origins.
Where else has segregation taken precedence over the importance of preserving green spaces, and how are cities’ priorities changing?
Credits: Images by Jade Clayton. Data linked to sources.