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The mayor in Westport: marigolds planted, questions unanswered

Rawlings-Blake joined citizens for Baltimore's yearly spring clean-up.

westport planting

“It’s been very inspiring,” Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake said in Westport, one of her many stops on Spring Clean-up Day.

Photo by: Louie Krauss

Today was officially spring cleaning day in Baltimore, as more than 200 community groups and 5,830 volunteers joined forces to rake away dead leaves, clean out clogged gutters, bag trash and plant community gardens.

As Cleaner-in-Chief, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake crisscrossed the city, rallying the troops and joining in the projects.

“We need some more trowels over here, we need small shovels,” she said, scrunched next to a raised garden bed in Westport, side-by-side with two  members of a local Boy Scout troop, senior citizens and her daughter Sophia.

“You have to push it,” she said, helping the kids get some root-bound marigolds out of the plastic market pack and finally just banging them out.

Rawlings-Blake began the 13th Annual Mayor’s Spring Clean-up hours earlier in the Oliver community, where residents are revitalizing vacant lots as part of her administration’s Power in Dirt  initiative. Then she was in Park Heights assisting with a Power in Dirt tree planting.

Volunteer Zion Gibson poses with Mayor Rawlings-Blake. (Photo by Louie Krauss)

Volunteer Zion Gibson poses with Mayor Rawlings-Blake. (Photo by Louie Krauss)

“It’s been very inspiring,” she said, talking to The Brew, standing in the cleared lot behind the small building on Annapolis Road that Westport residents use for community services and youth programs.

Rawlings-Blake was less forthcoming on the subject of the $250,000 promised to Westport that community leaders want to use to enlarge their small community building next to the cleared lot where the planting event took place today.

“I Don’t Know Anything About That”

For years, Linda Towe and the Westport Improvement Association had been told there was no city money to expand their building into a full-fledged community center by renovating the two empty and ramshackle adjacent structures.

(Isolated from the city by the harbor and the Baltimore-Washington Parkway, Westport does not have a community or youth rec center.)

But Towe and association president Ruth Sherrill found out last month that $250,000 actually had been earmarked for Westport – and that the Board of Estimates was planning to transfer the money to a Living Classrooms project in East Baltimore.

One of the buildings Westport's Linda Towe wants to fix up for a community center. (Photo by Louie Krauss)

One of the buildings Westport's Linda Towe wants to fix up for a community and youth center. (Photo by Louie Krauss)

They complained to City Council President Bernard C. “Jack” Young, and the fund transfer request was withdrawn from the Board of Estimates’ agenda.

After city housing official visited Westport and said he was “not aware of any obstacles in awarding” them the $250,000 grant, community leaders were  heartened.

But nearly a month has passed and the residents hadn’t heard anything from the city, so The Brew asked the status of the fund request with Rawlings-Blake.

“I don’t know anything about that,” she said today, even though she attended a board pre-meeting where the transfer was discussed and controls the spending board through her vote and the votes of two appointees.

A Vision of Peace and Community

Hopes were high today at the patch of rugged land the residents cleared between the community building and busy B-W Parkway.

“To me I saw a vision of peace and quiet here,” said Willie Mae Lumpkins, 71, an ardent gardener who has lived in Westport for 40 years and said the community plot could help bring the neighborhood back to healthier days. “We’ve got to work hard and get it back together.”

Teenagers as well as senior citizens – and a host of volunteers and city officials – went into an intense bout of raking, cultivating and mowing in advance of the mayor’s arrival.

Linda Towe and volunteer Justin Rice, 11, of Westport. (Photo by Louie Krauss)

Linda Towe and volunteer Justin Rice, 11, of Westport. (Photo by Louie Krauss)

Towe said she hopes the garden can provide not just flowers, vegetables and herbs for the community, but “a Grow Lab” for children to learn about gardening.

She sees a rehabbed and expanded community center as part of that vision.

“It would be a place for kids to go, where we could get them in off the street,” she said. “We could have the foster grandparents meet there, the senior employment, the community services program.”

Asked if Peter F. Engel, the housing official who visited the community, has responded to their questions about how to access the $250,000, Towe shook her head and said, “No, I haven’t heard anything yet.”

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  • James Alston11

    This is a great start and we hope to keep the momentum going. That $250K is certainly on our radar. We are hoping for the best

  • Gerald Neily

    Every neighborhood needs to be on the map – to truly matter. Westport was on the radar screen when that quarter-million was allocated, but then fell off when the money disappeared, which sums up the situation with the Patrick Turner development project. The term “game changer” is constantly misused and abused, but it would have truly applied if Exelon had chosen Westport. That money would certainly not have been taken away, along with the promises of all the rotting vacant houses waiting for someone else to make the first move.

  • Ktrueheart

    While the Politrickian’s plans to gentrify Westport have stalled, our Mayor has been presented with a great opportunity to embrace a grace roots community initiative to revitalize this depressed neighborhood … Seems Stephanie Rawlings-Blake again can’t seem to rise to the challenge to be a progressive, forward looking leader – What a shame!  The community center in desperate need of renovations stands directly behind the raised flower bed our Mayor bent down to plant seedlings in, but instead of taking a minute to see it, she chose instead to visit a home next door being renovated by a opportunistic non-resident investor … probably a compaign contributor.

    • Gerald Neily

      Kim, I certainly can’t vouch for the mayors actions, but anyone renovating in Westport right now is not being “opportunistic” and needs to be encouraged. Unfortunately, Westport has been following the standard Baltimore pattern of property owners waiting around for someone else to make the first renovation move while the neighborhood as a whole continues to deteriorate. The city’s attempt to withdraw the $250k only added to this. The Westport community knows the problem and has been working hard to counteract it. I saw this first hand as a volunteer consultant through the Neighborhood Design Center for the redesign of Annapolis Road.

  • janette wheeler

    Westport must be mindful that their are other communities in the area that have been ignored by the city for decades! Mt. Winans deserves its own amenities!
    Our school and recreation center has been closed for over 30 years…You still
    have your school (Wesport Academy) and the  Boys & Girls Club, but Mt. Winans
    has n-o-t-h-i-n-g. If Pat Turner has his way, you’ll be getting a 1.6 billion dollars face lift! 

    Mt. Winans resident

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