Urban Oasis Is Designated a ‘Last Chance Landscape’

Woodberry, a 200-year-old forested neighborhood, in competition with 57 other endangered landscapes, has won a national designation.

A Report from Scenic America
The 2001 “Last Chance Landscapes” of America the Beautiful

  1. The State of Oregon
  2. Washington, D.C.
  3. The Marsh Islands of Coastal Georgia
  4. Red Rocks Scenic Road (AZ 179), Sedona, Arizona
  5. Narragansett Bay, RI
  6. Coyote Valley, San Jose, California
  7. St. Croix Valley Scenic Corridor, Minnesota and Wisconsin
  8. Harpeth River Valley, Williamson County, Tennessee
  9. Lynville Mountain Landscape, Roanoke, VA
  10. Woodberry Watershed Forest, Baltimore, MD

You’ve heard of endangered animals, even endangered plants, but endangered landscapes?

Apparently it’s true, as wide expanses of natural beauty or small, scenic communities in rural and urban America fall by the wayside of cellular towers, new highways, landfills, billboards, big-box stores running mom-and-pops out of business, ugly strip malls or massive town-sized malls, and insensitive housing developments taking yet more of the disappearing small farmlands that sustained the country’s beginnings.

These at-risk landscapes vie for local and even national recognition to assist in the local efforts for conservation. Woodberry Woods, a community just north and west of Hampden/Medfield, has has been named one of 10 2001 Last Chance Landscapes of America the Beautiful. Following is Scenic America’s report on Woodberry Woods.

Summary: Developers and professional planning consultants have many futures in mind for the Woodberry Watershed Forest. Mayor O’Malley and the Planning Commission of Baltimore support the development of Woodberry’s forest. Then, on the other hand, the neighborhoods of Woodberry have a community-driven comprehensive plan to preserve the 100-acre woodland located between Druid Hill Park and Cylburn Arboretum along the Jones Falls in north Baltimore. That community plan, thinking in long-term, addresses economic and housing revitalization.

The Landscape: Woodberry is one of the last large unprotected, undeveloped tracts of public land in Baltimore City. Woodberry has retained its natural beauty and historic character despite 200 years of growth on every side. The steep-sloped forest and spring-fed streams of Woodberry are part of a critical greenbelt wildlife habitat along the Jones Falls. The woods are a vital urban wildlife sanctuary, a critical flyway corridor, and contain the locally voted “Best Hiking Trail” in the city. It serves as a buffer to highway noise, and as an important visual feature of the surrounding neighborhoods. The forest has provided fresh air and a natural place for people since 1790. The former quarry provided concrete to construct the city roads, bridges and buildings. The quarry site was then used as a landfill, and was promised by the then-Mayor Schaefer to become a park.

The Threat: The Baltimore Development Corporation and the city Planning Department have plans to develop Woodberry. With backing from the Mayor they are pushing six disconnected development projects on city-owned land in Woodberry. The projects offer no economic, social, or environmental benefit to the city. The remaining unprotected, undeveloped urban natural places like Woodberry are the easiest to be exploited because to build on previously disturbed sites such as vacant lots are “too complicated and costly for developers,” according to City planning department staff. Regulatory procedures are waived and the permitting process is speeded up to maximize developer profit. The city planning decisions excluded and alienated community efforts for involvement in the process, and agencies offered no comprehensive plan, exhibiting the minimal in environmental policy, standards, or authority to care for or even acknowledge the urban ecosystem and its ties to the communities.

In Baltimore, the real threat to healthy, functioning natural places is the City’s non-accountable, damaging stewardship of public lands. A ‘development-at-all-costs’ policy has been and continues to drive residents out of the city, compounding the loss of neighborhood livability factors. It seems Smart Growth in Baltimore lost its balance.

The six city-proposed projects —in progress or slated for development in Woodberry forest—are as follows: the new police station built in the woods in a quiet community; a Section 8 HUD apartment housing rehabilitation project with a waiver on storm water management regulations creating more problems for the polluted and eroded streams of the forest; a proposed 500-car parking lot for the MTA in a polluted area of a flood plain on the Jones Falls river; a proposed but defeated Housing Department 30-unit townhouse development in the woods; yet another 230-car parking lot (originally asking for 600 capacity) in the woods built by the Kennedy Krieger Institute for their commuting social services staff; and the Loyola College 71-acre sports complex with two 6000-seat stadiums and parking lots for 770 cars – so that the college can become more competitive at fund raising at the communities’ expense.

Last Chance to Save the Woodberry Watershed Forest: The residents of Woodberry organized as a land trust and developed a comprehensive plan that would create a Nature Preserve of the remaining forest pieces, revitalize affordable historic homes in four distinctive neighborhoods, and re-develop underutilized industrial sites near light rail stations as opportunities for resident employment.

The Urban Forest Initiative, over the last three years, has been endorsed by 31 local and statewide partners. Residents formed the Woodberry Planning Committee and community Land Trust to realize significant ecological restoration of the forest and land fill areas while improving the livability of Woodberry neighborhoods for people today and for a sustainable future.

Visit the Scenic America “Last Chance Landscape” website at http://www.scenic.org/ 2001lcl/index.html.

For more information, contact: Jan Danforth, Urban Forest Initiative/ Woodberry Planning Committee. at (410) 516-8853. See the community website at http://www.aboutwoodberry.com; or see http://www.csos.jhu.edu/jne/urbfor/urbanforest2.htm

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This story was published on December 5, 2001.