Tuesday, May 26, 2009

Baltimore Infill Survey Proposal: Vertical Farm/Arabber Stable

The Baltimore Infill Survey is an inspired initiative from the Baltimore Office of Promotion and Arts soliciting ideas for what to do with all the vacant space in the city via images uploaded onto its Flickr photostream. The survey is completely democratic, in that anyone who sends an idea in the form of an image to the project's coordinator, Gary Kachadourian, will get it onto the web page, adding to the discussion. However, images must adhere to the format, adapting the "stock image" available on the Flickr page by adding their proposal for future development onto a vacant lot, between rowhomes.

My fanciful Baltimore Infill Survey proposal is for a Vertical Farm/Arabber stable. The poorest Baltimoreans desperately need access to better diet options. When you drive through the most economically challenged areas of the city, one of the things that sticks out the most is the lack of businesses. Poverty, crime and drugs have tragically scared many of even the most essential shops like grocery stores out of the neighborhoods on the east and west sides. The few corner stores that remain often sell only junk food, alcohol and soda turning a bad nutrition situation into a nightmare. Plus the carry out restaurants in these neighborhoods generally sell low nutrition, high fat foods like Fried Chicken and Lake Trout. Not surprisingly, the poorest neighborhoods in Baltimore - with the worst access to health care - also have the highest rates of diabetes, obesity, hypertension and heart disease.

The good news is we already have all the necessary factors to grow healthy fruits and vegetables right in our neighborhoods: sunlight, water, either from rainfall or a city water system capable of servicing a million residents in a city of 650,000, and land in the form of the vacant lots and buildings those 350,000 departed left behind. Another positive is that we still have the traditional profession of Arabbing, horse drawn produce peddlers for you non-Baltimoreans out there, who wander the city streets selling fruits and vegetables off the backs of their carts in these very same neighborhoods. Why not just combine the two while making use of some of that vacant property which currently does little more than play host to junkies and rats?

So why a tower, you ask? Can't we just grow food on the ground? Well, we can of course. But for one thing, those same junkies and rats would probably do something to foul up any urban farming initiative that took place out in the open. Just because we start an idealistic green garden doesn't mean that the real world is going to cooperate. So, as always on the east and west side, security is a major concern and could be afforded by a smartly designed, enclosed vertical tower that is staffed. But a vertical farm has other pluses in that crops could be grown all year long, instead of just during the warm months, due to its greenhouse design and smart water distribution hooked into the city water system. Perhaps even more importantly, having residents of the city's roughest neighborhoods and those who travel through them see something like a gleaming agriculture tower being built for once in such areas might even start to change some attitudes. It won't be easy. But showing people you actually care about them in terms of development can go a long way in neighborhoods that have been left off the map for over a generation now.

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