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Part I CULTURE BUILDING Changing Social Norms through Civic Ecology Practices 21 Chapter 1 COMING HOME TO COMMON GROUND IN STRESSED COMMUNITIES Intentional Civic Engagement in the Collins Avenue Streamside Community of Southwest Baltimore Jill Wrigley, Mila Kellen Marshall, and Michael Sarbanes Jill and Michael On a crisp fall day in the year 2000, in the Irvington community of southwest Baltimore, children were headed on foot to a nature “treasure hunt” in a historic park cemetery, the only publicly accessible green space within walking distance of their neighborhood. They walked through their landscape, past people on porches, kids and youth on bikes, well-kept houses, houses in states of disrepair, vacant houses, tidy and messy front yards, vacant lots full of junk, and a lot of trash on the ground. Six-year-old Ashley tugged on her adult chaperone’s sleeve and whispered, “Look, Miss Jill. There are treasures all around.” That this little girl was able to see beauty through the disinvested environment around her is a testament to her resilience. The intentionally tended public spaces she and other children saw most regularly were the little altars that popped up on telephone poles or chain-link fences adorned with stuffed animals, photos, and candles in the wake of a shooting death. This child deserved more; she deserved access to beautiful and green spaces dedicated to her pleasure and well-being. Shortly after this experience, the adult chaperone (Jill) and her husband, Michael, who had moved into Irvington in 1994, joined with other neighbors to reclaim an abandoned and trashed vacant double lot at the top of their street. They structured the planning and design process to center on children and youth. Equipped with design elements generated by their young people, the neighborhood residents and community partners undertook many years of grant writing 22 CULTURE BUILDING and physical work. Now this once-nuisance lot is the Irvington Peace Park, which serves as a community gathering space and is enriched with elements created by young people, including mosaic art, food gardens, flowering and fruit trees, and a performance/art-making space. In addition, the chaperones on that initial treasure hunt opened up their yard, which is wooded and ringed by a small stream, as accessible green space for their neighbors. All are welcome. The neighborhood’s children and young people especially take advantage of this open invitation for playing on a tire swing, exploring the natural setting, and socializing with one another in a relaxing setting. Irvington Peace Park is located at 506 Collins Avenue, Baltimore. The yard is a wooded area around a stream called Maidens Choice Run, which is part of the Gwynns Falls Watershed and is accessed at the end of the street through the property belonging to 523 Collins Avenue. Mila Inner-city environmental programs can accomplish their goals and completely miss the mark at the same time. In my time with Jill, I was both fascinated and saddened in unraveling the reality of the relationship between “environmental allies” and community stewards. I was saddened because we both agreed that there was very little intention and connection between those who wanted to help communities and those who needed the help. We would lament over the savior complex of some so-called partners and gripe about the many ways the relationships were superficial. Yet I was fascinated with the spirit of compassion Jill and her husband Michael displayed in their shared story,a story that became the impetus of this very shared chapter. I listened often with tears welling in my eyes at the supreme level of care Jill and Michael took to become a part of a system that needed not just allies, but allies who were willing to initiate, negotiate, and facilitate access that was identified by the community. There were moments I thought how special Jill was and how simple the practice was as well: the practice of intention. It wasn’t until I learned of Jill’s passing that I understood. I understood Jill had dedicated her life to being of service to those who needed an ally. Much like the ecosystem services that we strive to increase for the benefits of human well-being, Jill taught me that the most important service comes from us: humans being of service to people and nature in an equitable and just way. The reality of stressed communities is not that people within them are oblivious , or detached from community needs. Rather, the complex, multifaceted, and institutional...


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