Sunday, October 20, 2013

What is this "Place" About?

It's a thicket, at least it was until last Saturday, a half-acre lot in Historic East Towson now known as Adelaide Bentley Park.  NeighborSpace purchased the property in 2009 to protect some green space for a community surrounded by urban uses on all sides, including Stanley Black and Decker's parking lot.

But what's the place about?  This question was put to me yesterday by one of 14 men from the Jones Falls Ward of the Church of Jes
us Christ of Latter-day Saints who spent the morning helping us to begin the process of creating a park on the site.  Every executive director loves a question like this because it gives you a chance to recite your elevator speech.  I was prepared with mine.

"It's about improving the livability of communities with open space," I said, "because it's in very short supply in this part of the County. Towson is a first-tier suburb of Baltimore City, among the first areas where former City dwellers relocated  in the housing boom that followed the Second World War. There were no rules in place then requiring developers to set aside open space," I explained.

The young man didn't run away, so I went on: "Then in 1967, the County created a growth line (the URDL), confining future population growth to most of the same places, like Towson, that grew tremendously after WWII.  So, these 2 historical events are a 'double whammy' when it comes to livability and NeighborSpace tries to change that by protecting open space for small neighborhood parks, which is what is planned here, as well as for trails and environmental uses." (For a short video about all of this that is much more interesting than anything I might say, click here).

As I've reflected on my response, I've decided it really wasn't very good.  I didn't talk about the "place." Gertrude Stein, upon re-visiting the developed Oakland, CA community in adulthood that had replaced the agrarian community she experienced in her childhood, said of it that "there is no there there." Translation: It lacks culture, soul, life, and identity.

That's not true of Bentley Park. First, and foremost, it's recently named after Adelaide Bentley, a long-time resident of East Towson and a strong community leader who is credited with keeping developers from buying up homes and destroying this tightly knit and, largely, African-American neighborhood.

Adelaide Bentley receiving park dedication citation on July 20, 2013
(Photo credit - Patuxent Publications)
The property abuts a 33 acre site owned by Stanley Black and Decker, a Fortune 500 company with a century of power tool production experience and what the Sun has called "a storied history in the area."  This campus serves as the company's "Construction and Do It Yourself" headquarters, where many new products are developed.  The oldest building there dates to 1917, when the company obtained its first patent for a power tool.  It turns out that Mrs. Bentley worked there for 15 years.

Many other people have contributed to the soul of this place. Nancy Goldring,  Adelaide Bentley's granddaughter, lives behind the park and has been our eyes and ears on it for years. She's also been a generous supporter of NeighborSpace during that same span of time.

Marsha McLaughlin, John Alexander, John Murphy and Eric Rockel are four NeighborSpace board members who have all shaped the park in their own ways.  Marsha, a landscape architect who has more than her share of obligations in her day-job as head of Planning in Howard County, has been instrumental in organizing the clean-up of the site and in rekindling discussions about its future design. Eric played a large role in the parcel's acquisition, and along with Councilman David Marks, deserves credit for dedicating the park to Mrs. Bentley. Among many other things, John Alexander and John Murphy showed up with chain saws and other equipment to work side-by-side with the men from the Jones Falls Ward yesterday.

Larry Simmons, a special assistant to the County Executive, was our connection to the 14 men from the Jones Falls Ward and secured a County DPW dumpster for the cleanup. Linda Foy from BGE gave us permission to park the dumpster on BGE's easement, which made our work yesterday A LOT easier.

Larry Simmons (left) & Bd. Member John Alexander (right)

Last, but most definitely, not least, are the 14 men from the Jones Falls Ward of the Church of Latter-day Saints, who descended on the site and transformed it incredibly in the matter of a few hours.  I don't have all their names, but they were led by Brent Petty, a Johns Hopkins physician by day (3rd from left in photo), and by Dave Rueckerte (wearing the "Army" shirt).

With their gift of time, effort and enthusiasm, they have left an idelible footprint on the place that is Bentley Park and bouyed us incredibly to take the next steps in creating a park for the Historic East Towson Community.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks to all who volunteered their weekend time to make a community better through open space.