I grew up in public housing in Cherry Hill. Back then we had cherry trees all around, with little tiny cherries. Then the blight came along in the sixties and wiped them all out. Cherry Hill was the city dump for Baltimore then too. Where I grew up was 200 yards away from that dump. You see that around the country — negative aspects of society are placed in communities of color. Cherry Hill has suffered for that environmental injustice, to the detriment of our health and well-being.
Health, education, housing, the environment — all of it is wrapped up together. You can’t separate or deal with one issue without the others. How do we become a sustainable community, in every sense of the word? You can’t truly address the environment or anything else without empowerment. Elise and Blue Water never came in dictating. She built a relationship with our community, came to understand where we wanted to go, and then helped us acquire the resources once the community made the decisions.
On Spelman Road we had flooding every time you had heavy rains, all the way up people’s steps. Cars were ruined. They had to close off the basement level apartments in the public housing units because of the mold and mildew. Blue Water came along with Neighborhood Design Center and the Department of Public Works and asked the community “how would you like to have this done?” Whether it’s flower gardens, rock gardens, trees or whatever, it was determined by the people of this community, not someone else.
And from that we started looking at other things. Can we get rid of the asphalt on the schoolyard blacktop when we build our new schools? It’s all connected — runoff to everything else. I want a child to walk to their new school seeing visions of beauty around them. If you have to go to school through blighted areas with broken glass, drug dealers, blight, or flooded streets, your education is going to feel ugly and negative. But if you’re looking at decent affordable housing, beautiful nature, people with jobs, you can aspire to learn and live a great life.
I believe that the injustices of the past can be righted, and I believe that anything that this community wants is possible. Even the cherry trees — that’s one of the things Elise and I have talked about: putting the cherry trees back in Cherry Hill. Imagine that child’s path. Imagine our streets lined with cherry blossoms again.
Michael Middleton is chairperson of the Cherry Hill Community Coalition, a consultant to the Cherry Hill Development Corporation, and chairman of the SB7 Coalition Inc. Click here to read the plan developed by Cherry Hill residents in collaboration with Blue Water Baltimore’s Deep Blue program to create a stronger, more sustainable future for their neighborhood.
Photo Credit: Michel Anderson.
Deep Blue is an innovative partnership between Blue Water Baltimore, the Neighborhood Design Center, Baltimore City Department of Public Works, Department of Planning, and five neighborhoods throughout Baltimore City.