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SOWEBO NOW asks: How to improve Southwest Baltimore?

The community design lab tapped residents to think through neighborhood beautification projects and other improvement initiatives.

Attendees brainstorm ideas at the SOWEBO NOW neighborhood design lab. (Photo by Keisha Reed)

There has been a global resurgence of community action where residents are empowered to take back their communities via beautification projects and technology.
Add Southwest Baltimore to the list.
The SOWEBO NOW event, originally launched by, has grown into a community design lab with the assistance of the Southwest Partnership, Gensler, Community Design Lab, SocEnt Baltimore and the


Southwest Baltimore.

Over two days last week, more than 40 people from the neighborhoods of Southwest Baltimore came together to brainstorm neighborhood improvement initiatives.
Elaine Asal of Gensler helped connect project leads with members of the community. “Half of the people in this room are from the neighborhood,” she said. “SOWEBO NOW allows the community to have a voice and tell rich stories of the neighborhood they live, work and play in.”
One of the event’s recurring themes was trash. Community member Stacy Smith presented a project aimed at street beautification. She says seeing consequence-free littering adversely impacts neighborhood children. Fighting litter would help them cultivate a greener worldview, and cleaner streets could help draw national and international businesses to the area.
Joshua Smith of the Gallery Church hopes to build on a community workforce project. He said the project would employ at-risk youth, instill work ethic and help bridge socio-economic divides.
The Southwest neighborhoods have seen an influx of development in the area, with the development of Main Street, the University of Maryland BioPark and the revitalization of Pigtown.
But how to manage that momentum and spread its benefits across the community remains an open question.
Part 1 of the SOWEBO NOW project featured brainstorming sessions around proposed ideas. Part 2, on Saturday, was all about building possible solutions.
With community grants sponsored by PNC Bank, 14 projects will now vie for the opportunity to turn plans into reality.
Listed below are the proposals, broken out by chosen topic area:
Better Blocks

  • Housing Policy Watch | “Before This Was Vacant” Project
  • Franklin Square | Multigenerational Park planning
  • Hollins Market Block Captains | Block captain branding & action plan

Open Spaces

  • ABC Park | “Move it, Move it” Park for mobile recreation
  • Charm City Circus | Community Circus Parade
  • James McHenry School Garden | Community garden

Youth & Schools

  • James McHenry GED Program | Promotional flyer for community outreach
  • Operation Girl Talk | Strategy brain dump for girls mentoring program
  • Community Workforce Program | Branding and logistics for community clean-up jobs

Building Businesses

  • Urban Business Center | Street beautification and creative trash collection
  • Adopt-A-Block | Find one adoptable building and create a fix-up plan
  • Pop-up Sports Shop | Planning for sports equipment pop-up shop & resource center

Highlighting Assets

  • Historical Walking Tour | Identify historical sites to integrate to Baltimore Heritage app
  • Neighborhood Stories | Begin to document positive actions in SW neighborhoods
  • Mencken House | Planning for “Curmudgeons and Cocktails” tribute party
Companies: SocEnt Baltimore / / University of Maryland BioPark

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