This guest post from Mike Evitts originally appeared in the July 2015 edition of Southwest: The Magazine.
If you’ve ever been to the Inner Harbor in Downtown Baltimore, you’ve likely walked down Pratt Street. With shops, stores, restaurants, and apartments along the water’s edge, this thoroughfare functions as Baltimore’s Main Street. But it was designed before the downtown area was a major tourist destination and doesn’t always feel accessible to pedestrian traffic. The area is now the city’s fastest growing neighborhood. Part of my job as vice president of communications for the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore is to tackle the challenge of making a five-lane roadway with extremely wide sidewalks feel safe and welcoming to hundreds of thousands of Baltimore residents and visitors.
Game on. Supersize chess is one of many activities at the plaza.
In 2014, the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore was selected as a grant recipient for the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community program. Through this program, our organization has worked hand in hand with the Project for Public Spaces to bring “placemaking,” a movement dedicated to reimagining and revitalizing public spaces, to downtown Baltimore. From holding public planning sessions and selecting new outdoor furniture to partnering on innovative public art engagements with institutions like the Baltimore Museum of Art, our local residents have been involved with the vision for a plaza at Pratt and Light streets from the beginning.
We officially opened the plaza this past April, and what was once a busy street is now a vibrant gathering place. Visitors can now stop and take in performances by local groups, enjoy a food-truck meal, or simply relax in the plaza’s garden area. In so many ways, the space has helped bring our community together. I’m grateful for the Southwest Airlines Heart of the Community program, which has been instrumental in the transformation of both the plaza and the entire downtown community. Not only has it afforded our organization new possibilities, it has also changed my city for the better.
What is Placemaking?
This emerging movement seeks to reimagine and revitalize underutilized public spaces, serving as a catalyst for building sustainable, healthy, inclusive, and economically viable neighborhoods. Now in its third year,the Southwest Airlines Heartof the Community Program seeks to bring placemaking to important public spaces across the airline’s route map. Working alongsidethe nonprofit Project for Public Spaces, the program has impacted 13 projects in cities across the country.
To learn more, visit pps.org/heart-of-the-community