Residents of the 1800 Block of Saratoga, led by Block Captain Donald Quarles, have organized efforts to stop chronic illegal dumping; restore scars on the block caused by the expansive demolition of deteriorating vacant homes; and establish a positive space to relax and enjoy the outdoors.
Donald, a 40 year resident of the block, came to Baltimore when his mother moved his family from rural Alabama. Donald, a bird watcher, cook, and the head of his church’s community outreach ministry, remembers what this block used to be. “We had many businesses and all the families would play baseball in Kirby Lane Alley.” During that period, Donald worked in the famous Belvedere Hotel as a cook and later worked at the Social Security Administration’s kitchen. Like the neighborhood, he had his trials in the 1980’s. A natural leader and diplomat, Donald has collaborated with many partners to bring attention, resources, and change to the block. To improve the block Donald orchestrated the creation of Kirby Lane Park and the “Serenity Garden” at Kirby Lane Park to restore it to a gathering place. The “Serenity Garden” is to be an outdoor space for relaxation under giant shade trees.
Residents have held a series of block meetings, pop-up parks, and “sidewalk engagement” to create a vision for the physical design and utilization of the park. Residents envision a space that will accommodate adults and children, is aesthetically pleasing, provides a connection to the natural outdoors, and extends accommodations for resident enjoyment. The community concept is to create a synergy between resident’s cherished pastimes and the serenity prayer. The plan includes a horseshoe pit area (most popular past time of the block) and a “serenity garden.”
Kirby Lane Park’s “serenity garden” will be a place for neighbors to gather for long afternoons underneath the large tree canopy; observe birds in the native bird garden; and enjoy the slowness of the garden spaces.
The community has already made progress in transforming the space by doing neighborhood cleanups, pruning the bushes, installing natural fencing, and creating log seating. The community has started to utilize the tree canopy on hot days, partake in intimate conversations, and even organize small group cook-outs. The top reasons for transforming the space is “it’s peaceful, always has a breeze, stays cool, and it feels safe so I can relax,” says Donald.