Westport Dredge Lab
Author: Di Hu
Institution: The University of Pennsylvania
Instructors: Megan Born and Kari Molter
Studio: Middle Branch Futures; Graduate Landscape Architecture, Spring 2021
Partners: The studio was led by James Corner Field Operations with generous support from the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership and the City of Baltimore.
Located at the west corner of Middle Branch shoreline in Baltimore, the Westport neighborhood is disconnected from the waterfront by the post-industrial vacancy. The 50-acre parcel was a noted industrial district producing blue glass and generating electrical power to surrounding areas. As industry declined, the Westport neighborhood began facing issues such as unemployment, shoreline inaccessibility and widespread vacancy.
Taking advantage of local dredge materials from the Port of Maryland, the Westport waterfront is transformed into the Westport Dredge Lab, which incorporates 3 main programs: grow, produce and play. “Grow” includes a shoreline nursery and research center that produces plants with high carbon sequestration rate and restoration ability to be planted around the Middle Branch; “Produce” includes raw material and topsoil production to be used around the Middle Branch; “Play” provides multi-connections for upland communities accessing shoreline area and community-based play programs for the local and Middle Branch visitors. After 15 years the project will create 225 temporary and permanent jobs, offset 220 cars carbon emission and produce 356700 CY raw material and top soil by local dredge material yearly. By acknowledging and honoring the productive history of the site, the Westport Dredge Lab connects the past and future of Westport neighborhood through a new productive shoreline landscape.
The scope of the ‘Green New Deal’ as we know it today is defined by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Sen. Ed Markey’s 2019 House Resolution 109. In addition to climate change, the scope of the resolution addresses ‘systemic injustices’ — declining life expectancy, wage stagnation, income inequality, inadequate healthcare, and racism. The issues are wide-ranging, interconnected and amplified by climate change. We therefore need solutions that address not only our environmental emergencies, but our socio-economic ones as well. The argument presented by the resolution is elegant and clear: climate change is a threat in scale which we have never seen before, and we need solutions that meet the magnitude of the problem. What the solutions look like are not yet determined, and this presents an exciting and incredible opportunity for designers. In fact, Ocasio-Cortez has described the non-binding resolution as a “Request for Proposals…we’ve defined the scope and where we want to go. Now, let’s assess where we are, how we get there and collaborate on real projects.” The site and scope for this studio is a significant (and real) project currently underway in Baltimore— a project to reimagine the city’s Middle Branch waterfront. Stretching 11 miles from Port Covington to Masonville Cove, Baltimore’s Middle Branch waterfront represents a microcosm of the city—its opportunities and challenges, its ecology and industry, its history and future. While significant investment is being seen along the north stretch of the waterfront at Port Covington and Under Armor’s new headquarters, the communities to the west and south continue to struggle from decades of disinvestment and ongoing structural inequities.
The site and immediate surroundings are dominated by infrastructure, including a massive freeway interchange (I-95 and I-295), multiple highways both at-grade and elevated on structure, several freight train lines, the light rail and commuter trains. Collectively this network of infrastructure fragments South Baltimore, isolating neighborhoods from one another and separating neighborhoods from the waterfront. In addition to accessibility challenges, the Middle Branch struggles with widespread contamination from nearby industry, the city’s garbage incinerator, and a deluge of refuse and trash from CSO outfalls. Despite the issues and challenges at the Middle Branch today, the site plays host to a number of valuable and distinctive natural and recreational assets, including a collection of parks and open spaces. These parks play host to active and water-based recreation including baseball fields, fishing piers, trails for walking, jogging and biking, and amenities for rowing and kayaking. Above all, the site’s biggest and best asset is the water. The experience of being on the water can be contemplative and peaceful, active and fun, thrilling and transformative.
The masterplan project, currently being developed by a multi-disciplinary team of landscape architects, designers, engineers and outreach specialists, embodies the scale, scope, ambition and ethos of the Green New Deal. This studio will expand the masterplan, developing a broad comprehensive 10-Year Vision for the Middle Branch and surrounding communities of South Baltimore, along with a series of coordinated projects that catalyze and promote further transformation.