In the middle of the urban Frankford neighborhood in northeast Baltimore lies a seven acre oasis: Backyard Basecamp. What had once been an abandoned park, an unused land parcel and an empty home is now the realization of Atiya Wells’ dream to reconnect her community, especially People of Color to land and nature.
Backyard Basecamp provides culturally relevant environmental education that intentionally centers the voices and stories of Black and Brown people. As the founder, Atiya Wells, says on their website “There is a difference in saying ‘This place was made for you!’ as opposed to ‘This place was made for all.’”
After eyeing the abandoned parcels sitting dormant in her neighborhood for years, Atiya began communicating her vision to others, eventually securing a donation of the 2.5 acre lot. She named the space BLISS Meadows, which would be the landing place for the programming done through the nonprofit organization, Backyard Basecamp. BLISS Meadows houses a community garden, farm animals, learning gardens, bee hives, a reflection pond, an orchard, and seven acres of forest being blazed for walking trails.
At almost the same time, Atiya convinced the landowners of an abandoned home on an adjacent lot to sell it to her, which will provide a physical structure to expand into additional programming and outreach opportunities. After a few years and successful crowdfunding campaigns, this house will now be the hub for BLISS Meadows, and once renovated will allow the organization to offer community cooking classes, an indoor learning environment for year-round programming, a short-term rental property to help fund the ongoing projects and get outsiders involved in their mission, and an indoor growth environment for mushroom mycelium to create alternative biodegradable products.
This is the point where we are honored to come in. The project contractor reached out to us about collaboration on the home’s renovation, and our Baltimore office leader, Khanh Uong, just so happens to have a background in and passion for nonprofit projects, especially those supporting Black, Indigenous, and People of Color (BIPOC) communities. Khanh seized this great opportunity to help out a very worthy cause, while getting more involved in the community in which we work.
We started the project by performing a 3D Point Clouds scan of the existing house. Due to its age and condition, there were no viable plans or blueprints of the house to start with. Creating the 3D scan allowed us to get a baseline for the current conditions, what would be possible in a renovation, and the right approach moving forward. This is a service we provide for a variety of clients who need to understand the specifics of any structure they may be renovating or adding on to. It comes in handy particularly in the case of older buildings without original or updated as-built records.
Once we had an understanding of the building itself, design work began. We worked with the client to choose lots of natural, sustainable and accessible materials that aligned with their mission as well as their existing brand identity. The project’s most sustainable aspect is reusing the house itself, rather than tearing it down to start over. Whenever possible, materials from the house are restored and reused such as flooring and trim. Every design decision along the way was made with the facility’s intent in mind: how can it be welcoming, accommodating and highly functional?
Construction on the house will begin in spring 2023 for the initial design. We are also working with the client on an eventual Phase 2 of the project, which will include an addition to the original house which can function as a caretaker’s residence and provide space for a workshop and additional storage. This new addition will incorporate even more sustainable elements such as solar panels, rainwater harvesting and gray-water reuse.
While the city of Baltimore has seen plenty of municipal dollars invested into the tourism-heavy areas, there has been less monetary support for the inner city neighborhoods experiencing blight, food deserts and poverty. Community members like Atiya are taking it upon themselves to make the first move - find the property, have the vision, rally the community and find the right partners. We’re so honored to be working alongside her, the whole organization and the community to make this amazing vision a reality.
As Khanh had hoped, our involvement in this project has opened doors to similar work, including an upcoming project with Urban Oasis, a nonprofit dedicated to revitalizing the Panway community, especially for vulnerable children. In similar fashion, the founder of this organization was able to convince landowners to sell her the property at an affordable price and rally her community around the effort. There are so many inspiring people in the city of Baltimore who want to better the lives of their neighbors. Design Develop is so happy to be a small part of that process by bringing beautiful, inspiring and helpful design solutions to the table and learning more about our community in the process.