the Neighborhood Design Center


July 30, 2020

Community Vision: Creating the Forest Park Master Plan w/ Dr. Tonya Sanders, AICP

To start, tell us your name:

Dr. Tonya Nashay Sanders-Thach 

How did your connection with NDC begin?

Evan Richardson, a past NDC board member, introduced me to NDC. He invited me to sit on the steering committee for NDC’s annual conference in 2017,  which was a great first experience! Later on, Jennifer Goold asked me to moderate a lecture during a series of engagements which deepened the connection. Shortly after, Jen reached out again to get my assistance with the Forest Park Alliance master plan, which aligns with my work, so naturally – I agreed. 

Why did joining the Forest Park Alliance as a planner align with your path?

I fit the bill relatively well for a few reasons:

    • I am an AICP Certified Planner. 

    • I also am an Associate Professor of City and Regional Planning at Morgan State University where I teach a studio class & experiential classes for students who want to do community based planning.

    • I have worked in Baltimore since 2012 and even though I have only seen a fraction of the communities in the area, I feel compelled to learn more. 

Additionally, Forest Park is a predominantly African American community, and it was important to them to have a Black planner on site for it’s master plan, which I am. 

Why is a community plan important?

When a plan gets accepted by the Baltimore Planning Commission, it acts as a  check for developers. In essence, a  plan is a tool for the community to advocate for themselves. Developers have to look through the plan before moving forward with their development. A plan also has the power to galvanize civic agencies with a community’s needs in a clear way!

Concerned Citizens of Forest Park input session

Tell us about the communities you worked with. 

The communities worked with were: Forest Park, Central Forest Park, West Forest Park, Forest Park  Golf Course, Concerned Citizens of Forest Park-WWFF-BOC, Hillsdale Heights and a development called Wayland Village.

Each of the neighborhoods had a Community Association that was proactive and committed to talking through and improving the issues specific to their neighborhood.

There are so many unique needs across Baltimore! Even in the suburban-like areas of Baltimore have legitimate issues and community design problems that communities are rallying to fix!.

For example, the Hillsdale Heights neighborhood wants a left turn arrow at the intersection of Hillsdale Road & West Forest Park Avenue, along with other traffic calming measures.It’s these specificities that help a community speak to their differences. 

Vacant housing is often a topic of conversations at input meetings

Can you share some of the process with us?

For each of the 6 neighborhoods, we did a ride along with Community Association Presidents to help document their biggest issues whether its crime, illegal dumping, vacant housing, etc.

Illegal dumping in the community

Next, we had a community input session with each neighborhood. In the icebreaker, we put up large sticky notes and presented the group with two major vision building prompts:

    • Why do you love living in your community? What do you wish others knew about your community? What symbol represents your community? What is one thing that is missing in your community? With your magic wand, what is one thing you would change in your community? What is one word that will describe your community in 5 years? Pessimistic or Optimistic?

    • My neighborhood will be ______________________. 

Community members get engaged during an input session

Then, we pulled out a very large map so folks could see the streets and boundaries of their neighborhoods. Attendees identified areas in the community where they had concerns ( drugs, vandalism, etc.). We also mapped the assets too, like who runs the basketball program? You know, things that aren’t going to come up in Google Maps.

Next, we rank the concerns from highest to lowest. With the assets, we thought, “What can we build off of?”

Finally we focus on next steps.  What levers does Baltimore City have to pull to mitigate impact on the neighborhood?  What are the best practices? What are our strategies, goals, and objectives? That’s how we get the plan together! 

What research informs the work you do?

For the most part, Baltimore has a well documented history of the area. However, it was originally very difficult to find out the history of Forest Park so we reached out to Baltimore Heritage which sent us some Baltimore Sun articles from the 1800’s!.

We also used a lot of oral history to fill in the blanks. A lot of the families have lived in these communities for generations. Forest Park was originally a Jewish Community that then transitioned into a Black Community.  That alone has been an interesting history to see unfold.

Additionally, to get a full picture of crime & demographics, we reached out to sources like Open Baltimore, BNIA, Census, and Department of Planning data.

One fun fact that came out of our research is that there is actually a movie, Liberty Heights , which chronicles the shifts in our region of interest. Of course, I sat and watched the whole thing!

Who are some of the most important and influential partners you had during this planning journey?

Chad Hayes, who is a city planner, was a great resource for historical information.

Katryna Carter from NDC was great with helping to illuminate the plan and helping NDC with the visualization aspects of the project through maps, graphics and visual representation of the entities.

Then there are the Community partners and Community Association leads which all deserve a shout out: 

    • Tracy Evans, Executive Director - Wayland Baptist Church, CDC

    • Laurence Campbell - Chair, Wayland Baptist Church, CDC

    • Yolanda Winkler - President of Hillsdale Heights Neighborhood Association

    • Pauline Gross - Pauline Gross - President Concerned Citizens of Forest Park - WWFF - BOC

    • Denise Griffin - Johnson - Denise Griffin-Johnson-West Forest Park Association

    • George Collins - George Collins - President of Central Forest Park Neighborhood Association

    • Sharon Bradford - President Forest Park Neighborhood Association

    • Peulah Moore - President, Forest Park Golf Course

So, where is the process now?

We’ve finished community input sessions and are in the stage of a working draft. 

We should have a completed community plan in the fall!