Baltimore's Earth-friendly attractions

Friday, March 26, 2010

WHY: A city goes green, clean garbage, and Chesapeake fish and chips

HOW FAR: 40 miles from Washington

Baltimore, long a pollution-spewing industrial town, may seem more gritty than green. But eco-trippers will be charmed to learn that Maryland's largest city is a close friend of Earth.

In 2008, Sustain Lane, an online "people-powered sustainability guide," ranked Baltimore as the 10th most sustainable city in America (Washington was 15th). The city's Office of Sustainability, created in 2007, has championed such projects as single-stream recycling (everything in one bin), tree plantings (more than 300,000 and counting) and bike lane construction (500 miles so far). In addition, a law requires any new or extensively modified building exceeding 10,000 square feet to meet green-building standards.

The city really shows its eco-stripes during Baltimore Green Week, an annual celebration tied to the April 22 observance of Earth Day, now in its 40th year. The party kicks off April 17 with EcoFest, a day-long festival in Druid Hill Park, and continues with daily sustainable themes such as locavore eating and climate change. "Whatever environmental hat you like to wear, we can give you something to focus on," says Jennifer Morgan, board president of Baltimore Green Works, the event's nonprofit organizer.

Baltimore doesn't abandon Mother Earth the other 364 days of the year. The neighborhood of Canton, for example, contains the world's first waterwheel-powered trash interceptor. Visitors can experience this device by settling on a nearby bench and listening to what operations manager Daniel Chase calls the "hypnotic" splash of the turning wheel as it beautifies the Inner Harbor. In its two years of existence, the machine has sucked up nearly 400,000 pounds of unsightly garbage.

With 275 parks covering 5,500 acres, the grass is greener here. One such spot is Cylburn Arboretum, a 207-acre urban oasis that will open a new sustainable visitor center May 1. With features including a living roof, aerobic composting toilets (read: happy bacteria) and geothermal power, the building is "working with the natural world," says naturalist Glenda Weber.

Just another example of how Baltimore is turning into a Green Giant.

-- Christine Dell'Amore

Baltimore Green Week: April 17-24. 410-952-0334, Free.

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