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City Officials Seek To Divest From Fossil Fuels, Launch Greening Strategy In Broadway East

Mayor Brandon Scott speaks in Baltimore's Broadway East neighborhood on Earth Day.
Emily Sullivan/WYPR
Mayor Brandon Scott speaks in Baltimore's Broadway East neighborhood on Earth Day.

Baltimore officials marked Earth Day by calling to divest from fossil fuels and kicking off a greening strategy of the Broadway East neighborhood.

A new bill from Councilman Mark Conway would divest city pension funds from the 200 largest fossil fuel companies in the world at a rate of 20% per year over the next five years. Baltimore has a history of divesting as a form of protest, Conway said, pointing to instances where City Hall officials divested from companies doing business in South Africa and Sudan to protest apartheid and genocide in Darfur, respectively.

“This is a great opportunity for us to put our money where our mouth is, to hopefully continue to push the scales toward a more sustainable future for the city and for the world,” Conway said.

The Democrat’s bill must pass several rounds of legislation through the council before it can arrive on Mayor Brandon Scott’s desk.

The mayor spent Thursday morning in Broadway East, where city officials, environmental and workforce groups and private philanthropists launched a new neighborhood greening project that involves the planting of 52 trees and hundreds of perennial plants, as well as sidewalk repair.

“This will bring renewed life and energy into our neighborhoods,” Scott said. “Our project aims to be a model for boosting others in neighborhoods across Baltimore, not just in East Baltimore.”

It will also hire community residents to maintain the new trees, perennials and planters, which stretch along five blocks of N. Wolfe Street.

Funding for the $200,000 effort was cobbled from American Communities Trust, Inc., The 6th Branch, Blue Water Baltimore and Bloomberg Philanthropies. Volunteers from the groups, as well as members of the New Broadway East Community Association and Collington Square Community Association, will help plant trees.

Doris Minor-Terrell, President of the New Broadway East Community Association, said that community support for the project has been substantial: “Within 24 hours of planters arriving on the street, there were numerous calls from residents asking if they could still opt in for a planter in front of their homes," she said.

China Terrell, CEO of American Communities Trust, which manages the project, said its impact will reverberate beyond improving neighborhood aesthetics. “It gets to the heart of building Black wealth in communities that have been long overlooked," she said.

Multiple studies have shown that creating outdoor green spaces can lower a neighborhood’s rates of violent crime and gun violence. Del. Stephanie Smith called the program a significant investment in the neighborhood, one that can bolster community health and environmental justice.

She pointed to studies that show that Baltimore’s poorest communities tend to be the hottest.

“Trees are an investment and make sure that our communities can not only have tree canopy, but that people don't have to live on an overburdened heat island, feeling hot, unable to breathe and uncomfortable,” she said. “This is just a start. We know we need more and we're committed to doing more. They say the best time to plant a tree is 20 years ago. The second best time is today.”

Emily Sullivan is a city hall reporter at WYPR, where she covers all things Baltimore politics. She joined WYPR after reporting for NPR’s national airwaves. There, she was a reporter for NPR’s news desk, business desk and presidential conflicts of interest team. Sullivan won a national Edward R. Murrow Award for an investigation into a Trump golf course's finances alongside members of the Embedded team. She has also won awards from the Chesapeake Associated Press Broadcasters Association for her use of sound and feature stories. She has provided news analysis on 1A, The Takeaway, Here & Now and All Things Considered.