Patterson Park

Patterson Park Ave at Baltimore St at Linwood Ave at Eastern Ave
Baltimore, MD

Submitted by: Peggy Drake

A public park surrounded by historic row houses.

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Why It Works

Patterson Park is a true urban park with some 1500 trees, but also has ample and visible green space (i.e. not a traditional rural-style forested park). There is an interesting mixture of "passive park" areas that were designed for strolling in the mid to late 19th century, and "active park" areas with athletic facilities beginning at the turn of the 20th century -- including the famous Patterson Park Pagoda, a 3-story tower with balconies designed as a place to see people, surrounding communities and the Baltimore Harbor.

The Park is quite active, with programs that attract visitors from around the Baltimore-Washington area and beyond. Many volunteers have become involved through the renowned Friends of Patterson Park.

As you can tell, I'm quite the Patterson Park fan. Having lived in the area for over 20 years, I've seen appreciation of Patterson Park grow through community and government involvement.

What Makes Patterson Park a Great Place?

Gateways around all four sides of the park provide access to pedestrians. Vehicular access is limited to maintenance vehicles and disabled persons participating in Recreation Center programs. Roads through the park were closed to vehicles in the 1930's and remain as pedestrian and bicycle paths. Transit provides access along three of its four boundary streets. The park is primarily a hill; the high point is at the northwest, then it heads downhill to the south and east, with level areas along its eastern boundaries. The park is visible from the houses that surround it, as well as from the streets that border it. Parking is at the curb, not within the park. Dog walkers, children playing, adults strolling and participating in the many sporting activities and social events can all be found. Tours of the Pagoda are offered on Sundays. A Master Plan is in place for the 7-8 formal entry points. Some of the improvements are in place, and others await successful funding (the Master Plan includes design for all the gateways).

Vehicles definitely do not dominate this pedestrian and bicycle-oriented park. There is no noticeable gender gap, nor are there gaps in age or ethnic groups (the neighborhoods around the park are diverse in race, age, class, income). Maintenance is reasonably regular for a city that does not offer enough funding for operating its parks. There is a security presence with police officers who have layover spots in Patterson Park from tours around the area. Some perceive the park to be unsafe, but many do not. It is generally not a night-time destination, other than during special events or for teens seeking a bit of privacy. There is limited seating along the paths. There is a formal baseball/football/softball field that seats around 5000, which recently received funding from the NFL for improvements. Athletic fields throughout the park are heavily used during most seasons; there is a covered ice rink adjacent to the outdoor pool, which means the park has active use year-round, including by sledders during the occasional snow falls that come to Baltimore.

The park sees regular daytime use year-round, as well as evening use before dark during the spring, summer and fall, except for special events, when the park may be active well into the night. Both teams and individuals actively use the parkís athletic fields, pool, fishing lake (which was recently renovated), ice rink, and tennis courts, which are available for use at no fee. Athletic uses center on the east side of the park. The recreation center, at a north central location, and an adult day care program in an adjacent building are accessible by buses and private vehicles, and transportation is provided to participants. Playground facilities are available for a variety of ages. An adjacent day care center uses a preschool playground near the west boundary of the park. From walking to playing to viewing Baltimore, Patterson Park is in active use. One of the changes made by Friends of Patterson Park was to market this wonderful park to persons outside the immediate area, and beyond the users of the athletic fields. Events including ethnic festivals, small concerts, a bike festival, and events for dogs and their owners, have all brought visitors from a broader base of our area and beyond.

There is definitely a sense of local pride about Patterson Park. An adjacent neighborhood organization recently changed its name from the Baltimore-Linwood Improvement Association to the Patterson Park Improvement Association. Its neighbor to the east is the Patterson Place community. Both groups and individuals use the park. Visitors to the park are likely to be local. There is some lingering fear of the park for some long-time residents, but that has subsided substantially. Dog walking is done in groups and individually; there is controversy about establishing dog parks within this park. There is an on-going discussion on ways to resolve problems with off-leash dogs encountering on-leash dogs. Some use the park as a meeting place, including religious groups, drum and baton groups, picnickers, and the occasional wedding party who enjoy its marvelous appearance and views.

History & Background

Frederick Law Olmstead created the design for the park at the end of the 19th century. Central to the neighborhoods that surround it, Patterson Park was the first athletic park in the US (for example, the first to have a track and field facility). Its beginnings were pre-Civil War, with the Patterson family and their connections to Napoleon Bonaparte through the (disapproved) marriage of Betsy Patterson to the brother of Napoleon. The park played a historic role as a Union Army hospital camp during the Civil War.

Contact Info:

Friends of Patterson Park
27 South Patterson Park Avenue
Baltimore, MD 21231
410-276-3676; friends@pattersonpark.com

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