April 24, 2014

Environmental group celebrates visionaries and heroes

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1000 Friends of Maryland celebrated its 20th anniversary honoring "visionaries: and "heroes" at Union Wharf on the Baltimore harbor.

1000 Friends of Maryland celebrated its 20th anniversary honoring "visionaries: and "heroes" at Union Wharf on the Baltimore harbor.

It was an odd group of “visionaries” being honored a premier Maryland environmental group, 1000 Friends of Maryland, celebrated its 20th anniversary Wednesday night. There were two real estate developers, a chef and a builder of roofs and walls.

These four Smart Growth “visionaries” joined the more typical assortment of two dozen Smart Growth honored “heroes“– governors, legislators, cabinet secretaries, environmentalists and foundations — on the Baltimore waterfront to celebrate economic activity that doesn’t gobble up farmland and forest.

The group, long headed by Dru Schmidt-Perkins, was toasting itself at Union Wharf in Fells Point, once the contaminated site of a cement plant and now luxury apartments.

“Development doesn’t need to be at the expense of Smart Growth,” said Toby Bozzuto, both an honored visionary and the host in high-end complex his firm redeveloped. And Smart Growth “doesn’t need to be at the expense of profit.”

“There are some developers that want to make a difference and some that don’t” he said, and added people ought to support those that do.

Amazing, passionate energy

Thibault Manekin of Seawall Development, another visionary, is one those, credited with the revival of Baltimore’s Remington neighborhood. He said Bozzuto “has set the bar so high.”

“Baltimore City is on fire right now” with redevelopment, Manekin said. “There’s this amazing passionate energy.”

Part of that passionate energy involves restaurateurs like Spike Gjerde, founding chef of Woodberry Kitchen in the renovated old Clipper Miller, with an emphasis on locally grown vegetables and meats. His fourth restaurant Parts & Labor just opened in a repurposed car repair shop and includes a butcher shop that takes locally raised steers, hogs and poultry and turns them into cuts of meat and sausage.

“My fundamental role is to feed the people of Baltimore,” Gjerde said.

Michael Furbish’s firm doesn’t just build any old roof and walls, but green roofs and green walls with plants, grass, trees and flowers.

“We do our job to slather every building with plants,” Furbish said.

That’s “a pretty narrow focus,” he concedes. “It’s not easy to be a developer and be innovative.”

But he turned his honor back on Schmidt-Perkins and 1000 Friends, whose mission statement says it “works for a better quality of life by engaging all Marylanders to achieve vibrant communities and healthy rural economies..

“I don’t know how Dru figures out what to focus on in the morning,” Furbish said. “I think it’s remarkable to have 20 years of endurance.”

For a full list of the Smart Growth heroes,click here.  Gov. Martin O’Malley was scheduled to be the keynote speaker for the event, but is on an overseas trip with members of Congress.

One of the “heroes” in attendance was former Gov. Parris Glendening who became a strong advocate of Smart Growth during his terms at the State House. He is now president of the Leadership Institute at Smart Growth America in Washington.

–Len Lazarick

Len@MarylandReporter.com