Could a swath of lush landscaping and play areas ‘flip the script’ on the troubled Inner Harbor?

Partners in the Rash Field redevelopment project hope Baltimore’s newest urban park could stir new vitality in the Inner Harbor and benefit area residents, workers and property owners.

Photo courtesy of Mahan Rykiel Associates.

After five years of planning, fundraising and development, the transformed Rash Field Park officially opened in November. Working on a 3.2-acre site that previously was mostly paved and habitually underutilized, the ambitious, $16.8 million renovation created multiple playgrounds, a skateboard park, two 30-foot-high wooden climbing towers, a fitness area, beach volleyball area, a field for league sports and pathways that wind through gardens containing more than 100 trees and large drifts of native grasses and plants. The new park also includes the BGE Pavilion – a glass structure with waterfront and skyline views that is expected to house a café and outdoor seating come spring.

Mahan Rykiel Associates, the lead landscape architect for the project, made the “forward thinking” decision to shape the playground designs around “the intentional, scientific-based focus on learning through play,” said Laurie Schwartz, President of the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, which spearheaded the Rash Field project. “They contracted the Natural Learning Institute based at North Carolina State to design the two main play areas: the nature play space for toddlers and the adventure play areas for slightly older children. Each space incorporates opportunities for cognitive learning and stretching children’s motor skills.”

The redeveloped park instantly began attracting people back to the Inner Harbor.

“The aspect I love most is seeing all the strollers – so many that we need a stroller parking lot,” Schwartz said. “All the strollers are a clear sign that families have embraced the park and are coming with their young children to play in this fun, unique, central and safe space overlooking the beautiful Inner Harbor.”

The Waterfront Partnership took on the Rash Field project because it believes that high-quality waterfront parks are key to the health of the downtown community, Schwartz said. A second, four-acre phase of the Rash Field redevelopment will add walking/jogging paths, exercise equipment, a game lawn and gardens designed to attract birds and butterflies.

“It’s hard to say if [Rash Field] will help with empty retail and commercial space downtown,” Schwartz said. “However, it certainly has created a more active and vibrant environment in the Inner Harbor. To that extent, office tenants who might be concerned about a quieter downtown environment currently as we still work our way out of the pandemic, need only look across the harbor to see people and activity seven days a week. I believe it will add great value to other attractions and businesses at the harbor and I am hopeful it will encourage the redevelopment of Harborplace more quickly.”

Mahan Rykiel President Jingpeng Gu believes Rash Field park could support major changes in a part of the city that has seen its tourism and retail activity flounder.

“Rash Field is flipping the script on the Inner Harbor,” Gu said. “By putting a focus on residents, we’re seeing the energy rise. A green and engaging Inner Harbor that promotes outdoor activity, environmental sensitivity and active lifestyles is a magnet for folks that previously didn’t consider the harbor for locals. We hope that investors, developers and others looking toward the Inner Harbor consider focusing on how to appeal to the people of Baltimore.”