Project Brief

Mr. Justin Fair, a graduate student (Masters of City and Regional Planning / MCRP) with Morgan State University School of Architecture and Planning, coordinated an independent study researching cemeteries under committee advisor, Dr. Samia Rab-Kirchner. The ultimate goal? To create a template for a modern online map of a cemetery so there's a modern, interactive way to browse the stories of the deceased. In stewardship with cemetery leadership, this mapping project illustrated and supported cemetery conservation planning.

Mount Auburn Cemetery, a historic African American heritage site in the Westport Neighborhood, has had irregular maintenance over the years as it's leadership, the Sharp Street United Methodist Church, has struggled to leverage the grounds as a national African American heritage site for educational tours, maintenance fundraising and wider community wayfinding. As the church's members age and organizationally lose capacity, the stories of the Cemetery's history and the city and neighborhood's history, is at risk of being forgotten. In addition, the grounds themselves continue to age and need seasonal maintenance, sew blight, and communicate disrespect to the families of the interred when interruptions occur.

The cemetery grounds, being only a few blocks from Baltimore's middle branch harbor and adjacent to Westport's main street, two public school grounds and parks, and two predominantly African American public housing complexes, have been the source of academic study to ecologists and African American historians for its green acreage as well as anthropological value for decades. Most recently, Morgan State University, of which Sharp Street Church itself originally founded, developed a partnership in Fall 2018 with the School of Architecture and Planning's City and Regional Planning Studio II, to create a wider neighborhood plan with Westport Community members, including a practical visioning plan for the cemetery in line with the Cemetery's 2018 goals. Today, the cemetery is working to adapt the vision into a pragmatic narrative tool for fundraising.

Yet on a whole, this scholarly interest (theses, studio projects, books and even a 2008 documentary) are terse, hard to find online and not visually represented on site.

Thus, with Port Covington's development being a stone's throw away, and new funding recently approved to redevelop Middle Branch Park, the Westport Neighborhood desires to reestablish the cemetery as a passive memorial park that endcaps a wider green network plan to join history, youth nature programming, and regional tourism. The Mayor's office, Westport CEDC, and many organizations have demonstrated interest in this work.

This graduate student project will digitally upgrade and publicly present an archive of the grounds' interred, visually communicate wayfinding needs to interconnect the grounds' streets with the wider neighborhood walking and vehicular streets, and produce a useful, public web resource for public consumption that reframes the cemetery's narrative with equitable context. In conclusion, the GIS mapping project will aid groundskeepers in telling the cemetery's story, families in sharing relatives' stories, and the neighborhood in keeping theirs.

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