How I organized an educational workshop on vacant and abandoned houses in Baltimore

I’d like to share a few quick reflections on a workshop I organized at the Baltimore Museum of Art this past Saturday as part of their new Open Hours program series. The BMA is organizing the series in conjunction with their new exhibit on “Imagining Home” so adapting my presentation on the history of vacant housing in Baltimore at the Vernacular Architecture Forum meeting this summer seemed like a natural fit. I worked to put together the material for the workshop between mid-October and mid-November with a good bit of input from friends and colleagues along the way. I really enjoyed the opportunity to do outreach and education on this issue – and I learned a lot in the process.

A bit coincidentally, my workshop came just two days after the Vacants to Value Summit and Expo (watch out for an auto-playing YouTube video) giving me a really helpful context on how housing officials, activists and scholars (including Alan Mallach at the Center for Community Progress, Robin Jacobs with the Comunity Law Center, Michael Braverman with Baltimore Housing, and Roscoe Johnson at Druid Heights CDC) are talking about the issues surrounding vacant houses.

Please note: Read this post as a work in progress — this is an early draft and I’m expecting to update the post as I continue to do follow up on the event.

What is Vacancy? Understanding abandoned houses in Baltimore

  • Overview/Resources – this is my main planning document although it is a bit out of date following last-minute changes to the program itinerary.
  • Presentation slides — created with – a hosted visual editor for reveal.js – I’d like to include more images when I revise these.
  • Script/notes – these are very rough but I hope to improve them over time. I wrote them in Ulysses – a markdown editor that I continue to love after six months of using it.

How did the workshop go?

  • Over 100 people came out, mix of ages, black and white, as well as a substantial number of non-native Marylanders
  • I am still in the process of soliciting feedback but most comments have been positive
  • There appears to be interest in organizing more follow up programming
  • We succeeded in demonstrating the value of the partnership (we filled up with limited promotion by Baltimore Heritage but 1/3 of participants are first-timers at the BMA)

What lessons am I taking from the experience?

  • Plan to scale up or scale down an event depending on number of participants (programs need to work on different scales, not just audiences)
  • Start visuals earlier in the process (good slides were difficult to produce with the time I had left after writing the script)
  • Make sure to have an evaluation plan in place before the workshop (we still need to send out an evaluation form!)
  • Use the registration process to learn about your participants (we did it a bit and it worked well but I wish we’d asked more questions)

What am I working on that builds on the workshop?

  • Presentation at the 7th National Forum on Historic Preservation Practice, Goucher College (if my proposal is accepted)
  • Understanding Vacant Houses: Workshop in a Box (for Baltimore Heritage)
  • Historic Baltimore Neighborhoods Toolkit (for Baltimore Heritage)
  • Neighborhood Preservation Toolkit (for the Preservation Rightsizing Network/Local Preservation School)
  • Vacant House Workshop/Unconference (potentially modelled on Unblight)

What am I doing to get those projects done?

  • Send out an evaluation form for the workshop
  • Writing a series of blog posts based on my notes from the Vacants to Value Summit
  • Creating a resource page for historic neighborhoods based on workshop resource 1-pager
  • Converting the vacant-vernacular repo from a static collection of .md files into a real Jekyll site
  • Putting together a proposal for the AASLH meeting in Detroit
  • Writing a grant application for the Humanities for Baltimore grant program

I think I need to turn this above list into GitHub issues for that repository. I’m also considering using a Trello board to keep track of my work on this. I’d love to hear ideas about how to make this kind of essential project documentation and reflection into something more interesting than just a todo list!