Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Don't Fear Rail Transit. Embrace It

Whenever the idea of making the County or outer City Neighborhoods more accessible to inner City Neighborhoods comes around, there's a common message from those that oppose it; "Keep That Trash in the City." I have heard or read this in response to the Red Line being canceled and around the idea of discontinuing City buses to White Marsh Mall.Aside from being, racist, classist, and just plain hurtful, this battle cry harkins back to a time of segregation. A time in which invisible or "mental walls" were  set up to stay one step ahead of blight.
These days, the philosophy around City Planning has been the opposite of that. It's been that of bridging Neighborhoods back together either through redevelopment or reintroducing the urban grids that when interrupted, created the very mental walls in which I'm writing about. "Don't cross that street it gets bad over there" or "that fence keeps the bad people out of our Neighborhood" are just some of the familiar sayings said by middle class Residents who weren't able to leave the City but refused to let their Neighborhoods decay. These same people are the ones now saying; "Keep that Trash in the City."
Although a lot of physical walls are down, there is still limited accessibility from one section of the City and/or County to the other. Why not just get in your car and drive there you ask? Many people can't afford cars and are unable to get places other than that bus line or that light rail line the "Keep that trash in the City" proponents are trying to shut down. So the physical wall(s) may be down but the mental walls remain in tact.
Mental wall or no, there was always a way around them; Rail Transit. Whether it was street cars, light rail, or heavy rail, in most cities it has been and continues to be. There are exceptions to every rule and the exception I'm thinking of is Baltimore. While localized street car lines were torn up in favor of Subway lines going from Cities into Suburbs, Baltimore missed out. It had started planning Rail lines by opening the Metro Subway running from Owings Mills to Charles Center (eventually Johns Hopkins Hospital) and the Light Rail line from Cromwell Station to Hunt Valley with a few spurs to BWI and Penn Station.

Rail Transit has been a tough sell to Baltimore ever since the flight to the suburbs began and has it has become near impossible since the 1992 killing of a Saks 5th Avenue employee at Owings Mills Mall on a path in between the Mall and the Subway Station. That became the day that Rail Transit became the scapegoat for any type of crime that happened in the County. "The Rail Transit and Bus Lines allow people in the City to come to the County to rob and kill them." Up went the Mental Walls that haven't come down and the "Keep that Trash in the City" mentality increased. In fact, some blame that for the demise of Owings Mills Mall.
I'm going to clear the air once and for all and say none of that is true. Owings Mills Mall's death was comparable to that of the enclosed Shopping Mall  nationwide as well as an over abundance of Retail throughout. If you stopped going to the Owings Mills Mall because of that killing in 1992, you helped kill it. I will also say that the MTA and the Rouse Company (developers of Owings Mills Mall) did not come together to make a safe viable pathway between the Mall and the Subway Station. One either had to cut through the grass in between or walk on the shoulders Red Run Boulevard and Painters Mill Road. Not exactly transit oriented development. Also that crime could have happened anywhere at anytime.
 So we've put our mental walls up and little to no funding has occurred for creating or expanding Rail Transit lines. Whenever an idea comes around to expand Rail Transit, there's the same song and dance about "keeping that trash in the City" or how the City's crime problem will leak into the Counties etc. Now why don't other major cities complain about this all the time? Perhaps they've learned to embrace Rail Transit instead of fearing it.
Now comes the question; how can Baltimore embrace Rail Transit? Well, the first step is to keep an open mind. Next, we take the complaints people have about Rail Transit and turn them into opportunities for improvement; example "the Light Rail Stop near me is too dark" OK, lets improve the lighting at and around said station. Or "there aren't any Rail Stops near where I live/work". Then we build new lines so that there is one there. A Rail Transit stop has to complete and comprehensive in order for it to viable i.e., it has to go everywhere.           
One way to embrace Rail Transit is through Transit Oriented Development (TOD) There are some actual TOD developments going on throughout the region the biggest one of note is at the Owings Mills Metro Station adjacent to the now defunct Owings Mills Mall. There are numerous other opportunities at what are now surface parking lots along the following stops; Reisterstown Plaza, Rogers Avenue, Coldspring Lane, Mondawmin Mall, State Center, Cromwell Station, West Baltimore MARC, and Westport. Keep in mind, these are all existing Rail Stops. Imagine the TOD possibilities if more Lines were built?

The theory around TOD is that Residents neat Transit Stations don't need their cars anymore. In fact, that should be a big plus about City living. This of course is lost in Baltimore. There are only a few instances where this can be done today. If you live in Hunt Valley and work in Charles Center you're good. If you live in Owings Mills and work at Hopkins Hospital, you're good. But what if you live and work in White Marsh? Well, in that instance, you need a car. That's where the concept of TOD fails unless more Transit Lines are built so that the people living/working in White Marsh can now ditch their cars.
So with these examples and more Baltimore, I beg you, break down the walls built by segregation and fear of Rail Transit which as discussed above can be one in the same, and embrace it. That can be the best way to lure population back into the City and create a truly walkable environment. 

Monday, February 25, 2019

The Awful Truth About Neighborhood Schools

This post may be unpopular in fact, I don't like it much myself but I can't not write about something because the subject matter isn't good news. In this case, it's Neighborhood Schools. At the this point in time, the City just can't do it. The enrollment is too low and the cost to maintain so many small dilapidated buildings is just too high. What this means is closing a large number of Schools and consolidating them into one larger building. In many cases a shuttered Middle School will fit the bill.

There is a silver lining at the edge of the clouds though. The closed School sites can still serve their Communities. The buildings may be torn down and the Sites will continue on as Parks and/or Community Centers. Another idea to float around is the idea of moving Police Stations into Schools that are in better shape i.e. renovated somewhat recently since Police Stations and other public facilities are collectively in bad shape as well. A user comment from an older post suggested this and I support it and I thank them for suggesting it.

Now lets get down to the nitty gritty. What schools are closing where and where are they going to end up? As I've mentioned earlier I plan on using Middle School buildings (and renovating/replacing them) to house Elementary and Middle School Students K-8. This post won't cover High Schools all that much except maybe a pet project of mine here and there. There are also some cases where there has been adequate funding for school renovations and their districts won't be touched. If a school isn't mentioned, it's not a part of this plan. Now, lets divide the City into Districts and get this show on the road.


Fallstaff/Mount Washington:
Close Mount Washington ES
Close Fallstaff ES/MS
Close Cross Country
Relocate to old Northwest HS

Park Heights
Close Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. ES
Close Edgecombe Circle ES/MS
Relocate to old Greenspring MS
Keep current program(s) housed in Greenspring MS building

Forest Park
Close Grove Park ES
Close Asburton ES/MS
Close Callaway ES
Relocate to old Garrison MS

Walbrook Junction
Close Gwynns Falls ES
Close Hilton ES
Close Windsor Hills ES
Relocate to Old William H. Lemmel MS

Close Edgewood ES
Close Rosemont ES/MS
Close Belmont ES
Build new ES/MS on North Avenue

Close Matthew Henson ES
Close Gilmor ES
Close William Pinderhughes ES/MS
Build new ES/MS adjacent to Carver Vocational HS

Close Eutaw-Marshburn ES
Close Samuel Coleridge Taylor ES
Close Furman Templeton ES
Relocate to Booker T. Washington MS

Close James Mosher ES
Close Alexander Hamilton ES
Close Calverton ES/MS
Relocate to old Calverton MS

Edmondson Village
Close Mary E. Rodman ES
Close Sarah M. Roach ES
Relocate to old Gwynns Falls MS
Keep current Green Street Academy program at Gwynns Falls MS

Beechfield/North Bend
Close Beechfield ES/MS
Close North Bend ES/MS
Close Thomas Jefferson ES
Relocate to old West Baltimore MS

Franklin Square
Close Franklin Square ES/MS
Close Lockerman Bundy ES
Close Mary Ann Winterling ES
Build new School along Lexington St. Saratoga St.

Close Stuart Hill Academic Academy
Close George Washington ES
Close Charles Carroll Barrister ES/MS
Relocate to old Diggs Johnson MS
Keep current Southwest Baltimore Charter School at Diggs Johnson MS

South Baltimore
Close Federal Hill Preparatory School
Close Thomas Johnson ES/MS
Close Francis Scott Key ES/MS
Relocate to Digital Harbor High
Move Digital Harbor High program to Old Southwestern HS with SEED School

Brooklyn/Curtis Bay
Close Bay Brook ES
Close Curtis Bay ES/MS
Close Marie Garnett Farring ES
Relocate to old Benjamin Franklin MS
Relocate HS to Arnett J. Brown MS Building with current programs

Close City Springs ES
Close Commodore John Rogers ES
Close General Wolfe Academy
Move to old Charles Carroll of Carrollton ES Building

Demolish Lombard MS, Thomas G. Hayes ES, and Dunbar MS

Move to Johnston Square to Madison Square ES Building with Community Initiatives Academy

Demolish Old Elmer A. Henderson ES Building

Close Harford Heights ES
Close Collington Square ES/MS
Close Dr. Bernard Harris ES
Close St. Vincent De Paul Head Start
Move to William C. March MS Building

Move Lakewood ES to Fort Worthington ES/MS

Close Montebello ES/MS
Close Abbotston ES
Close Stadium School
Build new School on Harford Road and The Alameda

Move all programs out of Lake Clifton HS and demolish. Restore Lake

Close Armistead Gardens ES/MS
Close Brehms Lane ES
Close Sinclair Lane ES
Build new ES/MS at Sinclair Lane ES Site

Close Furley ES
Close Hazelwood ES/MS
Close Moravia Park Primary
Close Garndenville ES
Build new ES/MS at Barbara and Parkwood Park Site

Close Woodhome Heights ES/MS
Close Hamilton ES/MS
Close Glenmount ES/MS
Build new ES/MS at Burdick Park Site

Close Yorkwood ES
Close Northwood ES
Close Lois T. Murray ES
Close Northwood Community Appold Academy
Build new ES/MS at Belvedere Ave and Hillen Road

Close Guilford ES/MS
Close Walter P. Carter ES/MS
Close Govans ES
Build new ES/MS at Dewees Park Site

Close Cecil ES
Close Barlcay ES/MS
Close Dallas F. Nichols ES
Close Margaret Brent ES
Build new ES/MS in Barlcay Neighorhood

And there you have it, the awful truth about Neighborhood Schools. With enrollment declining the way it is and the excess classroom space Citywide while most of the School Buildings are decaying, there's only one way to address it all at the same time. Sadly that means closing several Schools at once in order to balance capacity and renovate/replace what's left. The good news is, if crowding begins to occur, the old School Sites are ready and waiting to have new Schools rebuilt on them.

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Go Finance Yourself

Now that Tax Increment Financing (TIF) seems to be the order of the day, no big development or corporation will come to the City without a big tax break and/or having their infrastructure updated on the City's tab. This phenomenon is not exclusive to Baltimore. All major cities are regardless of how cash poor they are are offering free money for large corporations with Billions in cash lying around to come their City.
If you think this is a "rich get richer" or "1% not paying their fair share" you're right. Most of America's large Cities including Baltimore have crumbling infrastructure, dilapidated public schools, many poor citizens on public assistance and declining revenue from their respective State and Federal Governments. So how can they all of the sudden afford to give so much revenue be it present or future? The answer is; They can't.

Cities believe that these big developments or corporations will eventually re-generate the revenue spent on getting them to choose their City be it cash, no tax on their land, or footing the bill for required infrastructure the developer or corporation would otherwise pay themselves. So should we tell large developers and corporations shopping around to build their offices to go finance themselves?
In theory yes. However if Baltimore were to adopt this philosophy by itself, other cities such as DC or Philadelphia etc. would be chosen because their City Governments would provide the funds. In order to restore City resources back to its actual citizens, ALL cities would have to come together and tell big business to go finance itself. At that point, big business would be forced to pay its fair share regardless of where they want to locate.
 The Go Finance Yourself strategy would work much better when developing land versus attracting a large corporation. Large corporations can go anywhere they want however, land doesn't move. For instance, if Sagamore hadn't taken on Port Covington for lacking of TIF from the City, another developer would respond and put in a bid. Since the second developer knows that the City isn't giving out TIFS, they will include that extra financing in their proposal.
There a few (very few) instances where TIFs would be useful in Baltimore. None of those instances are near the Harbor. They're in the City's poorest and most dilapidated Neighborhoods. If a Developer wants to build new, safe, affordable housing there, that's when a TIF may be useful since it's protecting the City's most vulnerable. I would also see a TIF useful when attracting a full service Grocer to these areas. Not only does that solve food desert problems but it brings employment opportunities to these Neighborhoods.
As you're aware, Baltimore is cash poor and it needs every penny of its revenue to rebuild itself from the ground up be it by rebuilding crumbling infrastructure, school construction, job training, and social services and healthcare for citizens who need it, it's beyond sickening that the City is giving tax breaks and others to the already rich. It's time to stand up to these rich developers and corporations Nationwide in addition to Citywide by saying; Go Finance Yourself!       

Saturday, December 15, 2018

Sharp-Leadenhall Homes: A Matter of Time

Gentrification has come to South Baltimore. This is a fact that can no longer be denied. It started in Otterbein by rehabbing rand rebuilding homes that had been condemned or torn down by the proposed right of way of I-95. Then it turned east into Federal Hill and then south into Locust Point. There is one place in South Baltimore that it seemed to have missed until now; Sharp-Leadenhall.
If you blink you'll miss it. Sharp-Leadenhall is located south and west of Otterbein, west of Federal Hill, east of the I-395 bridges and the Hamburg St. Light Rail Station, and north of South Baltimore proper. Unlike the rest of South Baltimore, Sharp-Leadenhall is a predominantly African American Community up until recently missed out for better or worse on the gentrification that the rest of South Baltimore has experienced.
Right now the Community appears to be in waiting. As project after project inches closer and closer to this historic enclave, it will only be a matter of time until the developers come for the Sharp Leadenhall Homes development. Sharp Leadenhall Homes is a public housing development that when compared to others has fared very well and leaves little to no blight on the Community.
One thing Sharp Leadenhall doesn't have is nightlife. It also doesn't have the best connectibility to the neighboring stadiums just across the Middle Branch. Also across the Middle Branch is a burgeoning entertainment district. First of course there's the Horseshoe casino that opened in 2014, now riding the coattails of the Horseshoe will be Top Golf will be opening its first Baltimore location along Stockholm St. not far from Sharp Leadenhall where the current BARCS animal shelter is. In addition, the new Hammerjacks will not be far away either.
So what do these new projects have to do with Sharp Leadenhall? Well, they want to promote a nightlife for the area and that area includes South Baltimore all of it. I can't address Sharp Leadenhall Homes without addressing its new neighbor(s) to the south; Stadium Square. This was once a largely vacated mishmash of old industrial buildings that faced the I-95/I-395 bridges. It also connected, or failed connect Sharp Leadenhall and the stadiums to Federal Hill and South Baltimore.
When completed, Stadium Square will feature new Retail, Apartments, Offices, and garage parking spaces. This will almost provide the much needed link between South Baltimore and the Stadiums and the burgeoning entertainment District they're adjacent to. These new developments will surely promote walkability and nightlife throughout these newly gentrified areas of the City. Sadly in order for that to occur, there's one major hurdle.
You guessed it, Sharp Leadenhall homes. South Baltimore and the stadiums are connected via Hamburg St. and that travels directly through the public housing development. It's going to be just a matter of time until developers begin proposing redevelopment options for Sharp Leadenhall homes in order to continue gentrification and protect their existing investments like Stadium Square.
The sad part is that Sharp Leadenhall Homes is not the crime infested ghetto one associates with public housing. However, as Neighborhoods gentrify just the two words "public housing" can keep people away be it future Residents, Businesses, Tourists ETC. So now what? Do we just tear down it down? Well.... luckily there are other parts of the greater Sharp Leadenhall Community whose redevelopment or rehab won't be so invasive to existing Residents. I'm aware this is merely buying time until the unavoidable comes to fruition; the redevelopment of Sharp Leadenhall Homes.
Hopefully I'm wrong. Hopefully all the new Residents and Businesses brought in by Developments like Stadium Square will welcome their neighbors to the north in Sharp Leadenhall Homes. Hopefully they will embrace their mixed income status instead of vying to be an exclusive, posh, high end Neighborhood like Inner Harbor East and don't kick out their Neighbors who were there first. Hopefully it won't happen, but I have a feeling that the redevelopment of Sharp Leadenhall Homes is just a Matter of Time away.           

Thursday, November 1, 2018

Charles Center Redevelopment:Keep it Competitive

The complete redevelopment of the Inner Harbor and surrounding Neighborhoods started not with Harbor Place but with Charles Center. The City wanted to have a stable Central Business District before looking into more recreational redevelopment opportunities like the Inner Harbor. Since then, the Central Business District, whose boundaries are similar to that of Charles Center have seen a flight of Office Space to newer developments like Inner Harbor East, Harbor Point, Locust Point among others.
So where does this leave Charles Center? It leaves Charles Center in a much more competitive position than it has ever been in. It used to only have to compete with suburban sprawl but now as the City Comes back, more and more high density office parks are being developed on land that was once industrial including Stadium Square and Canton Crossing to name a couple. These new developments have been completely cleared and their infrastructure has been redeveloped allowing them amenities not found in older developments.
Again, I ask you; Where does this leave Charles Center? These days many buildings or parts of buildings in Charles Center have been converted to Apartments and/or Condos. I consider this to be a double edged sword. When Charles Center was first built, Residential space Downtown was lacking as it was all offices. From that perspective I welcome a mix of uses to create a vibrant 24 hour atmosphere which will make allow Retailers seek out ground floor space.

So it's all good with Charles Center right? Wrong! The Residential conversions are welcome but only to a certain point. After all, this is the Central Business District we're talking about here. We don't want to have it completely taken over by Apartments and Condos. If it's hard to lease out space in Office Buildings, Residential conversions are the go to solution and Charles Center is no different. But again Charles Center is the Central Business District which should means it should provide the highest level modernized office space with infrastructure to match.
So does Charles Center have this? Well, it did when it first opened. However it's easy to see that Charles Center was a product of its time. The rest of Downtown was decaying at a rapid speed during the planning and construction of Charles Center. Therefore, it was thought that building its office buildings as walls between themselves and the urban decay surrounding it was born. Indeed, there is a disconnect. These days, it's all about  connectibility from one Neighborhood or District to the other.
So keeping connectibility in mind is crucial for future redevelopment or re-purposing in Charles Center. At the moment the old Mechanic Theatre site has been leveled and is slated to be a high rise consisting Ground Floor Retail, above ground parking levels, and Office and Residential on the upper floors. Personally I don't like how parking garages are above and are accounting for entire levels of buildings. Either wrap the building around the Garage so you can't see it, or make parking underground. Fortunately, this building has yet to be built, is straight and not tilted.
Now lets look at a couple of buildings that have been re-purposed from Office Buildings to Apartment Buildings. The Park/Charles building was re-purposed from Offices to Apartments recently. I honestly would have torn down and redeveloped this building and extended to Lexington St. from Liberty St. to Charles St. the replacement building regardless of what its uses would have been curved on the Liberty St. side and straight  along Lexington St. to respect the layout of the streets that serve them.
Then there's 39 W. Lexington. I would have done a complete exterior facade upgrade to make it blend in more with the buildings west of it. I think with Charles Center blending into the Westside of Downtown more seamlessly, redevelopment efforts for the beleaguered super block just west of Charles Center will speed up.
Now lets talk green space. Charles Center has always been a concrete jungle in my opinion lacking true green space. True, there's open space areas like Hopkins Plaza but they're sorely outdated and still concrete and bricks. I would renovate Hopkins Plaza and the green space north of Lexington St. to feature a more park like setting with grass trees, and landscaping. If the Park/Charles building does indeed get redeveloped the way I'm purposing it to be, part of its existing footprint would go to expanding the space north of Lexington St.

In terms of redevelopment throughout Baltimore, Charles Center is the original and as such it has turned into a dinosaur when compared to newer developments. Although I think the Apartment conversions have been good to the area, I think there can be such a thing as "too much of a good thing" so moving forward Charles Center needs to remain a competitive option for Office Space seeing as it is the Central Business District. Keep it Competitive. 

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Boston St. Didn't We Already Have This Conversation?

So the conversation that we already had was and is the widening of Boston St in Canton. The conversation, spear-headed by Senator Barb 40 years included not extending the JFX past President St., down the Fleet St./Aliceanna St. corridor and down Boston St. to meet I-95 where the current travel plaza is. This same conversation canceled running I-70 through Leakin Park thereby preserving it. However, the road to nowhere had already begun construction and had shattered West Baltimore.
Luckily the JFX was canceled before the demolition of the classic, historical, and highly sought after row homes of Fells Point and Canton. Both Neighborhoods 40 years ago the then industrial waterfronts were being abandoned and the Residential Row Homes were becoming more and more boarded up. Luckily the cancellation of the I-83 extension allowed for the Fells Point and Canton Neighborhoods to be rediscovered and Row Homes were re-occupied and rehabbed. Eventually the abandoned waterfront became sought after to developers and high density mixed use products have flanked the once desolate waterfront.
So here we are in the 2010s where Fells Point and Canton are two of the hippest areas of the City with continuing growth. Since Baltimore's Rail Transit (or lack thereof) is a joke, the influx of new Residents must use their cars to get almost everywhere. This is especially true on Boston St. in Canton. Not only is it a Neighborhood thoroughfare but it is also a connection to I-95 and I-895. so one can imagine that the street is quite congested.
And it is. It is very congested. In the suburbs when a street that has had multiple new developments on it, it's widened. However, we are not in the suburbs. We are in the City. Boston St. is already quite wide considering the urban landscape it serves. The proposed widening of Boston St. sounds awfully familiar as well. As if we had this conversation 40 years and it was defeated. The similarity to today's conversations regarding Boston St. is striking such as "making Boston St. into a Super Highway."
Don't get me wrong, I'm not happy with the traffic congestion that Boston St. experiences. I just believe that widening it is not the answer. When living in a City, everything is supposed to be within arms reach. If it's not, it's a short walk, bike ride, or transit ride away. The constant use of a Car for everything in a City is the symptom of a much larger problem; lack of transit and/or walkability.
The long term goal to solve traffic woes on Boston St. and any through street in the City needs to be a comprehensive Regional Rail Transit Plan put into action. For Boston St. and Canton this means the Red Line. I know the Canton Community was one of the biggest opponents of the Red Line prior to its cancellation but the Red Line that I'm proposing takes a different route through the Southeast. The proposed Red Line unilaterally cancelled by our fearless leader went down Fleet St. tunneled and then down Boston St. at street level thereby creating more traffic backups than it solves.
I could see why that would upset Canton Residents. My Red Line proposal differs greatly from that proposed prior to its 2015 cancellation with no input. The biggest differences are arguably in the Southeast. East of Downtown, my Red Line would split in two where the north route goes above Patterson Park to Bayview where they join together ultimately traveling to Sparrow's Point. That's neither here nor there since the south route is the one that directly serves Canton. This will simply travel the length of Eastern Avenue completely tunneled thereby serving a larger population of the Southeast (since Boston St. is right next to the water) for greater ridership serving Upper Fells Point and Perkins Homes which the other plan did not. Not being directly in the Canton Community will allow for "Shuttle Bugs" to go to certain areas like the Safeway or Canton Crossing from the Eastern Avenue Red Line Stop similar to those seen at the Woodberry Light Rail and Mondawmin Subway Stop.   
Now the Red Line is not the entire solution to traffic woes on Boston St. There will need to be improvements to continue to encourage modes of transportation other than automobile. This includes a streetscape makeover with new sidewalks, curbs, cross walks, additional lighting, bus shelters, dedicated bike lanes and relief islands in between directions of traffic. The bike lanes should be uninterrupted and should also travel at least one block north of Boston St. on all side streets.
The pedestrian and biker improvements are not exclusive to the new mixed use area of Canton. East of Canton Crossing, Boston St. narrows to just one lane in each direction and takes on an industrial nature. This is where I believe additional improvements are needed as much if not more than in the newer area. Although I'm opposed to widening Boston St. into a "super highway" I do think that turn lanes should be added to improve the flow of traffic. In addition to the turn lanes, all railroad crossings will be elevated so that traffic flow isn't impaired by crossing trains. This also where my proposed Southeast Community Path is located which will also be elevated over Boston St. Most likely this area will be redeveloped in the future.
For the question of whether or not we had this conversation already, the answer is yes and that killed an interstate running through the current right of way for Boston. St. Now, despite the fact that Canton has had a renaissance they are talking about widening Boston St. again as a "super highway" that is sure to kill what walkability was already there instead of enhancing it. Lets end this conversation once and for all the same way; with highways out of the City and walkability and Rail Transit prevailing.