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. 

Thursday, September 20, 2018

Could School Construction Reduce Crime?

This is one of those posts that is a simple yes or no answer. I could say yes or no and we could move on our with our lives right? Wrong! The question on whether school construction reduces crime is a multi-layered one that requires that we delve into many of the issues surrounding our City and coming up with a position to support or deny the question. This yes or no answer isn't factual either, it's what your opinion on the matter is.
So now we must ask ourselves the burning question that's being asked Citywide; What's the biggest hurdle facing the City from growing? Crime? Disinvested Neighborhoods? Corrupt Police Force? Although there are many other hurdles working against the City, I'm going to focus on crime and disinvested Neighborhoods. The worst thing you can do to a Neighborhood is let its local school building fall behind on repairs and failing to upgrade the technology at the same rate as neighboring School Districts. I believe that School Buildings are the centers of their respective communities and when they go down so too do their surrounding communities.
If you're looking to buy into a Neighborhood whose local Schools are crumbling, would you want to live there? I think not. You don't have to have school age children to think this way either. The condition of the School(s) can make or brake the resale value of your home. Not only that, existing Residents upon learning of their Neighborhood's decaying School(s) are more apt to pack and leave so that their children can attend better Schools.
So that little example I described in the above paragraph is not little at all. This has happened hundreds of thousands of times from the 1960s until today. Granted the driving catalyst for most of the flight was blockbusting but the Schools in these Neighborhoods Citywide experienced the same devastating effects described above. So where does this leave the Neighborhoods that these decaying Schools experiencing flight are located in?
They're going to start resembling the Schools. As flight empties out Neighborhoods, there is no guarantee that these Neighborhoods will be refilled. They often aren't. This leaves decayed boarded up houses which then become a breeding ground for crime. If you live in this type of Neighborhood and attend one of these run-down Schools, your future is at an extreme disadvantage. As crime over takes these Neighborhoods, it can take hold of Students attending these run down Schools and dropping out seems like a better option. And the cycle continues for generations.
So does that mean that shiny new and renovated School Buildings are the end all be all to the crime problem plaguing the City? Of course not. I do however think that they can be the start of something good. A new School is built in a Neighborhood that's struggling with crime and decay. That one new building can eliminate anywhere from two to four existing decaying Schools by consolidating Districts. That new School can and should contain programs and assistance to members of the Community long after the School day is over. This encourages Students to stay off the streets and away from temptation into crime.
Outside the District of this new School, Parents looking for better opportunities for their kids may look into moving into the new School's District to afford them the better education that comes with it. This will provide population growth for the new School's District. Population growth will see for the number of vacants go down providing for a more welcoming community all around. A growing Community also attracts convenience Retailers bringing beleaguered Main Streets back to life.
What else can population growth bring to a Community? A higher tax base. More people equals more tax payers. What can more taxes provide? Funds to ensure the newly built School can be maintained properly for generations to come, infrastructure improvements throughout the Neighborhood, Tax payer funded redevelopment of still neglected parts of the District, and finally and most importantly, funds to bring new Schools to other parts of this City and start the whole renewal process over again all over the City.
So how does crime play into scenario of re-growing, reinvesting, and redeveloping in Communities    where new Schools have been built? Well, crime thrives on high vacancy and decaying Neighborhoods where the few remaining Residents are too scared to confront it. A New School, and the growth that accompanies it, instills a sense of Civic Pride in one Neighborhood and as vacant homes get rehabbed, rebuilt, and re-occupied, the conditions needed that crime feeds off of aren't there anymore.
So, Can School Construction Reduce Crime? Yes, I believe it can. And if it can't not all hope will be lost because at least the City will have new School Buildings.       

Thursday, July 5, 2018

A Gold Line of Spurs

Very few people know or talk about the 2002 Baltimore Regional Rail Plan let alone refer to it as a inspiration for future lines. I roughly use it as a blue print for building the Red Line, Yellow Line, and implementing the Orange and Purple Lines using existing MARC tracks. However, I have also endorsed the Charles St. Trolley Line (Brown Line), the Silver Line that I have thought up, and the consolidation of MARC Stations in the Halethorpe Area.  Today, I'm writing about spurs both existing and proposed and connecting those stops into a line of their own; the Gold Line.
The 2002 Baltimore Regional Rail Plan renames the existing Light Rail as the Blue Line, I will refer to it as that from here on out. The Blue Line began running from Cromwell Station to Timonium running through the City. It eventually expanded northbound to Hunt Valley. The Cromwell Station to Hunt Valley is what I consider to be the "core" of the Blue Line. Anything else, I refer to as "spurs."
The spurs in question are the spur that leads to Penn Station and the spur that instead of going to Cromwell Station as its southern Terminus, it goes through Linthicum Heights, the BWI Business District while ending at the Airport Terminal. This spur I refer to as the Yellow Line since it is from this spur along with sharing tracks with the Blue Line from the spur split to Camden Yards, the Yellow Line has been birthed in my opinion. The completed Yellow Line will run from Towson to Columbia.
The final stop of this spur (Airport Terminal) will not be part of the finished Yellow Line. The finished Yellow Line will go from the BWI Business District westward to the BWI MARC/Amtrak Station through Arundel Mills on its way to Columbia. But worry not, I have plans for this lone spur.
Whoops, I almost forgot that there's another spur that's being proposed to be added to the Blue Line. It would be in Port Covington which is ground zero for some of the largest scale redevelopment in the City. So, lets review the three spurs we have now, Penn Station, Port Covington, and the Airport Terminal. There must be a more direct way to connect these places while providing Rail Transit service to areas that aren't covered by the Regional Rail Plan. This is where my proposed Gold Line comes to fruition.
With that being said, lets take a ride on the Gold Line! We'll start at its northern terminus; Penn Station. It is there that it will connect to the Blue Line going through Mount Royal, State Center, Downtown, and the Stadiums. At the Westport stop, the Gold Line will part ways with the Blue Line crossing a bridge into Port Covington. The new proposed stop(s) will be at their proposed location(s) and at that point, the Gold Line will run parallel to the Hanover St. Bridge. South of the bridge, the Gold Line will turn east for a stop at the District Court House in Brooklyn. From here on out, the line will be tunneled.
The Gold Line will continue south through Farring Bay Brook Park and will have a stop in Brooklyn Park at Church St. and Richie Highway. At this point the Line will continue down Richie Highway across I-695 for a stop at the MVA which is a major employer for the region. While traveling down Richie Highway it will stop at B&A Boulevard at Glen Burnie Town Centre. When plan to extend the Blue Line to Annapolis occurs this will be transfer point between the two lines. Just up B&A Boulevard will be a transfer point to the existing Blue Line at Cromwell Station.
Past Cromwell Station, the Line will make a sharp left to travel under Dorsey Road. I'm unsure of what path it will take whether or not it will travel along Telegraph Road or Aviation Boulevard to reach the Airport. Obviously it will be the path of least resistance but I'm unsure as to what or where that that is. What I do know is that the Gold Line's southern terminus will be at the Airport Terminal stop where there's already an existing stop.
By differentiating between the existing Light Rail Line and its spurs, we can look to the future and expand those lines and have them become their own lines and cover areas currently without Rail Transit. 


Friday, June 15, 2018

Crossing Greenmount

If you were to open the dictionary and look up the term "redlining", you will see Greenmount Avenue as the definition. To the west, are the sprawling mansions built by the Roland Park Company in Guilford and Homeland. To the east are the cookie cutter row homes and small detached homes of Waverly, Penn Lucy, and Govans. Over the years, Greenmount has become a dividing line between rich and poor, black and white, and blight and upkeep. So now I'm going to talk about how to cross Greenmount Avenue and redevelop it into a Main Street for Communities on either side of it.
This has proven to be a tremendous undertaking as the York Road/Greenmount Avenue Corridor has multiple renewal plans in effect that have produced very little in terms of results. This post will focus on two Neighborhoods on either side of Greenmount which when this far into the City, the redlining has stopped but is rearing its ugly head again; Barclay and East Baltimore Midway or "Midway" from here on out. This stretch of Greenmount runs from North Avenue to 25th St. with Barclay to the west and Midway to the east.
Both of these Neighborhoods have seen massive neglect, blight, and crime up until the early 2010s. Midway continues to see to this decay today but Barclay lately has seen very large amount of redevelopment with mixed income Apartments, Town Homes, both for rent and purchase as well as both new construction and rehabbing of existing homes. There has also been a focus on green space. Like its wealthier neighbors to the north, the Renaissance if Barclay stops at Greenmount and doesn't head east into Midway.
First, we must look into the future and assume there will be an Administration that favors Rail Transit again. The Yellow Line was meant to run from Towson to Columbia and its northern route was to run along Greenmount Avenue and York Road. The Yellow Line Stop I'm proposing for Barclay/Midway will be at its southern border at Greenmount and North Avenue. The Yellow Line will be tunneled and all development must adhere to this being a future stop.

One way Barclay has improved recently has been redeveloping 20th and 21st St with Town Homes and Apartments that face Greenmount. However, when crossing Greenmount into Midway on these streets, it returns to blight. That is why I would like to mirror 20th and 21st in Midway to what they have become in Barclay by redeveloping 20th to 22nd in Midway with an almost identical layout. This area has an existing urban farm that will not be impacted.
Although new construction will play a large role in the redevelopment of Greenmount, it won't be all of it. In fact, homesteading and rehabbing existing houses in more stable parts of the Neighborhood will make up larger portion of the area than new construction. The "preservation area" as I'm calling will start at Greenmount between 22nd and 23rd Sts., before dipping down Boone St. and up Kirk Avenue to Bartlett St., then up Kenwood Avenue to 25th St. dropping down Loch Raven Boulevard to Cookesbury Avenue meeting 23rd St. Although new construction will be necessary to infill vacant lots, the goal here is to not to tear down existing houses. This is also a great place to implement to the $1 Row House Program.
A big part of redevelopment for the Midway area is recreation, education, and food. As Schools fight for construction dollars to rebuilt, I'm proposing consolidating Dallas F. Nicholas Elementary, Cecil Elementary, and Harford Heights Elementary into one new building on North Avenue between Kennedy Avenue and Aisquith St. By combining Schools in nearby ailing buildings, into one new building, it lowers the deficit between open seats and declining overall enrollment citywide.
On the recreation side of things, I plan on building a large indoor/outdoor swimming pool(s) at the site of Cecil Elementary School. In addition, Greenmount Recreation Center between 23rd and 24th St. on the Barclay side of Greenmount will be redeveloped along with the building next door into a new 21st Century state of the Community Center with a gym, theater space, computer lab, meeting rooms, and tutoring spaces. Across the street, Mund Park will be renovated to remove Boone St. from the middle of it and add a Baseball Diamond, Tennis Courts, and Basketball Courts.
Although the Barclay Midway area qualifies as a food desert, there are many larger ones with even fewer Grocery options. That being said, the area can still benefit from an additional Grocery Store. Which is why I'm proposing rehabbing the large building on the west side of Greenmount between 24th and 25th St. into a locally owned Farmer's Market Co-Op with the second floor to be used as Apartments. Although this is just a few blocks from the famous Waverly Farmer's Market, this new Grocery Store will be indoors and open everyday.
The last and perhaps the most dramatic part of this plans includes building new Apartments on both sides of the eastern intersection of 25th St. and Greenmount Avenue. These new buildings will be amenity filled market rate buildings that will show the area is turning a corner. This will also be the Retail Hub for the Barclay Midway area as the ground floor will serve as Neighborhood Retail. The industrial land uses currently occupying that space will be moved to Loch Raven Boulevard above 25th St. where there is vacant industrial buildings and land available already. If these Apartment Buildings are successful, I will implement a similar redevelopment initiative at Greenmount and 29th St. the current site of Waverly Towers Shopping Center.
Barclay has made tremendous strides in redevelopment and crime reduction the past few years. Unfortunately the historic idea that such changes can only occur west of Greenmount has reared its ugly head yet again. This time, we must cross Greenmount in the midst of the Barclay changes so that Midway can benefit at the same time. If successful, perhaps other communities will try crossing Greenmount.