Thursday, April 18, 2013
There may be some overlap between this post and a series I did several years ago called "Reopening the Great Northeast" but at the same time I have re tweaked some of the nuts and bolts as I continue to educate myself and my ideas evolve. No series on East Baltimore can be complete without discussing the traffic patterns in and around Oldtown Mall. Right now it isn't great. Gay St. ends at Orleans St. and doesn't start again until just above Broadway. Hillen St. and Ensor St. are both very wide considering they're both one way streets. Above Aisquith St. Harford Avenue (which is what Hillen and Ensor turn into) becomes one way going Northbound until it meets North Avenue. Like its Hillen St. and Ensor St. counterparts to the south, Harford Avenue is also very wide. I personally believe all of these streets and the traffic patterns associated with them make for a confusing and inefficient grid of streets that contributes to the lack of progress around East Baltimore. I would like to address these issues by declaring five words; Make Way for Gay St.
As the name of this post suggests, I would like to reopen Gay St. This matter has been discussed quite often from shareholders invested in the dying Oldtown Mall. They believe that closing off Gay St. and making it a pedestrian mall was a big mistake. I defy you to find anybody that disagrees with that logic. A portion of Howard St. was closed off and that killed the Westside of Downtown as did the closing off Lexington St. just west of Charles Center. Howard St. has long since reopened and Lexington St. will reopen shortly if it hasn't done so already. The Oldtown Master Plan does call for Gay St. to reopen but only a tiny portion of it. The plan only shows Gay St. being reopened between Forest St. and Aisquith St. Personally, I don't see how this revitalize Oldtown Mall and the rest of the Neighborhood as a chain reaction. That is why we must make way for Gay St.
Gay St. begins at the Inner Harbor at Pratt St. It goes north for a few blocks as a one way street and then turns northeast intersecting the JFX. You can exit Gay St. and go northbound on the JFX if that's your destination. Continuing along Gay St. you will see the Baltimore City Fire Museum straight ahead which is the beginning of Oldtown Mall. Oldtown Mall begins at Orleans St. and this is where Gay St. currently ends. All traffic bares a slight left to go onto Ensor St. rather than driving through Oldtown Mall. Ensor St. will eventually dump its traffic onto Harford Avenue. Now I'm going to get rid of Ensor St. all together. Traffic on Gay St. will continue along Gay St. straight through Oldtown Mall. Given that this is a narrow stretch of road there won't be any shoulders or on street parking for Oldtown Mall along Gay St. Oldtown Mall (reopened Gay St.) lets at Aisquith St. at Monument St. In the Oldtown Master Plan, this is where Gay St. would end. This isn't the Oldtown Master Plan this is my plan and I'm going to continue Gay St.
In order for Gay St. to continue past Monument St. a few things would have to happen. First, Aisquith St. will have to end at Gay St. Second, the Monument honoring Henry G. McComas will have to be moved to the Dunbar Athletic Field, and finally a traffic light will have to be installed at Gay St. and Monument St. Gay St. will then cut through the eastern edge of the Dunbar Athletic Fields where a new roundabout at Gay St, Madison St, and Central Avenue will be constructed. Past the roundabout, Gay St. will intersect Eden St, Ashland Avenue, and Caroline St. before hitting Church Square Shopping Center.
I would have loved to have redeveloped Church Square so that the new Save A Lot Grocery Store could be larger than the 22,000 Square Feet it currently is. Given how landlocked Church Square is I don't see that happening without major disruption to the surrounding area. However, between Eden St. and Ashland Avenue, the parking lot for the high rise will have to be torn down. and relocated just east of its current location to make way for the two lane one way street. The loading dock for the Save A Lot will also have to be reconfigured to make way for Gay St.
Just northeast of Church Square, is Bond St. and the titular Bond St. Apartments. Up until now there hasn't been much disruption by extending Gay St. sure move a parking lot here, move a statue there but as far as moving actual buildings goes everything has been spared, until now. The courtyard that's in the pathway of Gay St. simply isn't wide enough for two lanes of northbound traffic nor is it safe to leave the Apartment Buildings where they are even if the front doors were moved. As a result, those two buildings will have to be demolished and rebuilt in a way that Gay St. can co exist peacefully with them. Bond St. Apartments are just southwest of Broadway and Broadway is where Gay St. continues! We've made it! Gay St. is now one continuous road from Pratt St. all the way to Broadway. From Broadway Gay St. runs to North Avenue and then becomes Belair Road. On the existing part of Gay St. I would turn it into two way traffic and plant a landscaped median in the middle as well as designated bike lanes. Hopefully, this newly designed Gay St. will promote redevelopment more traffic going through the Broadway East Neighborhood which suffers from severe population loss and abandoned homes. I would love this to be a catalyst for redevelopment in Broadway East as a fringe benefit.
The Oldtown Master Plan calls for Gay St. to reopened from Forest St. to Aisquith St. Although I'm for that I'm also for connecting Gay St. from Orleans St. to Broadway as a continuous one way northbound street. In short, Make Way for Gay St! Stay tuned for Part II The Harford/Hillen/Esnor redesign.
Monday, April 1, 2013
Now Little Italy (pictured above) and Inner Harbor East are tourist attractions but can Jonestown also hold that title? Well lets see, within this Neighborhood's small boundaries we have; Lloyd St. Synagogue (among the oldest in the Country), Charles Carroll of Carollton House, the Flag House, the Shot Tower, McKim Free School, The Jewish Museum of Maryland, Reginald F. Lewis African American History Museum, and Corned Beef Row. Touristy enough for you? I thought so.
The Heritage Walk Trail is a good way to tie these attractions together but I would like to see more people living in Historic Jonestown. Now the question comes up on how to attract a critical mass of people to Jonestown? I can think of a great way and it's already built into the infrastructure; the Shot Tower/Marketplace Metro Station! Now the name of the Metro Station in question doesn't do much in the way of promoting the actual Neighborhood. That's why I'm proposing that the Metro Station be renamed to "Historic Jonestown" that would literally put the Neighborhood "on the map."
Now I ask you another question; how do you know if your Metro Station is successful? The answer of course being of there's a critical mass of Residences, Retail, Office and Hotel Space within a very few blocks of said Station. Said critical mass is located west of the Station on the other side of President St. marking the eastern edge of Downtown. My goal is to extend the density of Downtown into Jonestown not unlike what has already been done in Little Italy and Harbor East. Jonestown will be a hybrid of the two; Historic Housing Stock like Little Italy and redevelopment when needed like Harbor East.
First we have a block of old buildings on Front and Albemarle Streets just below Baltimore St. between the Metro Station and the Charles Caroll of Carrollton House. Please keep in mind that I have no intention of demolishing any historic buildings but these buildings in between would benefit from redevelopment with underground parking and a mid rise (8-10 stories) that has an underground connection to the Metro Station.
Now lets take a trip down East Baltimore St. which like I said before will be Historic Jonestown's Main Street. In the 900 block there's a one story building that belongs to the "Chess Communications Gorup." Actually this building has Fayette St. Frontage but that's neither here nor there. Density this low is not appropriate this close to Downtown. therefore this buildings should be redeveloped with a parking garage in the middle of the block and a mixed use building all around said garage. As part of this project the two lone row houses in this block should be rehabbed and rented or sold. Across the Street from the Chess Communications Group building is a row of vacant Row Homes that need to be rehabbed as well. The Chess Communications Group will be given Office Space in one of the new buildings.
In the 1000 block of East Baltimore St. there's a building that's used by the City Health Department. Just like the building in the 900 block this building is very low density for the type of Neighborhood I'm envisioning for Jonestown. One thing they did get right was the parking garage that's already there. As for redevelopment, the building would go and would be rebuild over top of the existing parking garage with Fayette and East St frontage. With the density increased for the City Health Department building, there's now room on Baltimore and Exeter Streets for a new "L" shaped building that wraps around the intersection of Baltimore and Exter. Again this will be a mixed use building roughly 8-10 stories in height.
The 1100 and 1200 blocks of East Baltimore St. are perfect for rehabs. There's a vacant building just west of the McKim Free School that would be perfect for Loft Apartments. As part of the rehab of the building in the 1100 block of East Baltimore St., the developer must rehab the McKim Free School and put it to use as either a Community Center or another non profit use.
The 1200 block building that appears to be vacant is also a great candidate for restoration. The stucco facade doesn't go well with the Neighborhood but adding masonry and converting the building to Loft Apartments would make this building fit right in and complement Historic Jonestown perfectly. There's even room to add on to this building which rid the 1200 block of East Baltimore St. of any vacant lots.
With several new and rehabbed blocks in Historic Jonestown within steps of the Metro Station, when one thinks of Historic Jonestown in the future, they will look far beyond Albemarle Square.
Friday, March 15, 2013
As I continue my series on East Baltimore I feel I must comment on the elephant in the room known as Middle East and the Hopkins Biotech Park currently in progress.Well like it or not, Baltimore's "New East Side" is coming and despite all the protests and worries that it's simply "cleaning house" to make way for a "higher class of Residents" the first new houses have gone up and demolition has continued on several more blocks of vacant housing. Now, what's going in its place? Well in addition to new housing, there will be Retail (most likely a full service Grocery Store), the Hopkins Biotech Park, as well as a Hopkins Stop on the MARC Line. A brand new East Baltimore Community School has already opened on the site of the closed Elmer A. Henderson Elementary and that has proven to be a gem to the Community. Now the question remains, will the plan lead up to its promises that were put forth over a decade ago? Or will the plan fall short? Regardless the demolition and redevelopment of Baltimore's Middle East Community is in full swing.
Almost as quickly as the ink dried on the East Baltimore Development Initiative (EBDI) there were protests. Residents don't like it when an outside institution like Hopkins intrudes on their Neighborhood regardless of what State said Neighborhood is in. Residents believe that Hopkins doesn't care that these boarded Row Homes that attract crime, drugs, littering, and prostitution once housed a proud Community. A Community of working class African American Families who were employed throughout the City. Back then crime was something that happened somewhere else. Row Homes were kept in pristine condition inside and out and Parents felt it safe to allow their Kids to play outside as gun shots were something of a foreign concept back then. Needless to say, that heyday has long since ended and in addition to the crime & poor living conditions, Middle East simply doesn't have very many Residents in these once proud Row Homes.
There are a few Residents most of whom are Seniors and simply "have nowhere else to go" are trying to bring back the heyday I described in the paragraph above. That being said, they believe Hopkins and EBDI are not how they envision their Neighborhood prospering back to what it used to be. They seem to think that adding more low to moderate income housing, that the crime and drug culture associated with high vacancy rates will go away. That's not a method I'd be opposed to trying but that's what the City and Neighborhood Associations had been trying to do in Middle East since the 1970s when Middle East began to fall apart. The Row Homes that are designed as low income units don't generate enough revenue for landlords to keep them up properly and trying to lure back Homeowners also has not been a success. With reinvestment dollars entering the Community and with vacant boarded up Row Homes rotting, the City inspector is given no choice but to condemn them.
With a large portion of its housing stock condemned and another large portion being rented out by slum lords, it's no wonder smaller scale efforts have failed before even getting off the ground. I suppose the City could have come up with its own redevelopment plan for the "worst blocks" of Middle East which may have allowed for reinvestment in blocks nearby. Keep in mind that Baltimore is not a rich City nor is it a City that has a shortage of struggling Neighborhoods. In short, the City has plenty of other Neighborhoods that it's allocating its meager resources to. So I guess the point I'm trying to make is; In order for Middle East to change for the better something BIG will have to happen.
And something big did happen or is happening depending on how you look at it. Johns Hopkins, the world renowned Hospital just to the south of Middle East, is not only Baltimore City's largest employer but it also has very deep pockets and a large interest invested into the City. As such, when Hopkins wishes to expand, it's in the best interest of the City to be as accommodating as possible. At the time, Biotech Sciences were all the rage with their growing start up companies and their ever expanding Employee rosters and growing amounts of Office and Medical Space needed to fulfill their operations. With the barren Middle East Neighborhood just north of Hopkins, it only makes sense that this is where Hopkins would locate its Biotech Park.
With Hopkins now in the Driver's Seat that's steering the future of Middle East, Hopkins wanted to do something more than just erect Buildings that turn their back on the decaying Neighborhood to their north. They wanted to create a brand new Neighborhood with new housing using the Biotech Park as a draw for its employees to live near their work. Since the Biotech employs people with a diverse educational background, Hopkins didn't want to exclude anybody from the new Middle East, therefore Hopkins would make the new Middle East a Mixed Income Neighborhood. The few remaining Residents of Middle East did not and still do not trust that Hopkins will keep up their end of the bargain by allowing them to return to their Neighborhood despite the first housing to be built in the new Middle East is for low income Seniors, the majority of the displaced Residents of Middle East. They fear that Middle East and eventually all of East Baltimore will become too expensive and too elitist for anyone but a high earner which has become the case with the Harbor.
With the opinions of Residents known, Hopkins went ahead with its plan and began demolishing the first few blocks of the wasteland that Middle East had become. With the few remaining Residents bought out of their homes it appeared that the redevelopment of Middle East was in full swing and nothing could stop them. Well almost nothing. Even Johns Hopkins and its prestigious Biotech Start-up Firms aren't immune to an economic downturn. The recession took full effect on the whole redevelopment project and brought demolition, development, and all activities in between to a grinding halt. Today as we emerge from the recession there are only a few blocks of new housing and more blocks of demolition with no new housing to speak of. Finally more blocks of housing are beginning to be demolished. Whether or not the replacement housing will soon follow is yet to be seen.
Housing is something that's always in demand so during an economic downturn housing development does stop but it can usually continue as if nothing had happened when the market turns around. However, the need for commercial space changed drastically as a result of an economic downturn. As a result, the number of Biotech firms that have gone under is staggering. In addition, the Biotech firms still in business are scaling back the amount of Office/Lab Space required for their operation. That means that the Biotech part of the redevelopment project will now be smaller. Don't worry, I still have a plan for that land; A large Hotel or perhaps two Hotels.
My paying Job is in the Hotel Industry and I'm all too aware that Hopkins Patients, their Families, and business travelers coming to Hopkins are under served when it comes to finding Lodging Space near the Hospital. My Hotel is 35 minutes away in Ellicott City and we still get Guests who are either doing business at or receiving treatment at Hopkins. Of course we appreciate the business but if people are traveling that far to do business with or receive treatment at Baltimore's Largest Employer, it proves that it's under served. Hotels Downtown cater mostly to the tourist market as well as the Central Business District but where do people stay for Hopkins? That is why I'm proposing that 2 Hotels, one for shorter stays and one for extended stays be built on land originally allocated for Biotech Space that is now excess.
I'm happy to report that the demolition and redevelopment of Middle East is in full swing and hopefully the excess land allocated for Biotech Space will be used wisely to fill the demand for Hotel space near Hopkins.
Thursday, January 31, 2013
Living close to Downtown meant something completely different after World War II. That being said, Downtown was completely different after World War II. As Retail, Offices, and the Industrial Harbor were fleeing Downtown for the suburbs or in the case of the Harbor, disappearing forever. This made Downtown into a ghost town. Meanwhile, Neighborhoods that hugged Downtown were overcrowded. The wartime Jobs that accelerated the great migration from the rural South had evaporated but the new Citizens who had come for work didn't leave the City. At the same time for those who could afford it, the flight to the suburbs was in full swing. This made for an eroding tax base and an increase of poverty Citywide.
Neighborhoods that hugged Downtown had the most poverty and the oldest and most obsolete housing stock. At the same time it was the most overcrowded part of the City. In short everything surrounding Downtown was slums. Obviously something had to be done. The story of Baltimore's plight as a rust belt City is echoed all across large Cities in America. That is why HUD decided to dedicate a large sum of money to build new High Rise Apartments in poverty stricken overcrowded Cities across the Country. These new Buildings would have the amenities so desperately needed in these slums such as Refrigerators, Heat,and Indoor Plumbing. Given their proximity to Downtown, those living on the top floors could be treated to the same views as those living in a luxury Downtown penthouse.
And so it came to be that East Baltimore between Downtown and Hopkins went from having overcrowded slums to having clean "modern" public housing complexes of some of which were high rises. For the first Residents of Broadway Homes & all new developments for that matter, their new community was a dream come true. These new buildings allowed them a higher quality of life that they were proud of. HUD had devoted a large sum of money for the demolition of the slums and construction of the high rises but how much were they continuing to give to maintain these larger than life structures? They didn't allocate any money for that. Maintenance fell on the City's back. Since Broadway Homes was a public housing development, it was pretty low on the City's bucket list because it didn't produce as much of a tax base than say Roland Park. Maintenance was non existent as the buildings fell into disrepair almost as quickly as they were built. Residents were simply forgotten and left behind.
If you were left behind by the Government that was supposed to protect and defend you, how would you feel? If you answered angry and betrayed, you would feel exactly how Residents of Broadway Homes felt by the 1970s. Given the increasingly decaying buildings and the decreasing Police presence, crime, drugs, and violence replaced the memories of a healthy peaceful Community that the Broadway Home's first Residents remember. The high rises, although they looked very plain, were designed in a complicated manner which allowed criminals to hide out after the commission of a crime and others used that advantage to terrorize Residents.
Elsewhere in Baltimore, Downtown began to make a turn for the better. The Central Business District began to re-centralize itself with the creation of Charles Center and eventually the redefinition of the Harbor from an industrial port to a tourist magnet. Eventually living in and around Downtown was and still is a sought after address. For the majority of Baltimore's history this has been the case, it was only after World War II that Downtown had become a ghost town. The success of Downtown did spread but only to certain Neighborhoods, remember so many of the Neighborhoods that hug Downtown contain public housing developments some of which were high rises and pretty much all of which were decaying. This contained gentrification to the southeast below Pratt St.
Broadway Homes and other public housing developments like it were supposed to provide a long term solution to the overcrowding and decaying slums hugging Downtown. By the 1990s it was apparent that Broadway Homes could not be revitalize in its current form. The same was true for all public housing high rise developments in the City as well as Cities across the Country. That's when Maryland's own Senator Barb stepped in and sponsored a bill known as HOPE VI. HOPE VI allocated federal funds to demolish and redevelop failing public housing high rises in urban areas and replace them traditional lower density housing. These mixed income communities would help break up large concentrations of poverty and attract outside investment. Although Broadway Homes wasn't the first development in Baltimore on the list, it was on it and the Feds realized its state of decay and provided funds for its demolition and redevelopment.
Now that Broadway Homes had been demolished, the time had come to rebuild and rebuild they did. The actual Broadway Homes site was given to Hopkins who swapped it for undeveloped parcel directly adjacent to the original Broadway Homes. Along Broadway, there Apartments were built which is what the old Church Hospital was converted to. Along Fayette St. between Broadway and Caroline St. are new Mixed Income town homes with a mix of public housing units, market rate rentals, and market rate home ownership. In the first few years of Broadway Overlook, the average median income of the area sky rocketed. Perhaps that great view of Downtown had something to do with it?
Broadway Overlook and other HOPE VI developments have begun the natural process of revitalizing all of East Baltimore between Downtown and Hopkins. The question remains; should the public housing units be converted into market rates due to the increasing popularity of the area and view of Downtown? Simply put, No. There are plenty of other developments in East Baltimore that can be rehabbed or redeveloped for Market Rate, and they also have great views of Downtown.
Tuesday, January 22, 2013
Albemarle Square: Corned Beef and Seniors
Saturday, January 19, 2013
As Baltimore City's population began to decline after World War II, Belair Road was unaffected due to the fact that there was still some new construction available and except for the fact that its over the City line, it's for all intensive purposes, the suburbs. When you think of a City Neighborhood, you think of tightly packed Row Homes, alleys, and not a spec of green space. Does that sound like Belair Road? I didn't think so. Granted, the Neighborhood of Belair Edison (pictured above) is predominantly Row Homes but they have expansive lawns, mature trees, and well tended gardens. Despite having City style row homes, you can tell that Belair Edison was built with the suburbs in mind.
Belair Road remained, for all intensive purposes a suburb while the City that it's technically a part of, fell into shambles. Baltimore as a whole was plagued with population loss, drugs, crime, disease and unemployment. As Retail trends changed with the redevelopment of the Harbor, Belair Road was still the destination for City Dwellers to buy cars. Finally, the ever growing suburban Car Dealers got the best of Belair Road in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Car Dealers began pulling out of Belair Road which had become small lots in comparison to what was in the suburbs. It was then that Belair Road began to look like it was actually part of the City instead of the suburbs. Belair Road was landlocked so new construction would only be possible by redeveloping what's already there. However, the suburbs appeared to have an endless supply of land.
The exodus of first rate Car Dealerships from Belair Road made the area look like a ghost town. Sure used car dealers and "second chance" dealers opened in the place of some but they look tacky and appear to be short lived. Some Neighborhoods along Belair Road began to experience an uptick in crime. As crime increased and the foot traffic along Belair Road decreased as well as vacant storefronts and abandoned car lots, Belair Road was officially part of Baltimore. This decline also begged the question; Was Belair Road loosing population?
When driving up and down the main road, one might begin to think so. But are there any signs of urban decay when you turn down any residential street (pictured above) along Belair Road? That is a big fat NO! It appears that every Neighborhood that has Belair Road frontage (Belair Edison, Waltherson, Gardenville, Frankford, Glenham Belhar, Cedmont, Overlea) are worthy of being show case Neighborhoods that rival any older suburban Neighborhood. If Belair Road was in fact loosing population there isn't a single boarded up house to show it. Before saying whether or not Belair Road was growing or shrinking I decided to consult the 2010 census. Below is what I have found.
Belair Road is still growing! Despite a desolate Retail Corridor, every Neighborhood that I listed in the previous paragraph has posted an increase in population between 2000 and 2010. Now given that the Neighborhoods of Belair Road are growing but the road itself suggests otherwise, I think it's high time that the uses along Belair Road itself change to reflect the very real growth of its surrounding Neighborhoods. Lets Belair Road a Grower and a Shower. Below is what I have in mind.
What I have in mind for Belair Road is what I have in mind for all of Northeast Baltimore; Green Line and TOD. For those of you who don't know what the Green Line is it's the Metro Subway that currently runs from Owings Mills to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Currently the MTA is actively pursuing an extension from Hopkins to Morgan State University (pictured above.) In the very distant future, there are plans to extend the Green Line past Morgan State University up Perring Parkway through Mount Pleasant Park into Fullerton, Perry Hall, White Marsh, and Middle River ending at Martin State Airport. This is a very ambitious undertaking and will be VERY expensive due to the fact that any extension of the Green Line MUST be Heavy Rail. It would make sense that the MTA get its money's worth when this expansion does eventually happen. So what does the Green Line expansion have to do with Belair Road?
I personally think the proposed route for the Green Line does not promote ridership. Once it's past Morgan State Univeristy and Northwood Shopping Center (pictured above) it doesn't go through any real Neighborhoods until it leaves the City. Perring Parkway runs through Mount Pleasant Park. How much ridership can you get from a park? Not very much. So, what can we do about it? Reroute the Green Line into Northeast Baltimore? I think so! Once the Green Line has its stop at Morgan State University it should then make an easterly turn down Argonne Drive before going Northeast up Harford Road catering to the Neighborhoods of Lauraville, Hamilton, Beverly Hills, Mayfield, Belair Edison, and Arcadia. Then it should turn easterly yet again down Echodale Avenue to Belair Road where stops can serve the Neighborhoods of Waltherson, Glenham Belhar, Cedmont, Frankford, Gardenville, and Overlea. THEN it will go into the County and serve Parkville, Perry Hall, and White Marsh.
This rerouted Green Line can open up new TOD sites for Belair Road. I suggest that this new route be adopted and the land vacated by the numerous car dealers along Belair Road be acquired and redeveloped as High Density TOD. I think this will usher in new life to the aging Corridor and bring in new investment such as sidewalks, biker lanes, and streetscape enhancements. On the Retail spectrum, I would like Belair Road to be similar to Harford Road especially when it comes to the new Restaurants popping up in Lauraville. Given that Belair Road is a middle class area, I think it can support nice independent sit down restaurants. On the TOD end, I would like Belair Road to resemble what Charles Village (pictured above) has become.