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Monday, March 9, 2009

MLK Boulevard: Living Up to its name

I was watching a CNN Special and it talked about places named after Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Mostly roads and schools. Now to have an honor like that bestowed upon a road or school said road or school must be in a great neighborhood that is the living embodiment of Dr. King's Dream. The population must be integrated and the races and income levels coexist peacefully and harmoniously where everyone loves and respects one another. The CNN Special basically reported the exact opposite. I knew this to a certain extent but it was something that I like most other Americans but in the back of our minds. I grew up in Columbia, a place (a very rare place) where Dr. King's dream flourishes.

Now we come to Baltimore, a city where incidentally there's a school and a road named after Dr. King. The school, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Elementary is located in Lower Park Heights, one of Baltimore's roughest ghettos. It also became that way through blockbusting where the Jewish home owners left in the drop of a hat for the suburbs making for a drastic full racial turn around in a very few years. (1965-1970) Dr. King's assignation in 1968 only sped up this process. The Elementary School, in sync with CNN's Special is segregated and low performing even in Baltimore City School Standards.
Then there's Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, it's located on the western border of Downtown designed to bypass the gridlock of Downtown. MLK Boulevard runs from I-395, the nation's shortest interstate and Howard St.
When it was completed in 1982 MLK Boulevard was thought of barrier between Downtown and West Baltimore which it was essentially. At the time the road was built its surroundings were completely different than they are today. There were no Stadiums, The Westside of Downtown still had a Department Store or two.Lexington Market was in shambles, University of Maryland was much smaller. It has the only interchange with the tragedy that is I-170.
To the west of MLK Boulevard was Pigtown, although it gained population in the 1980s it still was struggling with crime, drugs, and prostitution.Hollins Market was trying to hold its own despite population loss and racial turnover. Poppleton was in shambles. There were four public housing sites three of which border MLK Boulevard. First was Lexington Terrace, and Poe Homes (this doesn't have MLK frontage), Murphy Homes (nick named "murder homes"), and McColloh Homes. The sprawling Social Security Complex marks the end of I-170.
The State Center Complex occupies the western end of MLK while the Seton Hill Neighborhood occupys the eastern end. At the inception of MLK Boulevard it had not lived up to its name.
Today, MLK Boulevard is both on the cusp of major change and has undergone major change already. Pigtown, although it lost population on the 1990s (I think the 2010 census will reveal that the population is the same as it was in 2000) has undergone major changes. Long time residents fear that it's on its to be the next Harbor East.
Camden Crossing, a Brownfields redevelopment has brought new blood into Pigtown and Washington Boulevard has been designated a "Main Street." Before the economy tanked investors were buying and handsomely rehabbing Pigtown's housing stock.
There are two new stadiums for the Orioles and Ravens Camden Yards and Mt&T Bank Stadium respectively. Hollins Market did not undergo a complete racial turnover, it has become of one Baltimore's most culturally and economically diverse neighborhoods. Like Pigtown, Hollins Market's housing stock is being rehabbed and repopulated. I expect very generous population gains in the 2010 census despite our current economic woes.Poppleton has benefited from the demolition of Lexington Terrace and its replacement with the low density "Towns at the Terraces" which through my phasing out of public housing family developments will see a broader income mix.
Murphy Homes has also hit the wrecking ball in favor of "Heritage Crossing." Heritage Crossing has a broader income than its neighbor to the south and it's also a little more secluded.
Another Poppleton victory has been the University of Maryland Biotech Park encompassing two blocks of Baltimore St. which will bring new blood into the neighborhood.
Speaking of UMB it has grown leaps and bounds and has become a magnet for Grad Students in the field of Medicine. Recent and or upcoming additions include the UMB School of Pharmacy, Dentistry, and a new student library.The next big things for MLK Boulevard are the State Center Redevelopment and the Red Line. The State Center Redevelopment is a TOD Site where the Blue Line and Green Line (both currently) meet up.
It's also a quarter mile away from Penn Station where there are MARC and Amtrak stops (proposed Purple Line) This is great for high density development where residents, visitors, and employees alike don't have to use their cars to get around. Also it will help reintegrate the neighborhoods of Bolton Hill, Mount Vernon, Madison Park, Seton Hill, and Station North together.
Originally the plan was larger and included the redevelopment of McCulloh Homes which will integrate Upton, Heritage Crossing, and the Red Line into the plan. This part of the plan has been scrapped at the request of McCulloh Homes residents. Speaking of the Red Line, in Option 4C which is supposedly what the community wants (they've signed a community compact) will run along MLK Boulevard from the former I-170 to Lombard St. with no stops. I believe this to be a mistake because MLK Boulevard only skirts the Western Edge of Downtown rather than going right through it. The Red Line should make a southeastern journey from the fromer I-170 down to Pratt St. with several stops that connect existing lines and provide service to the Westside of Downtown to ensure proper redevelopment (refer to my transit funds bundling post for a detailed look at this.) Another bad move involving MLK Boulevard is to extend it to meet I-83. This will waste funds that should go to building transit lines and iproving existing infrastructure. This will also cut the UMB Mount Royal Campus in half.Now here's what needs to be done, I'm just going to list them because I'm going to dedicate future posts for this. McCulloh Homes has got to go, The Social Security Building and its intruding parking structures have got to go, and the former I-170 has got to go. I already said the Red Line's Route along here will be a mistake as is its proposed intersection with I-83. Traffic patterns must be improved to promote better pedestrian access and blend West Baltimore neighborhoods with Downtown.Now to answer the question I proposed had Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard lived up to its name? Not quite but it's getting there and I'm very confident that it will. Baltimore, it's time we went against the peices of infrastructure named after Martin Luther King Jr. and honor him.

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