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Thursday, June 25, 2009

Charles Center:Open Up!

Now when I look at Charles Center what I see is a cocoon. Before Charles Center was built the land that occupied was that of a caterpillar. What Charles Center has failed to do (and this was done very intentionally) was turn into a Butterfly. Fly Charles Center Fly!
Urban planning in the 1950s and 1960s only looked at small parcels and not on a grander scale. In an effort to keep businesses in the City a group of Civic Leaders including Jim Rouse came together to plan Charles Center. The plan was critically acclaimed but at the same time with Suburban Flight the order of the day critics had the "this will never get built in my lifetime mentality." Well, the joke was on them because Charles Center was built and with it came the Inner Harbor and surrounding neighborhoods.
Charles Center was and is a fortress. Charles St and Cathedral/Liberty/Hopkins Pl act as a moat, keeping everyone and everything out. That was how it was done back then. Now, as neighborhoods surrounding Charles Center have gentrified and will continue to do so it's time for Charles Center to open up.Signs of redevelopment and reinvestment in Charles Center are already popping up. The Shuttered Mechanic Opera House will be redeveloped into a new Theatre with retail and either apartments/condos or a hotel above. The old Hamburgers Department store has become a Superfresh, Downtown's only full service Grocery Store. One thing that redevelopment and reinvestment in Charles Center has failed to do was reopen it to its surroundings.
On the plus side, it's not too late. The redevelopment of the old Mechanic Opera House hasn't begun in fact the old building's still standing. Now, what do I mean by "opening up" Charles Center? Well, in order to close off Charles Center several streets were cut up to close it off. Fortunately, in almost all cases the streets that were closed off weren't replaced by buildings but by open space.
The streets that were sacrificed in the name of Charles Center were Lexington St., Clay St., and Redwood St. going east west, and Hanover St. going north south. These streets can easily be reopened to traffic by relocating parking garage entrances. These open spaces are not frequently used the planners of Charles Center had hoped for. I don't consider them to be a big loss especially with my proposed expansion of Preston Gardens one block to the east.
For Redwood St., the Kaiser Permanente Building will have to be redeveloped and moved else where along the new Redwood St. The plans for the new Mechanic Opera House and its retail and residences would have to be revised.For Lexington St. no buildings would have to be moved, there's a clear path just waiting on either side. Closing off Lexington St. is nothing new as this was done blocks to the west which I'm also proposing be reopened.
Clay St., like Lexington also does a disappearing and reappearing act throughout Downtown and Charles Center is no exception. This will no doubt be the trickiest street restoration in Charles Center. First off, it's blocked by a parking garage entrance, second, it's multi level, third the Superfresh and a slew of restaurants are here.
The Restaurants are configured into one building and layed out as a Food Court known as "Eats" I doubt with its limited view from Charles St. that Eats will stay busy for long. It doesn't look like it's been in existence for very long. Not more than a few years. Regardless, its lay out is pure Charles Center; blocked off. The parking garage entrance will be easy to relocate but redeveloping eats? I'm not so sure.The entrance to Superfresh can be easily relocated to Saratoga St. rather than its obstructed Charles St. location. Relocating the doors to Superfresh will allow for the redeveloped Eats to face Charles St. unobstructed. Each Restaurant in the new Eats will have its own entrance/exit and will be accessible by car whether it's on Charles St. or the new Clay St. In other words it won't be in its current food court format. Also, the levels of this particular open space will be flattened for accessibility.
The only north south street that ran directly through Charles Center was Hanover St. It wouldn't make any sense to extend this street because it won't lead anywhere. Charles Center is very narrow and in most cases its eastern and western borders are only a block away. Well Charles Center, its time you emerged from your cocoon and became a Butterfly. In other words, Open Up!

2 comments:

Michael Lantz said...

I like that area of the city up by the Enoch Pratt Free Library.That is my favorite area.I am always at the Enoch Pratt Free Library on Fridays.

tom_brown_of_baltimore said...

Thank you for sharing.