Thursday, July 2, 2009

Where's The Central Business District?

From Small Towns to Large Cities across the World there's a Central Business District. Whether it's just a row of buildings or several hindered square blocks there's a Central Business District. Baltimore should be no exception when it comes to a Central Business District and this post will explore Baltimore's Central District's past and seems to be in place for the future.
For much of Baltimore's history, it hasn't had much emphasis placed on its Central District. The explanation for this is very simple; Industry. Baltimore has been an Industrial City rather than a white collar deal making City. Not that that wasn't a part of Baltimore's Work Force just a smaller percentage than that of the Union Card carrying tradesmen. One could make the arguement that Baltimore's Central Business District was the Harbor.The Shipping Docks of Fels Point,The Grain Pier of Locust Point,The Canneries of Canton,
The Breweries of Brewer's Hill,
The Lowery Glass Factory in Westport, and Bethelem Steel in both Sparrows Point (The County) and Curtis Bay (The City). Further inland the Central Business continued;
the Slaughter Houses of Pigtown,
the Clothing Factories of Jonestown and the Westside of Downtown,
and the B&O Railroad Yards known as Camden Yards.
Don't forget the Mill Village of Hampden-Woodberry which produced everything from Flour to Textiles. This was Baltimore's true Central Business District.
Baltimore did have a "proper" Central Business District located, well where it is now, between the Inner Harbor and Mount Vernon. When the Nation's predominantly Industrial Cities including Baltimore fell into decline after World War II, it had a devistating rippling effect.
Unemployment, population loss, blighted neighborhoods became the norm. The Harbor was in shambles, a shell of its former self.
Enter a group of Civic Leaders and Planners. They envisioned the Harbor to be a thriving Tourist Destination. They decided this project was too big and risky for the time and went for a smaller pilot program to jump start the Harbor.
This was known as Charles Center. This would be the City's new Central Business District. It would have tall modern (at the time) Sky Scrapers filled with Coroprate Financial and Government Offices. The entire District would share one large underground Parking Garage with multiple entrances known as the "Down Under Parking Garage."
Although Charles Center's eastern border is Charles St. the Central Business District's informal boundary is the JFX. Located between Charles St. and the JFX east of Charles Center sits a Baltimore City Community College Campus, Mercy Hospital, City Hall, and the Court Houses. It's easy to see why the Central Business District continues east of Charles St.
Long story short, Charles Center was the perfect catalyst to jump start the Harbor. It is now a World Class Tourist Attraction and a model for older Cities with Waterfronts eager to redevelop them. It's not just the Harbor itself, surrounding neighborhoods that had gone into decline have made a huge comeback. The vacant industrial parcels of land are being transformed to upscale mixed use developments.
Many 0f these swanky developments have millions of square feet of Office Space among other uses.

Now here's where we hit our snag; a lot of the tenants filling the Offices Space is coming from Charles Center aka "The Central Business District" which begs the question; Where's the Central Business District?

Mixed use development, especially in large Cities is the new trend. Designated Districts have become obsolete from a Developer's and a consumer's stand point. So Where's the Central District? It's still Charles Center and the area east of it but it's becoming a decentralized.

Developments like Canton Crossing,

Inner Harbor East,

Harbor Point,


and Tide Point have become or will become home to some of Baltimore's largest firms. This is good, although Baltimore's formal Business District has become mixed use itself it can't possibly hold all the Offices that are populating the old industrial parcels.

Why is this good? That means Jobs are in demand in Baltimore. If these Jobs weren't in demand, these industrial parcels would be redeveloped with just housing turning Baltimore into a suburb of itself. Commuters from Philly and DC would take the train into work and live out in the suburb of Baltimore City. Baltimore needs to be a self sustaining City where its residents both work and live. Yesteryear, it was industry today it's more white collar.

So Where's the Central Business District? Where it's always been. There's just nothing central about it. Industry just became Offices but for a short time it was in and around Charles Center.


Spence Lean said...

Just like my Locsut Point post the Baltimore Sun published an article that echoed the exact same sentiments about the Central Business District. Is the Sun stealing my posts and calling them their own? If I use something that my fellow Envision Baltimore posters have been throwing around I give them credit for the idea. If the Sun continues to steel my ideas pay me for it!

Michael Lantz Blog said...

I wish there were some picture of those areas how they looked back in the 1950's and the 1960's.It would be a trip down memory lane for those people who were fortunate to live in that era.I know that the city was rocked by civil disorders in 1968.