Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Mount Clare Junction Redevelopment: The Key to Revamping Pigtown?

Washington Boulevard has long since been the Main Street of Pigtown. In fact, the City has designated it as such. As Neighborhoods near and including Downtown have seen Billions in gentrification efforts, Pigtown has been largely left out. Don't get me wrong there have been great new developments in Pigtown not only on Washington Boulevard put away from the Neighborhood's Main Street as well. Residents and City Officials alike want to see Pigtown as an extension of Federal Hill and Ridgley's Delight as a vibrant community that serves as a destination not only for its Residents but those far and near Pigtown. I agree that Pigtown should be revamped as such as but I wonder; Is Washington Boulevard the answer?
The 1970s proved to be a disastrous decade for the urban core of Baltimore. Residents were either moving out completely or into the outskirts of the City. With Industry leaving the Harbor and surrounding areas desolate something had to be done. In the 1960s a section of Downtown was slated for redevelopment to be known as Charles Center. This had become a glimmer of hope for the deserted Downtown as Office Buildings were completed. This re centralized Baltimore's Central Business District. Next came the Harbor which became a Retail tourist destination as Harborplace opened and Residents began moving Downtown as $1 Row House initiatives were implemented. Eventually this gentrification spread to Federal Hill, Locust Point, Fells Point, Little Italy, Canton, Mount Vernon, Patterson Park and will eventually reach Highlandtown and Greektown. It became evident that Pigtown would also enjoy this revival.
When the Harbor began its gentrification Pigtown was both the typical Baltimore Neighborhood and an atypical Neighborhood at the same time. Perhaps the biggest thing that set Pigtown apart was that it was and still is very integrated in a City where Neighborhoods tended to be segregated. Like most of Baltimore, Pigtown was working class and losing population at an alrming rate due to the decline of the manufacturing sector of the economy which was a major Employer for the Neighborhood. In fact, that is how Pigtown got its name back in the 1800s. Given the Mount Clare Junction's railroad stop and its proximity to slaughter houses Pigs would run the route in between the train and the slaughter houses giving the Neighborhood its name; Pigtown.
In an effort to attract more Residents to Pigtown, some busybodies tried to tidy up the Neighborhood's image by changing its name to the painfully generic Washington Village. Although Pigtown did gain population in the 1980s, that was a flook and long term the change in name was about as misguided as trying to copyright the term "hon." Pigtown Residents both old, new, and perspective were more than satisfied with the name of their Community. Also in the 1980s the Mount Clare Junction Shopping Center was developed complete with a Safeway, and suburban style lay out. Although the Shopping Center failed to thrive, the Safeway did hold on until 2010. Only a few tenants remain.
 It seemed that to Urban Planners and Community Activists alike that the key to Pigtown's revitalization lied not in Mount Clare Junction but in Washington Boulevard, the Community's Main Street. As a result incentives were offered to Businesses and Residents alike to rehab vacant structures and turn them into attractive Retail and or Residential uses. There have been some great success stories along Washington Boulevard and throughout Pigtown where once vacant row homes have been handsomely restored. The problem is as these homes are reoccupied other homes are still being vacated and bordered up which gives Pigtown a net loss of population both during the 1900s and the 2000s. Before the housing collapse, builders were interested in Pigtown. The biggest evidence of this is in the once vacant site that used to be industrial that was redeveloped as Town Homes known as Camden Crossing (pictured below). Camden Crossing was built just as the economy tanked, that meant that it took a lot longer to build and sell the final homes of the development.
Today Pigtown is in transition. Residents are moving in but it doesn't supersede those moving out. Residents both old and new want more businesses to come to Washington Boulevard such as Pubs, Bars, Restaurants, and other "destination Retail" that will make Pigtown more than just a Residential Neighborhood but a place with a vibrant Commercial area without vacancies and Residences that are attractive and fully occupied. Current Residents of Pigtown, UMB, and Ridgley's Delight take very expensive to areas that have the businesses they're looking for in Fedral Hill, Fells Point or the Inner Harbor. Residents were told that Pigtown was an up & comer which it still is but lets get the ball rolling.    
Washington Boulevard is an attractive Main Street for Pigtown, but can it attract a crititcal mass that will spur revitalization? I don't think so and here's why. Although it does run a short distance east of MLK Boulevard into Ridgley's Delight, it does not go Downtown. This makes Washington Boulevard less accessible to those residing Downtown or attending UMB to go into Pigtown if more night life oriented Retail were to open in Pigtown. Mount Clare Junction on the other hand has Pratt St. frontage. Pratt St. obviously goes into Downtown and beyond and if executed properly can be a gateway into SoWeBo from Downtown. If Pratt St. were thought of as Pigtown's Main Street I believe that would attract more visitors.
In order to make Mount Clare Junction and ultimately Pratt St. the Retail core of Pigtown the struggling suburban Shopping Center would have to be redeveloped. It should be a higher density alternative to the adjacent Camden Crossing development which will attract the critical mass of Residents that will support the new restaurants, bars, and pubs Pigtown is looking to attract. Despite its failing as a 
suburban shopping center, Mount Clare Junction as a mixed use mixed income district of Mid to High rise Apartments and Condos, Office Buildings, and Restaurant Oriented Retail should thrive and it can spur reinvestment not only in Pigtown but Hollins Market, Union Square, and Mout Clare. In addition to attracting students from UMB it can also attract employees from the UMB Biotech Park a few blocks to the north. 
Pigtown has a very distinct personality, not the least of which is the annual running of the pigs at the annual Pigtown Festival. I think as new Businesses open in Pigtown that should be kept in mind such as Pubs that reference Pigs in some way like Hampden does with the bee hove hairdo and how Woodberry is stating to open Businesses that celebrate its history as a Mill Village. With Pratt St. being Pigtown's new Main Street there would have to be a way to get patrons safely across MLK Boulevard. Since City life depends on walking so much there would have to be a pedestrian bridge so that people crossing would not have to come in contact with the overload of traffic that MLK Boulevard endures on a daily basis. 
Although Washington Boulevard is a great Neighborhood Main Street for Pigtown it doesn't appear to attract a crowd into the Neighborhood the way Pratt St. has the potential to and given that Mount Clare Junction has Pratt St. frontage it can make Pigtown into an extension of Downtown that will revitalize not only SoWeBo but the westside of Downtown in the process.


Unknown said...

I will be writing a response to this entry shortly. You're forcing me to go out and take new pictures of the Boulevard too, aren't you ? ;)

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