Saturday, March 31, 2012

The Wilkens District

 Baltimore for much of its history has been a working man's City. It wasn't until the fall of the manufacturing industry and the flight to the suburbs that it became a way to simply house the poor. Then came the Inner Harbor redevelopment which gentrified the once working class Neighborhoods of Fells Point, Canton, Federal Hill, and Locust Point. It appears that Hampden and Medfield are headed in that direction as well.
With this sudden spike of gentrification the working class residents of these Neighborhoods have been priced out. The demand for working and middle class housing risen yet the supply has diminished. There has to be a way to ensure that a Neighborhood can make a turn around and not gentrify. There has to be a way to ensure that it's affordable yet Residents can make the required repairs to their homes to keep the Neighborhood clean and well kept. A clean and well kept Neighborhood shows that Residents have planted a stake in the Community and have invested a lot and in and of itself makes for a crime deterrent. I think designating a part of the City for its working class and middle class is crucial for its future and I know just the place to do it; Wilkens Avenue.

Wilkens Avenue for the most part, is in pretty bad shape its once working and middle class population has fled due to the collapse of the manufacturing sector and the flight to the suburbs. As a result, the home ownership rate has declined, crime and vacant blighted homes has risen making Wilkens Avenue appear stagnant. In a sense Wilkens Avenue is stagnant the central issue surrounding its decline is jobs or lack there of. The manufacturing plants in Southwest Baltimore have mostly shuttered and the area doesn't seem to be attracting potential employers. It doesn't sound Wilkens Avenue will turn around any time soon or will it?

When I look at Neighborhoods that have benefited from Artist Housing, I think of that as a secret weapon the City has to revive Neighborhoods that are in poor shape. Then I realized that Artists aren't the only profession that is in need of affordable housing. Like I said Baltimore has always been a working man's City and it still is regardless of what the gentrified Harbor portrays. There are lots of working and middle class Residents who are struggling to find a decent place to live and an affordable price. That's when I got the idea to make districts strictly for said professions, but where? It has to be an area that's not too far gone but at the same time the housing and the land it sits on has to be low in value.
I found just the area along Wilkens Avenue in Neighborhoods like Mount Clare, Carrollton Ridge, Mill Hill, Violetville, and Morell Park. Some Neighborhoods are in better shape than others but they all could benefit from additional Residents who can bring in investment and stability. When I talk about bringing in affordable housing, it's for people with good jobs but their income is not all that high. In making districts along Wilkens Avenue for certain professions it will ensure that those buying into the Neighborhood are gainfully employed and home prices will be income adjusted so that the monthly mortgage payment will be at most 30% of their monthly income which is the recommended amount when preparing a budget.

Now where along Wilkens Avenue would each particular District go? Well actually that really doesn't matter there is plenty of vacant housing ready to either rehabbed or rebuilt depending on how dilapidated said housing is. The districts will be as follows; The Hospitality District (for Hotel and Restaurants Workers), The Education District (for Teachers) the Emergency District (for Cops, Firefighters, and Paramedics, the Nursing District, the Retail District (for workers in Retail), the Civil Servant District (postal workers, garbage
collectors etc.) and the Plumbing District.

Now comes the question of whether making housing affordable enough for Baltimore's workforce is enough to attract them to Wilkens Avenue. Personally I think so because the opportunity to become a home owner in and around Baltimore would otherwise be nothing more than a dream for those in these professions (I work in Hospitality I'm speaking from experience) and also I would like the redevelopment portions of these districts to feature new LEED initiatives to cut back pollution and reduce utility bills which is something we all worry about when paying our monthly bills.

This might be the ticket for Wilkens Avenue to make a comeback, one that is better than gentrification because it will help reestablish a solid working class and middle class base in the City. These good jobs didn't use to require subsides but as the cost as living went up our wages either went stagnant or went down. Much like Wilkens Avenue.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Gwynns Falls: Not Your Average Wilkens Avenue Neighborhood

I was lucky enough to get a view of Gwnns Falls through the eyes of a Resident and Community Activist, he had hopes that I would write a post about Gywnns Falls and the surrounding Wilkens Avenue Neighborhoods. Well I'm sorry to say that after our meeting, I didn't get an idea for a post, I got ideas for three!
It's no secret that Wilkens Avenue has suffered from population loss and severe disinvestment for decades on end. Boarded up row homes and Neighborhoods with Vacancy Rates up to 45% are just part of the landscape and appear not to be a cause for concern. A lot of this population loss can be attributed to White Flight in the past 12 years and what looks to be re segregation as a Black Area. These tell tale signs of Neighborhoods in severe distress are very upsetting to me given how much I love Baltimore and all of its Neighborhoods. Luckily for me and Wilkens Avenue, there is a sign of hope and its name is Gwynns Falls.
I have gotten a few comments and emails regarding the victories of Gwynns Falls including the fact that it fosters a very diverse population, there are signs of investment, the lower than average crime rate, having the Southwestern Police Headquarters located in the Neighborhood, and even a few Commercial/Industrial uses that are still thriving. Gwynns Falls is still far from perfect, there are still vacant homes, messy alleys, and a lack of City Services like dependable garbage pickup and roads in need of paving. Take a ride around the Neighborhood like I did with a Resident who contacted me regarding Gwynns Falls and I quickly realized that Gwynns Falls was not your average Wilkens Avenue Neighborhood.

When Gwynns Falls got its start, it was your average Wilkens Avenue Neighborhood. It lived side by side with industry and Row Homes were built to house workers who were employed in the Neighborhood. Gwynns Falls, became a working class White Neighborhood with Wilkens Avenue to the south and Fredrick Avenue to the north both acting as Commercial nodes for the Neighborhood mostly by way of the corner stone. As the industries located Gwynns Falls thrived, so did the Neighborhood itself so it would stand to reason that if industry were to crumble so would the Neighborhoods, which was exactly what happened.
The story I'm about to tell is one that I've told in too many of my posts but it's one that echoes the decline of Baltimore as a whole. As Industry cut back along Wilkens Avenue, the once neat and tidy Row Homes began showing signs of blight as Residents became unemployed. Some Residents opted out of the Neighborhood all together leaving their homes vacant and boarded up. On the industry front, companies began modernizing their plants which eliminated still more workers and in some cases shut down and out sourced to other Countries. This had disastrous effects on Wilkens Avenue and its Neighborhoods.

 Neighborhoods like Mill Hill, Carollton Ridge, and Mount Clare felt the effects of Community disinvestment with vacant houses, declining population, white flight, and a spike in crime. Gwynns Falls experienced all these things as well, just not as drastically as its Neighbors. So that begs the question; why? What has made Gwynns Falls so special? Gwynns Falls is home to the Southwestern District Police Headquarters, that's a big thing. I have a feeling that has deterred countless crime and drug problems that have plagued other Neighborhoods. This safety net then allowed Residents to stay in their homes rather than flock to the suburbs which lowered the number of vacants and lessened the White Flight as well. Another promising sign for the Neighborhood is that there is a Commercial Laundry Facility located in the middle of it.
 Today Gwynns Falls is seeing a few budding signs of reinvestment. Its demographics are pretty much an even split between the White/Black Population although new White Families are moving here suggesting that White Flight isn't a factor. There is also a burgeoning Hispanic and Mennonite population. The Homes being repopulated are seeing lots of investment like white picket fences which has caused existing Residents to fix up there homes as well. A blighted vacant lot has been turned into a Community Garden which has transformed the space from eyesore to asset. There are a number of vacant homes that existing Residents are interested in buying and fixing to sell as newly renovated homes. I think with the Greater Baltimore Area with defecit of affordable housing, I think Gwynns Falls could be looked at as an alternative for those who may have overlooked it.
 Another Gwynn Falls attribute is its Recreation Center with Basketball hoops. There used to be a swimming pool here but the threat of integration in the 1960s or 70s caused the pool to close. I think as a way to encourage growth would be rebuild and open up the Pool which would be a draw not just for Gwynns Falls Residents but for surrounding Wilkens Avenue Neighborhoods now that they're all integrated and a diverse array of races sharing a pool is not as big a deal as it was 40 years ago. The biggest problem seems to be sanitation issues, the City isn't reliable with trash pickup and streets and alleys are littered with stray trash. My friend who introduced me to Gwynns Falls spends a lot of time picking up trash on his block but he's only one man and can't do it alone. Hopefully others will follow in his footsteps soon or better yet stop littering all together.

The Southwestern Police Headquarters, Recreation Center, Investment instead of Disinvestment, Commercial Laundry Center and No White Flight? It's all too obvious that Gwynns Falls is not your average Wilkens Avenue Neighborhood.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The Rotunda: Reviving Redevelopment

  After years of insisting that they would not be closing and that they were on board to stay on during and after the Rotunda's redevelopment, their anchor Giant will be closing at the end of the month. Not only that, redevelopment has been in the works for the rotunda for quite some time with no physical changes to the aging and increasingly vacant enclosed Shopping Center. Now in the wake of the news of Giant's departure, owners of the Rotunda are reviving the redevelopment plans that have gone off track after the economy collapsed almost verbatim with 300 Apartments, Community Green Space, New Retail, and a much larger Cinematheque. I think the redeveloped Rotunda could be a winner assuming they find a new Grocer and construction actually begins.

Although Giant's closure will stall redevelopment as property owners scramble to find a replacement Grocer, I think Giant's departure is beneficial long term. With the new Waverly Giant on 33rd St. just east of Greenmount, and the Rotunda Giant being so large, I don't think both stores could compete with each other. With the Giant moving to the old Superfresh in Hampden on 40th St., I think that small distance move will define two distinct Markets for each store. Hampden and Medfield Residents didn't appear to be too keen on Fresh & Green's (now occupying Superfresh) high prices and are very happy to see Giant taking over their space.
The Rotunda Cinematheque has had a checkered past in that it has opened and closed at least once if not more. When the Mall opened in 1971, the Cinematheque was just one screen as large multiplex cinemas had not become the norm yet. I don't know exactly know the date of the Cinema's closure but I do know that it reopened with two screens in 2005. In 2005 there were already talks of redeveloping the Rotunda. The current Cinema doesn't play first run movies and isn't owned or managed by a large distributor like United Artists or AMC.
One thing that is needed for the Cinematheque is more screens as large multiplex theaters are almost unheard of in the City. It should have 10 screens so as not to have the same movie playing on several screens like the 20+ screen multiplex in Arundel Mills. This should be a crucial piece of the Mall's redevelopment.

I'm afraid that in the short term that existing Retailers like Casa Mia, the only eatery left in the food court has a bleak future. Since redevelopment won't occur for a couple of years and with the Giant closing, sales have already been dipping and with a vacant Giant they will only continue their downward trend. I can only hope that they can survive long enough for redevelopment so that they can enjoy the benefits. According to the Rotunda's owners there are small Retailers who are interested in leasing space in the redeveloped center but of course that's a ways away.

Now as far as attracting a new Grocer to the Rotunda the obvious candidate has said no; Trader Joes. Given that the Rotunda's owners want a small "boutique Grocer" like Trader Joes it makes their choices in selecting a replacement a great deal harder. Given that the Bloom chain has gone out of business that adds another potential possibility that is no longer. The Fresh Market has "not made an announcement" which is better than a flat no that Trader Joes has given the Rotunda.

When selecting a Boutique Grocer like Trader Joes or the Fresh Market one can stumble upon independent or less known chains of the type. In Columbia's Wilde Lake Village Center we have David's Natural Market an independent Organic Market like Trader Joes that started out in a tiny space but has expanded so many times that it is now the size of your typical Trader Joes. In Clarskville and Olney we have Roots Organic Market, another Market that fits the bill of Boutique Grocer. Finally we have MOMs (My Organic Market) a chain that may not be as upscale as Trader Joes but size wise and selection wise it would be a good fit for the Rotunda.

Now when plans for redeveloping the Rotunda were in their infancy, the residential component was much larger including not only Apartments but Condos and a Hotel. As the economy tanked so did the size and sacle of the Rotunda's redevelopment. Now that our economy has bottomed out and by the time the first construction shovel hits the ground, we should be well into a recovery. Given that economic forecast I believe the Residential component of the Rotunda should once again be expanded to include Condos and the Hotel to increase density on the site and add new Condos to an area where new Condo construction is sparse but the demand is high.

Redevelopment for the Rotunda has been in and out of the news so much that until Giant announced it was pulling out of the Mall that I figured redevelopment prospects had died. Luckily the owners have found the sense of energy that was lacking and it appears redevelopment has revived. Now lets breath some life into this relic.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Midtown Edmondson: Predominantly Vacant

Given Baltimore's continued population loss, it would stand to reason that eventually one of its Neighborhood's vacancy rate would surpass the 50% mark.Midtown Edmondson has done just that. It is the only Neighborhood in the 2010 Census to give such a revelation.Now this just calculates of vacant homes not vacant lots. I think of vacant lots were included Harlem Park, Upton, Penn North, Park Heights, Broadway East, and Oliver would hit the half way vacant mark.Even Neighborhoods like Middle East (pictured above) where the City has purposely drained the population for redevelopment, it is still only 35% vacant. This obviously begs the questions of why did this happen? how did this happen? and how can Midtown Edmondson not only be less than half vacant but become a destination for those relocating to Baltimore?
First a little bit of history regarding Midtown Edmondson, how it got that name I have no idea but I will discuss the general area it's located in and hopefully that will shed some light. Midtown Edmondson was a product of the Post World War I housing boom. The great migration had pushed the white/black dividing line to Fulton Avenue just a couple of blocks east of Midtown Edmondson. Given that the Whites living east of Fulton Avenue had to find other housing options
they moved into Neighborhoods like Midtown Edmondson which provided new housing at an affordable price.Midtown Edmondson proved to be a stepping stone for middle class Residents both White and Black throughout history coming from East of Fulton Avenue on their way to Edmondson Village whose construction began at the same time as Midtown Edmondson but carried on longer due
to the great depression and World War II halting development.After World War II the white/balck dividing line went past Fulton Avenue (pictured above) into Midtown Edmondson which made for one of the earliest cases of blockbusting. Rather than go into Edmondson Village where residents were certain that migrarting Blacks wouldn't cross Gwynns Falls Park, Midtown Edmondson Whites leapfroged Edmondson Village and moved to the County. Midtown Edmondson and its Neighbors went from all White to all Black almost overnight although both populations were middle class.
As conditions east of Fulton Avenue (pictured above) worsened, more working class Blacks began moving to Mistown Edmondson which in turn prompted middle class already living there to seek other housing options and what they chose was Edmondson Village. This brought blockbusting to Edmondson Village where Whites living there sold their houses at a lost and paid a pretty penny for houses in the suburbs.
1968 was a pivital year for Midtown Edmondson, some of its buildings were destroyed as a result of the MLK riots. The 1970s weren't any kinder to Midtown Edmondson either, the Road to Nowhere was constructed which severed its connection to Neighborhoods to the south. Also east of Fulton Avenue, the population had drained out and Midtown Edmondson was experiencing greater poverty.
By 2010 after 40 years of population loss and disinvestment, Midtown Edmondson did what no other Neighborhood in Baltimore has done; its vacancy rate went above 50%. The extreme disinvestment and lack of developer attention has brought the Neighborhood into a stagnant
state. With high vacancy rates the crime rate and illegal drug goes up and Midtown Edmondson is no exception.
Now that I've explained why and how it got this way, hows about I try to offer some solutions for growth in Midtown Edmondson? Now there is no magic solution to an impoverished Neighborhood that is losing population at an alarming rate. Also keep in mind that there is
nothing that would draw any Residents from elsewhere.
There is however a saving grace for Midtown Edmondson and its name is MARC. Once the Red Line opens and becomes operational, the West Baltimore MARC Station will be redeveloped as will the road to nowhere. Now the boundaries of the West Baltimore MARC Master Plan don't quite extend into Midtown Edmondson and the Neighborhoods it does extend into, there's not much in the way of redevelopment.
A synergy could be created through the West Baltimore MARC Station that may make Neighborhoods like Midtown Edmondson a draw for commuters riding either the MARC or the Red Line. Now in order to draw people back in, that synergy must also attract a developer and the attention of the City. What the City must do is offer up vacant homes and vacant land at below market value to ensure developers either build nice new houses or spend most of their investment rehabbing homes that could still be occupied. For homesteaders, the City should
reinstate the $1 row home program to attract maximum invest dollars from home owners. Areas with very high concentrations of vacancies must be redeveloped with new housing to put a new face on the Neoghborhood and restore confidence in future Residents that Midtown Edmondson has made a turn around.
Midtown Edmondson may be predominantly vacant Neighborhood now but with the redevelopment of the West Baltimore MARC Station, it receive a saving grace.

Monday, March 12, 2012

Public Housing: What's Next on the Demolition List

Don't get me wrong, I'm not against the concept of Public Housing, I think it's unfortunate that Public Housing has become a hot bed for crime and the drug trade and that opportunities lack for Residents who seek better employment and education. Now for something that is promising; of the former Public Housing developments that have been demolished and redeveloped as mixed income mixed use Communities have flourished.
The drug trade is not quite so obvious and violent crime is way down not to mention an upwardly mobile population that has brought a tax base to these once stagnant areas. It is with that thesis that I find it essential to continue what was done before our economy collapsed; continue redeveloping public housing into mixed income Communities. Now on to the nitty gritty of what hits the wrecking ball and what goes in their places.
First we come to McCulloh Homes, this is probably the Public Housing that is located on one of the most sought after sites in the City. Given that it's next to both the State Center redevelopment zone and Heritage Crossing, a successful HOPE VI redevelopment project, the demolition and redevelopment of McCulloh Homes is essential a truly walkable TOD haven
which planners have called the Eutaw District. the Eutaw District is named after Eutaw Place the glorious median street that runs through Bolton Hill a sought after Row House Neighborhood that is currently closed off from the proposed Eutaw District with McCulloh Homes as it main reason.
With the Eutaw District's proposed Retail and transit amenities in addition to a few thousand new mixed income residences, Bolton Hill may finally let its guard down. Speaking of transit, if McCulloh Homes were to be redeveloped it would provide a link to State Center's Light Rail and Metro Subway to Heritage Crossing's proposed Red Line Stop. This would be a triple tier transfer to and from transit lines. See what I mean by McCulloh Homes being located on one of the most Sought After sites in the City?
Next comes LaTrobe Homes, although few know it, I believe LaTrobe Homes is also a sought after site when it comes to furthering Baltimore's transformation. The proposed demolition of the JFX will certainly prove to be a game changer when it comes to connecting East Baltimore and Hopkins to Downtown and the Harbor. The demolition of JFX proposed a "Super Downtown" that extends from MLK Boulevard all the way to Hopkins.
Given that a City's Downtown is often thought of as its show case, it might be beneficial to increase density in areas that are currently lacking it.
Another Public Housing development was also once located in this area between Downtown and Hopkins; Somerset Homes. In late 2008/early 2009 Somerset was demolished after being vacated of its few remaining Residents. Sadly, Somerset Homes hasn't been redeveloped the land has remained vacant indefinitely.
There is a far reaching master plan for the Oldtown Mall that contains housing options for Somerset but with reinvestment dollars tight, it might take some time. I see a similar fate for LaTrobe Homes and its sprawling borderline suburban Apartments. I think a mixed income mixed use project will prove to be a great asset in the goal of connecting Downtown to Hopkins.
However, I don't want to see LaTrobe Homes demolished until funding for a new development is secured and a Master Plan is created so the site doesn't stay vacant like Somerset has.Gilmor Homes is located in the rapidly gentrifying Sandtown Winchester Neighborhood. One big hindrance that's keeping Sandtown and surrounding areas for that matter, is Gilmor Homes located right in the middle of the Neighborhood. The gentrified part of the Neighborhood is concentrated on the Neighborhood's southern and eastern borders. This area contains new
Town Homes where vacant dilapidated Row Homes once stood and also contains rehabbed Row Homes that were in good enough condition to save.
Sandtown's northern and western border, located on the other side of Gilmor Homes hasn't fared as well. There is a high concentration of vacants. I believe that if Gilmor Homes were redeveloped as a mixed income Town Home Community not unlike the new Town Homes built in the Neighborhood's southern and eastern border, it will serve as a catalyst for reinvestment
and redevelopment in Sandtown, Upton, Harlem Park, and Penn North.
Prekins Homes? Here is why I put a question mark in this segment, I don't know what to do about Perkins Homes should it stay as is? Or should it be redeveloped like a lot of its Public Housing cohort? I did a post several years back concerning the fate of Perkins Homes and I thought redevelopment was the way to go. I received a comment on that post that agrees with me stating that fewer and fewer of the homes are occupied. That comment led me further down the redevelopment path. Then, the 2010 census came out with profiles of each of Baltimore's Neighborhoods I saw under the profile of Perkins Homes that it actually grew in population. Now population growth is a sign of health and vitality in a Neighborhood if that is indeed true then
Perkins Homes should stay as is.One of the biggest reasons for redevelopment is population loss and vacant homes. Why do it if there's growth? That is why there's a question mark next to Perkins Homes.
Poe Homes, one of Baltimore's oldest standing Public Housing Developments is ripe for redevelopment. Poppleton is due for a turn around with the continued construction of the UMB Biotech Park that will bring jobs and vitality to the Neighborhood. When Lexington Terrace was demolished and redeveloped with the Townes at the Terraces (pictured above), I believe that the income mix was not great enough. With a redeveloped Poe Homes that can be fixed in one of two ways. One way is to redevelop Poe Homes as a mixed income Community with Market Rates and Affordable Rates and as Homes in Townes at the Terraces become available they're renovated and either rented or sold at Market Rate. Also within this option as Public Housing
Residents in the Terraces become more upwardly mobile, they can buy the home they're in at an affordable price. The other option for Poppleton is due to redevelop Poe Homes with nothing but market rate housing be it rentals or for purchase and leave the income mix at the Terraces as is.
With Brooklyn, residents always say that it depends what block you're on when it comes to upkeep, crime, and drugs. Some blocks are pristine, while others need to hit the wrecking ball. Now Brooklyn won't and shouldn't gentrify like some of its Middle Branch Neighbors for the following reasons; It doesn't have a view of Downtown and the Harbor and also Fairfield, Brooklyn's access to the water still employs a large number of workers both on and off the docks. There have been too many piers shut down for redevelopment and I would like to see some preserved.Still, Brooklyn needs reinvestment in order to make that all its blocks are in pristine condition. That being said, Brooklyn has a public housing development of its own; Brooklyn Homes. By redeveloping not only Brooklyn Homes but Brooklyn Apartments, Baybrook Apartments, and a few blocks above Brooklyn Homes that have seen disinvestment Brooklyn will be on the road to recovery.
Finally we come to Douglas Homes, its fate will be determined by the same Master Plan that will decide what will go where the wreckage that is Somerset Homes is. However, that plan doesn't see redevelopment as a good idea for Douglas Homes. I of course disagree with their view and given how much redevelopment is poised for this area due to the Hopkins Biotech Park and other Public Housing Developments being redeveloped, I think Douglas Homes would look very out of place and despite it not being a very high crime development I can see it as a deterrent for potential Residents looking to repopulate East Baltimore.Now not all developments warrant redevelopment Westport Homes is one of these developments. Given that two nearby developments; Westport Homes Extension and Mount Winans Homes have been shuttered or demolished without any plans for redevelopment, doing that at yet another nearby development would not be a good idea.
As Patrick Turner's Billion Dollar Westport Waterfront comes online, A lot of Westport's existing Row Houses will become gold mines and Westport Homes may then require redevelopment but lets wait and see. Also another mile stone Westport Homes must hit is the actual new building of homes where Westport Homes Extension and Mount Winans homes once stood.
Although Cherry Hill Homes is a very large concentration of Public Housing, something I'm trying to get rid of I think Cherry Hill Homes isn't ready for total demolition. Given the amount of units (1394) and the fact that this sprawling development takes up close to the entire Neighborhood, I think a large Master Plan is in order to determine who would be permitted to stay after redevelopment and how tall buildings should be. I would like to see Cherry Hill's Waterview Overlook brought back as a way to introduce Cherry Hill to Baltimore's Harbor.Well there you have it, I have introduced a bold plan to get funding back on track to redevelop old public housing developments that are outdated and not privy to the mixed income concept that has been so successful in recent years.