Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Southeastern Neighborhoods: Stranded By Industry

Southeast Baltimore consists of Hopkins Bayview, Greektown, O'Donnell Heights, St. Helena, and others. These neighborhoods could have fared much worse than they have. Just as the title suggests they are stranded by industry. The sprawling industrial campuses of Canton and Pulaski parks invade the neighborhood as well as a section of the Dundalk Marine Terminal. This can also can be said about I-95 and I-895 both of which run through the area. Major thoroughfares include Eastern Avenue, Dundalk Avenue and O'Donnell Street.
These neighborhoods housed working class and middle class residents from the factories and Dundalk Marine Terminal. In the decades following World War II the industrial sector suffered a major blow across the country. The decentralization of jobs, computers, replacing workers, out sourcing of jobs have all had devastating effects on workers and their families. Pair this up with the interstate act ripping up city neighborhoods, Southeast Baltimore was sure to take a big nose dive. Sure there was decline but nothing like what it could have been.
Today the neighborhoods of Southeast Baltimore, like many are at a crossroads. How to revitalize. As city living becomes popular again, how can Southeast Baltimore get a piece? Well to answer that question one must look at Baltimore's biggest success stories; the Inner Harbor. The Southeastern neighborhoods today look a lot like the neighborhoods surrounding the harbor did before its renaissance. Both were small row house neighborhoods side by side with industry. As the Inner Harbor became a tourist attraction the neighborhoods were gentrified and the housing stock rehabbed and industry was redeveloped into glitzy new upscale apartments, condos, town homes, trendy shops, offices, restaurants and bars. Not that the Southeastern neighborhoods will mirror this but it's a good start. There is lots of out dated industrial land that could be better used as residential, retail, or commercial.Two industrial parks include canton and Pulaski throughout the neighborhoods that literally dip in and out of residential areas. I'm not saying we should abandon the parks completely, I'm saying that they can be scaled back from residential uses. The Canton Industrial Park should only remain south of O'Donnell street what remains of the park should be redeveloped into mixed use. The Pulaski Industrial Park, should only remain north of Lombard street, what remains south of Lombard street should also be developed into mixed use. I'm also proposing as I have in another post, the redevelopment of O'Donnell Heights. There's another thing these neighborhoods have against them and it's I-895. As I've mentioned in my interstate post I think that I-895 should stop at its first intersection with I-95. This will connect the neighborhood to the already thriving neighborhoods to its west.
The Southeastern neighborhoods may be stranded by industry for now but I'm throwing them a life raft.

Just a little updat O'Donnell Heights is being torn down and redeveloped. Also Athena Square, a new town home development is being built in Greektown.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Good Job!

There have been several instances where either the city or the developer has just plain gotten it right. I'd like to take this opportunity to give them my personal hats off.
Photo From Developer Website
Gateway South-Carroll Camden Industrial Park has long been an eyesore for motorists o I-95 and or 295 alike, and much of the land is vacant and under utilized. Ray Lewis is planning to build an educational center on the property. Other uses include a new Grey Hound bus terminal and upscale office and retail space.
Photo From Google Earth
Library Square-Revitalization first was strictly south of Patterson Park in Canton. Then it crept on the eastern and western side of the park in Highlandtown and Upper Fels Point respectively. Now revitalization has made it to the northern border of the park. The area still is in pretty rough shape but development interest is at an all time high. Patterson Park Community has come up with a master plan to filter development and improve infrastructure on the public sector.
State Center-Location location location, I'm going to dedicate a whole post to this
Johns Hopkins Biotech Park-In East Baltimore's worst cluster of neighborhoods there will finally be signs of life in the coming years. Not only will there a biotech park that will bring jobs to the city but the plan calls for 1200-1500 new and/or rehabbed housing units and a new school. This shows a long term vested interest in the community that is sure to pay off.
Uplands-The awards the development plan has received speak for themselves.
Albemarle Square-Jonestown was in the right place at the right time to benefit from Inner Harbor East, Fels Point, and Canton. Little Italy won't have to wall itself off from this!
Westport,Cherry Hill, Brooklyn-What? Yes I'm using these troubled neighborhoods as an example of planning success stories. All three have development projects in various stages of the "pipeline" to transform their waterfronts from abandoned industrial land to glitzy upscale apartments, town homes, retail, office, and hotel. Once the new waterfront development is completed though the real challenge will be transforming the existing neighborhoods from their current state but private will prevail.

New Song Academy-What better way to show case long term commitment and investment in Sandtown Winchester by building a new school for minds young and old alike.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

Can the West Really Have Zest?

The Westside of Downtown Baltimore has largely missed out on the revitalization that has gone in the Inner Harbor, Charles Center, Canton, Fells Point, Mount Vernon, Federal Hill, and Locust Point. Until now, Billions of dollars mostly on the private sector are being invested in the westside on both rebuilding and reusing existing buildings. It's been called the biggest redevelopment undertaking since the inner harbor giving it a the new slogan "The West Has Zest" and I'm posing the question Does it Really?
First let me give you a breif history of Downtown's Westside. The Westside was always known as Baltimore's retail and shopping district. Lexington and Howard streets played host to Baltimore based department stores like Stewarts, Hutzlers, Hoschild Kohn, and Hechts. The afore mentioned department stores were each located at a corner of Lexington and Howard streets. while O'Neils was located at Charles and Lexington streets and Brager-Gutmans was located at Lexington and Park. Five and Dimes were as follows Kresge's across from Brager-Gutmans at Lexington and Park, also along Lexington street was a Woolworths and a Mcrorys.
All of these precursors to big box development thrived until the 1950s when the flock to the suburbs began. The world famous Lexington Market, the 225 year old public market also calls the westside home. There was also the Hippodrome Theatre and Lyric Opera House on the westside.The flock to the suburbs brought change to the shopping habbits of baltimoreans. The flock to the suburbs and the ever greater dependence on the auto mobile allowed the big department stores to open new branches in areas like Woodlawn, Catonsville, Towson, Rosedale, and Edmondson Village. By the 1960s racial change brought sit ins protests and riots to the department stores and racial integration at the downtown stores caused sales to drop as wealthier white shoppers went to the more convenient suburban branches. The1970s and 80s sale closure after closure of departments stores on the westside, by 1990 the scars of urban decline and decay had made their mark with the closure of the Hippodrome Theatre and all department stores and five and dimes. Even Lexington Market was in bad shape.
In 1999 mayor Kurt Schmoke had developed the "Westside Master Plan" a bold new plan to revitalize the troubled district. The Inner Harbor had become a tourist destination and its neighborhoods to the south and east had become some of Baltimore's most sought after addresses. The Westside however was still in decay in fact, the Inner Harbor and its glitzy rehabbed neighborhoods had probably taken away from the westside rather than helping it.
The Westside Master Plan had called for massive demolition of block after block of vacant building. One that the westside has always had going for it was the architecture and design of its buildings. Department store heads and shop keepers alike spared no expense when it came to the facade of their buildings. In short, the demolition of all these buildings would be a big mistake thus the Westside Master Plan was scrapped in favor of something that saves and reuses more of the existing buildings. Don't get me wrong there was and is still plenty of demolition in the cards for the westside but a lot less than was originally planned.
One thing the Westside Master Plan did do was spur interest on the private sector. Oriole Park at Camden Yards is part of the westside but it didn't spur a lot of additional investment on its 1992 opening. The reopening of the Hippodrome Theatre is arguably the biggest catalyst for reinvestment in the westside. Today the westside is right in the middle of its transformation, completed projects include; Social Security Building, University of Maryland, Enoch Pratt Central Branch, and Library for the Blind. Projects currently under construction include Centerpoint, BGE Building, Chalres Plaza, and UMB Housing. Future projects include Superblock, West Lexington Market, and two Convention Center Hotels.
The Westside has seen a increase in residential, office in cultural development. None of these alone can bring a critical mass of people like it did back in its hey day as a shopping district. Some ways to bring this back would be for it to offer things that the Inner Harbor and they city as a whole doesn't offer. This could include a department store, a multi screen movie, and more trendy upsacle boutiques. This would not resemble suburban big box development. It would fit the existing urban grids and be the ground floor or floors of a residential and/or office tower. Another problem is vechicular acess, there are sections of both Lexington and Howard streets that don't cars, both of these areas should be reopened to vehicular traffic. Also the Howard Street light rail needs to be relocated under ground as I've said before and I'll say again. Once the Westisde has the large groups of shoppers and tourists that the harbor does we can truly say that the west has zest.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Public Housing: Who Says it has to look the part?

This has been a question that has been asked and was answered correctly many times over in recent years resulting in several new "Hope VI" developments across the city.
After World War II Baltimore and just about every large city across the country was given a problem. How to house the poor, eliminate blight, and create new right of ways for interstate highways. The answer to all three questions was all to plain and simple; Public Housing High rises. Public housing high rises would be built where blighted housing once stood, house the poor, and would create space for new interstates where other blighted and also non blighted housing stood (but that's not what highway planners would have you believe.) Almost as soon as the high rises went up they turned into the slums they were supposed to eliminate. The buildings and the neighborhoods that surrounded them were held hostage by crime, drugs, sanitation issues. The real kicker was that in Baltimore that most of the interstates were either canceled or a much lesser version of what they were planned to be.
In the 1990s it became well known that the high rises had to come down and income levels should be more evenly dispersed. The high rise developments to come down in Baltimore would be Murphy Homes (now Heritage Crossing), Lafayette Courts (now Pleasant View Gardens), Flag House Courts (now Albemarle Square), Freedom, Claremont (now Orchard Ridge), Lexington Terrace (now Townes at the Terraces) and Broadway Homes (now Broadway Overlook but on a different parcel of land.) One thing about these new developments is that they're lower density consisting primarily of town homes and most importantly they're a mixture of income levels. The developments contain units designated for public housing, market rate rental, subsidized home ownership, and market rate home ownership. Units don't look different from one another either and they blend in better to the existing neighborhoods than their former high rises.
As of right now the new developments have been a huge success. However their long term future is still any one's guess. The rental units have maintained and upgraded so the values privately owned homes remain competitive and residents of all income levels have to be watchful so that the crime, drugs, and sanitation issues don't come back again.
These aren't the only public housing developments in the city that have had problems. There are many other developments throughout that need this kind of intervention to aide in the comeback of their larger neighborhoods. They include McCollough Homes, Westport Homes and Extension, Cherry Hill Homes, O'Donnell Heights, Somerset Homes, Monument Homes, Douglass Homes, and Bel Park Towers.
Hope VI proves once and for all that Public Housing does not have to look the part nor should it.
*Update despite pooring millions of dollars into Hope VI crime has reared its ugly head in these new communities. There have been fatal shootings in Heritage Crossing and Pleasent View Gradens.

Monday, February 19, 2007

Barclay: Gateway to the North

Now Baltimore has many wonderful neighborhoods both Downtown and in its Northern Border that are great shape. Relatively low crime, diverse housing stock that has been rehabbed and cared for and will continue to be for generations to come, and a diverse array of residents both culturally and economically. Downtown these neighborhoods are Mount Vernon Belvedere, Fells Point Canton, Inner Harbor East, The "Zesty" West Side of Downtown, Federal Hill, and Locust Point among others. In Central North Baltimore there's Roland Park, Guilford, Homeland, Charles Village, Keswick, Govans, Waverly, and the Village of Cross Keys to name a few.Now there's a problem with these sections of the city; they don't connect. Between Downtown and North Baltimore lies South Charles Village and Charles North together they're know as "Old Goucher" and then there's Barclay.
Now Old Goucher is in the process of getting its housing stock reinvested in and preserved for generations to come. That leaves Barclay. The housing stock in both neighborhoods is historic with grand architecture. Barclay has lots of subsidized housing, very low home ownership, crime, drugs, vacant homes, poverty, and dilapidated housing stock. This is not what many think of when they think of grand architecture built upon summer estates. Much to the City's credit they have come up with an "Area Master Plan" that includes Barclay, East Baltimore Midway, and Old Goucher as well acquiring properties as part of "project 5000."
Now unfortunately the most cost effective solution to eliminate blight is demolition and redevelopment right? Right, but so much of Barclay includes housing that should be rehabbed and can be an asset to the community. The problem is rehabilitation is so expensive and time consuming and doesn't produce stellar results that brand new housing does. The solution seems to be what the City is currently doing; sort of a give and take approach, some housing is being knocked down and rebuilt while others are being saved from the wrecking ball and sold off to investors. One thing I'd like to bring up is the $1 row homes that played a huge part in the comeback of neighborhoods near the harbor. This produced great results in a very short amount of time. Could this be of assistance to Barclay? I think so.
As Barclay makes a comeback it will blend Downtown neighborhoods with neighborhoods further north giving Barclay the distinct pleasure of being called the "Gateway to the North."
*Update: Gentrification has not come easy for Barclay there have been five deadly shooting within this neighborhoods boundaries this year as of July 23rd.

Pen Lucy and Wilson Park: The Market Will Turn These Two Around

Pen Lucy and Wilson Park are two neighborhoods in Northern Baltimore that are greatly distressed. They have aged much worse and at a greater rate than their neighbors on all sides.
To the south of the two neighborhoods is Waverly a diverse working class community that has rebounded since the demolition of memorial stadium as sort of a second Hampden. To the east is Northwood. First there's Original Northwood, a housing stock built by the Roland Park Company that has appreciated much higher than its any of its neighbors. Than there's New Northwood it differs only because it was built by less prominent builders than the Roland Park Company. To the north is Govans like Waverly it experienced some decline but has since turned itself around due to its relative affordability and its landmarks.
They include the revitalized Belvedere Square and the Senator a theater that the public saved by raising funds of over $100,000 for the owner to pay off his mortgage. Finally to the west is Guilford. Guilford is one of few exclusive enclaves in the city that has remained wealthy and untouched by the problems associated with Urban Decay. Guilford like Roland Park, Homeland and Poplar Hill have set the stage for suburban development in the metropolitan area. Although most new suburban development was hardly the grand estate homes of the aforementioned neighborhoods many developments tried to mimic certain archetechtuial elements in row homes and ranch style detached homes.
Back to Pen Lucy and Wilson Park. Both have a large array of housing styles and sizes. The degree of maintenance, upkeep, and occupancy also varies. The extremes of the condition of the housing stock add to the bad perception of the neighborhood. York Road is a major player past present and future to how all Northern Baltimore emerge. The York Road partnership is Strategic Neighborhood Action Plan or SNAP that addresses the good, bad, and everything in between about the neighborhoods.In addition to the SNAP Pen Lucy has its own master plan because it's in such bad shape. Pen Lucy and Wilson Park are near to such great neighborhoods and land marks that relatively little has to be done on the public sector for these neighborhoods to make a turn around. As property in Govans, Waverly, and Northwood becomes more scarce and costly buyers, renters, and investors alike will seek a more affordable alternative in Pen Lucy and Wilson Park. In order to ensure that Pen Lucy turns around an old and blighted commercial strip would have to be redeveloped and that's about it. Other than infrastructure improvements like road paving, increased police presence, alley cleanups, and upkeep of housing stock both occupied and vacant.
Of course reinvestment of vacant and blighted housing stock is needed but it's in a fortunate position that it can easily done on the private sector. New Development and rehabbed housing should look like it's been there along and should be predominantly owner occupied. After this relatively modest intervention these two neighborhoods will have turned themselves around and will thrive like their neighbors on all sides.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Relocation: It's Impossible to Avoid

In order to revitalize neighborhoods that are struggling with poverty, crime, vacancies, and public health matters redevelopment is in order. In order to redevelop big swaths of neighborhood land either the city, state, feds, or a private developer have to own the property and the land that it sits on. In the case of rental properties it's much easier to achieve, the land lord evicts his or her tenants and sells complex of however many units to whoever is redeveloping the property.
In order to acquire property that is owner occupied it is much more difficult and delicate matter. Eminent Domain made it much easier for the city to acquire property from its owners. This controversial matter is now being questioned however. A few examples are the biotech parks in Poppleton and Middle East. These neighborhoods are in dire need for redevelopment, jobs, and additional residents to fill vacant units. Now say you're a resident in a desolate section of one of these neighborhoods. You're the only unit in a row of homes that's occupied, that's right the whole rest of the row is vacant.Not only do you occupy your home but you own it. Not only do you own your home but you've rehabbed it. I'm sure you're a little pissed that you're being forced out right? I would be too but you have to understand something. Your neighborhood is in such bad shape that nobody else wants to move in and fill these vacant homes let alone rehab them. The fact that you've stayed in your neighborhood and invested in your home is great but it's just a mere drop in the bucket compared to what's needed to make your neighborhood. One thing you do deserve is to return to your old or should i say new neighborhood right? Of course you do, you've really weathered the storm of urban decay, something not everyone would do regardless of their financial status. That brings up a good point, what if old/new neighborhood is too expensive for you to return to? Well you can return regardless of price as far as I'm concerned. Now you'll finally have neighbors!
If Eminent Domain isn't allowed to continue you the property owner is now at the mercy of the developer. You can hold out until you get a price for your home that you deem fair.

Mass Transit: Baltimore's "Big Dig"

Every one's heard about the "Big Dig" right? Well if you haven't allow me to fill you in, (no pun intended.) It was Boston's attempt at a Downtown renewal that involved relocating its big interstate that ran throughout it underground. With the interstate underground there is now room for major redevelopment of the land that the interstate sat on. The Big Dig has deemed a success with the exception of a wall crushing a car and the driver.
Now what does this have to do with Baltimore? Well the Big Dig can be applied right here in Charm City. If you count I-170 it already has ;) Baltimore need not put its own highways under ground nor build new ones underground as i saw someone mention in another blog's commentary but put its mass transit underground. If you haven't read the Baltimore Regional Rail Transit Plan i suggest you do so it's a quick and interesting read. The existing mass transit system in Baltimore is the central light rail running down Howard Street from BWI to Hunt Valley with a Penn Station "spur." Much of the central light rail is doubled tracked. Also in Baltimore's mass transit portfolio is the metro subway running southeast from the troubled Owings Mills Mall to John Hopkins Hospital. These would part of the "Blue Lines" and "Green Lines" respectively.
First a bit of history involving mass transit in Baltimore. Street Car lines were the order of the day in the 1890s as their lines stretched all over the city. By the 1910s the automobile had become mainstream and street car rider ship declined through the 1960 being slowly and methodically replaced by buses. In the 1980s the metro subway came into town with several expansions. In the 1990s the central light rail came into play also with several expansions.
Now the fun part, all the proposed lines. The "Blue Line" is the basically the existing Central Light Rail extended to Ritchie Highway in Glen Burnie. It does however need to be buried underground to aid in the Westside's Revitalization. The Blue Line does not go to BWI like the Central Light does that will be discussed later.
The "Green Line" is basically the Metro Subway from Hopkins through, Northeast Baltimore, White Marsh, Middle River, and connecting to the "Purple Line" Amtrak/MARC station at Martin State Airport. The new and the old will be located underground as well.
Mass Transit can be controversial to say the least. It's something that can be a money drain, some blame it for the troubles at Owings Mills Mall because it's located at a Metro Station and the line goes through bad neighborhoods. i don't personally believe this however. I think if it's done right mass transit can help revitalize and gentrify a neighborhood. The proposed "Red Line" will go through some of West Baltimore's worst Neighborhoods such as Franklin Square. Harlem Park, Rosemont, Poppleton, and Midtown Edmondson.
The fact that these neighborhoods are located here can make them a huge selling point if done right. It can lead to rehabbed isolated vacant properties and redevelopment of vacant blocks into high density mixed use mixed income housing, retail, offices. However if this is done above ground it will add to the congestion of the roads and lack of ridership because the transit vehicles would have to navigate traffic and have a less of a right of way. However if everything is underground the vehicles can travel faster thus increasing ridership. Howard St. will benefit greatly if its light rail is underground in every way shape or form.

*Update Baltimore and the state of Maryland have all but abandoned the Baltimore Regional Rail Transit Plan in favor of a $1 Billion upgrade to I-95 from I-895 to White Marsh Boulevard including a redesign to the Eastern interchange of I-95 with I-695 and new EZ pass lanes. That $1 Billion could have built the Green Line in its entirety not just to Morgan State University but all the to White Marsh and Martin State Airport. The Purple Line could also have been built with that money. This project won't clear up traffic but it will set the state back a lot and encourage more suburban sprawl rather than focusing on repopulating the city.

Uplands: A Tall Order to Fill

After having read and browsed through the "Uplands Master Plan" I've come to the conclusion as have many that it can and will be workable in future, hopefully sooner rather than later.
City Officials have made this a top priority ever since they purchased the vacant and distressed Uplands apartments in 2003 from HUD to develop it into mixed income units varying from garden apartments to six unit "mansions", and lots of open space to boot. The city also purchased the New Psalmist Church and the Glass Lundry Estate in 2004 to allow for additional housing. The Uplands Master Plan has been hailed across the board as one of the best and biggest urban redevelopment parcels on the east coast almost from the get go.
Despite all the good press there have been major roadblocks in the process leading to the question "Did the city bite off more than it could chew?"
It's March 2007 now and there has been little change from the 2003 and 2004 aqquisitons. There has been a ceremonial demolition of a few of the buildings and the New Psalmist Church finding space in the Seton Business Park but that's about it. Former residents of the apartment complex are suing the city for the right to return to the new development.
Other components of the lawsuits include the city turning off their hot water and electricity to chase them out, giving them outdated housing lists and disputes over the number of "affordable" units in the new development. Although these have halted further demolition and construction perhaps the biggest elephant in the room is the fact that there is no developer. Despite the fact borders on the well established neighborhoods of Hunting Ridge, Ten Hills, and Irvington and will be a stop on the "Red Line" there have been no takers. Almost everyone who has seen the Master Plan and what was and is there now will be a huge improvement not just to Uplands but its teetering neighbors to the east; Edmondson, Rognel Heights and Allendale.