Saturday, April 28, 2007

State Center Redevelopment: Why Isn't This Front and Center Stage?

Did you know that since early 2005 that there has been a massive proposal to redevelop and revitalize a sizable chunk of Baltimore's Midtown? Yup that's right and it's not Station North or Charles Center either. It's the sprawling State Center Office complex and McCulloh Homes public housing centered around the intersection of Howard Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard with Eutaw Street running through it. Now an alert Baltimore Scholar like myself need not look far to find such a big, important exciting story like this right? Wrong I googled some Baltimore neighborhood whose name escapes me at the moment and some where way down the line was the link to a site called "sky scraper", which is essentially a message board about large cities and in Baltimore's thread was a link to a draft master plan to redevelop the State Center site into high density, mixed use, transit oriented development. I was floored! I couldn't believe I hadn't heard of this before! No newspaper articles, no TV news reports, no nothing. I was and still am wondering Why this isn't front and center stage?I have found zero history on the site that the State Center, its sprawling parking lot and McCulloh Homes sit on but I can make an educated guess. The buildings came to fruition some time in the 1950s or 1960s as the personal automobile dominated transportation, the flight to the suburbs, and the interstate building frenzy began. The State Center is located in between Bolton Hill, Seton Hill, Upton, and Mount Vernon, four neighborhoods with beautiful stately row homes but they may as well be a million miles away. Bolton Hill and Mount Vernon have been able to whether the storm of urban decay that the last half of the 20th century brought. Seton Hill is benefiting from the revitalization of Downtown's Westside. Upton has not been so lucky however. Once the city's premier center for African American history and culture the neighborhood's story mimics that of many urban slums. As white citizens moved to the suburbs the homes they abandoned in neighborhoods like Edmondson Village and Park Heights were bought by more well to do African Americans leaving neighborhoods like Upton to rot thanks in no small part to the drug trade, Murphy Homes, and I-170. Today's Upton is a hopeful one, Murphy Homes have come down being replaced by Heritage Crossing and the city has come up with a master plan to revitalize Upton. They didn't even factor in the State Center Redevelopment when the master plan was created! The State Center redevelopment plan does not discuss the revitalization of Pennsylvania Avenue, Upton's entertainment and shopping district. State Center will have positive effects on this ailing thoroughfare.
Back to the State Center redevelopment. What the proposal is is for a mixed use, mixed income, high density residential, commercial, cultural, and recreational development on the grounds of the State Center and McCulloh Homes. This location was chosen because it would be transit oriented development. It is close to both the existing blue and green lines of the rail system and the proposed red line. The new development is slated to be called the "Eutaw District" since Eutaw Place runs through the development it is only logical to give it this name. In addition to aiding the afore mentioned neighborhoods it will aide in further reinvestment in Downtown's Westside. Currently the southern portion of the Westside has been the focus of the renewal effort and the northern end has remained rather quiet. With the new Eutaw District the northern portion of Downtown's Westside will surely get more attention. I have even bigger hopes for the neighborhoods surrounding the Euataw District. I would like the renewal to go all the way to Druid Heights and cross North Avenue into Reservoir Hill and Penn North. That's a long shot but seeing how the Inner Harbor gentrification has gone above Patterson Park it's not impossible.
As for the original question I posed of why the State Center redevelopment isn't front and center stage goes, after doing some more digging I've found plenty stuff as far as articles go. I think I was too air headed to take notice of it. It still hasn't gotten the news coverage I think it deserves and why that is is anybody's guess.

Friday, April 20, 2007

The 2 Different Worlds of Wabash Avenue

Wabash Avenue is a six lane parkway that runs in Northwest Baltimore. It cuts through the neighborhoods of Forest Park and Park Heights. It's a significant boundary because one side it has the suburban style rehabbed single family homes with manicured lawns that grace the forest park neighborhood. On the other side it contains vacant, boarded up, and dilapidated row homes and single family homes of Park Heights.
First let me give you a brief history of Wabash Avenue. Wabash Avenue was part of a bigger plan to extend I-795 inside I-695. It would have gone through Sudbrook Park running roughly parallel to the metro subway tracks and ending where Wabash Avenue meets Patterson Avenue. This was later scrapped leaving Wabash Avenue in its present form, a six lane parkway that cuts through Northwest Baltimore.
Wabash Avenue, like many city streets built in the interstate era is suburban in nature. Big reasons for the flight to the suburbs was decentralization of jobs, the ever growing dependence on personal cars, and the demand for new lower density housing. Meanwhile back in the big cities. traffic was growing ever more congested as the interstate building frenzy couldn't keep up with the metropolitan area's growth. The city began creating and/or widening existing thoroughfares as either a part of or in addition to an interstate. Wabash Avenue is a perfect example of these roads that were created to almost mimic suburbia with low density commercial or industrial uses along it. Other examples include Dundalk Avenue, Gwynns Falls Parkway, Hilton Parkway, Patapsco Avenue, Broening Highway, Edison Highway, Perring Parkway, and Morovia Road.One thing Wabash Avenue has in its favor is that it has the metro subway running parallel to it. This automatically makes it eligible for transit oriented development. The now industrial and retail corridor can almost instantly be transformed into mixed use high density residential and office with ground floor retail. In case you haven't figured it out from the trends of my previous post the now elevated metro subway will be berried under ground to free up more land. The road itself will be extended from Hilton Street to meet its stub that was meant to connect it to Liberty Heights Avenue. Wabash Avenue will be paved in asphalt rather than concrete and narrowed to four lanes allowing room for on street parking. Streetscape enhancements include new street lights, planted medians, brick cross walks, and updated traffic signals giving Wabash Avenue the title of "Grand Urban Boulevard." Wabash Avenue doesn't wait for transit to proceed with transit oriented development, the transit is already there!
This new wave of transit oriented development aide the two worlds on either side of it. The neighborhoods of Forest Park will continue to be haven for those looking to live in the city without the crime and urban decay associated with it. Park Heights will peak the interest of rehabbers and developers alike. Finally, the two different worlds of Wabash Avenue will become one.

Monday, April 2, 2007

Who Gets All These Newly Created Jobs?

Every time I turn around I hear about new jobs coming to Baltimore City. I think this is great, everybody needs money and jobs is how most people make money so therefore everybody needs a job. During the flock to the suburbs, many jobs were either decentralized or lost completely due to out sourcing and the invention of machines that do jobs once done by humans. This inevitably led to population loss and a rise in unemployment. New jobs would supposedly counter act this trend by giving jobs to these city residents who lost their jobs due to these outside forces. It seems like an easy fix right? Wrong The jobs that Baltimore and many other "rust belt cities" lost were low level, low wage industrial jobs. The new jobs that are being created aren't. They're higher skilled higher jobs with a higher level of training required. So the city does benefit by receiving new jobs and possibly new residents but the unemployment rate remains the same. The jobs that are needed in addition to the what is already being done is low level, low skill jobs. A large chunk of the city's population has no high school degree so their employment opportunities are limited. As I mentioned before that many of those jobs have now disappeared due to outside forces.
To Answer the Question I posed about who get these newly created jobs is the rich people with college degree. I will further discuss solutions to this in another post.