Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mixed Income Neighborhoods: Their Past Present and Future

Mixed Income neighborhoods is something that has been the talk of the town for quite some time now. Fist a little history of Baltimore's income distribution. I 'm using the term "little" very loosely here but to truly understand the complexity of Baltimore's income distribution throughout its neighborhoods and suburbs one must understand the past.Once upon a time mixed income neighborhoods were the only neighborhoods in Baltimore. Baltimore's oldest neighborhoods contained the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. As more and more immigrants came through Locust Point Baltimore became overcrowded, those who could afford it moved northwest into new "gentleman's" communities such as Franklin Square, Union Square, Bolton Hill, Lafayette Square/Harlem Park, Sandtown Winchester and Upton. The poor and middle class also expanded beyond the harbor and into modest row homes in what is now referred to "Old East Baltimore" and were centered around Patterson Park.
The upper class gentleman's communities of old West Baltimore were generally home to families whose ancestors immigrated from Germany generations ago and were Protestant while the working class communities of East Baltimore featured a diverse array of European Immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Poland, Greece and Russia and were of the Jewish and Catholic faiths many of whom, if they were lucky got jobs at Bethlehem Steel. Back then North Avenue was the city's northern border. In 1888 the city expanded its borders to the north and west the their northern and western borders are today.
The developers and population chose to go north first. With the annexation came the already thriving Mill Village of Hampden Woodberry comprised of working class southern transplants. City annexation turned this rural county enclave to a working class city neighborhood almost overnight. Well I've tried to avoid it but I feel I must bring it up: race. One can't discuss the distribution of income levels without the discussion of race. Sharp Ladenhall was the city's first black neighborhood located in South Baltimore. After the civil war migration from the south was not just whites looking to work in Hampden. Many ex-slaves and their decedents migrated to Baltimore as well. Not only did Baltimoreans at the turn of the century not want mixed income neighborhoods they also didn't want mixed race neighborhoods. Baltimore drew boundaries of where blacks were allowed to rent and buy homes (which was frowned upon). One way these newly created black neighborhoods differed from white Baltimore was trying to accomplish was that they were mixed income.
That's when these neighborhoods thrived, blacks poor, middle class, and elite whether they fled from the south or had been living in Baltimore for generations all lived side by side. Needless to say when blacks were allowed to buy in Old West Baltimore and what was then Northeast Baltimore the whites in those neighborhoods fled. Where did they flee? You ask? They fled above North Avenue the city's former northern border. Those living in Old East Baltimore, who immigrated here more recently moved northwest to Reservoir Hill, Penn North, Mondowmin, and Walbrook. Those living in Old West Baltimore whose means were more considerable than their East Baltimore cohort moved to the posh new enclaves of Peabody Heights (Now Charles Village), Roland Park, Homeland, Guilford and Lake Walker.
Now in 1888 the city voted to expand its boundaries to the north and west but I've only really talked about development and movement to the north. Well that's because up until World War I that's the only part of the city's new land that was utilized. Reservoir Hill, Guilford, and Roland Park although within the city were considered suburbs and they set the standard for development for Baltimore and Nationwide. Just as development begins on Baltimore's new western edge there's more annexation.
In 1918 Baltimore city largely became as it is today by moving its boundaries to the northeast including the farming villages of Govanstowne, Lauraville, Anthonyville, Hamilton, and Gardenville. Almost immediately after the annexation came Homestead village, the area's first middle class row house suburb. Whether it's west, northwest, north, or northeast using existing roads as their guidelines development began at break neck speeds from World War I to the mid 1950s. During this time period Baltimore's middle class exploded in numbers and builders were all too pleased to capitalize on it. Row house communities were dubbed "streetcar suburbs" due to their proximity to streetcar lines. They included Edmondson Village, Park Heights, Coldstream Homestead Montebello and Belair Edison. Single family homes were generally located further from the city center, were aimed at slightly wealthier buyers, and were built after World War II. No matter the income levels if it was built after World War II in the city it was overlooked.
After World War II the city's population swelled, neighborhoods became overcrowded especially in the older working class neighborhoods white or black. Even though the city's black population multiplied many times over the boundaries in which they could live had barely changed since the turn of the century. Cherry Hill was built during the depression but that was a mere drop in the bucket. In what seemed like the blink of an eye these outer city communities turned from completely white to completely black.
The original black neighborhoods were the only mixed income neighborhoods at that time and when block busting occurred, those who could afford it left for middle class neighborhoods like Forest Park, Park Heights, Walbrook Junction, Edmondson Village, Barclay, Waverly, and Coldstream Homestead Montebello. In the older neighborhoods the population was literally draining yet the number of residents living in poverty swelled. The solution to this was the public housing high rises. The high rises never really succeeded. Almost immediately after they were built they had problems ranging from poor maintenance to violent crime to open air drug markets. Worst of all the problems from these high rises didn't stay there, they had a rippling effect on the surrounding neighborhoods.The deterioration of the high rises, the widespread poverty caused by the flight to the suburbs became a turning point for Baltimore. Unlike other cities at the time Baltimore focused its redevelopment efforts on its Downtown rather than its residential neoghborhoods. Whether or not this was a good move is debatable. Sure Charles Center, the Inner Harbor, homesteading in Otterbein and Federal Hill have been a huge success having a ripple effect from Canton to Hampden, from Pigtown to Patterson Park, from Mount Vernon to Fels Point and Charles Village to Little Italy.Now wait a minute weren't these neighborhoods the original mixed income neighborhoods that Baltimore's elite and middle class fled during the 1800s for these "new" gentlemen 's communities that are now almost all slums? Yes, I'm afraid so for at least a little while these neighborhoods became and or are still mixed income neighborhoods.However,these neighborhoods due to the real estate market surge and their proximity to the harbor. Long term residents were driven out due to the real estate taxes associated with the value of the property. Neighborhoods that were once home to the nitty gritty working poor are now home to countless young urban professionals or yuppies.

In the 1990s Maryland Senator Barbara Makulski championed a bill that would get rid of public housing high rises and replace them with brand new mixed income town home and/or garden condo communities. The program was named Hope VI. Baltimore got its fare share of Hope VI funds over the years replacing six dilapidated high rises with brand new mixed income town home communities. The first two communities replaced Lafayette Courts and Lexington Terrace with Pleasant View Gardens and Townes at the Terraces respectively. These two communities although they've been a huge improvement over their predecessors have one big problem; too many of the new housing units are public housing. Sooner or later the same problems from the high rises will come back. The Good news is the newer Hope VI developments are a more even split between public housing, market rate rental, subsidized home ownership, and market rate home ownership. These communities will more than likely succeed better in the long run.

Now what's next? What does the future hold for mixed income communities? Well as much as it's needed I don't for see it coming to the neighborhoods surrounding the Inner Harbor. Currently the Uplands apartment complex and two thirds of O'Donell Heights are being torn down for mixed income communities. The neighborhoods surrounding the East Baltimore Biotech Park will serve a mix of incomes seeing as the employees hired there will make a range of incomes. There are a few areas of Old West Baltimore that I'd like to see an income mix added. Sandtown Winchester, with the support of the enterprise has made tremendous advances in building new affordable and a more optimistic community with it.

The new housing has been almost exclusively been subsidized home ownership, (something that the city as a whole is lacking.) which has done a lot to stabilize the community. The next step for Sandtown would be to develop vacant lots and rehab existing vacant homes to attract middle and upper income buyers. Similar to Sandtown is Druid Heights. Druid Heights though much smaller is redeveloping a generous portion of its housing stock for affordable housing. Druid Heights isn't as far along in its redevelopment as Sandtown is. When the community stabilizes as Sandtown seems to have (no murders this year) Druid Heights can start shifting its focus to middle and upper income buyers.

Well there you have it Baltimore began as a mixed income city and although it strayed away from it for a couple hundred years it looks like it will be one once again.

Saturday, July 7, 2007

Say Goodbye to Pimlico and Park Heights as We Know Them

My Pictures Coming Soon

First a little bit of history of the Park Heights neighborhood. This neighborhood came up from the 1920s to the 1940s as Jews continued to migrate Northwest from East Baltimore. Park Heights just like Edmondson Village was a streetcar suburb. Park Heights thrived as a middle class Jewish community until the mid 1960s. As blacks migrated from the same slums as their Jewish cohort white flight in sued and by 1970 the neighborhood was almost entirely black. Edmondson Village has always been thought of as the poster child for block busting and complete racial turnover. In fact Park Heights did it in roughly half the time of Edmondson Village. Edmondson Village's turnover took 10 years (1955-1965) while Park Heights was 5 (1965-1970). Not only was Park Height's racial turnover quicker than Edmondson Village but it also decayed quicker. This my have little to do with the neighborhood itself. Since Edmondson Village changed earlier than Park Heights which gave it the ability to thrive as a black community. By the time Park Heights changed urban America was decaying faster than ever. The rise of the Black Panthers, The Building of interstate highways, public housing high rises, the MLK Jr. riots accelerated urban decay nationwide in the late 1960s through the 1970s. One thing that Park Heights always had in its favor was and is the Pimlico racecourse, home of the Preakness. But could the crown and jewel of the Park Heights community be holding it back? Read on and you may in for a shock.......
Photo From Google Earth
Park Heights has been a troubled neighborhood for close to 40 years now. Pimlico race course home of the famed Preakness and little else is easily its biggest attribute but it may be the biggest thing holding it back. There have been many proposals over the years to either build relocate or build more on the Pimlico site. I think that Pimlico should be relocated in a more desirable location for tourism. Some have said Pigtown for the new race course but I don't think it's a good idea to buy up Pigtown and destroy a neighborhood that has made so much progress in the past few years. People are right on the money when they say southwest of Downtown and the existing stadiums. I have four words to solve the issue: Carroll Camden Industrial Park. What better way to complement the new Gateway South development and the reconfigured Russel Street? The amount of vacant and underutilized land in that area is more than enough to build a new arena and services like hotels to go with it. It's near the blue line, the new Orange Line and MARC lines of mass transit as well.
Photo From Google Earth
Now back to Park Heights, like I said a minute ago the neighborhood is in bad shape. Violent Crime, Gangs, Drugs, AIDS lack of services on the public and private level and block after block of vacant dilapidated houses to name a few. However Park Heights has a lot that can and will be done to and it is poised to make a major come back in the not to distant future. As I mentioned before Pimlico racetrack would be moved and in its place would be a mix of offices and new housing. The Park Heights Master Plan created by the city says the site can accommodate 1,000,000 square feet of Office Space, 3000 to 5000 new jobs and 1,000 new housing units at the same time. Also the Park Heights Master Plan calls for a huge chuck of vacant housing to be redeveloped in the center of the neighborhood. This part of the neighborhood is in the worst shape 900 housing units 850 of which are vacant and rotting. In its place will be a brand new mixed income development with apartments, condos, town homes, and detached homes. The commercial nodes in the neighborhood will also be redeveloped with a full service grocery store, an Enoch Pratt Free Library, and better neighborhood services.

Now for the fun stuff the Park Heights Master Plan doesn't cover.
Photo From Google Earth
First lets talk public housing. There are two public housing developments in the Park Heights Neighborhood. Oswego Mall, a small row house development near Park Circle has got to go, the violence and drug activity has gotten out of control that redevelopment is the only alternative. In its place will be new market rate home ownership town homes. The homes surrounding Oswego Mall will instantly be stabilized a more desirable address.
Photo From Google Earth
The second public housing development is BelPark Towers, a 274 unit high rise located in the middle of a row house neighborhood. Although not nearly as violent as the previous HOPE VI developments this will be redeveloped in the same manor. In its place will be brand new town homes that are two levels stacked over top of one another making the structures four levels. They will be a mix of subsidized home ownership and public housing a 50-50 split to be exact. Traffic conditions may slightly improve with the new development as well. Nelson Avenue and Cordelia Avenue will now connect with each other which they don't as of right now when BelPark Towers was built. With town homes instead of a high rise apartment building the neighborhood will be back to scale.
Photo From Google Earth
Now lets talk Northern Parkway and transit oriented development(TOD). The Park Heights Master Plan suggests that there is limited TOD opportunities in the Park Heights neighborhood. I strongly disagree with this because I don't believe the Wabash Avenue corridor should remain industrial. I go into much further detail on my Wabash Avenue post. The Northern Parkway corridor in the Park Heights and Howard Park neighborhoods leaves something to the imagination. The road itself will be narrowed to two lanes to provide room for sidewalks and a bike lane. Streetscape enhancements will include asphalt pavement instead of cement, brick crosswalk, landscaped medians with neatly manicured plantings and flowers, and additional lighting both on either side of the street and in the medians. Back to TOD, Park Heights has the advantage of being served very nicely by both the Blue Line and the Green Line. Like I've said in almost all of my posts, I believe that these existing transit lines should be barried underground to improve the flow of traffic, higher rail speeds, and the freeing up of land at ground level for development. There is ample land for development in addition to Wabash Avenue, there is space on Northern Parkway throughout Park Heights and Howard Park.
Photo From Google Earth
The new development on the former Pimilico will have Northern Parkway frontage. Opposite what is currently the Pimlico racetrack is the Glen/Mount Washington neighborhood. There is very little development in Glen and Mount Washington that actually faces Northern Parkway but for very good reason. During the interstate planning and building era neighborhoods used limited access parkways to try to distance themselves from decaying neighborhoods. But with the new mixed use development I'm proposing I would like to see this swath of land developed as another mixed use development to compliment its counterpart to the south. One thing that is one the other side of Northern Parkway is the soon to be former Pimlico Middle School. This represents even more available land on this side of Northern Parkway.
Photo From Google Earth
Further down Northern Parkway is the Seton Business Park. It's all to obvious that this was built in the 1970s and today it's one of the ugliest Business Parks in Central Maryland. Redevelopment will transform this eyesore to an Office Park that will give Canton Crossing a run for its money.
Photo From the Barclay Master Plan
Lastly I'd like to focus on social issues. Until now all I've talked about is physical redevelopment. Most importantly Park Heights has the one of the highest occurance of HIV and AIDS in the country, a large contributer to this is not sexual but dirty needles. It's no secret that drug addiction including herion is a major problem. One solution that I'm advocating is the needle exchange program. This is very controversial because critics say that it encourages drug use. I personally do not encourgae drug use and neither do the majority of politicians who are in favor of this. Needle exchange is the lesser ofd two evils,although it does nothing for the drug epidemic it does a lot to slow down the AIDS epidemic. It's the same people who turn their noses at the needle exchange program who try to stop condom give aways at high schools because it encourages teen sex. Condoms just like clean needles stop the spread of AIDS and teen pregnancy. Now that I've got babies on the brain I'd like to talk about the infant mortality rate. Park Heights has one of the highest infant mortality rates in the country. This has a lot to do with the environment their mothers are exposed to. Mothers don't have access to health care, fresh healthy food and are more likely to addicts which in turn makes their baby an addict. With the exception of addiction the health of the mother and the rest of the population can be solved almost exclusively by the physical redevelopment aspect. Physical redevelopment can usher better services like better grocery stores, free clinics, and WIC centers. Now lets talk education, the elementary schools score relatively well considering their city schools but are still pretty terrible. I did a post a while back on school construction so refer to that when it comes the school buildings themselves. When it comes to test scores and the high drop out rate I got nothing.
Education woes aside I think we can say goodbye to Pimlico and Park Heights as we know them and they won't be missed.