Monday, December 24, 2007

Mondawmin Mall: Stuck in the Suburbs

The Rouse Company built this mall in 1956 just as Urban America began to crumble. As you'll soon see Mondawmin Mall has more lives than a cat. When General Growth bought the Rouse Company in 2004 for a deal worth $12 Billion Mondawmin Mall came with the package. Almost immediately after the ink was dry General Growth began a strategy to renovate this mall.
General Growth is planning a $70 million renovation to one of America's first suburban shopping malls in a big city.
Mondawmin Mall opened in 1956 in Northwest Baltimore to a rapidly changing Baltimore both racially and economically. Mondawmin Mall mimicked suburbia almost from the get go with surface level parking spaces and wide pedestrian unfriendly roads that seperate the mall from the communities it serves. Sears was the mall's only anchor. Like I said earlier Urban America was begining to crumble and in 1973 Sears closed its doors. Whether the Sears space was demolished or turned into additional mall space I have no idea but that was a big blow for Mondawmin and the communities it serves. Rouse did a modest renovation to the mall in 1981 but the biggest boost was the Metro Subway Station that opened in 1983.
As more the subway expanded in length (from Owings Mills to Johns Hopkins) more foot traffic past by the mall. The subway is also a transfer point to for bus riders making Mondawmin even more visible. As far as attracting another department store anchor to replace Sears that proved to be a difficult sell. Non traditional mall tenants began to show up and that actually boosted foot traffic more so than one would think. I write for Dead on occasion and when non traditional tenants show up that signals the death of a mall. Mondawmin prooved to be the exception to the rule. The MVA opened a branch on a pad lot near Tioga Parkway. In the mall non traditional tenants include Social Services, Total Health Care, U.S. Army Recruiting Station, a rehab center, a parole center, and a Bail Bonds Center. These are vital community resources that add foot traffic to the more traditional mall tenants. They include Rainbow, New York & Company, Radio Shack, Ashley Stewart Woman, and Foot Locker.
With the exception of the 1981 renovation Rouse barely touched this mall. With General Growth as the new owners they are bringing in the in the big guns. Food Fare, was demolished to make way for a new Shoppers Food Warehouse, Target, and Marshalls. Two sit down restaurants are in the works as well. The mall will receive a complete makeover with new floors , lighting, and exterior facade. All this investment would be great for a suburban mall but we're in the city and Mondawmin, General Growth and the City need to realize this.
What's I'm proposing is a comprehensive Master Plan that includes Mondawmin Mall, Mondawmin, Liberty Square, Burleigh-Leighton, and Parkview Woodbrook. The new big box stores would remain intact and would have frontage to Liberty Heights Avenue and the subway stop. The mall would be transformed from an indoor complex to an outdoor lifestyle center not unlike what was done at Hunt Valley Mall. There would be a small surface lot just inside Liberty Heights Avenue but almost all parking for the mall and everything else I'm proposing would be underground. The mall has a huge surface parking lot that is dead real estate. The lots facing Gwynns Falls and Tioga Parkways would be developed into condos or apartments with ground floor retail. Warwick Avenue would be extended north of Gwynns Falls Parkway and cut through the new development and meet Liberty Heights Avenue. Speaking of Gwynns Falls and Tioga Parkways they're too wide for the urban development I'm proposing. Both roads would be narrowed and integrated into the neighborhoods that surround through sidewalks, crosswalks, and bike lanes.The neighborhoods surrounding Mondawmin Mall will instantly transformed be into sought after real estate gold. It's already happening whether anyone knows it or not. The neighborhood of Mondawmin has a healthy neighborhoods initiative that will give home owners low interest loans to renovate their homes and it's being taken advantage of. In the neighborhoods surrounding Mondawmin Mall the housing stock needs work but it doesn't need to be demolished and redeveloped. Slowly renovating row homes takes more time than tearing and rebuilding but housing stock should be saved whenever necessary. Healthy neighborhoods should be extended into Parkview Woodbrook and Burleigh Leighton to aid in their transformation. In these neighborhoods there is ample land for additional development that will be of a higher density than its older cohort but it since it's near the Mondawmin Metro Stop it will pay off.After World War II during the flight to the suburbs, like most American cities tried itself to suburbanize. This can not be more true for Mondawmin Mall. But with new high density urban investment and development in almost all areas surrounding it would be detrimental for Mondawmin Mall to remain stuck in the suburbs.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

I Like the Baltimore Regional Rail System Plan

All Photos From Google Earth Unless Otherwise Noted
Photo From the MTA Website
And I welcome the controversy of that statement with open arms. Transportation experts, City planners, and myself have conversed and expressed our opinions and made adaptations to the plan. Politicians however have all but shelved the plan only for a portion of the red line to be built between now and 2035. Instead they favor funding billion dollar automobile oriented sprawl encouraging transportation projects that will just add to the existing congestion.

If you haven't read the Baltimore Regional Rail System Plan I suggest you do so. What this post is dedicated to is how I would tweak the plan to make it picture perfect, at least in my eyes. For one I'd fully fund the plan and put all lines underground to further decrease congestion.
One tweak that has been thought up by Gerald Neily, one of the boldest and most out spoken transit advocates with the credentials to boot as well as my blogging and planning mentor (whether he knows it or not) was to extend the Green Line southeast instead of northeast. True, there is much denser development on the horizon in that part of town and heavy rail transit would suit it well but I'd make the entire Red Line extend in that direction so the Green Line would still be extended northeast.It appears that extending the Green Line northeast has it running along Perring Parkway. Now Perring Parkway is very sparsely populated cue to the fact that it was supposed to be a full fledged highway known as the Perring Freeway. Mount Pleasant, I believe is evidence of this, clearing the land to make way for interchanges that were never built.

My tweak would have the Green Line running under Harford Road. The Neighborhoods of Greater Lauraville and Belair Edison all gained population between 1990 and 2000. Harford Road is ready for a make over, it's currently a wide suburban boulevard with lack luster auto mobile oriented shopping centers with surface level parking. I think Harford Road should be redeveloped with transit oriented mid rise high density buildings with ground floor retail and either apartments and offices above. The road itself can be narrowed for on street parking and landspaced medians. Although Belair Road won't be oriented around the Green Line like Harford Road I think it should be redeveloped in the same way. I have made it very clear that I'm against the Billion dollar I-95 and that Billion Dollars should be spent on rail transit, but hey it's not like the existing transit is over crowded or anything like that. Oh wait, it is.
Other tweaks I'd make is with the Purple Line and Green Line. They almost cross paths in Upton. I'd make this a transfer to encourage reinvestment in Upton.

The Orange and Purple Lines don't incorporate themselves in the city landscape as much as they should. It's a delicate balance since they're MARC and or Amtrak lines as well. The Orange Line for one should have a Mount Winans Stop.

The Purple Line can have a Wilkens Avenue/Violetville stop where gentrification may not be far down the road.

The Green Line needs a Broadway Overlook stop because I foresee massive high density redevelopment in that area.
Still more tweaks, for some odd reason the Blue Line will in addition to its current Howard Street alignment will branch off to join the Yellow Line along Calvert Street from the Inner Harbor to Penn Station. Then the Blue Line will turn west and rejoin its current alignment. Why spend the extra money on this?

The Yellow Line can serve this portion on its own. Penn Station can be a transfer point from the Yellow Line to the Blue Line but the Blue Line doesn't have to go along for the whole ride, it can stay along Howard Street or move to Eutaw St.

Speaking of the Blue Line, when it's being berried underground I would move the Lexingtion Market Station to make a true transfer point that's long over due.

The final tweak includes the Green Line once again. It's above grade level along Wabash Avenue which I of course will have berried underground. I have a whole post about Wabash Avenue and the development that will follow after the line and parking lots are berried underground. After Northern Parkway the line, underground will turn east and align itself directly undeer Reisterstown Road. This will help revitalization efforts of the Glen and Fallstaff communites and Pikesville Town Center in the County. I will dedicate an entire post to Upper Reisterstown Road and all its potential.

Now I know the Original title of this post was that I like the Baltimore Regional Rail System Plan but I sure have a lot of adjustments I would make to it. I still like the plan and I think the adjustment would make it work flawlessly. Now lets get the thing built before 2035.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Has Charles Center Already Run Its Course?

Ah Charles Center, the Great Grand Daddy of urban redevelopment in Baltimore may have worn out its welcome.
Back in the 1950s Baltimore's Skyline and Downtown was out of date and in need of redevelopment. Urban America was entering its decline and every city had a different way of trying to stem it. Baltimore decided to invest in its Central Business District. Baltimore wanted to keep its upper class jobs centralized. Although this was successful Baltimore's industrial jobs became decentralized and or disappeared and its residents of all income levels fled.
The Boundaries of Charles Center are Saratoga St. to the north Liberty St. to the west, Charles St. to the east, and Lombard St. to the south. This makes the site that would be Charles Center appear to be square or rectangular in shape. With Liberty St. running diagonally the site is actually triangular in shape. Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro, Jr. accepted the plan with open arms in 1958.
Charles Center was to be built in phases. In the late 1950s and early 1960s the demand for office space in the city wasn't huge. Tenants took large portions of buildings to keep occupancy up and tenants were occupying Charles Center as a big favor to someone whether on the public or private sector. Urban planning at the time as it does emphasized on walk ability. The buildings had sky ways connecting them together and courtyard plazas tying the buildings together.
With Charles Center still not finished in 1973 when Mayor Theodore R. McKeldin decided to turn things up a notch. He thought that a public and private partnership could be used to redevelop the Inner Harbor the same way with Charles Center. The Inner Harbor plan was also accepted with open arms. Charles Center did not encourage revitalization of neighboring communities like the Inner Harbor did. Mayor William Donald Schaefer introduced the $1 row home imitative to revitalize surrounding communities which was a stellar success that I think should be duplicated in neighborhoods that are currently blighted.
With focus still on the harbor, Charles Center was deemed complete in 1986. It was meant to be and may still be a major transportation hub. When the metro subway opened in 1986 it ran from Owings Mills to Charles Center. The Charles Center station located under Calvert Street was meant for another line to connect to it (The Yellow Line?). The metro subway was quickly extended to Johns Hopkins Hospital. In the 1990s, the west side of Downtown received what it thought was a major shot in the arm with the addition of the Central Light Rail Line. Downtown the Light Rail runs at street level along Howard Street. The Light Rail has a Charles Center stop but being on Howard Street rather than Calvert Street it could not be a transfer station to the metro subway. Come to think of it there aren't any transfer points for Baltimore's two rail lines.
The Inner Harbor began draining business and vitality from Charles Center very slowly from the get go. Businesses both commercial and retail began moving southeast to near the water. The Inner Harbor became the city's show case. Big mixed use development projects like Harbor Place Inner Harbor East and Silo Point that the Inner Harbor spawned only made the trend to continue.Charles Center was always meant to be almost exclusively office space with ground floor retail, (there is an apartment building in the complex but that wasn't really planned.) Planners of the late 1950s and early 1960s couldn't have possibly predicted the desirability of high density mixed use development. Another thing they couldn't have predicted was that Baltimore wouldn't have redeveloped its rail transit system better after the demise of the streetcar. Parking Garages are now a big and in my opinion unwelcome part of the city's landscape.
Now what does the future hold for Charles Center? Well the trend of mixed use developments near the harbor will continue. Canton Crossing, Westport and Locust Point are a few of them that come to mind. Turning Pratt Street to allow two way traffic will continue to draw people away from Charles Center because they won't go above Pratt Street where they currently don't go above Lombard Street. Earlier in the post I said that surrounding communities haven't benefited from Charles Center. Now these communities are becoming for a new generation of city dwellers. The West Side of Downtown, Mount Vernon, Bolton Hill, Station North, Seton Hill and the State Center redevelopment proposal will be sure to bring attention back to Charles Center.
The answer for Charles Center is if you can't beat 'em join 'em and that what it's essentially is being done. Buildings that were once for offices are beginning to become hotels, apartments, condos, and tourist attracting retail. Then there are the plazas, they have become outdated and are in need of a 21st century make over. One lessen about Charles Center that the new developments can learn is underground parking garages. With the density of Charles Center and the congestion and lack of parking spaces the buildings were forced to dig parking garages, something I'm in favor of. As far as the initial question I posed "Has Charles Center Already Run Its Course?" Not in this life time!