Thursday, December 11, 2008

Rehab or Rebuild?

Sometimes a simple question has an even simpler answer. Today I'm going to ponder that myth and take you on a tour of some of Baltimore City's Neighborhoods that are faced with the simple question; Rehab or Rebuild? All that needs to be done to answer such a question is to assess the housing stock in the area and see if the market is strong enough to support simple rehabs or if vacancy is widespread enough that rebuilding is the only viable solution. Lets begin our tour.
Brooklyn/Curtis Bay: Rehab
Only exceptions being the neighborhoods' main streets Patapsco and Pennington Avenues. In Brooklyn there is a small area where redevelopment is needed it includes Brooklyn Homes, Brooklyn Apartments and the three blocks above Brooklyn Homes.

Edmondson Village: Rehab
With the new Uplands and the Redline on their way Edmondson Village will once again have a strong housing market. The housing stock is already in good shape with minimal vacancies. There are also public works projects such as streetscape enhancements taking place here.

Forest Park:Both
Rental Complexes are in need of redevelopment as are areas of retail. Single Family Homes which dominate the landscape in Forest Park needn't be touched with the exception of homes along Garrison Boulevard.
Belair Road: Rebuild

Photo From Google Earth

Belair Road was once a retail drag cluttered with car dealerships. An overwhelming number have closed leaving Belair Road desolate. Belair Road is a designated Main St. so redevelopment with mid level neighbor stores in a Main St. setting would be best. It would be void of businesses that make a neighborhood look blighted. There will be streetscape enhancements and updated traffic signals with count down pedestrian signals.

Park Heights:Rebuild

Half the neighborhood has already been demolished with much more to come. The bad perception of Park Heights can only be wiped away with lots of new housing and retail.

Carrollton Ridge:Rebuild?

There's nothing that draws people here anymore. So much of the industry that employed residents has gone oversea so people left looking for work else where. It will be hard even with new housing to attract new residents. I could be completely wrong maybe there are a lot of people looking for a cheap rehab. If that's the case if it's city owned $1 row house time.

Druid Heights: Rebuild

Close to the entire neighborhood has been demolished and new homes are giving this community a much needed facelift.

Penn North:Rebuild

Neiamah Homes redeveloped a few blocks of Penn North in the 1990s. Although successful the stability has been maintained within those few blocks. This is a great site for TOD as well.

Greenmount West:Rehab

Photo From Google Earth

Yes I know the housing stock is in an awful state but it's part of Station North which has been successful west of Calvert St. in rehabbing old row houses and warehouses and turning them into artist lofts. Once property west of Calver St. is occupied artists will be able to get the same subsidy in Greenmount West. Another $1 row home community? I think so!

Broadway East: Rebuild

This neighborhood is too distressed for anything other than a total rebuild.

Any ideas of what you think needs to be rehabbed and or rebuilt in Baltimore just leave it in the comments field.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Greater Upton:From the Ground Up

Forget about Uplands or the Westside of Downtown I got the biggest redevelopment project right here; Upton. Upton has had and will continue to have gentrification at its door steps but it hasn't entered the neighborhood's boundaries. Now it's time to make Upton the mixed income highly diverse and celebrated neighborhood it was and wants to be once again. You can demolish buildings but you can't demolish a community spirit and the history that goes along with it.
Upton will learn a painful lesson from this post that Druid Heights is learning now and that lesson is; Preserve your housing stock!Upton had some of Baltimore's best architecture but it's too far gone to try and save it. Almost everything west of Druid Hill Avenue will have to go with a few exceptions not including Pennsylvania Avenue. The Avenue Market will remain in place but other than that Pennsylvania Avenue will be demolished.Photo From Google Earth
The 2000 U.S. Census shows Upton at a 22.3% vacancy rate, unlike its neighbors to the east, north, and south Upton has continued to bleed out its population. I would put the vacancy rate at 35% in 2008. both Druid Heights and Harlem Park were at 40% in 2000. Druid Heights is being redeveloped from the ground up much like I'm proposing for Upton (I'd put in more market rate home ownership) which is making it gain population but Harlem Park might have hit the 50% vacancy mark. Upton's average median income is $13,000 with 42% of the population making less than $10,000. After redevelopment my goal is to have the average median income for Upton at $47,000 and 15% of the population making less than $10,000. Upton's population is about 6,000 after its redevelopment I'm guessing it will be at 14,500.Success in neighborhoods that surround Upton hasn't "chipped away at Upton's blight" the way that city officials have hoped. This may explain in part why the Master Plan the City has created for Upton includes very little redevelopment. I'm personally deeming the Upton Master Plan ineffective and not broad enough. It's almost as if the city's unwilling to admit that they have let the housing stock in Upton get to a point where reinvestment isn't feasible. They made the assumption that Upton's colorful history will bring people back but a few people rehabbing a row house here and there is a mere drop in the bucket it's time for sweeping change and that time is now.
Photo From Google Earth
There will be two preservation areas, the first is everything located on and east of Druid Hill Avenue. There are vacancies here but the architecture here is some of the best the city has to offer. These vacant units will be sold to rehabbers for $1.00, yes I'm bringing back the Dollar Row Home Incentive. The second preservation area is on the western edge of where newer town homes were built in probably the 1970s where vehicular has been cut off. I would re open these streets to vehicular traffic seeing as this has been a proven failure citywide. Its boundaries are Fremont Avenue and Myrtle Avenue to the west, Pitcher St. to the north, Wilmer Ct. to the east, and Mosher St. to the south although the 1400 block of Argyle St. will be included. Exterior facade improvements will be made here to make them look compatible with all the new development surrounding it. Vacants will be sold at their market rate.
Now back to the rest of Upton which will meet the wrecking ball. Planning will begin right away and the time line will be as follows demolition will begin in 2011 with the cleanup and site preparation done by 2013. Construction will take place from 2013-2019. The density will be very high but there will be room for "pocket parks" with playgrounds and a public square. The "Main St." will be as it's always been Pennsylvania Avenue. My plan would be widen the road for streetscape median enhancements and left turn lanes. Almost of the buildings will be demolished there will be room to this. There won't be on street parking on Pennsylvania Avenue because it was removed a few months ago and deterred a violent open air drug market. New businesses along Pennsylvania Avenue will include sit down restaurants, take out/fast food restaurants, hair salons/barbershops, banks, pharmacies, dry cleaners bakeries, delis, a small bookstore, a small furniture store, and medical offices. There will also be community space for AA and NA meetings.
One thing Pennsylvania Avenue and all of Upton won't have or will have a limited supply of will be; stores with bars on the windows, bail bondsman, check cashing places, cell phone/pager stores, dollar stores, auto repair shops, junk yards, independent grocers with spoiled merchandise, laundromats, and liquor stores. There will be ample lighting and "flashing blue light cameras" to monitor activity and create a sense of safety. Greenery won't be too tall which can also create a sense of feeling less safe. The facades of Pennsylvania Avenue will look the apartment buildigs in neighboring communities like Bolton Hill, Madison Park, and Reservoir Hill. The buildings will house apartments and condos above the retail component. Speaking of apartments the 1970s style development on Pennsylvania Avenue will be demolished as will Upton Courts. As part of my plan to reduce school capacity Furman L. Templeton Elementary will close along with Eutaw Marshburn and Samuel Coolidge Taylor Elementarys. All three schools will merge as K-8 schools and will be located in the Booker T. Washington Middle School building.
20% of Upton's population will have "affordable housing" 10% rental 10% home ownership. The remaining 80% will be market rate 10% rental 70% home ownership. The market rate rentals rent will start at $850 for a 1 bedroom bath apartment and top out at $1500 for a 3 bedroom 2 bath apartment. For home ownership a 1 bedroom 1 bath condo will start at $110,000 and a 3 bedroom 2 bath condo will go for $160,000. For town homes a 2 bedroom 1 bath no garage no basement home will start at $175,000 and a 4 bedroom 3.5 bath with a basement and 2 car garage will top at $350,000. All homes both rental and home ownership whether subsidized or market rate will include a dishwasher and a washer and dryer.
Well Upton has learned a painful lesson about preserving its housing stock but now it's more than doubled its population, more than quadrupled its average median income and has a Main St. it can truly be proud of. Upton maybe rebuilt from the ground up but it will never lose its community spirit and its colorful history.

Monday, November 24, 2008

Greater Rosemont:Remnants of Industry

First off let me be clear of the Boundaries of what I call "Greater Rosemont" North Avenue to the north, Monroe St. to the east, Gwynns Falls/Leakin Park to the West and Route 40/Franklin St. to the south.The 11 neighborhoods that make up this cluster were and still are a victim of suburban flight. It's almost as if no one has touched them since the 1970s and have been left there to rot. The questions one must ask themselves when confronted with a chunk of the city that needs so much attention is why and how? I can think of a big reason; Industry right smack dab in the middle of the neighborhood cluster are industrial ruins that had they not been present during the neighborhoods' initial decline would have stemmed the tide of urban decay.

What baffles me about this industrial anomaly is that it was built in the early 20th as were the residences that surround it. As early as World War I the push for suburban flight for the middle class was on and Greater Rosemont was west Baltimore's response. One thing the suburban dream promised was cleaner air and green lawns, something that's hard to come by when you live near an industrial area. The decentralization of jobs component of Suburbia didn't take effect until after World War II some 35 odd years later. By that time, the industrial revolution was over and the number of industrial jobs was diminishing and plants were not expanding.

This left Greater Rosemont flawed in its suburban appeal and vulnerable to blockbusting. From 1945-1955 the cluster had changed from all white to all black. In 1968 the MLK riots destroyed streets that bordered the clusters of neighborhoods (Edmondson Avenue, North Avenue, and Monroe St.) Neither the bordering streets or the neighborhoods that lie within them have recovered.Well now it's time these neighborhoods see some large scale recovery. Grassroots efforts done by a few of the neighborhoods have had a small positive effect but there hasn't been any large intervention. The most successful gentrification stories have the same beginning middle and end. It's a troubled area that borders on a neighborhood that just saw gentrification and the troubled neighborhood trys to capitalize on it. This has been a proven strategy in Baltimore and Cities across the Country. Unfortunately in the case of Greater Rosemont there aren't any neighborhoods nearby that are draws for it to latch onto. Greater Rosemont has to gentrify itself from within, a much more challenging method of gentrification but that's all we have to work with at the present time. There maybe some hope with the Fulton Avenue streetscape enhancements and the West Baltimore MARC Redevelopment on the eastern and southern borders respectively.The method I'm using is redeveloping the industrial wasteland that pollutes the middle of the neighborhood cluster. Sound crazy? Well it is but that's what they said to the developers of Charles Center, Harbor Place, and Silo Point. There is one untapped resource in the treasure chest of gentrification in Greater Rosemont and that is the Amtrak and MARC lines that run right through the industrial wasteland. As part of the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan there are two lines the Orange and the Purple which will share the right of way with MARC and Amtrak. The idea behind them was to localize those lines and help the neighborhoods they run through. The purple line is the line that runs through Greater Rosemont. The Rail Plan doesn't include a stop in Greater Rosemont for the purple line but I will include one instantly making it eligible for TOD. Both the MARC lines and the CSX lines that run through Greater Rosemont will be tunneled allowing more land to become available.
The new development will be high density apartments and condos in the mid market range with ground floor retail that will serve the community that already exists and the new community that will come into existence. Currently Greater Rosemont has very little retail. It was spread out through corner stores but those have mostly closed further contributing to the feeling of abandonment. The existing community will see some redevelopment depending on the block. Some blocks are in great shape while others are plagued with vacant boarded up homes and still others have been demolished awaiting redevelopment.
Greater Rosemont may have remnants of industry now but through unconventional methods of gentrification they will be a thing of the past.

Thursday, November 13, 2008

Canton: Maritime Overlay and Mixed Use Development Living In Harmony

Let me make one thing clear before I begin this post, I don't want to kick out thriving industrial businesses and redevelop the land they sit on. I support the Maritime Overlay District but within it there is vacant land that probably won't attract additional industrial uses.
It's no secret that Baltimore's famed Inner Harbor was once an industrial port. In fact of you look closely enough in certain areas you can still see evidence that proves this. The Middle Branch is following this model of taking vacant and under utilized industrial land in Westport and Fairfield.

The most recent complete makeover was Inner Harbor East, Locust Point is in the process of having old industrial land redeveloped into mixed use (Tide Point and Silo Point), and soon to come is Harbor Point on the Western edge of the Fels Point and that's it, the Inner Harbor's built out right? Wrong!
Now there are two Cantons, there's the neighborhood of Canton which is almost built out but then there's the Canton Industrial Area which has lots of land available for redevelopment. With better economic circumstances would developers have been savvy enough to venture here? Well I guess we'll find out once the economy turns around and the housing market is privy to risk takers.Now when looks at the Canton Industrial Area today he or she may be perplexed by why this would be good land for high density mixed development. After all, there are CSX lines running throughout and I-895 cutting through it. Well, my last two posts discuss these issues one talks about the MTA, Amtrak, and CSX lines tunneling their above ground lines and in the other it discusses the elimination of I-895 north of the Harbor Tunnel and funneling its traffic onto I-95 right then and there rather than at the city/county line.
Ok, that frees up some land but not all of it, and didn't I say at the beginning of this post that I didn't want to disrupt the Maritime Overlay District and kick out industrial uses that are working well? Yes I did, although there are thriving industries in the Canton Industrial Area there is lots of vacant and under utilized land as well even with I-895 and the CSX lines in existence. Some industrial businesses that are still successful have had to make massive lay offs over the past 50 years due to workers being replaced by machines and computers yet their parking lots remain large enough to accommodate a much larger work force that just sit there. Would these businesses be interested in selling off their now over sized parking lots to put a little extra coin in their pocket? Sounds reasonable to me
I'm getting a little ahead of my self here, our economy is in no shape for what I'm proposing but, the tunneling of the CSX lines and the demolition of I-895 might be better for the short term to free up even more land for when the market becomes favorable for building of any kind.
Now comes the question of mixing industrial uses with upscale residential, retail, hotel, and offices. The gentrification of all neighborhoods around the Harbor have done it from Fels Point to South Baltimore to Locust Point to Inner Harbor East and even the neighborhood of Canton. The Middle Branch neighborhoods of Westport, Brooklyn, and Curtis Bay will be rebuilt under the same formula. Further away from the harbor once the Red Line is built there will be TOD in Orangeville where the East Baltimore MARC Station is proposed. Like Canton Orangeville is a mix of thriving and dead industry and the dead land will be redeveloped.
Redveloping Industrial Canton, it's almost too easy it's been proven time and time again in Baltimore that Maritime Overlay and Mixed Use Devlelopment can live in Harmony.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

I-895: So Long!

I-895, Baltimore's oldest interstate! was never meant to be a long road according to interstate standards. It was, however a crucial connecting point for I-95 travelers for close to 30 years.
It's not secret that I-95 was built in stages, even stronger evidence of this can be seen in DC where it was supposed to cut through the city rather than joining I-495 to journey around the city.
Now back to I-895 it opened in November 1957 almost 51 years ago. It traveled from Route 1 to Route 40. It provided the first of three Harbor Crossings dubbing it the "Harbor Tunnel Throughway" and from city traffic eliminating through traffic from negotiating upwards of 50 traffic lights. It also connected to the BW Parkway ( MD 295) which was completed three years earlier in 1954. This connected Baltimore to DC without traffic lights and was labeled "Temp I-95."I-95 in Maryland's construction was staggered to say the least. This made the existence of I-895 all the more crucial. The first part of I-95 to be completed was the John F. Kennedy Memorial Highway in 1963 northeast of Baltimore to the Delaware line. JFK himself dedicated this highway eight days before his November 1963 assassination. It's not surprising that this stretch of highway would bare his namesake. I-895 was extended from Route 40 to meet this newly completed stretch of I-95 as part of the project.In 1971 I-95 was completed "between the Beltways" going from I-495 to I-695. In 1973 I-895 was extended southbound to meet the this new portion of I-95. I-895 for the next 12 years would serve as I-95's entry and exit points in and out of Baltimore.
In 1977 another Harbor Crossing opened in the form of an above grade bridge as part of I-695. It was dubbed the Francis Scot Key Memorial Bridge but if you're from the area you will call it the "Key Bridge."
In 1985 I-95 as we know was completed and with came I-395 ,the nation's shortest interstate and the third and final harbor crossing the "Fort McHenry Tunnel." Other features of note include "ghost ramps" to I-70 was canceled and I-83 which was also canceled. This launched the career of Senator Barb and the gentrification of Fels Point and Canton.
This left I-895 playing second fiddle to I-95 and for me at least it raises the question of whether or not it's needed. One critical thing the completion of I-95 in Baltimore includes that I failed to mention in the previous post was the fact that there's an interchange with I-95 and I-895 at the northern end of both tunnels. I-895 continues for another five miles where it ultimately ends at you guessed it I-95. It's this little stretch that's the focus of this post.I think it's time we reexamined the validity of these five miles and whether they can be better suited serving another function. The end of I-895 needs to end at the middle intersection of I-95 just north of the Harbor Tunnel. At this point I-895 will have served its function and with the closure of this portion of I-895 this lower the price tag of the $1 Billion interchange update of the northeastern I-95/I-695 interchange, the I-95 toll lanes, and the update of the final I-95/I-895 interchange which under my plan will be dismantled.
The only real upgrades of I-895 were the extensions as I-95 was built and the little known "spur" that connects I-895 to I-97 that opened in 1993. Other than that I-895 exists exactly as it did in 1957. The tubes of the tunnel were not widened during its 1986 renovation but additional lighting and cosmetic work was done. Improvements would include an upgraded and expanded Harbor Tunnel with wider tubes to carry six lanes of traffic as would I-895 south of the tunnel. An upgraded "middle interchange" with I-95 which would be the road's new northern terminus. The I-97 spur would be eliminated having I-97 end at I-695.
The demolition of this five mile section of I-895 will reunite the neighborhoods of Greektown, Bayview, O'Donnell Heights to the neighborhoods of Canton, Highlandtown, and Brewer's Hill. It will free up land for development and encourage development of unsed land zoned for industrial use. So long I-895! and yes the double entendre is very much intended.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

MTA, CSX and Amtrak:An Underground Partnership

Kresson Maps From Google Earth
There is another source that blights Charm City that's not vacant housing, vacant lots, boarded up retail, or industrial wastelands. This source of blight is provided by something, oddly enough functions relatively well. It's at or above grade train lines. The guilty parties, as the title suggests are the MTA, Amtrak, and CSX.

With the Burial of tracks in certain areas of the city where industry has subsided and/or the tracks are for commuter rails it will free up land for TOD. Here are some examples.
The Greater Rosemont Area.KressonOrangeville25th St.
Madison Square/Johns Hopkins Biotech Park and Berea.And Wabash Avenue/Mondawmin

This post is more pictoral than oral because the pictures tell the whole story.