Thursday, August 28, 2008

Charles Village: Take It to the Streets

Charles Village has always been a College neighborhood. Formerly known as Peabody Heights it's been over time neighbors to Goucher College, Peabody University, Loyola and Notre Dome, and Johns Hopkins Homewood Campus.
The housing stock in Charles Village consists mainly of large frame row houses built in the late 1800s and early 1900s some of which due to overcrowding were converted into smaller apartments. Charles Village was often considered part of the northern suburbs but due to its row house architecture and urban grid infrastructure always played second fiddle to neighborhoods above University Parkway.Charles Village, unlike its neighbors to the south and east never experienced much in the way of urban decline. Today Charles Village is a mix of college students and couples young and old. Besides being in close proximity to numerous colleges, Charles Villages has another claim to fame, the Painted Ladies.
Today Charles Village is divided into three distinct sections; the northern section which goes from University Parkway to 28t St. the middle section from 28th to 25th St. and finally Old Goucher which makes Charles Village's southern border which runs from 25th to 22nd St.
Northern Charles Village is built like a College Town with apartments geared towards students and has ground floor retail. Recent projects of note here include Charles Commons, Charles Village Lofts, and ill fated Olmstead at Charles Village. Olmstead was supposed to be $700,000 condos in the middle of student housing. I don't think this project would have taken off in a good economy let alone this one. Streuver Bros. Eccles and Rouse have scaled this back from $700,000 condos to market rate rental apartments and is seeking financial assistance from the city. The site remains vacant to this day.The middle section of Charles Village loses much of its College Town appearance. It contains large stately row homes most of which have been converted into apartments. Some people have bought a row house and reconverted it into single occupancy but most of them remain apartments. The tenants are a mix of young adults some of whom are grad students and empty nesters. This section of Charles Village is home to the Painted Ladies. For those who don't know the Painted Ladies as far as Charles Village is concerned means painted the exterior of your house the craziest and tackiest color combinations, the crazier the better. This has been a great help in restoring a community fabric in Charles Village.
Finally there is South Charles Village also known as "Old Goucher." Below 25th St. Charles Village ia a more urban enviornment. The streets become busier and less walkable, there is more vacant homes and land, and it appears to have had industrial uses in the past. This makes perfect sense because the old Baltimore Belt Line roughly runs parallel to 25th St. South Charles Village is also bordered by neighborhoods that haven't gentrified yet. Barclay to the east needs full scale redevelopment in the whole neighborhood as was discussed in a previous post, Charles North/Station North to the south is experiencing a rebirth despite tough economic times, and Remington to the west hasn't had its day in the sun yet. It will, being located between Hampden and Charles Village it just needs a shove in the right direction, in fact I'm drafting a master plan for Remington as I write this post.
Now I named this post "Charles Village:Take it to the Streets." Why did I name it that? Well because there has been an increase in non violent crimes such as purse snatching and hold ups in Charles Village, there have been a few crimes that have turned violent. The Mayor's Office and the City Police Department haven't made non violent crimes a big priority as they have been going after only the most violent offenders. This has worked citywide as the murder rate plummeted in 2008 after a 2007 spike. However, a petty theft today could become a murderer tomorrow. Nipping petty thefts in the bud should be a priority of the Police Department because it could stop would be murderers and potentionally save lives. This puts Charles Village in a bind. In order for it to appear on the radar screens of the Police Department it would have go into serious decline through numerous homicides. Community Activists in Charles Village do no want to see their neighborhood go down this road. What's the solution? Take it to the streets.Community policing is the perfect deterrant for petty crimes for the simple fact that there is safety in numbers. Charles Village is a very walkable neighborhood with the potential for a great night life. Having more citizens walking the streets in large groups at night will scare off criminals whether they're just walking around or are formal Citizens on Patrol. A big advantage Charles Village has working for it is that it has ample lighting on much of its main streets. This was added when new developments were built. If residents take it to the streets Charles Village will continue to thrive as a truly diverse College Enclave.

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Hampden:A Transformation On Its Own

Ah, Hampden the often imitated but never duplicated urban rural center of Baltimore. Today, Hampden is the byproduct of residents living there for generations and newcomers that makes it what it is today. Now what is Hampden today? Hampden is a middle class neighborhood centered around 36th St. or "The Avenue" as it's called to locals that's closely knit together and has been able, in the past to struggle through urban decline and the collapse of the neighborhoods employment centers and reinventing itself as one of Baltimore's most interesting and quirky neighborhoods. But how did it get here?
The beginnings of the Hampden Woodberry area date back to the pre Civil War Days. Located where today where Falls Road, Keswick Road, and I-83 come together in the Jones Falls Valley (Rural Baltimore County at that time) a small Textile Mill Village began to sprout. Although very rural this new Mill Village was located near Baltimore City, a key part of Hampden's history.
News of Rural Baltimore's new Mill Villages spread like wildfire in the south where employment was much harder to come by. By the Civil War the area's workforce had multiplied many times over. Multiple mills had set up shop in Hampden Woodberry manufacturing everything from flour to cotton to tobacco. Typical Baltimore City row houses came up northeast of the mills in what is present day Hampden. By the end of the Civil War Hampden Woodberry had become a an established self sustained Mill Town where one could easily find work. In 1888 Hampden Woodberry was included in a large plot of annexation north of North Avenue. Hampden Woodberry maintained its identity as a Mill Village rather than just another city neighborhood.

By World War I Hampden Woodberry was a city in and of itself. It had its own shopping district, churches, and of course the mills that provided employment. There was no real need to leave the area and venture into the rest of the city. Natural Boundaries of the Jones Falls Valley, Druid Hill Park, and Wyman Park created isolation which gave residents a security blanket of the urban ills that plagued other Baltimore neighborhoods. The early 20th century saw the development of Remington, a suburban outgrowth of Hampden Woodbery that with its slanted urban grid connected Hampen Woodberry to the rest of Baltimore City. As a result, Remington was and is always more diverse than its counterparts to the northwest. Diversity had been something that the residents feared and wouldn't let into their neighborhood. This stemmed from most of its residents originally coming from the less tolerant South. In fact, two Republican Baltimore Mayors came from Hampden Woodberry. Racism is still prevalent even today.
After World War I and the depression had set in the Mills that provided steady employment for 100 years had begun to close. Residents of Hampden Woodberry had to leave their own "city" and into Baltimore to search for employment. Other Mill Villages weren't so lucky to be on the out skirts of a large city during the depression years. Whether it was more conventional employment at Bethlehem Steel or work under FDR's new deal like constructing public housing developments in the new Cherry Hill neighborhood. During World War II the Mills still open got a shot in the arm manufacturing supplies for our men over seas. It was at this point that women began to show a big presence in the Mills as men had gone off to war. Images of "Rosie the Riveter" come to mind.
After World War II, the rebirth of Hampden's mills had died a quick death with almost all of them closed by 1960 and the last one holding on until 1972. Hampden, like all of Baltimore and all of urban America was quick downward spiral of urban decline and decentralization. Hampden Woodberry became divided as I-83 cut through the middle of it. Woodberry and many former Mills were located to the west of I-83 while Hampden, Medfield, Hoes Heights, and Remigton were located to the east. Hampden was also where the shopping and churches were located. With development of the city's northern "suburbs" Hampden and Woodberry had become a part of inner city Baltimore. Hampden's racism prevented blockbusting but there was still population loss and decline. Hampden had developed a reputation for being a tough "white ghetto."
By the 1980s the revitalization that was Charles Center and the Inner Harbor was in full swing. Hampden on the other hand was experiencing the crack trade though as much as most inner city neighborhoods. Notice how Hampden went from being a rural Mill Village to an inner city ghetto in just a few short paragraphs. Although Hampden experienced population loss, it was minimal and there were many residents ready for change. Change came within 36th St. or "The Avenue" there were no large amounts of public funds being poored into the area; it just happened. Residents and tourists from all over the place began to flock to the avenue which was anchored by Cafe Hon which got its name from the Baltimore Accent word of affection. The other big saving grace for Hampden was Honfest, a once yearly event that celebrates the quirkiness of Hampden and Baltimore as a whole. It's kind of a throw back to the 60s and the days of the beehive hairdo. As residents and tourists flocked to the Avenue so did the businesses.
The Avenue became a one of Baltimore's hip spots, a place where hippies and punk rockers converged and businesses catered to that. As the Avenue grew and expanded so did Hampden. Row homes that were vacant and blighted were gutted and are now occupied once again.
The Planning Department is currently making a master plan for Hampden. I don't think it needs one as much as some other neighborhoods but I'm going to put in my two cents on what I think it should cover. Hampden should avoid gentrification and keep its housing stock affordable, that after all was its saving grace. Public health should be covered as well. Helping residents get clean and sober should be a top priority. Falling in line with public health should be ridding the streets of prostitution. Prostitution is usually done to feed an addiction of some sort and getting addicts clean and sober should reduce the number of prostitutes If there aren't needle exchange boxes they should be put in place to reduce the cases of HIV, AIDS and Hepatitis C. The closing of Robert Poole Middle School this summer will help residents breath a sigh of relief. Students were quite violent and out of control there which came to light with the beating of a homeless woman on a city bus last year. The last thing the master plan should cover should be the renaming of the Woodberry Light Rail stop to Hampden Woodberry to emphasize Hampden's proximity to rail transit.With or without an Area Master Plan I think we can truly say Hampden has made a transformation on its own. If you've been reading this post and pronouncing Hampden like it's spelled let me school you real quick. It's pronounced Hamdin Hon!

Thursday, August 14, 2008

Belair Edison: Next in Line for Urban Decline?

Belair Edison, originally called "Georgetown" when it was nothing more than a rural farming village is starting slip away from us. Its current namesake no doubt comes from it main streets that run through, it Belair Road and Edison Highway.
I always thought of Belair Edison as East Baltimore's Edmondson Village historically. Both neighborhoods are thought of as "row house suburbs", both were annexed by the city in the early 20th century, the homes were built sporadically throughout the 1910s up to the 1950s, both have parkland nearby (Belair Edison has Clifton while Edmondson Village has Leakin Park.) and the style of the homes mimic those of Baltimore's elite mansions in Roland Park and Guilford to "bring the suburban dream to the middle class."
Belair Edison thrived as a working to middle class row house neighborhood while so many others including Edmondson Village gave way to the pressures of urban living such as poverty, population loss, unemployment, racial turnover, crime, and drug addiction. Belair Edison was also near three to four public housing projects Claremont Homes and Extension, Freedom Village, and Hollander Ridge, the "fourth" is Armistead Gardens which ceased its status as a public housing development in the 1950s when the residents bought it from the city and now functions as a co-op where residents have a 99 year lease on their homes. Despite its proximity to these developments there was little "spillover" from them.
The 1980s began Belair Edison's slow racial turnover. By 1990 Belair Edison was roughly 60% White and 30% Black and by 2000 it was 20% White and 80% Black. Unlike other neighborhoods that experienced racial turnover Belair Edison remained a safe stable working to middle class neighborhood. Since the change was so gradual you couldn't call it white flight, in fact some articles state that although the neighborhood is majority black there are still white families moving in. This suggests racial harmony in Belair Edison that many communities only dream of.
During the mid 1990s to the present day East Baltimore public housing developments have been demolished and replaced with new lower density mixed income town home and condo neighborhoods. While the areas in question have shown great improvements the displaced residents have to somewhere and that somewhere is Northeast Baltimore. Northeast Baltimore as a whole was as accepting to these displaced residents like Belair Edison seemed to be.Fast Forward to 2007 Belair Edison turned a dark corner. For a Baltimore neighborhood Belair Edison was almost void of violent crime. It had been years since there had been any murders and those were shocking and out of the ordinary. Well, in 2007 there nine murders all shootings in Belair Edison and as of August 2008 there have four more shootings and a blunt force trauma rounding out the murders in Belair Edison for the past 19 months to 14. That's unacceptable any way you slice it. If steps aren't done to combat this, Belair Edison will go into serious decline.Now what can be done to combat this? Belair Edison has a lot of things going for it that need to be highlighted. It partakes in the Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative and it is a designated Main St. and has an active homeowners association. The schools are among Baltimore's better performing ones and have before and after school activities to occupy young minds. So why this sudden upsurge in murders? There are many long time residents who have lived here peacefully and up until 2007 new residents coexisted nicely as well. There must have been an inlux of new violent residents the offenders could not be residents at all. The victims might not even be residents either.The best thing to do is to step up foot patrols here. Have cops get to know neighbors and earn their trust. Baltimore is after all home of the "Stop Snitchin' Videos" and cops in general can have a bully complex. That's needed for Belair Edison. If there are violent offenders in Belair Edison that's a different story but I still this is a calm peaceful community and if done right Bealir Edison can get rid of this ugly chapter just as quickly as it started but if done wrong Belair Edison will once again be Edmondson Village's eastside twin in being next in line for urban decline.

Monday, August 11, 2008

The Green Line: We Shot Ourelves In the Foot

OK, finally the end of my serious posts on transit lines. I've been waiting for this day to come forever because I have many other ideas that need my attention and after this I can start jotting them down and post them for whoever wants to hear them.

The green line, which is currently called the metro subway has been flawed from the get go. First off, it's heavy rail making expansion down right impossible from a financial stand point, when it's above ground, especially in the county, its stops are impossible to get to, and Downtown it doesn't connect to the light rail which is only one block away. The MTA definitely shot themselves in the foot in this case.

Now lets break down these flaws logically and put ourselves in the shoes of the MTA back in the early 1980s during the planning stages of the subway heavy rail was the only option seeing as light rail didn't hit the scene until the 1990s and I'm also certain that this line was supposed to be part of a large system of rail lines that catered to the city and its inner suburbs. As far as lack of connectability, to the light rail you can blame the light rail planners for that because the subway came first and it was up to the light rail planners to integrate with the existing subway. As far as the county stops go the subway was planned under the impression that I-795 would extend inside the beltway through Sudbrook Park and meet Wabash Avenue at Patterson Avenue. Whether or not this would make for better county stops we will never know.

We do know one thing for certain, the green line needs improvements. These improvements won't take place until unbuilt transit lines have been built and the blue line is relocated from Howard St. to Eutaw St. improving the green line already. Like the red line the green line will be improved and expanded in phases and the MTA will have to pay for its mistakes from making the green line heavy rail because any expansion now has to be heavy rail.

Phase I consists of improving the existing underground portion from Mondawmin Mall to Johns Hopkins Hospital by adding more stops and relocating other ones. The TOD along this existing underground portion will make developers salivate.Phase II consists of the dreaded northeast expansion from Johns Hopkins Hospital to the Middles River MARC station. The entire expansion will take place at once, using "ripping the band aid off quickly" so as not to prolong the financial pain mentality. It will serve northeast Baltimore, Parkville, Fullerton, White Marsh, and Middle River with easy access to Martin State Airport.Phase III consists of improving the above ground portions of the green line west of Mondawmin Mall and rerouting portions of it to increase ridership in the county. The Wabash Avenue portion will be tunneled and at Northern Parkway it will make a sharp easterly turn to meet Reisterstown Road where it travel for the remainder of its length ending at Owings Mills with improved city and countys stops.Well that's it, end of the line! (pun very much intended;)

Thursday, August 7, 2008

Eutaw St. Light Rail

Well my serious of posts on unbuilt transit lines is complete but my serious on transit lines in general is just warming up. Now that Baltimore has a complete network of rail transit easing congestion on its over crowded streets lets take a look and examine the old transit lines and how they can be better integrated into each other and their newer counter parts.

First lets talk the light rail which has been dubbed the "blue line." With the creation of the yellow line the blue has been relieved of its duties serving Penn Station and BWI. The blue line will go back to its original job of going from Hunt Valley to Cromwell Station in Glen Burnie. One thing the blue line has in its favor for most of its route is the fact that it has its own above ground right of way where it can run in piece without fighting other forms of traffic. Now there is a section of the blue line that doesn't have its own right of way and does have to fight all kinds of traffic further clogging Baltimore's already crowded streets. The portion I'm referring to is course, Howard St. The MTA thought it best to use Howard St. for the Downtown portion of its light rail. I have a hunch they chose this route because there are CSX tunnels under Howard St. rendering it infeasible to tunnel its Downtown portion giving them a free pass to go the cheap route and put it above ground at street level with traffic.

In 2001 there was a fire in the CSX tunnel below Howard St. Upon investigating the cause of the fire it became obvious that the Howard St. tunnels are outdated and the CSX needs to relocate out of Howard St. If and when this happens this open up the Howard St. tunnels for a new use like, say the light rail? There are those who think so and then there's me. Although I think this would be a vast improvement over the mess that is the current Howard St. light rail my goal is to build a truly comprehensive regional rail system for Baltimore and I don't think Howard St. above or below ground is the answer.

Now I'm sure this leaves you wondering where will the blue line go? If you are you haven't read the title of this post very carefully. One of the fundamental problems of Baltimore's two existing rail transit lines is that don't connect anywhere at any point. One block the subway or the "green line is tunneled under Eutaw St. from Dolphin St. to Baltimore St. Throughout this portion of the two lines they share the name of stops but they aren't true transfer points but one still has to walk one block over. My solution, which by now is painfully obvious would be to double tunnel the blue line under Eutaw St. allowing the two lines separated at birth to converge Downtown and have true transfer points. There will even be triple layer tunnels for a few blocks because the redline will use Eutaw St. as it descends southeast through Downtown.

At Camden Yards the blue line will use the old CSX tunnel for a split second until it meets Pratt St. where it will turn west for a single block where it will turn north and run along Eutaw St. from Pratt St. to Baltimore St. where it will meet the Green Line and the two will travel together until MLK Boulevard where they part ways at a relocated State Center/Cultural Center Station (station is currently at Eutaw and Dolphin) The blue line will travel along MLK Boulevard and once again join Howard St. for the Symphony Center and Bolton Hill/UMB Mount Royal Stops where it will continue along I-83 as it currently does. Some renaming and adding of stops will be added to the I-83 portion of the blue line. So here's your new and improved blue line.