Thursday, January 22, 2009

Public Housing Family Developments:A Phase Out Plan

All Photos From Google Earth Unless Otherwise Noted
This is a very difficult topic for me to write about mainly because it's hot button issue any way you look at it. However, in order for massive change to take place big usually controversial ideas are what brings about. My idea is too rid the city of all public housing family developments. The mixed population development which is for seniors and the disabled will remain in place. I think of this as a social change rather than that of physical redevelopment. I think public housing has failed its residents and their children for generations and they represent all the ills of Baltimore and Urban America as a whole. True, these developments will demolished, the majority of what will go in their place will be market rate whether it's home ownership or rentals but in order for my proposal to be a success we must examine why public housing has failed on a social level and right those wrongs so the need for public housing family developments will diminish if not disappear. With the election of President Obama there has been a new wave of hope among African American children in poverty stricken areas like Baltimore where children are convinced they too can become president. Lets help them realize this potential because as it stands now that potential won't be realized.In order to solve the social problems of family development public housing we must first identify them. These problems are listed in no particular order. The drug trade and all the gun violence and addiction that goes along with it, school truancy, lack of High School or College Diploma, lack of male role models/father figures, lack of after school activities, lack of positive parental involvement, lack of day care centers, lack of job training options/post high school education options and lack of good nutrition and health/dental insurance.I Took This Picture
Now lets address possible solutions and outcomes that will be in the best interest of the public housing resident. Not all problems apply to each resident and his or her family so they will have to be evaluated on a case by case basis. First of all, drug addiction has plagued Baltimore for too long and our residents can't improve their lives if they're actively using. Those who are addicts will be taken to a rehab facility free of charge and monitored after release. Public Housing developments will be given a special status where if caught dealing/selling drugs will fetch a higher criminal charge than if they were dealing else where. There will be a spike in Police foot patrols to enforce this. Closely affiliated with the drug trade is guns. Landlords can enforce all kinds of regulations on their tenants including gun ownership and in the case of public housing, the city is landlord which gives them all the more authority to enforce its laws. Registered gun owners with criminal charges will have to give up their weapons. Granted, only a fraction of guns in Baltimore are legally registered so residents with gun charges and no registered weapon will be subject to home searches. It's drastic but so is Baltimore's gun problem. In this case the ends do justify the means.Photo From Cherry Hill Master Plan Next there's truancy, truancy is responsible for putting juveniles on the streets and getting them into the vicious cycle of the drug trade. Truancy is very hard to combat, one way that I'm privy to would be to ban School suspensions. The School Board and the Teachers' Union will hate me for this but look at it this way, if students can't escape School through getting suspended or expelled they'll have no choice but to advance through the grades and graduate High School bringing the City's graduation percentage way up, College may interest them as well. Also with parents clean and sober they can take a more positive roll in their child's education. The parents themselves may be enrolled in school themselves (read more about that later.) While we're on the subject of education, there are too many adults in public housing who don't have High School or College Diplomas. That's one of the biggest barriers that keep them from getting a job that pays enough that they don't need public housing. After obtaining a GED residents will given the same opportunity as rich kids get when the graduate High School, the opportunity to map out their college and career paths. This could be a simple Trade School or Medical School and anything and everything in between, It's up to the individual. Once residents stop qualifying for public housing the developments will empty out and ultimately be demolished.
I Took This Picture
There will be a number of programs to assist residents before and after they move out. They include health and dental insurance, after school programs with positive male role models, child care, classes to discipline children without physical violence, and proper resume building and job interview exercises.Due to the astronomically high cost of such an initiative, this will have to be done one development at a time. Once the development is emptied out and demolished and the land is sold off to developers the program can move to another development. The funds from the sale of the previous development will be earmarked to continue the program. It will be a pay as you go type venture.The first development will be Cherry Hill Homes then McCulloh Homes (not the towers), I took this Picture then LaTrobe Homes
I Took This Picture
and then Gilmor Homes. Those are the big four that cover the most land while at the same time are near gentrifying areas of the city.
Next will be smaller developments like Westport Homes (I Took This Picture)I took this picture
Douglass Homes,Brooklyn Homes, (I took this picture) Perkins Homes, The Rosemont, and Poe Homes. Finally the smallest developments like Oswego Mall, TheDukeland. Now why did I name this post "Don't Get too Comfortable?" Well there's nothing like a controversial head line to draw in readers. Now that I laid out plan to drastically reduce urban ills and decay in Baltimore it's time for you the reader to rip it to shreds.

Monday, January 5, 2009

Brooklyn/Curtis Bay:Back to Main Street America

Before suburbia there were Small Towns, a few thousand people at the most living on streets that stemmed from a single main street that housed all of the Town's services. Everybody knew each other and watched over each other. That was small Town America of yesteryear, the pride and joy being Main St.Now take a City like Baltimore, Baltimore's an old city with an old infrastructure of densely developed streets that follow a classic urban grid. Before suburbia resulted in a net loss for population Baltimore's topped out at 987,000 in 1957. Today, and for the past few years the population has hovered at 640,000. Small town America and Baltimore are seemingly at opposite ends of the spectrum but maybe within Baltimore there lies an example of what was once Small Town America and could hold that title yet again.
Brooklyn/Curtis Bay is just one example of how small town America has knitted its way into the fabric of Baltimore City. Built to house workers from the Fairfield Shipping yards on the Middle Branch, the water is much deeper than that of the Inner Harbor. Industry flocked to the area in droves in the late 1800s. They included Southern Baltimore Wheel Company, an Oyster packing plant (whose owner developed housing in the area too), Davison Brothers Chemical Company moved to Curtis Bay as did the Maitheson Chemical Company. Bethlehem Steel built a shipping yard here during World War I. This caused railroad service to begin constructing lines that reached Brooklyn/Curtis Bay. This connected Brooklyn/Curtis Bay to Baltimore, which it still wasn't a part of. The official annexation wasn't until 1919. The residences grew with the industry. my guess is that there were a lot of different builders because the style of houses is different on every block. You can't say it's predominantly row homes or single family homes because it's an even split. It's a checkerboard all across the two neighborhoods between row homes and single family homes. In Brooklyn retail began to grow along Patapsco Avenue and in Curtis Bay, the Pennington Avenue and Curtis Avenue couplet.Industry continued to flourish even through the great depression since most of the businesses could cater to World War II. All good things must come to an end however. I'm not saying World War II was a good thing I'm saying that the success of businesses in Brooklyn/Curtis Bay. The decentralization of jobs and the post World War II industrial slowdown sent Brooklyn/Curtis Bay into a slow decline. This is most prevalent along the communities' Main Streets and Fairfield, which is the designated name for the industrial area. The residential and retail component have been demolished.
Today the Main Streets of Brooklyn/Curtis Bay consist of vacant storefronts and businesses that give the neighborhood a poor run down image. The neighborhoods of Brooklyn/Curtis Bay have experienced decline and a rise in crime but I think their retail can be a improved upon to give the residents the oppurtunity to shop in their neighborhood and boost the perception of the neighborhood. After all a neighborhood is only as good its retail.
The biggest thing that needs to be done on the retail sector is in Curtis Bay not Brooklyn. The couplet of Pennington Avenue and Curtis Avenue should be redone. Pennington Avenue should be made into a two way street and Curtis Avenue rezoned to residential only. The intersection of Pennington and Patapsco Avenues should be upgraded to reflect this change.
Just because Brooklyn and Curtis Bay aren't wealthy neighborhoods we can certainly give their residents good neighborhood services like they had in the neighborhood's heyday. A full service grocery store at Potee St. and Patapsco Avenue. I'm thinking a MARS, they're clean and reputable but aren't over priced. That would be a perfect addition and anchor to the Brooklyn/Curtis Bay neighborhood. As for Patapsco and Pennington Avenue, we should look to the past and bring back Main Street America. New retail should include Dry Cleaners, Banks, Florists, Bakeries, Pharmacies, a Subway, a Marshalls, Sit Down Restaurants, a Book Store, a new Library, and a Bike Shop. In Brooklyn there should be a Police Substation as a crime deterrent. Retail should mimic row homes and have a residence above them. Retail that should be scaled back if not done away completely should be Dollar Stores, Laundromats, Check Cashing Places, No name Cell Phone Dealers, Bail Bondsman, Auto Oriented Businesses, Beauty Supply, "Corner" Grocery and Liquor stores. Stores should not have bars and tacky advertising in and on the windows.The streets themselves (Patapsco and Penington) would receive complete makeovers as well. They include but aren't limited; to repaving, a landsacped median, new sidewalks, brick crosswalks, bus shelters with seating, and new updated traffic signals with count down pedestrian signals. Neighborhood identification signs would also be put up where necessary. Patapsco Avenue will be narrowed down to one travel lane in each direction for on street parking. Parking meters will not be installed. With Pennington Avenue being converted to two way traffic there won't be any room for on street parking.
Away from the Main Streets of Brooklyn there is room new development. Brooklyn should be expanded to include more houses above Patapsco Avenue. There is room for infill development on Pontiac Avenue.
Above Photo From Google Earth
Last of all Brooklyn Homes the three blocks directly above Brooklyn Homes and Brooklyn Apartments should redeveloped into a mixed income development known as "Baybrook Overlook" Every low income unit in Baybrook Overlook will have a Washer and Dryer in house. In Curtis Bay there has been new development overlooking the park already. The residential reinvestment in Curtis Bay will take place along Curtis Avenue which will be rezoned to residential only. What is currently vacant storefronts will be converted to row homes once again.
There is a large vacant industrial building that spans a generous portion of Curtis Avenue that will be perfect for loft apartments.
It's safe to say that after this Brooklyn/Curtis Bay will return to its Main Street America roots. Baltimore, being a city of neighborhoods has a lot of former "Small Town America" towns within its boundaries that were built before city annexation, lets see if you can spot them.