Thursday, December 30, 2010

Lansdowne Station On The Orange

Back to the southwestern Baltimore County posts. Now we focus on the new Big Box Center known as Lansdowne Station. Lansdwone Station turns its back on the Orange Line and the MARC Camden Line. Luckily things can change and Lansdowne Station although facing Washington Boulevard has TOD written all over it. It may be hard to fathom but I see it.
Walmart is always labeled the antithesis of TOD density but in this case I think the two can coexist side by side. The big surface level parking lot can excavated into a multi level underground parking garage for both residents living above and as a Park & Ride Lot for the train Station. I'm sure you're wondering where the MARC system fits in because last time we kept score, I had shut down two stations, one on each line and all I have come up with as replacements are localized routes where MARC trains won't stop. By patient, there's plenty of time for me to explain that next year. Lansdowne Station is no stranger to either parking garages or multi level structures. Since the Retail portion of the Shopping Center faces Washington Boulevard, the new Apartments o er top of it will face the train tracks directly behind it. Moves like this are the backbone of TOD by making a development cater to transit riders rather than commuters by car. Redevelopment will cross Washington Boulevard into the Office/Industrial Flex area. The Home Depot will simply its location west of Washington Boulevard to.......right here! This is a vacant store front in Lansdowne Station which I'm sure will fit the needs of a Home Depot just fine. I'd also like to point out that this building is "above" the rest of the shopping Center. This empty parking lot is actually level two to an existing parking garage. The strip with famous footwear (see above picture) is at level with the first level of the parking garage.
The Home Depot won't be the only businesses currently west of Washington Boulevard that will cross over into Lansdowne Station. This strip,(it's fully occupied, there's a First Mariner Bank here that faces the road) located next to the Home Depot will land next to the Home Depot againThis row of stores is located next to the future Home Depot and will fit the occupied stores across the street like a glove, wow! Lansdowne Station has room for everything!
To connect new development west of Wshington Boulevard will be a pedestrian only bridge not unlike the Southwestern Boulevard/Francis Avenue Bridge except this one won't allow cars again emphasizing the importance of transit and making this true TOD. Now don't forget that the train tracks and therefore the new station will be behind Lansdowne Station Shopping Center. That's why I'm putting the residential portion's front entrance behind it. This is what the resident's front door will overlook. It doesn't look like much now, that's because the Train Station hasn't been built yet. When built there will be multiple connections between here and there in the form of promenade style walkways. The walkways will feature benches, brick sidewalks, ample lighting, video surveillance, bike lockers, and handicap services.
Seem like too much to stomach that this, the epitome of sprawl can in fact foster TOD if you look hard enough? Well, to be completely honest, pretty much anything can be made into TOD as long as it's close to train tracks. In this case building residences above the Retail, adding more parking underground, and a promenade leading to the new Station and Bam! It's TOD!

Monday, December 27, 2010

The Midtown Donut is Filling In

Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill, it seems like they're worlds apart. In actuality they border on each other with Howard St. serving as Bolton Hill's eastern edge and Mount Vernon's western edge. The reason one would think they're not close together is because of the no man's land that expands east to west from Charles St. to Dolphin St. This expanse of land I have called the "Midtown Donut" why that name? I call it that because it's surrounded by gentrification and stately old Gentlemen's Communities that have taken on a Collegetown vibe and this expanse of land is in the middle hence the Donut reference. Luckily after decades of just talk about what to do with the Donut there are signs of life appearing and the Donut may be finally filling in.
The Donut could be traced as far back as when Johns Hopkins University moved to its Homewood Campus a few blocks Uptown. I contribute the real loss of population and vitality to the area came post World War II during the flight to the suburbs. Both Mount Vernon and Bolton Hill defined their boundaries in which they would "weather the storm of urban decay and blight" which they were successful in however, neither Neighborhood nor the development of the equally closed off Charles Center included the Donut. Decay and blight did not encroach on the Donut but it's remained stagnant and poised for change for quite some time. This change has been all too prevalent in Bolton Hill and Mount Vernon thereby making the contrast in the Donut all the more obvious.
I consider the southern border of the Donut to be Centre St. which is the northern border of Downtown's struggling Westside. Reinvestment and redevelopment of Downtown's Westside has constricted to its southern edge with few projects going north of Baltimore St.
The pedestrian only "Lexington Mall" is however slated for demolition and there have been plans to build luxury condos over top of a parking garage across from Lexington Market. These plans have been shelved due to our current economic crisis. I have always thought that the best way to continue the Westside's renewal would be to continue from the north i.e. the Donut and have the success of the south ( Camden Yards Hilton) push towards each other instead of stubbornly pushing the Westside north. Luckily one project in the Donut is nearing completion and another bigger one has been green lit.
The first project, (completed picture at the top of the post) is known as the Fitzgerald. It doesn't compare in size to say Patrick Turner's Westport but it's more the symbol that a developer and a major bookstore chain (Barnes & Noble) have committed to the area. As part of the Fitzgerald, there is space for additional ground floor Retail and Apartments above and an attached parking garage. It's only two blocks away from Penn Station on the stub known as W. Oliver St.
I'm not the first person to pitch this next idea but I agree with it and I'm going to write about it because it's relevant. Another project like the Fitzgreald could go in the block in between the Fitzgreald and Penn Station. What needs to be done is to have the ramp from the JFX to Maryland Avenue made into a narrower ramp instead of the loop around that it currently does. This would free up much needed space for development and truly connect the Fitzgerald and therefore the Donut to Penn Station. Speakng of Maryland Avenue, for a one way street with so many lanes, it's under utilized when compared to St. Paul St. just two blocks to the east.
If you're going to assume that I next propose to close off the JFX St. Paul st. ramp you're absolutely right. With some of that extra traffic diverted from St. Paul St. to Maryland Avenue, the Donut will receive more vehicular traffic and therefore get the attention of developers in the future. Meanwhile, the Fitzgerald with its Barnes and Noble will create life among the Colleges that flank the area.
The Fitzgerald isn't the only project for the Donut. Although construction won't be for another few years, the State has committed funds to redeveloping the State Center. This has been long discussed and was ready to go when the economy fell through the cash strapped State of Maryland put this on the back burner unsure if it would ever get the needed funding. Fortunately, the State has loosened its purse strings and has decided to fund the redevelopment knowing that it would pay off in the long run. This past summer the decision was made to go ahead with it. The original State Center project included McCulloh Homes, a troubled Public Housing Development next to the State Center. This was scraped early on in the planning process but I do think that McCulloh Homes' time has since past.
To completely fill in the Donut not only will McCulloh Homes have to be redeveloped but the behemoth Social Security Building and its equally intruting parking garage. This will not only fill in the Donut but will provide the Westside of Downtown with a large redvelopment project that will act as a catalyst for its future projects.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Preston Gardens:Planted on Seeds of Racism

When one thinks of Preston Gardens they think of beauty, elegance, class, charm, and old world style planning. And why shouldn't they? After all, just take a look at the place and it's obviously true. When one looks at this diamond in the urban rough, one must ask themselves how it got here and why it stayed. Don't get me wrong, it's a beautiful piece of land and I wouldn't change a thing about it but its inception was a sad one, one that if learned about would at least want to change the name. I will put it bluntly; Preston Gardens is a product of racism and segregation. Plain and Simple
Most of what I write about is factual with my opinion thrown in, this time it's all facts, Preston Gardens came about during a period of extreme prejudice and White Supremacy were at an all time high in Baltimore, thanks in part to the Mayor at the time James H. Preston.Up until 1911, there was a thriving Neighborhood east of Mount Vernon, west of the Jones Falls, and north of City Hall and the Courthouses known as Gallows Hill. Gallows Hill had the same beautiful stately Row Homes as its neighbor to the west only there was one problem; the Residents were black. Mayor James H. Preston made no effort in hiding his hatred for anyone not English, German, or Scandinavian. Despite the residents of Gallows Hill being among the wealthiest Blacks in the City most holding College and Post College degrees, it was declared a slum for the mere fact Blacks lived there. Being just above City Hall didn't help the case for preserving Gallows Hill either. In that time it didn't look dignified to have your City Hall surrounded by a Black Neighborhood rich or poor.
Also placating into the fears of Mayor Preston was move of Johns Hopkins University from the center of Mount Vernon to its current Homewood Campus. Preston and his colleagues thought this was the final straw. Centre St. and Madison Ave were Downtown extensions of Druid Hill Avenue and McCollough Sts respectively. These two streets were making head lines as new Black settlement areas of West Baltimore. With Hopkins vacating its buildings in between West Baltimore and Gallows Hill it would just be matter of time before the blocks of Mount Vernon and the Washington Monument would become Black and therefore slums. It was all too clear to Mayor Preston and Confederate loving Cronies; Gallows Hill had to go. And just like that it was gone. Block after block of Black occupied Homes, Businesses, and Churches were reduced to rubble. It left behind Residents whose only crime was living in the wrong place at the wrong time. Had they been White Mayor Preston would never have gotten away with this. Since Blacks at the time were denied conventional mortgages (it would be a good 55 years until the Fair Housing Act granted them this right) the now former Gallows Hill residents didn't have a foot to stand on.It's been almost 100 years since the Gallows Hill destruction and race relations have come a long way but nowhere near perfect. I'm writing this post as if it were a tragedy which it was and it should be considered that way as we approach 2011. But this was 1911 "tragedy" was hardly the term dubbed for the demise of Gallows Hill. Baltimore, which still considered itself a "White Man's City" was glad to be rid of the "slums" bordering City Hall and Mount Vernon. Mayor Preston was a hero of sorts, stopping the spread of Blockbusting before that phrase was coined.
Now what did the Honorable James H. Preston do with the Neighborhood he destroyed? Well for starters the name Gallows Hill can only be found in History Books and Maps that predate 1911. It's as if it was never there, and I'm sure there are those who convinced themselves it never was there. St. Paul St., the "Main Street" of Gallows Hill had become congested with traffic going Downtown (some things never change.) As the first Ford Model Ts rolled off the factory lines, they went straight to St. Paul St. After widening the road Mayor Preston decided against rebuilding Gallows Hill as a restricted White Neighborhood. He instead had a lush Park built and named after himself called "Preston Gardens" I mean hey, we have to pay homage to our "heroes" don't we? After the 1917 dedication of Preston Gardens it has remained a Community Center Piece whose history has been all but erased. Preston Gardens did do its job, Mount Vernon is still a majority White Neighborhood and City Hall wasn't surrounded by Slums. Mercy Hospital expanded and has continued to do so on land that was once Gallows Hill. Funny, Mercy wasn't shown to the residents of Gallows Hill and perhaps the largest institution built on its grounds bares its namesake.
As much as I've bashed the creation of Preston Gardens, I still think it's a beautiful place and I would like to see it expanded. The congested St. Paul St. splits into two "super boulevards" that only make traffic worse. By extending Preston Gardens to engulf the lower St. Paul St. and moving the front doors to Mercy Hospital to Calvert St. the St. Paul St. traffic can be stream lined to one narrowed route that can be repaved with tracks to accommodate the Charles St. Trolley.
Writing about Preston Gardens and its predecessor Gallows Hill was not easy, I like Preston Gardens but not what it represents, upon learning about Gallows Hill and its destruction, I will never look at Preston Gardens the same.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Harford Road: Going Green

The latest hype regarding new building is to make everything "Green" and LEED Certified. I agree this is the correct way to build anything and everything but in this post I will use the term "Green" in a whole new way. Harford Road has become a Main St. Village but the density is low. So when I say "Green" I mean the Green Line. So in order to keep the Green Line Extension in the conversation, It's time that Harford Road went Green.
From the onset of development in the Harford Road area, it was meant to be an auto oriented suburb. Granted, a streetcar line did run down Harford Road but the time for streetcars was running out back then. As Lauraville, Hamilton, Waltherson, and Woodhome Heights were built, the flight to the suburbs was on. Mostly Single Family Homes and Duplexes were built and a few Garden Apartment Complexes are what constituted the suburbs of Northeast Baltimore.
Harford Road was and is the Neighborhood Retail Drag for the Communities it served. Today more than ever, residents living near Harford Road use their cars to shop at the new Safeway and eat at the new Restaurants that are popping up throughout the corridor. With Belair Road, a lot of its Retail was Car Dealerships that have closed so TOD Redevelopment along there will be a lot easier for several reasons.
On the other hand, Harford Road caters more to its immediate Communities than Belair Road does. In East Baltimore, where services that readily are available in Northeast Baltimore aren't for East Baltimore, residents use buses to travel up to Harford Road for the better selection of Retail Options.
Since the density of Harford Road isn't there to support the Green Line the best thing to do is to bring it there. There is a density gap between Morgan State and White Marsh which both need the Green Line but it won't be feasible because of the low denisty of Harford Road and Belair Road won't make extending the Green Line to White Marsh feasible because it will have low "rider catch" areas in Northeast Baltimore.
It's ironic that the suburb of White Marsh is of a higher density than the Lauraville/Hamilton area in the City. White Marsh however, is a new and growing Community that was designated as a high denisty development zone by the County. Harford Road was built at a time when City's Population was draining and new development was catering to the suburban flight.
Harford Road is a great area but urbanization would great to bring Rail Transit there for both current residents looking to save gas, and future residents who would move into new housing from new TOD I'm seeking to have built.
It will be a phased transition but an easy one. Vacant storefronts will be demolished to make way for Apartment/Condo Buildings with ground floor Retail. The Retail, will be existing businesses that make for old vacant storefronts that will then be dmolished until Harford Road has made its transistion into a TOD Village. The new Buildings, in addition to ground floor Retail will be about four or five stories high and the second floor of some of them will house Offices. Garden Apartment Complexes throughout the Community will also be redeveloped.
If Harford Road and Belair Road, the Main Streets of Northeast Baltimore don't have the TOD and density to support the Green Line, we'll have to bring it there, and bring it we will

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Belair Road Redevlopment: Start With the Dealers

Cmon down Blair Reud, business ain't slow but I still need the dough. That's a direct quote from Scotty Donahoo of Foreign Motors Fame. He's become a local Celebrity with his multiple Car Dealerships and ultra exaggerated Baltimore Accent. These days Scotty, like pretty much all Car Dealers located along Belair Road have moved to the suburbs or have closed up shop completely. Obviously, this has been a big blow for the aesthetics and the future of other Businnesses along Belair Road. In an urban environment like Baltimore Car Dealers take up precious acres and rob the City of the Density that defines it as an urban area. I think I've made it pretty clear that I don't want to attract additional dealerships to fill the vacant voids left here so I say redevelop Belair Road.Long before the days of Scotty Donahoo, Belair Road was known to be the place to by a car in Baltimore. Northeast Baltimore as a whole was built in a suburban automobile oriented style and when Car Ownership became something obtainable for the Middle Class, Belair Road was developed not just for the diving of Cars but for the purchasing of them.
As the demand for cars grew so did the size of the dealerships. Block after block of Belair Road was bulldozed to allow for the expansion or the opening of new Car Dealerships. The flight to the Suburbs at first allowed Belair Road to flourish as one car Families bought a second one. It wasn't until later in the 20th Century that the suburbs caught up and began opening in there as well as other parts of the City. This slowed business along Belair Road but it didn't kill it. Belair Road just wasn't "the" place to buy cars, it was just "a" place to buy them.The 1980s and 90s brought demographic changes to the Belair Road. Instead of being a Middle Class White Area it slowly became a Middle Class Black Area. Since I've accused Retail in general of racism several times (and caught hell for it) it won't surprise you that my description of Belair Road during this time was exhibiting "racist retail" or "commercial blockbusting." Retailers thought when Blacks arrive it's time to move out or sell cheaper merchandise regardless of their income. This was across the board on Belair Road not just Car Dealerships. Car Dealerships began only selling used cars and were geared toward "2nd Chance Buyers" or "Buyers with no Credit." Why? because the White population was depleting, little did retailers know or care that the Average Median Income of the area didn't warrant this change. It wasn't until the mid 2000s that vacancies began popping up here and there. The bomb dropped in 2008 when the economy fell harder than it has since the Great Depression. Car Dealers had to cut back on expenses so that meant "trimming the fat" by closing down their least profitable locations and consolidating their land holdings. Since Belair Road was in the City its dealers couldn't have left faster. Now here we are just a stone's throw away from 2011 and this is what the Car Dealers have left behind. A vacant somewhat eerie reminder of what was and what probably will never be again.
Now that I've succeeded in depressing you, hows about I cheer you up? I still consider Belair Road to be a desirable location in the City. Despite a spike Northeast Baltimore's Crime Rate taking a spike in 2006 and 2007, it's still very safe and most of the crimes appeared to be committed by outsiders. Now I mentioned earlier in this post that as the Auto Industry grew, block after block of Belair Road was demolished to meet the needs of the Dealerships. Now it's Belair Road became an Urban Village with high density Housing, Retail, and Offices. Why High Density? Well, I'd like to see some Rail Transit along Belair Road. The Green Line in the Baltimore Regional Rail Plan appears to have bypassed the Northeastern section of the City with a very "low rider catch" route along Perring Parkway on its way to White Marsh. Morgan State Univeristy/Northwood Plaza was the only "high rider catch" stop. Now how can one justify building Rail Transit along a such a sparse route let alone Heavy Rail? (The Green Line has to be Heavy Rail because it's an extension of the Mtero Line) The answer is you can't justify it.
So is this image of a high density TOD Village just a dream for Belar Road and Notheast Baltimore as a whole? Not on my watch it isn't. In an age of City Planners and the MTA feeding us "why not" excuses I come up with ways not only explaining not only "why" it can happen but "how" it can happen. Just picture the older buildings as existing Bleair Road Buildings and the new Condos being built on old Car Dealership lots.
I reworked the Green Line so after Northwood Plaza (pictured above and poised for redevelopment) and Morgan State it can go through Lauraville and Hamilton with better rider "catch" areas to the eastern end of Waltherson on Belair Road and Overlea at the City/County Line. A redeveloped Belair Road will justify funding the Green Line with high rider "catch" areas with redeveloped Car Lots. Perhaps the Car Lots are just the beginning, maybe the more upscale Retail will entice existing Retail that is substandard in my opinion to redevelop and bring yet more density to Northeast Baltimore making it all the more Rail Transit Friendly.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Reinventing Edmondson Avenue: I've Got Pictures

Now I have mentioned in several posts my desire to redevelop Edmondson Avenue between Upands and the West Baltimore MARC Station. I think that doing so will add to the gentrification that will already take place from each project and Edmondson Avenue's strategic location will connect the two together. As I've mentioned in the past, I have wanted Apartments/Condos to flank the new Edmondson Avenue with a more pedestrian friendly environment especially with the Red Line coming. I spent thanksgiving in Winooski Falls, Vermont just outside Burlington and my Friend's Apartment Complex and the surrounding area is my vision for Edmondson Avenue come to life.
Here's an example of what I have had in mind for Edmondson Avenue for quite some time. This building has a parking garage with key card entry, secure common areas, and elevators with space for Retail. These buildings make a U shape which allow for open space in the back.Here is another style for Edmondson, this time only one part of the Building has a 5th floor which makes for a Pent House or a 4th floor with a loft over top of it. Amenities wise this building is the same as the pictured above. These will be standard for all Buildings on Edmondson Avenue.
For those not using the garage, they can use this locked common door for all Apartments will suffice. They will have to be let in by the Resident they're visiting.Here are some Retail Spaces that have been occupied, a Deli and a Bank perfect Neighorhood Retail for Locals and Commuters alike. Speaking of Commuters, they can park in a garage area that's set aside just them. By Commuters of I course mean Red Line Riders.Here's a look at a more Pedestrian friendly street that Edmondson Avenue should strive towards. Notice the wide sidewalks, the crosswalk chokers, and the abundance of adequate lighting. Edmondson Avenue will be narrowed to four lanes instead of its current six and will retain its new landscaped median. Here is a bus stop, that's as TOD as is gets for Vermont but take a closer look. This could be an Edmondson Avenue Bus Stop at least intermittently until the Red Line is built. It's under Video Surveillance (no more flashing blue lights) and is sheltered. Hopefully this will be replaced with a set of escalators leading to a Red Line Stop. Once the Red Line is built Bus Stops will be deleted within a quarter mile of a Rail Stop unless it's a small bus for people with disabilities.Here's a look at the rear of several Buildings. Notice that above the garage is a shared green space. I went to Vermont to spend Thanksgiving with my Buddies and I come back loaded with pictures and a new post to go with them. This is how I've wanted to reinvent Edmondson Avenue for some time and finally I found a great area to illustrate it with.