Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Union Square:A Once and Future Gentleman's Community

What do you think of when you think about Union Square? Frankly, I don't know what you the reader thinks because I'm not psychic but I'll tell you what I think. I think of a "Gentleman's Community" with large row homes whose piece de resistance was and is the public square in the middle of the neighborhood. This was one of the first suburbs to date of Baltimore. Hard to believe Union Square was once considered a suburb right? Well, a lot of the City's wealthy Merchants flocked here to get away from the smog that was Downtown. Sounds suburban to me.
Union Square remained a destination even post annexation and "suburbs" sprang up like crab grass to its west, that is until the 1960s. The 1960s was when Baltimore's flight to the suburbs was in full force. New "slum eliminating" efforts that failed miserably like Lexington Terrace and Murphy Homes scared residents of Union Square away in droves. This decade was Union Square's biggest decline.
Boarded up row homes like this one became much more common in the decades following the 1960s. As Compared to other neighborhoods that fell into decline as a flight to the suburbs victim, Union Square fared quite well. Crime wasn't nearly as bad as its neighbors to the west, north, and south. Union Square's biggest enemy was and is population or lack there of. The gentrification of the Inner Harbor did not effect Union Square very much. The barrier known as MLK Boulevard could have been to blame for this. Now not everybody left Union Square, through it all Union Square remaining residents made sure their neighborhood and its prized public square did not decay as badly as others.
The public square was probably Union Square's biggest saving grace. If one walks the streets of Union Square (I have) you will see that the healthiest housing stock has frontage to the square itself. The H.L. Mencken House is located right on the square on Hollins St. which has sparked interest in the Community, not enough for a population surge. The square, however remains to be an invaluable asset as residents use it as a gathering place.The gentrification of the Inner Harbor finally crossed MLK Boulevard into Pigtown and Hollins Market in the 2000s. Both neighborhoods received a population gain as old boarded row homes became populated once again. Pigtown even has new housing known as Camden Crossing built on an old industrial site. It looks very suburban and doesn't go along with Pigtown's smaller housing stock but has brought new residents into Pigtown none the less.Now Union Square did begin to see signs of new life before the Real Estate Market crashed although not nearly as drastic as its neighbors to the east. I do think had the Market not crashed Union Square would be seeing the same population surge that Hollins Market and Pigtown were blessed with. Now when the Market comes back I also believe that Union Square will see its day in the sun once again. However, I do see a major hurdle that Hollins Market and Pigtown didn't face. The housing stock in Union Square is larger, therefore the asking prices of vacants will probably be higher and the sheer cost of renovations will be higher because it's more house.Now how do we solve this and make all of Union Square look like the homes pictured above? Since both Hollins Market and Pigtown still have vacants we price the Union Square vacants the same as the smaller ones in the aforementioned neighborhoods. Then comes the renovations, something that buyers of vacant homes will have to roll up their sleeves and tackle. Well, in order to pay for said renovations I imagine most buyers will have to take out a loan. Now loans are made and broken through interest rates. So rehabbers in Union Square will be given special below market low interest loans which will make their payments on par with smaller homes.Now Union Square shouldn't warrant much new housing but pictured here is a vacant lot with blighted homes surrounding it. This is an example of where new housing is the only option. Now, what we don't want is another Camden Crossing where the new housing sticks out like a sore thumb. New Housing should be built to look like a carbon copy of the existing housing stock. It should look like it's been there the whole time.The western end of the square itself is another spot for new housing. Stuart Hill Elementary does not coincide the neighborhood. With City Schools facing a surplus of classroom space (their only surplus) they can afford to lose Stuart Hill and have its student body redistricted to either Fredrick or James McHenry Elementary in neighboring communities. New housing in place of Stuart Hill should again look like it's been there the whole time.Now I titled the post that Union Square is a once and future "Gentleman's Community" suggesting that at one point it wasn't. Well, the deeper I immersed myself in Union Square both in the past and present I came to find out that it always has been one. There have always been residents who know the Community's strengths and their voices will finally be heard. Union Square, your rebirth starts now!

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fredrick Avenue: Meet Your Uplands

Fredrick Avenue plays host to several different housing types from Single Family to Multi Family Homes, from Rental Complexes to blocks of solid Home Ownership. Just above Fredrick Avenue is Edmondson Avenue. Both roads and neighboring Communities have their shares of challenges and assets. Through the demolition of Uplands, the West Baltimore MARC Redevelopment, the Red Line, and quite possibly the redevelopment of the Road to Nowhere Edmondson Avenue will be a highly sought after destination. Now where does that leave Fredrick Avenue?The boldest initiative on Edmondson Avenue is the redevelopment of Uplands, once a crime ridden Public Housing Development that has been demolished to make way for close to 1500 new mixed income units that will usher in gentrification for Edmondson Village, Rognel Heights, and Allendale to with an increase in Home Ownership which long time residents are watching slip away. Neighborhoods like West Hills, Ten Hills, and Hunting Ridge will be as sought after as Roland Park and Guilford but with a better price tag.
Now what will the redevelopment of Uplands do for Fredrick Avenue? Not much if anything. But I'm not giving up on Fredrick Avenue that easily. No I'm not going to change Uplands so it somehow focuses itself on Fredrick Avenue instead of Edmondson. I'm going to take a look at Fredrick Avenue and the Communities served by it and give Fredrick Avenue its own "Uplands." The portion of Fredrick Avenue I will focus on will be west of Caton Avenue. It will include the neighborhoods of Westgate, Tremont, Irvington, Beechfield, Yale Heights, and Ten Hills.
The first Uplands of Fredrick Avenue will encompass Jamestown, Carriage House Apartments, North Bend Elementary and West Baltimore Middle. Like Uplands, the aforementioned properties and Schools will be demolished in favor of mixed income housing with a diverse range of options. The upper of end of North Bend and Rock Glen Roads will be "Maisonette" Duplexes that look the surrounding single family homes in the area.The middle part of the new neighborhood will be town homes. It will be where the Schools are now. It will be integrated with Town Homes off of Fredrick Avenue between North Bend and Rock Glen Roads.
The final part of the North Bend/Rock Glen section of the Fredrick Avenue Uplands will be three to four story Multi Family enclosed elevator Apartments/Condos with underground parking. This will be closest to Fredrick Avenue with Buildings facing it. Fredrick Avenue will be enhanced with a landscaped median, additional lighting, new traffic signals, and like all the roads will be repaved and the sidewalks re-cemented. This new Community will be called "Rock Glen Landing."The next part of the Fredrick Avenue Uplands will be in Beechfield. It will encompass Beechfield Elementary/Middle, Coventry Manor and the Coral Gardens Apartments and Town Homes which straddles Beechfield and Yale Heights. Closest to Fredrick Avenue where Beechfield Elementary/Middle sits and directly behind (Coral Gardens Apartments on Parkton Road)
will be the same enclosed elevator multi family apartment/condo buildings like those in "Rock Glen Landing."Coral Gardens Apartments (along Colleen Road) and Coventry Manor Apartments (not pictured) will be town homes. Some of Coventry Manor will be "Mansions" which look like large single family homes bit house four dwellings.Coral Gardens Town Homes will be redeveloped as Town Homes with a 100% Home Ownership Rate. The Beechfield/Yale Heights section of the Fredrick Avenue Uplands will be called "Beechfield Pointe."Next stop lands us in Irvington and Tremont. The Woodington West Apartments will be redeveloped as town homes known as Irvington Crossing.
The Hinting Hills Apartments in Tremont will also be redeveloped as Town Homes.
The four way intersection of Uplands Parkway, Pen Lucy Road, and Beechfield Avenue will be converted into a five way intersection with a roundabout extending Uplands Parkway to Fredrick Avenue. This will usher in new development connecting Tremont to Irvington. This will also be town homes named "Irvington Overlook." Fredrick Avenue itself is a mix of row homes and undeveloped land. I've proposed Multi Family Apartments/Condos along the undeveloped portions. This may be good to tie all the new development together. The condition of the existing row homes vary. Some will be redeveloped while others won't. Now I'm sure you're wondering how I came up with a broad mix of housing types for the redevelopment of Fredrick Avenue. Well, as the name of the post suggests; I got it from the Uplands Master Plan. So Fredrick Avenue; Meet Your Uplands!

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Library Sqaure: Meet Ellwood Park

In my own going effort to revitalize all of East Baltimore, I came across a draft for a Master Plan for Library Square. It touches on some great ways to keep up gentrification moving above Patterson Park. Two things it doesn't do is address the one way stub of Pulaski Highway between Orleans St. and Fayette and the other is Ellwood Park. In addition to what is proposed in the Library Square Master Plan I will add my own input to achieve my ultimate goal of this post; turn Library Square and Ellwood Park into one large park.
Not surprisingly, Library Square got its name from a Library; the Patterson Park Branch to be exact. The triangular strip of parkland is one of Baltimore's best secrets and undiscovered treasures. The neighborhoods of Elwood Park, McElderry Park, and Baltimore Highlands which surround Library Square were built around the turn of the 20th adapting the typical "cookie cutter" East Baltimore Row House. It housed workers from Bethlehem Steel, Brewers Hill, and Canton. As Industry in Baltimore went into decline, so did the neighborhoods that housed their workers. Today, East Baltimore Row Homes have surged in popularity due to their smaller size ans relative affordability to rehab and customize. Now for my recommendations.
Perhaps the biggest road block (pun intended) that's holding back Library Square is Pulaski Highway. For reasons I don't understand, it continues past Orleans St. as a one way westbound street for a couple of blocks before blending into Fayette St. Now Orleans St. is not a one way nor is it narrow so it can support any and all traffic that would continue along Pulaski Highway. Closing off this Pulaski Highway "stub" labeled in black and red on my Master Plan Map would be the perfect solution. The road would be turned into an expanded Ellwood Park on the east and an expanded Library Square on the west end.
The homes along the north side of Fayette St. and the south side of Pulaski Highway would be demolished. This is labeled in green on my Master Plan Map. This would expand the Library Square "Triangle" and would meet Ellwood Park uniting the two. The demolition would be from Curley St. to Ellwood Avenue. Please keep in mind that the Library Square Master Plan I'm going off of was brought about by residents and that their plan includes a lot of redevelopment.

The few Row of homes on the north side of Pulaski Highway (in dark blue) would be redeveloped to have their front doors face their nearby cross streets.This lone building at Pulaski and Belnord would be spared (light blue on my Master Plan Map). A good reuse in my opinion, would be a Community Theater, Art Gallery, or Musician Space. Each use would contain a Bar and would be open to local Artists of all varieties. Upstairs would be loft Apartments. Parking would be behind the building on Belnord Avenue.
Speaking of Belnord Avenue, the 200 block is probably in the worst shape in the area I'm studying in the post. It's in yellow on my Master Plan Map and the Community Gallery backs to it. A redevelopment with new housing and a parking lot for the Gallery would help not just the 200 block of Belnord Avenue but Library Square as a whole. That is, unless somebody rehabs the vacants and moves into them first which is entirely probable.
Last but certainly not least is Ellwood Park. Ellwood Park is now part of Library Square. One thing the Library Square Master Plan said that Ellwood Park has great potential but it apparently doesn't want to tackle the issue. So that leaves me to do so. First off, I'd take away the fence that goes around the entire perimeter of the park. I believe this was done as a safety precaution but it makes the park uninviting. In the middle of the park I would make it more like a Public Square with a fountain, benches, and adequate lighting. The northwest side of the park would contain a Baseball Diamond. The southern edge would contain a Football/Soccer Field. The Park will close at dusk. The east side of the park already has Basketball Hoops. Also on the east side of the park would have a Youth Center. This would be great for homework help with Tutors on hand and will contain Computers with Internet Access. With Elwood Park as a neighborhood draw, the neighborhood which is in worse shape than Library Square can improve pushing gentrification still further north. Well that was two cents on Library Square now the real Master Plan can take over.