Sunday, May 30, 2010

Reopening the Great Northeast Part I: The Second Downtown

Image from Google Earth
This is the first in a three part series whose purpose is to close the gap between the Inner Harbor and Northeast Baltimore. Currently, there aren't many direct routes that connect the two. I will put forth two routes that will serve as direct two way roads that will connect the two sections of the City. Also by having the routes run directly through some of the most blighted sections of East Baltimore the two roads will serve as a catalyst for major reinvestment and redevelopment. I'm writing under the assumption that the JFX will be torn down in favor of either N. President St. or Jones Falls Boulevard.
For this post, I have defined the Master Plan boundaries as the following; Orleans St. to the south, Chase St. to the north, Greenmount Ave. to the west, and Broadway to the east.
The first things to go will be Oldtown Mall and Forest St. Apartments. Although Oldtown Mall is an Historic Landmark, its buildings have become too dilapidated for occupancy. This is also where Gay St. is to be reopened as a three lane two traffic thoroughfare. One lane in each direction and one that will act as a turn lane when needed.
Oldtown Mall, Forest St. Apartments, and the Penn Fallsway Parking Lots will be developed or redeveloped as high density mixed use residential, retail, hotel, and offices as an extension of Downtown.
Also poised to hit the wrecking ball in my Master Plan is LaTrobe Homes. Crime, drugs, unsanitary living conditions, and lack of maintenance have made this sprawling public housing development a liability for its residents. LaTrobe Homes has 701 units. As part of the redevelopment of the properties and LaTrobe Homes 701 new public housing units will be spread out so no existing LaTrobe Homes resident will be left out in the cold. Demolition has begun in the area in question. The blighted Somerset Homes were torn down over a year ago as the Dixon Administration's sweeping blight removal and land banking plan. The problem with land banking is that it allows for land, like that of the for Somerset Homes to remain undeveloped indefinitely. I would extend the Oldtown Mall redevelopment zone to include this piece of land thereby connecting Downtown to Hopkins.Now we come to the cornerstone of reopening the northeast. This pedestrian Mall needs to be reopened as a two traffic Gay St. which will allow for traffic to easily move from Downtown to Belair Edison, Frankford, Overlea and beyond. The ultimate goal is to reconnect Gay St. to Belair Road. The other road is west of Oldtown Mall and is currently two separate roads. The first is the southbound Hillen St., the second; northbound Ensor St. My plan is to consolidate both directions of traffic to Hillen St. which is wide enough to carry two directions of traffic. Hillen St. will be renamed Harford Road and Ensor St. will be closed for to make way for new development. Renaming it Harford Road will encourage drivers Downtown who live in northeast Baltimore neighborhoods such as Lauraville, Waltherson, Hamilton, and even White Marsh to use Harford Road as it will eventually be a two way street extending from Downtown to Harford County uninterrupted. Dunbar High has undergone extensive renovations in the past year. The other two Schools it shares a campus with have either closed or are slated for closure. This makes for a great opportunity to move Dunbar High's athletic fields to the School itself rather than having them a couple blocks to the northwest.
The current fields will also have the new Gay St. cutting directly through it. Any land leftover on the Dunbar Campus will be dedicated as Community Green Space complete with a furnished Public Square and a Community Pool (free admission) that will be the envy not just of the City, but the suburbs as well.
Church Square has appeared to have its Stop Shop and Save Anchor. That's ok, it needs to be redeveloped along with Bond St. Apartments and Town Homes to make way for Gay St. Once redeveloped the new Church Square, which will be integrated with a much busier Gay St. might be able to lure a new Grocery Anchor.
The preservation zone in this Master Plan includes newer housing. New housing has proven to be pivotal for East Baltimore. It offers what I like to call a "an island of hope in a sea of blight and decay." Existing new housing and its relevance, when redeveloping East Baltimore will be examined more closely in future posts on the same subject matter. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

The Middle East Preservation Zone

In the ever blurring line of gentrification between Patterson Park and Hopkins lies the southern edge of the Middle East Neighborhood. Middle East actually goes east, north, and northeast of Hopkins. The portions of Middle East most commonly discussed are those north and northeast of Hopkins. Why? Because they were the most blighted and abandoned and have been torn down in favor of the Hopkins Biotech Park and 1500 units of new mixed income housing. Now what's happening to the much less blighted portion of Middle East? Well, I for one am renaming it the "Middle East Preservation Zone."Now why would I take an area with blocks of homes like these and name it a preservation zone? Well, for the answer to that I take you to Butchers Hill, Highlandtown, Upper Patterson Park, and McElderry Park. All of these aforementioned neighborhoods are located between Pratt St. and Monument St. (except Highlandtown) and have similar stock of early 20th century row homes. Once more they were at one time in a blighted state with almost as many vacants as there were occupied homes. Some of these neighborhoods have been completely gentrified while others are well on their way with hardly any new housing.The City put out Master Plans that have called for massive redevelopment of these once blighted neighborhoods. However, something happened; something not done all that often in Baltimore's colorful history. Before the City and its team of developers could get their bulldozers ready the vacants began being bought up. Collectively, a huge group of homesteaders looking for affordability in the City set their sites on East Baltimore and began buying up Upper Patterson Park and headed west into McElderry Park. What's next? Well going in the direction of the Homesteaders I'd have to say the Middle East Preservation Zone.It's not easy to fathom but I project that in 5-10 years these homes will still be standing, be fully occupied, the streetscape will be greened. Why am I so confident? There's a pent up demand for affordable housing which has only become more urgent as the economy went south. Now the City doesn't have the time or resources to build that many new houses or rehab houses like these or such a large scale. However, you the consumer does. No I'm not saying you have the resources to buy up hundreds of vacants but you could have the ability to buy just one. There are hundreds of people who have the ability to buy just one vacant thus fueling the gentrification and re-population of the Middle East Preservation Zone as well as parts of McElderry Park that haven't had it yet.Now can the City do anything to speed up the process? Absolutely! Since everybody's (especially Banks) are exercising extreme caution when it comes to mortgages renovation loans; the City can offer homes for the purchase price of $1. I have advocated the return of this incentive that revived the neighborhoods near the Harbor for stagnant neighborhoods across the City and the Middle East Preservation Zone is no different. Looking at this two way street (McElderry St.) one can't help but notice how wide it is and how easy it can be to speed down. For a residential street like this high volumes of traffic should be discouraged from using them and diverted a block or two north to Monument and Madison Sts. Both McElderry and Jefferson Sts are too wide for their own good. Many gentrified neighborhoods have introduced angled parking in front of their homes and businesses. I think that introducing this concept to McElderry and Jefferson Sts will be a step in the right direction and making them "one way couplets" one westbound and the other eastbound will reintroduce these streets as residential streets and will make drivers slow down. Also as a "gift" to each new home owner buying into the Middle East Preservation Zone the City should plant a tree in front of their home to "green up" the neighborhood.Now there is a little room for redevelopment as there are some vacant lots where it appears entire rows of homes were demolished. Now I shift focus to two Community Anchors that I think should be redeveloped. The first is Northeast Market. Currently runs north south encompassing Chester St., Duncan St., McElderry St., and Monument St. Its Parking lot is east of Duncan St. I think the multiple entrances create a "lack of place" and make it a windowless bunker. I think it should be redeveloped with one big grand entrance on McElderry St. between Chester and Duncan St. the new Northeast Market will be two stories and the second story will cross Duncan St. and the Market will continue where its current parking lot is. A grand exit will be placed here. The new Market will be shallower and its new parking lot will be behind it on Chester St. stopping just short of Monument St.The next is Tench Tilghman Elementary/Middle and Recreation Center. The scrapped Library Square suggested building a new William Paca Elementary with a rooftop playground making for a 21st Century urban School. As I've advocated for new Schools by closing several old ones and opening a new one that serves the populations of several old Schools I had Tench Tilghman, Commodore John Rodgers, and William Paca Elementaries be located in the new William Paca Elementary in my Master Plan for City Schools. Since the plan to rebuild William Paca Elementary is history I think that Tench Tilghman should be the School that's rebuilt due to its central location in the area of the three School Districts. The new School, renamed McElderry Park Elementary/Middle will have space for 1250 Students and like the new Northeast Market, will have only McElderry Park frontage. Like the once proposed new William Paca Elementary will have a rooftop playground. The current playground (which is accessible via a sky walk over Patterson Park Ave) will be a block of new housing. Now for an area that is sure to repopulate itself it would seem that I'm asking the City to invest a lot into it. Well, some of goes along with other things I've proposed Citywide and I'm just applying them here. Also, when buying into a neighborhood, it gives residents peace of mind that the City cares about it and wants to see it make a comeback rather than seeing it crumble which has been the case in so many other neighborhoods. No, the Middle East Preservation Zone will rise again!

Saturday, May 15, 2010

All Aboard the SoWeBo Trolley!

If you've been reading my past few posts they've been a part of a series of posts on SoWeBo. This is the last one of the series. Keep in mind as I ink this post all the other posts are meant to fit together like a puzzle.
With everything I proposed I thought that SoWeBo should get its own little mass transit line. Train tracks are a dime a dozen here. That's what would make this project as feasible as it is. In fact, the B&O Railroad's eastern terminus was at Camden Yards. It went westward along what's known today as Carroll Park and parallel to Wilkens Avenue.The SoWeBo Trolley would start at St. Agnes Hospital where I proposed a new Biotech Park across the street at the soon to be closed Cardinal Gibbons School. I would build a new Transit Hub here as this is on the MARC Penn Line and the proposed localized "Purple Line." This new Hub would serve the Violetville/Morrell Park Neighborhoods. Well we're on way aboard the SoWeBo trolley via the old B&O tracks. Our first stop is at Smallwood St. which will serve the Mill Hill and Carrollton Ridge Neighborhoods. As part of my St. Agnes Biotech Park these neighborhoods will undergo a massive transformation to repopulate these diamonds in the rough.
The next stop (Carey St.) will serve the Mount Clare/ Union Square Neighborhoods. I published two separate posts calling for massive reinvestment in each Community. Union Square has come a long way since its initial decline in the 1960s and I see it continuing to turn for the better. Its Public Square and the H.L. Menken House (pictured above) act as tourist attractions. Mount Clare needs a lot more assistance so I called for the American Reinvestment and Recovery to transform all vacants into livable homes once again.This was supposed to be the last stop but then I got an idea. More about that later. This stop will be at the Mount Clare Junction Shopping Center. Hopefully a transit stop will pump some new life into the struggling Shopping Center, whose Safeway Anchor just shut down. This will serve Pigtown, Hollins Market, and perhaps Ridgley's Delight east of MLK Boulevard.Speaking of MLK Boulevard, from Pratt St. to Mt&T Bank Stadium, I would extend the Trolley Line. This is where new tracks would be added seeing as the old B&O tracks have stopped. The Red Line is supposed to go along MLK Boulevard but I have always favored it going through the Westside of Downtown rather than just grazing it.Well here we are at Camden Yards, which has become a Transit Hub in its own right with both the MARC Camden Line and the Light Rail having stops here. The Yellow Line would also separate itself from the current Light Rail Line here in the 2002 Regional Rail Plan (I am favor of this) so I decided to put the SoWeBo Trolley's eastern end here. Why? Because it starts at a MARC track and ends another MARC track. Even though the two MARC lines that serve Baltimore cross in the Halethorpe Arbutus area there is no joint transfer stop. The SoWeBo Trolley attempts to remedy this by being a go between for the two MARC lines. Well that's it! End of the Line! This both concludes my post for the SoWeBo Trolley and my serious of posts regarding SoWeBo , marking the final piece of the puzzle. I hope you enjoyed reading about my SoWeBo plans as I much I did thinking them up and writing about them.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Southwestern High:TOD Galore!

You can see examples of this all over the City; Schools that have closed and ceased operations as a traditional Public Schools. Some have been reborn as "Smaller Learning Communities" while others have been transformed into some sort of Community Center. Most of these Schools have very small campuses so large redevelopment of a campus can rarely be discussed if one closes. My continuing focus on SoWeBo has taken me to Southwestern High. I have exhausted all avenues in seeing whether it's currently being used as either, if it's another School, it can easily be relocated to the under crowded Edmondson/Westside Campus just a mile or two northwest. Those of you who have taken the small journey down Font Hill Avenue from Fredrick Avenue know that the Southwestern High and surrounding undeveloped outback is huge. If you haven't taken said journey you'll be surprised at how much land is back there and how easy it is to pass it. If I weren't looking for Font Hill Avenue to take these pictures I'd just assume drive past it. As I keep going east towards Downtown and St. Agnes Hospital, I will cross over a little bridge that most pay little attention to. The bridge is the MARC Penn Line tracks going under Fredrick Avenue just past Southwestern High. See what I'm getting at?In the DC area complete Communities are built for the sole reason that they're on the metro line (TOD). In Baltimore there aren't enough rail lines yet for that be a demand yet. One way Baltimore can begin to be a better City in terms of Rail travel would be to adapt a concept in the 2002 Regional Rail Plan to "localize" the MARC lines in the City. The Purple Line would be on the tracks of the MARC Penn Line and the Orange Line on the Camden Line. St. Agnes Hospital and the Southwestern High Campus should be the first stop on the Purple Line. There's already a Master Plan in place for the West Baltimore MARC Station just a mile or two north. The concept of localizing the MARC lines hasn't been met with the best reviews. I embrace it with open arms for both its low cost and fast completion (don't have to add tracks just trains.)It's not hard to get the idea of this post. In fact, it can be summed up in just a few words; Redevelop Southwestern High and surrounding outback with mixed use TOD with retail lining Fredrick and Font Hill Avenues and right a passenger boards and gets off their train. This new stop that serves Fredrick Avenue and St. Agnes Hospital will not be a MARC Stop but a localized stop on the Purple Line which can be made a reality in the VERY short term. There that's it, it's that simple, a 25 year old who didn't major in Traffic Engineering or City Planning could have thought that up. As a matter of fact, one did; me! All this or can be done while the powers that be (who do have the above stated degrees) argue the finer points of the Red Line Baltimore can be well on its way to becoming a World Class Rail Transit City starting with Southwestern High.
The buck doesn't have to stop at Southwestern High, in fact I discourage it. The West Baltimore MARC redevelopment (pictured above) can move ahead without the Red Line. The Purple Line can continue eastward into the industrial ruins of Rosemont generating a Stop and TOD there. Past Penn Station it can stop at the East Baltimore Biotech Park without waiting for the Green Line expansion to Morgan. It will continue to an East Baltimore MARC Station yet to created in Orangeville and out of the City where TOD can occur in congested East Baltimore County Communities such as Rosedale, Rossville, and Perryville. Yes it's true that the Purple Line will be TOD Galore starting at Southwestern High and graduating Baltimore from a rail transit no man's land to thriving World Class Transit Hub. Full Speed Ahead!