Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Mount Vernon: What Went Right?

So many of Baltimore's Row House Neighborhoods that are hot today had a period of decline at some point. Fells Point, Canton, Jonestown, Federal Hill, Locust Point all had some decline mainly due to the decline of their industrial bases. Mount Vernon stayed a true Gentleman's Community despite decline all around it. Obviously, this begs the question; What Went Right?
Most of the time in Baltimore, highways were to blame for decline. Not only that, potential extensions in highways would have caused more devastation in most of Baltimore's best Neighborhoods. In Mount Vernon it seems like highways and wide boulevards have been the reason for Mount Vernon not entering into decline.
Before the construction of I-83 Mount Vernon had a much more prominent connection to Charles Village. It bordered North Avenue which is today's Station North. Charles Village had been named Peabody Heights previously due to Peabody University being located there once upon a time. Goucher College's Campus was also there which explains the nickname given to Station North; "Old Goucher" This is in addition to UMB Mount Royal being right there too. The area between Mount Vernon and Charles Village was that of an old fashion College Town. It's a College Town today, but the meanings of the term have since changed.
Preston Gardens was Mount Vernon's eastern border. At the time it was residential east of Preston Gardens. It was a one of the City's first segregated Black Neighborhoods. Preston Gardens acted as an informal barrier between the elegant White Row Homes of Mount Vernon and the still elegant Row Homes in the Black Neighborhood that were over crowded and made into Apartments. The Black Neighborhood acted as an informal barrier between Mount Vernon and the prisons.
Construction of I-83 made for both the northern and eastern borders of Mount Vernon. It also separated it from Charles Village and Black Neighborhoods to the east and the prisons. The Black Neighborhood east of Preston Gardens was all but demolished to make way for I-83. The few homes left in that Black Neighborhood became White as the unofficial race barrier had become I-83. Those few remaining Row Houses east of Preston Gardens have since been demolished as Mercy Hospital continues to expand.
Mount Vernon didn't have and still doesn't have a working class population. So it's no huge surprise that when industry in Baltimore as we once knew it died, the population of Mount Vernon was not greatly effected. Southwest of Mount Vernon, the Retail Mecca that was the Westside of Downtown had collapsed as stores big and small began closing up shop. The construction of Charles Center led to a renewed Central Business District for Downtown.
Charles Center was built to be self sustained, something that Urban Planners have shied away from today.
Its fortress like Buildings were built to keep out the blight that had become Downtown Baltimore. Mount Vernon is north of Charles Center and since it hadn't entered into decline, the stark difference between new and old, thriving and blighted was not so apparent. Whether or not this was intentional, the west of Mount Vernon had become like the Westside of Downtown though it borders Bolton Hill. This is what I refer to as the "Midtown Donut" where it's a dead zone that "connects" Bolton Hill to Mount Vernon though it's uncharacteristic of both Neighborhoods.
Today Mount Vernon is one of Baltimore's most diverse Neighborhoods. It maitians its picturesque Buildings, most of which have been converted into Apartments with ground floor Retail. There is a little bit of new development but since there's hardly been any demolition, it's hard to do. Charles St. has undergone extensive streetscape enhancements, some of the best I've seen in the City. St. Paul St., the southbound half in the couplet is suffering from major traffic problems.There are two solutions for this, first close off the I-83 ramp, second, get rid of the upper and lower St. Paul Sts and expand Preston Gardens. This will also allow for contruction of the southbound section of the Charles St. Trolley which is supposed to run from Charles Village to the Inner Harbor.
One big mistake that was made in the Charles St. Streetscape enhancements was that in the repaving proccess trolley tracks weren't added in for future use. Above I-83 Station North is making a huge comeback with more plans in the way. Mount Vernon and Charles Village will be connected once more. The dead Midtown Donut is attempting to be "filled."
So, l ask with Mount Vernon, What Went Right? In addition to the obvious lack of White Flight I'd have to say every force that has turned other Neighborhoods in the wrong direction like Interstates and surrounding institutions leaving (Goucher College) has actually worked in the favor of Mount Vernon. I-83 kept it away from North Avenue and the East Baltimroe Public Housing High Rises. The Midtown Donut and Charles Center have kept it from the blight of the Westside of Downtown. Everything that happened in Mount Vernon should have gone wrong but it went right.

Saturday, October 16, 2010

Woodberry Light Rail:TOD In the Jones Falls Valley

Anybody who's picked up a History Book on Baltimore knows that Hampden Woodberry started out as Mill Villages. The biggest players were Clipper Mill, Union Mill, Meadow Mill, and Mount Vernon which occupied four separate buildings. After the closings of the Mills the Neighborhoods experienced decline and then went on the upswing due to the success of the "Avenue" in Hampden. Now the Mills are back in town and the creators of Hampden Woodberry are now becoming a major player in its continues success. Though not everything can be saved I think a true TOD Village consisting mostly of the old Mill Buildings can be created in the vicinity of the Woodberry Light Rail Stop and bring beauty back to the Jones Falls Valley.
Clipper Mill has been the talk of the City when it comes Mill Preservation. Its original buildings have been converted into Artist/Office Space, The Woodberry Kitchen Restaurant, and the Assembly Apartments. New Town Homes and Single Family Homes have been built recently as part of this project. It is located just west of I-83 and its Union Avenue Underpass. I should point out that east of I-83 there are some abandoned Buildings on Clipper Mill Road that like the name suggests, is part of the Original Clipper Mill.
A very worthwhile restoration that has been over shadowed by Clipper Mill has been Meadow Mill. This Flower Mill, which was and is much smaller than Clipper Mill has been converted into a Gym and space for the Potters Guild of Baltimore. The Meadow Mill Athletic Club has gotten rave reviews and was voted the most "Kid Friendly" Gym in Baltimore. Meadow Mill is located just below Clipper Mill and is a little closer to the Union Avenue underpass. This is without a doubt, the closest Mill to the Woodberry Light Rail Stop.
Buildings 1 and 2 of the sprawling Mount Vernon Mills Complex have renovation plans on deck. Building off the success of Clipper Mill, the Mills redevelopment has moves east of I-83 to the intersection of Falls Road and Chestnut Avenue. This is located at the bottom of Hampden and offers some of the most unspoiled views of the Jones Falls. This is also where some of the first housing of Hampden came up seeing as it's detached and/or duplexes. There are some Office Condos near the old Mill Buildings as well. It was made to mimic the Mills. The new Mount Vernon Mills will be a mixed use development contianing Restaurants, Offices, and Apartments. Although it's close to the Woodberry Light Rail Stop and the North Avenue Light Rail Stop this Mill is far enough away from both to truly be considered TOD, but don't fret! There's a Hampden Shuttle Bug that takes people two and from the Woodberry Light Rail Stop. A new stop should be added here.
Another Building of the Mount Vernon Mills Complex is slated for preservation and a rebirth. This is building 4 also known as Union Mill. It got its name for being located on Union Avenue at Buena Vista Avenue and Clipper Mill Road. It is one block east of the I-83 underpass. The use for the Building is Apartments for Teachers. That's right, you can only live here if you're a Teacher. This is a great step in affordable housing as it identifies a group of people who need it most.
Now what I've mentioned so far in this post are projects that have been completed, or are in the works along the Jones Falls Valley. There are numerous eye sores along here that can be remedied to truly beautify the Jones Falls Valley and make it a 21st Century TOD Mill Village. Now I discussed buildings 1,2, and 4 of the Mount Vernon Mills. What happened to building 3? Back in the 1960s when I-83 was being built, it was demolished in favor of the Pepsi Bottling Plant. With the Mills closing in Hampden Woodberry it seemed rather odd for an industrial use to build here. Allow me to offer my theory; I-83 was supposed to extend pass Fayette St. through Fells Point and Canton, cross the Harbor and Meet I-95. This would have been a great route for truckers going to I-95 or the Port of Baltimore. The extended I-83 was canceled and I think Pepsi jumped the gun on opening their bottling plant here. I think Pepsi should relocate near the Port of Baltimore for easier access to said areas and free up the space it occupies in Hampden.
In its place will be mixed use TOD Village with Retail, Condos, and Town Homes. Lets face it, the Pepsi Bottling Plant is an ugly eyesore. The Jones Valley can not move forward in its rebirth with that piece of property as is. Also, the Mills near the Woodberry Light Rail Stop are relatively small projects not yielding a lot of new uses. To make this area a true TOD Village we need high density which is what the redeveloped Pepsi Site will be. There is ample room for close to 500 Condos and Town Homes flanked by Neighborhood Retail. Speaking of the Light Rail stop, shouldn't it be renamed "Hampden Woodberry?" I think so, that will instantly make Hampden appear more mass transit friendly. It already is with the Shuttle Bug to and from the Light Rail Stop.
Along Clipper Mill Road there is still a Mill Building that's part of the original Clipper Mill that hasn't seen any rebirth. I say it should follow in the foot steps of Union Mill to provide affordable housing for a specific sector of public servants. This time it will be emergency workers. So Cops, Firefighters, and Paramedics will be the targets for the Clipper Mill Road Building. These will be Condos for purchase rather than rentals at Union Mill. Also along Clipper Mill Road are unattractive auto related businesses that should be redeveloped into detached housing that matches Hampden's earliest housing also in the area.
As you can see, the Jones Falls Valley has captured my interest and I can't wait to see what's in store for it. I have some more posts in mind concerning the area so stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Expanding Station North and Filling the Midtown Donut

Baltimore is currently seeking out a Neighborhood or region to declare it as its next Arts & Entertainment District. Its two biggest candidates; Highlandtown and the Westside of Downtown haven't quite gotten off the ground like the City had hoped. They're looking for another Station North. An article in the Baltimore Sun stated that the above Neighborhoods don't have a large Artist population like Station North already did. So as Baltimore continues to look for another Station North. But riddle me this, why find a new Arts & Entertainment District when Station North can be easily expanded?
Station North can be expanded to the South into what I call the "Midtown Donut" and West into Reservoir Hill. Both these areas have yet to be rediscovered yet there are great buildings to be transferred into live/work units for Artists and Commuters alike. Master planners for the City have been picking their brains coming up with the best way to re create the area between Bolton Hill and Mount Vernon (the Donut) and Reservoir Hill.
I think with the MICA Institute and UMB Mount Royal there are numerous Artists already living nearby. Doesn't this seem like a win win? For all parties? I think so too. To perfect the situation the Neighborhood will eventually a TOD haven.
The Donut includes the following areas; McColloh Homes, State Center, The Social Security Building, and Maryland General Hospital. Maryland General Hospital is undergoing a well needed expansion so it doesn't really apply here I'm only mentioning it to give a general idea of the area in question. However, if Maryland General were to say relocate its "shell" would be put to good use.
Although the Donut will be part of the expanded Station North there isn't too much that will make for good adaptive reuse as Artist Space. The Armory Building will be the best bet for Artist Space in the Donut. Theater Space will be needed for the expanded Station North so I'm looking at the old Mayfair for new life. The State Center Buildings, McCulloh Homes, and the Social Security Buildings will all be demolished.
The State Offices will move into new higher density Buildings along with mixed income Apartments and Condos. The Apartments will be marketed towards Grad Students while the Condos will be geared towards Commuters. This new Community will be connect Mount Vernon to Bolton Hill to Heritage Crossing to Upton to Seton Hill. A feat that has yet to be accomplished. Although not technically an Arts & Entertainment District, this new Neighborhood's housing and Offices will be designed by local Artists in the area.
The Outdated Sutton House in Bolton Hill will also receive a make over courtesy of local Artists. The already existing Metro State Center Stop and the Light Rail Cultural Center Stop will service this new Community, as will the future Red Line at Heritage Crossing and Yellow Line at Penn Station.
Now we come to Reservoir Hill which will serve as a true Arts & Entertainment District to the newly expanded Station North. Its has large vacant houses that are sure a magnet for Artists to live and work in. Since the housing stock in Reservoir Hill is too elegant to demolish but too expensive to buy and renovate at Market Rate, certain subsidies will have to be made for Reservoir Hill's upswing to continue.
Since Artists live in and around Reservoir Hill it only makes sense that a good portion of its vacant housing stock be earmarked for Artist live/work space. Given the close location of both the MICA Institute and UMB Mount Royal it would seem only fitting to fit dorm rooms into the Station North expansion plan.
The struggling Madison Park North Apartments across North Avenue from Bolton Hill will be redeveloped as Dorms for the Colleges. Speaking of North Avenue, west of I-83 it's not nearly as Neighborhood oriented as it is east of I-83.
The new Spicer's Run Town Home Development in Bolton Hill turns its back on North Avenue separating Bolton Hill from Reservoir Hill. I'm hoping the new Dorms across the street and a continuation of the Artist constructed streetscape enhancements into Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill.
Both the Midtown Donut and Reservoir Hill are past due for their day in the sun. Hopefully as an expansion of Station North and the addition of new Rail Lines, they will become Baltimore's hottest new address and the City will have more Artist space.