Thursday, January 31, 2013

Broadway Overlook: Baltimore's Cheapest View of Downtown

As I debut my series on East Baltimore between Downtown and Hopkins, I find it very fitting that I focus on the relationship of Downtown and the Neighborhoods nearby. Broadway Overlook is one of those Neighborhoods. It's a mix of Town Homes and Apartments some of which are in the Church Hospital Building. When walking through the streets of this new Neighborhood, I can't help but be amazed by how great a view of Downtown that Residents are treated to. Today Broadway Overlook is a mixed income Community that has Baltimore's best and quite the least expensive view of Downtown.
Broadway Overlook is the redeveloped evolution of Broadway Homes, a dangerous Public Housing High Rise, it stands to reason that before Broadway Overlook, Broadway Homes was also treated to a nice view of Downtown. How could a public housing development get such a great view of the City? The answer is more than half a century old so allow me to take you back in time. 
 Living close to Downtown meant something completely different after World War II. That being said, Downtown was completely different after World War II. As Retail, Offices, and the Industrial Harbor were fleeing Downtown for the suburbs or in the case of the Harbor, disappearing forever. This made Downtown into a ghost town. Meanwhile, Neighborhoods that hugged Downtown were overcrowded. The wartime Jobs that accelerated the great migration from the rural South had evaporated but the new Citizens who had come for work didn't leave the City. At the same time for those who could afford it, the flight to the suburbs was in full swing. This made for an eroding tax base and an increase of poverty Citywide. 
Neighborhoods that hugged Downtown had the most poverty and the oldest and most obsolete housing stock. At the same time it was the most overcrowded part of the City. In short everything surrounding Downtown was slums. Obviously something had to be done. The story of Baltimore's plight as a rust belt City is echoed all across large Cities in America. That is why HUD decided to dedicate a large sum of money to build new High Rise Apartments in poverty stricken overcrowded Cities across the Country. These new Buildings would have the amenities so desperately needed in these slums such as Refrigerators, Heat,and Indoor Plumbing. Given their proximity to Downtown, those living on the top floors could be treated to the same views as those living in a luxury Downtown penthouse. 
And so it came to be that East Baltimore between Downtown and Hopkins went from having overcrowded slums to having clean "modern" public housing complexes of some of which were high rises. For the first Residents of Broadway Homes & all new developments for that matter, their new community was a dream come true. These new buildings allowed them a higher quality of life that they were proud of. HUD had devoted a large sum of money for the demolition of the slums and construction of the high rises but how much were they continuing to give to maintain these larger than life structures? They didn't allocate any money for that. Maintenance fell on the City's back. Since Broadway Homes was a public housing development, it was pretty low on the City's bucket list because it didn't produce as much of a tax base than say Roland Park. Maintenance was non existent as the buildings fell into disrepair almost as quickly as they were built. Residents were simply forgotten and left behind.
If you were left behind by the Government that was supposed to protect and defend you, how would you feel? If you answered angry and betrayed, you would feel exactly how Residents of Broadway Homes felt by the 1970s. Given the increasingly decaying buildings and the decreasing Police presence, crime, drugs, and violence replaced the memories of a healthy peaceful Community that the Broadway Home's first Residents remember. The high rises, although they looked very plain, were designed in a complicated manner which allowed criminals to hide out after the commission of a crime and others used that advantage to terrorize Residents.
Elsewhere in Baltimore, Downtown began to make a turn for the better. The Central Business District began to re-centralize itself with the creation of Charles Center and eventually the redefinition of the Harbor from an industrial port to a tourist magnet. Eventually living in and around Downtown was and still is a sought after address. For the majority of Baltimore's history this has been the case, it was only after World War II that Downtown had become a ghost town. The success of Downtown did spread but only to certain Neighborhoods, remember so many of the Neighborhoods that hug Downtown contain public housing developments some of which were high rises and pretty much all of which were decaying. This contained gentrification to the southeast below Pratt St.        
Broadway Homes and other public housing developments like it were supposed to provide a long term solution to the overcrowding and decaying slums hugging Downtown. By the 1990s it was apparent that Broadway Homes could not be revitalize in its current form. The same was true for all public housing high rise developments in the City as well as Cities across the Country. That's when Maryland's own Senator Barb stepped in and sponsored a bill known as HOPE VI. HOPE VI allocated federal funds to demolish and redevelop failing public housing high rises in urban areas and replace them traditional lower density housing. These mixed income communities would help break up large concentrations of poverty and attract outside investment. Although Broadway Homes wasn't the first development in Baltimore on the list, it was on it and the Feds realized its state of decay and provided funds for its demolition and redevelopment.
Now that Broadway Homes had been demolished, the time had come to rebuild and rebuild they did. The actual Broadway Homes site was given to Hopkins who swapped it for undeveloped parcel directly adjacent to the original Broadway Homes. Along Broadway, there Apartments were built which is what the old Church Hospital was converted to. Along Fayette St. between Broadway and Caroline St. are new Mixed Income town homes with a mix of public housing units, market rate rentals, and market rate home ownership. In the first few years of Broadway Overlook, the average median income of the area sky rocketed. Perhaps that great view of Downtown had something to do with it?
Broadway Overlook and other HOPE VI developments have begun the natural process of revitalizing all of East Baltimore between Downtown and Hopkins. The question remains; should the public housing units be converted into market rates due to the increasing popularity of the area and view of Downtown? Simply put, No. There are plenty of other developments in East Baltimore that can be rehabbed or redeveloped for Market Rate, and they also have great views of Downtown.

Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Revitalizing East Baltimore between Downtown and Hopkins A Multi Part Series

I recently completed a series of posts regarding Old West Baltimore at the end of 2012. I think that was a successful series that provided a blueprint to make this struggling part of the City thrive once again. After writing some posts that had nothing to do with one another I began researching East Baltimore between Downtown and Hopkins. It used to be that every inch of space between Downtown and Hopkins was in a distressed state. Today, it's a patchwork of thriving Neighborhoods, distressed Neighborhoods and those in transition. Just like my series on Old West Baltimore, I want to write about Neighborhoods that comprise East Baltimore between Downtown and Hopkins which can provide a blueprint to make a seamless transition between Downtown and Hopkins. One of the posts I wrote after my Old West Baltimore Series was on Albemarle Square and Corned Beef Row. I would like to make that part of the series so I'm going to republish it below. Stay tuned for more.
Albemarle Square: Corned Beef and Seniors

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Belair Road: A Grower Not a Shower

Yes I agree that this is perhaps a lewd name for a post on a Family Friendly Blog but I'm afraid that this phrase describes Belair Road perfectly. Every Neighborhood located along the Belair Road corridor has grown in population yet it doesn't show given all the vacated businesses, especially Car Dealers. I'm going to attempt to get to the bottom of why Belair Road has had its Business District jump ship while located in one of the fastest growing areas of the City outside of Downtown and attempt to figure out how Belair Road can come back.
Unlike older Neighborhoods in Baltimore, Belair Road was built for cars. Its suburban style Neighborhoods and Shopping Centers with expansive parking lots prove it. In addition, Belair Road was the place in Baltimore to buy a car. In older Neighborhoods of Baltimore a Car Dealership simply can't fit into their narrow streets packed with row homes. Belair Road on the other hand doesn't has most of its businesses set back in order for cars to park. A Car Dealer depends on this because it needs to show off its stock to passers by. Since Belair Road and its Neighborhoods were developed as the automobile was becoming more commonplace, Car Dealers were a perfect fit for this automobile oriented corridor. 
As Baltimore City's population began to decline after World War II, Belair Road was unaffected due to the fact that there was still some new construction available and except for the fact that its over the City line, it's for all intensive purposes, the suburbs. When you think of a City Neighborhood, you think of tightly packed Row Homes, alleys, and not a spec of green space. Does that sound like Belair Road? I didn't think so. Granted, the Neighborhood of Belair Edison (pictured above) is predominantly Row Homes but they have expansive lawns, mature trees, and well tended gardens. Despite having City style row homes, you can tell that Belair Edison was built with the suburbs in mind.
Belair Road remained, for all intensive purposes a suburb while the City that it's technically a part of, fell into shambles. Baltimore as a whole was plagued with population loss, drugs, crime, disease and unemployment. As Retail trends changed with the redevelopment of the Harbor, Belair Road was still the destination for City Dwellers to buy cars. Finally, the ever growing suburban Car Dealers got the best of Belair Road in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Car Dealers began pulling out of Belair Road which had become small lots in comparison to what was in the suburbs. It was then that Belair Road began to look like it was actually part of the City instead of the suburbs. Belair Road was landlocked so new construction would only be possible by redeveloping what's already there. However, the suburbs appeared to have an endless supply of land. 
The exodus of first rate Car Dealerships from Belair Road made the area look like a ghost town. Sure used car dealers and "second chance" dealers opened in the place of some but they look tacky and appear to be short lived. Some Neighborhoods along Belair Road began to experience an uptick in crime. As crime increased and the foot traffic along Belair Road decreased as well as vacant storefronts and abandoned car lots, Belair Road was officially part of Baltimore. This decline also begged the question; Was Belair Road loosing population?
When driving up and down the main road, one might begin to think so. But are there any signs of urban decay when you turn down any residential street (pictured above) along Belair Road? That is a big fat NO! It appears that every Neighborhood that has Belair Road frontage (Belair Edison, Waltherson, Gardenville, Frankford, Glenham Belhar, Cedmont, Overlea) are worthy of being show case Neighborhoods that rival any older suburban Neighborhood. If Belair Road was in fact loosing population there isn't a single boarded up house to show it. Before saying whether or not Belair Road was growing or shrinking I decided to consult the 2010 census. Below is what I have found.
Belair Road is still growing! Despite a desolate Retail Corridor, every Neighborhood that I listed in the previous paragraph has posted an increase in population between 2000 and 2010. Now given that the Neighborhoods of Belair Road are growing but the road itself suggests otherwise, I think it's high time that the uses along Belair Road itself change to reflect the very real growth of its surrounding Neighborhoods. Lets  Belair Road a Grower and a Shower. Below is what I have in mind.
What I have in mind for Belair Road is what I have in mind for all of Northeast Baltimore; Green Line and TOD. For those of you who don't know what the Green Line is it's the Metro Subway that currently runs from Owings Mills to Johns Hopkins Hospital. Currently the MTA is actively pursuing an extension from Hopkins to Morgan State University (pictured above.) In the very distant future, there are plans to extend the Green Line past Morgan State University up Perring Parkway through Mount Pleasant Park into Fullerton, Perry Hall, White Marsh, and Middle River ending at Martin State Airport. This is a very ambitious undertaking and will be VERY expensive due to the fact that any extension of the Green Line MUST be Heavy Rail. It would make sense that the MTA get its money's worth when this expansion does eventually happen. So what does the Green Line expansion have to do with Belair Road?
I personally think the proposed route for the Green Line does not promote ridership. Once it's past Morgan State Univeristy and Northwood Shopping Center (pictured above) it doesn't go through any real Neighborhoods until it leaves the City. Perring Parkway runs through Mount Pleasant Park. How much ridership can you get from a park? Not very much. So, what can we do about it? Reroute the Green Line into Northeast Baltimore? I think so! Once the Green Line has its stop at Morgan State University it should then make an easterly turn down Argonne Drive before going Northeast up Harford Road catering to the Neighborhoods of Lauraville, Hamilton, Beverly Hills, Mayfield, Belair Edison, and Arcadia. Then it should turn easterly yet again down Echodale Avenue to Belair Road where stops can serve the Neighborhoods of Waltherson, Glenham Belhar, Cedmont, Frankford, Gardenville, and Overlea. THEN it will go into the County and serve Parkville, Perry Hall, and White Marsh. 
This rerouted Green Line can open up new TOD sites for Belair Road. I suggest that this new route be adopted and the land vacated by the numerous car dealers along Belair Road be acquired and redeveloped as High Density TOD. I think this will usher in new life to the aging Corridor and bring in new investment such as sidewalks, biker lanes, and streetscape enhancements. On the Retail spectrum, I would like Belair Road to be similar to Harford Road especially when it comes to the new Restaurants popping up in Lauraville. Given that Belair Road is a middle class area, I think it can support nice independent sit down restaurants. On the TOD end, I would like Belair Road to resemble what Charles Village (pictured above) has become. 
I think even without the Green Line's help (Towson and Lauraville don't have Rail Transit) Belair Road can be a grower and a shower. I repeat, I apologize for the lewd reference but I think it describes not only the condition of Belair Road today, but an equally lewd reference describes what I hope Belair Road becomes tomorrow.

Tuesday, January 8, 2013

Albemarle Square: Cornerd Beef and Seniors

I have always had a fondness for happy endings. When looking at the night mare that was Flag House Courts and its redeveloped counter part; Albemarle Square, it doesn't get much happier than that, or does it? As much as I love Albemarle Square (it's my favorite HOPE VI development hands down) there are a couple of things missing that when added to the mix of uses in this new and historic Community Albemarle Square will be picture perfect.
Historic Jonestown catered to Jews in its heyday. Actually it still does but in a much smaller capacity. Back then Lombard St. was known as "Corned Beef Row" and it was lined with Kosher Butchers, Delicatessens, Bakeries, and Grocery Stores. As Baltimore's Jewish Population began moving northwest, so did most of its Jewish Businesses. Today Corned Beef Row consists of three Delis; Attmans, Lenny's, and Weiss. During lunch time these Delis remain very crowded as East Baltimore's workforce pile in for a nosh.
That being said, Albemarle Square was supposed to bring with it, a rebirth of Corned Beef Row. These vacant lots were supposed to contain live/work units that were going to give entrepreneurs a chance to restore Corned Beef Row to a busy bustling epicenter of East Baltimore above Little Italy. It won't be a Jewish Neighborhood like it was but given the success of the three remaining Delis, I think more Delis like them will still succeed.
Senior Housing in Pleasant View Gardens
 I also think there's another key ingredient missing in Albemarle Square; Senior Housing. When building a mixed income Community, Senior Housing is a must. A lot of the people displaced when a development like Flag House Courts is demolished are Seniors. One reason they have remained in these dilapidated developments was because they literally had nowhere else to go. I'm sure you're thinking why not allocate some of the existing Public Housing Units in Albemarle Square for Seniors? That has been done a little bit but I will explain why that isn't the best course of action in the paragraph below.
Senior Housing requires special services and amenities that aren't found in regular run of the mill homes. For example, the bathrooms would need bars, a higher toilet seat, and  a wheelchair accessible shower. Everything must be on one floor (no Town Homes) and rather than walk up Apartments or Condos, they would require elevators. In addition, features like automatic timed lights so that Residents don't ever have to enter a dark room would be a great addition to any Senior Development whether it's an independent or Assisted Living Facility. With Assisted Living Units, features should include "push for help" buttons that call on site nurses if needed. The buttons should be located at waist height and on the floor in case a Resident falls. Now, when building a development like Albemarle Square or any mixed income development for that matter, should ALL public housing units be furbished with all these features? No! And that is why certain units should be designated for Seniors only so they can get the amenities and assistance required and younger Residents will have regular run of the mill Apartments and Town Homes.    
All of these Senior Buildings, located on Lombard St. will be three to four stories high with ground floor Retail. This is where Corned Beef Row can be reinvented. In fact, as an incentive to Jewish Business Owners there can be a Tax Credit to all businesses who wish to open on Lombard St. This includes Delis, Bakeries, Butcher Shops, and Grocery Stores that are predominantly or exclusively Kosher. I would like the existing Lenny's and Weiss to move into these new Buildings while their current buildings are demolished. If you notice, both of those buildings are one story and aren't in-keeping with the nature of Corned Beef Row.
Albemarle Square, even if left alone is still my favorite HOPE VI development with its drastic mix of incomes and housing options. But if some Corned Beef and Seniors are thrown into the mix it will truly make Historic Jonestown thrive and Shine.