Sunday, July 21, 2013

East Baltimore Series Has Ended

With that last post my East Baltimore Series has come to an end. This has been a fun series of posts to write but it has also been very difficult and daunting. There were a lot of things that I was unable to find info on which made the time in between posts much longer. I also have come up with ideas that have nothing to do with East Baltimore but I decided to forgo writing and publishing them so the series would stay consistent. I will be on vacation for two weeks from both my paying Job and the Blogs. I should return to both at the beginning of August and I will "return to the studio" to write and publish all the backlog of posts that I have amassed while writing the East Baltimore Series.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

From Douglas to Perkins

As I end my series on East Baltimore between Downtown and Hopkins, I find myself concentrating on two public housing developments that have their share of problems but are far from the City's worst. They also look the same but given their different locations, if either or both were to be redeveloped, the finished products would be decidedly different. As I end my series I take you from Douglas to Perkins.
Both Perkins Homes and Douglas Homes are among the older public housing developments in the City. They predate the notorious high rises that wreaked the most havoc in the City, they're both Apartments in three story buildings, they're surrounded by areas that either have or are going through major gentrification, and at least according to Residents in neighboring Communities, it's time for redevelopment of both.
So does this mean that crime is on the rise in Perkins and Douglas? Not necessarily, with the high rises gone, crime Citywide declined and public housing developments that didn't get knocked down and redeveloped became front and center and blamed for whatever crime and blight occurred in neighboring Communities. In short, they became scapegoats. I didn't make a very good case to champion redevelopment but I did that on purpose.
A big reason I champion redevelopment is because I believe it doesn't offer enough opportunities for those who wish to advance. I consider public housing to be perfect seniors, those who are disabled, and those in transition. When I say those in transition I mean people in College, Workforce training, or are just starting out. Basically it means you're upwardly mobile and have clean criminal records. Larger developments like Douglas and Perkins do not meet the Criteria of what I want public housing to become.
Now comes the fun part; what I want the redeveloped product for each community to be. We'll start with Douglas after all, this post is named from Douglas to Perkins. Douglas Homes like is located just south of Hopkins and north of two former high rises developments that have since been redeveloped with town homes. Given the high density of the Hopkins complex I foresee Douglas Homes being replaced with something of a density higher from the new town homes to its south.  I envision a mixed income community with Apartments and Condos 4-5 stories (pictured above)with a parking garage that the buildings would be wrapped around. One smaller building will be dedicated solely to Seniors and will be public housing. A few "Family" public housing units will be sprinkled throughout the remaining buildings.
Perkins Homes is a different story. Located in southeast Baltimore surrounded by tidy row house Communities such as Fells Point, Upper Fells Point, Little Italy, and Historic Jonestown as well as being just a few very short blocks from the Harbor. High density Apartments would be very out of place here. Town Homes (pictured above)would suit the site of Perkins Homes much better. Given that parking is nearly impossible to come by in southeast Baltimore, all of the Town Homes will be equipped with garages. The Market Rate Town Homes will feature two car garages while the affordable ones will have a one car garage. Market Rate Town Homes will be four stories high while affordable ones will be "two over two stacked town homes" and will be sprinkled throughout the development.
In addition to Perkins Homes, this redevelopment plan includes City Springs Elementary and the defunct Lombard Middle. Lombard Middle currently houses at least one "Smaller Learning Community." With City Schools as a whole being under enrolled I always jump at the opportunity to reduce the amount of seats and make the existing Schools run efficiently. I would tear down School Buildings down and build a brand new School where City Springs now stands to house City Springs as well whatever Smaller Learning Community (s) are being housed at Lombard Middle. Where the Old Lombard Middle now is, I would build a public housing Senior Building to provide housing for displaced Perkins Homes Residents that's filled with amenities from independent living to nursing home and everything in between.
As I end my series on East Baltimore I focused on two public housing developments that are the same but whose redeveloped successors are completely different. It proves that it's further than just a few blocks from Douglas to Perkins.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Edison Park Fast Lots: Not Yet

If there's one theme to this series regarding East Baltimore between Downtown and Hopkins it's this; A lot of the land and developments aren't living up to their full potential. Take Oldtown Mall, the Old Somerset Homes, the now closed Thomas G. Hayes Elementary, and Dunbar Middle among others. But there's one swath of land I haven't written about; The Edison Park Fast Lots. These surface level parking lots located next to the JFX are the antithesis of all that's urban and the epitome of suburban sprawl.
Just like LaTrobe Homes(pictured above), I have not been able to find much (or anything) in the way of history regarding the Edison Park Fast Lots but given their close proximity to the Jones Falls, I can only assume that they were flanked with Mills similar to those found in Hampden Woodberry. Regardless of the early years, this land was bought up by the Feds for the creation of the JFX and public housing high rises in hopes of "slum clearance." Whether there was ever any intent to build public housing high rises where the Edison Park Fast Lots now stand is unknown but rather than just have a huge swath of vacant land there it was decided to bring the suburbs to Downtown by creating acre after acre of surface parking lots. 
The fact that this land was made into parking lots shows just low the value of the land was at the time. Luckily as Cities have become more livable again over the past 30 years, the Edison Park Fast Lots land may increase in value drastically as land for Offices, Hotel, and High Density Apartments and Condos becomes increasingly scares looking into the future. In fact, the Oldtown Master Plan, which in some ways mirrors my East Baltimore Series (it's completely different in other ways) shows the Edison Park Fast Lots redeveloped with Sky Scrapers as an extension of Downtown. I should mention that with Master Plans, Planners and Developers alike create long term visions, these lots won't be redeveloped any time soon. 
Personally, I think the Edison Park Fast Lots shouldn't be developed for quite some time. There are just too many other factors that make it the wrong time. First, there's the JFX. It literally is a wall between the Edison Park Fast Lots and Downtown. Once the proposed demolition is complete and Guilford Avenue and the Fallsway have replaced the JFX from Fayette St. to Preston St. the gateway from East Baltimore to Downtown will have opened. Even then, will there be a demand for additional high density Housing, Hotels, Offices, and Retail?
Given that there is no definite date of completion (or start) for the demolition of the JFX I can't say for certain that there will or won't be demand for the high density sky scrapers planned for the Edison Park Lots. Right now I can say with certainty; Absolutely not.
The economic climate has vacancy rates in Offices very high in the Downtown/ Charles Center area. (pictured above)Yet new Office Buildings are being built in Harbor East and Harbor Point has been approved for still more Offices. There will also be more Offices built when State Center redevelops. With these projects all in the pipeline I think it will be a long time until there is a demand for Office Space that would require the development of the Edison Park Fast Lots. 
It is believed however, that Hotel and Apartment/Condo space has more demand than Office Space so the buildings designated for those would probably be built first with significant lag between Offices. This is true for all mixed use projects in and around Downtown, not just the Edison Park Fast Lots.    
As development continues in East Baltimore, the swath of land known as the Edison Park Fast Lots will look even more out of place. But given the state of the JFX and the ability of the economy to absorb more Office, Apartments, and Hotel space, I have to say; Not Yet.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

CARE: Two Perfect Storms

I'm very aware that my series on East Baltimore between Downtown and Hopkins has contained me redeveloping everything in almost every post so I thought I'd make it clear that there are areas of homesteading in East Baltimore that I support whole heartily. The area (s) I'm referring to is known as CARE. Up until the 2010 census CARE was thought of part of as Middle East that runs below Monument St., east of Wolfe St., west of Patterson Park Avenue, and above Fayette St. This Neighborhood will prove to be the epicenter of homesteading and gentrification through two perfect storms.
Although Middle East has been in shambles since the dawn of cocaine, CARE was relatively well populated and still contained neatly packed row homes at least it appeared that way when comparing it to what lay above Monument St. In addition, McElderry Park to the east was crumbling before our very eyes. 
Although the Harbor brought gentrification in the 1980s, CARE was not the least but effected. In fact some may say that more well to do Residents saw how nice the Harbor looked and how their Neighborhood failed in comparison and they upped and left.  It wasn't until the 1990s and the 2000s that Neighborhoods in Southeast Baltimore began feeling the gentrification effect. Row Homes in Neighborhoods such as Fells Point, Upper Fells Point, Canton, Federal Hill, South Baltimore, and Little Italy had row homes that were once vacant lovingly restored to their former splendor. Eventually, rehabbing existing row homes became scares because hardly any were vacant. It was then that vacated industrial areas were redeveloped as mixed use Condos, Retail, and Offices in the aforementioned Neighborhoods.
As the 2000s wore on so did the expansion of the gentrification caused by the Harbor. Neighborhoods further away from the Harbor such as Locust Point, Butchers Hill, Washington Hill, Patterson Park, and Brewers Hill became to experience the same cycle of rehabbing row homes and redeveloping vacant parcels of land. As the gentrification of Brewer's Hill was nearing completion, so was the inevitability that it would cross Fayette St. into CARE. Sadly this did not happen as the economy crashed in no small part due to the housing bubble bursting. Now that it's 2013 and the Housing Market is showing signs of improvement the perfect storm is brewing over CARE. 
Did I just tell the whole story about CARE and surrounding areas? No I did not so sit tight for the rest. As a result of several HOPE VI redevelopment projects of public housing high rises, it became much less taboo to entertain the idea of living near Hopkins even if that's where you work. Given that Hopkins is the City's largest employer, it stands to reason that surrounding Residential Communities be attractive and walk-able.    
New town home communities (pictured above) that replaced public housing high rises was just the tip of the iceberg. In order for Hopkins to be as desirable a Residential Address as it is a Business Address somebody with deep pockets wasn't going to have to tap into Middle East in a big way. And that somebody was the Hospital itself. Its ever expanding campus decided to set its sights in to the Biotech Field by opening a Bio Sciences part just north of the Hospital in Middle East. The Biotech Park was just a little piece of the puzzle. 
The majority of what was now being branded as "Baltimore's New East Side" would be Residential. It will include 1600 new and rehabbed mixed income homes, a MARC Station, a Community School, and Neighborhood Retail hopefully attracting a Full Service Grocer. With Hopkins becoming a place that people actually want to live near not just work at, not only would housing be snatched up quickly but so would existing vacant housing that's still in relatively good shape. It appears that another perfect storm is brewing over CARE.
When these two perfect storms converge on CARE the result will be great. Row after row of houses will be restored to look as fresh as the day they were built, the wide sidewalks, will make way for gardens and trees, the wide one way streets will play host to slanted sideways parking (which I believe add a touch of class), and it will be done without tearing down and rebuilding homes. New homes will be built but that will be on land that's already vacant. 
With the Harbor and Hopkins being such a driving force with development in Baltimore eventually the synergy created by each was bound to overlap. The point at which they converge is CARE and wouldn't you know it, the housing stock isn't all that bad. This is truly two perfect storms. 

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Old Town Mall and Blocks East: A Part of Baltimore's New Eastside

As Baltimore's crime ridden East Side becomes a thing of the past, it's important to stop and think that in order for the East Side to continue improving, that there's an order in which to do things. I will give you the perfect example; Rehabbing Old Town Mall and attracting new tenants BEFORE reopening Gay St. would be counterproductive. Although a revitalized Old Town Mall is high on my list of goals for East Baltimore, other things must happen first. That's what this post will focus on.
Before focusing on the Mall itself, lets start improving the area. Oldtown Mall may have been the only beneficiary of the old public housing high rises. That was the shopping destination for Residents of Flag House Courts, LaFayette Courts, and Broadway Homes. And those are just the high rise developments, there are several low rise and town house public housing developments that Oldtown Mall served as well as a few market rate developments although for the most part the high concentration of public housing had driven market rate Residents out of East Baltimore.
As high rises were replaced with lower density town home developments (like the one pictured above), the crime rate dropped however the density did as well. Oldtown Mall was already dying and hurting from the MLK Riots of 1968, the population loss of the 1970s, and the cocaine epidemic of the 1980s. The redevelopment of the late 1990s and 2000s appears to have been the final nail in the coffin for the ailing Pedestrian Mall with only a hand full of  merchants left.
There had been talk at one point of building a Safeway on a vacant parcel of land in Oldtown Mall. Although the idea of bringing in a Grocer to this part of the City is a great idea, I must take issue to a Safeway. Safeway has a reputation of offering expired produce at very high prices in poor communities just ask any Resident of Mount Clare or Columbia's Long Reach Village, neither of these communities were sad to see their Safeway close. If we're going to add drinking water to this food desert why not make said "water" fresh. 
I would prefer a Shop Rite open up a location in Oldtown Mall instead. I shop there and I'm astounded at their selection of all kinds of fresh foods and how a VERY budget conscience person like myself can afford to shop there while not feeling like I'm in a dive. Howard Park Residents are eagerly awaiting the opening of a Shop Rite(pictured above) as well. Now large Grocery Stores even in an urban setting like this require a large amount of parking spaces. This has been an ongoing struggle to bring the amenities of the suburbs back into older Cities like Baltimore ever since the suburbs came into existence. My solution? build the Shop Rite over-top a parking garage.
In addition to the Retail that needs to come to the area, there are also Residences. First we have Forest St. Apartments (not pictured) just east of Oldtown Mall. These are garden Apartments that are very suburban for the area and look very dated and blighted. On the land in which Forest St. Apartments. I'm unsure whether or not these Apartments are Section 8 or not. I do know that they are not public housing. 
In their place I would build town homes (like those pictured above.) These town homes will have garages and driveways in the back. McElderry St. will be relocated to the south a little bit and town homes will have frontage along it, Aisquith St.m Forest St. and Orleans St. in the back where garages are will be a Community park with a play ground and green space.
Next we come to an area literally in transition; Somerset Homes. Back in 2008 or 2009 Somerset Homes, a town house public housing project hit the wrecking ball. Today the land in which it sits remains vacant except for a couple of churches on the edge of the site. The economic downturn forced the City to put the brakes on redeveloping Somerset Homes but in order to keep squatters out of the boarded up buildings, it was torn down.
As we get closer to Hopkins, I think it's appropriate that higher density Apartments and Condos be the order of the day. Given Somerset Homes' prime location just two blocks west of the Hopkins border, their replacement should be just that. This type of Apartment building will be built around a central parking garage that the Apartments themselves will mask. The parking garage will be for Residents only except for one section that will be reserved for members of the churches on site that will NOT be torn down.
Next we come to what will be a mixed use parcel. This holds Paul Laurence Dunbar High (pictured), part of Sojouner Douglas College, and two closed Schools; Thomas G. Hayes Elementary and Paul Laurence Dunbar Middle. These closed Schools are in no doubt a direct result of the population caused be the emptying out and closing of public housing projects.
The closed Schools, just one block west of Hopkins, are to be torn down and replaced with more high density Apartments. Market Rate Apartments (like those pictured above) for workers of Hopkins are in high demand and will compliment the new Middle East Neighborhood well as well as the bridge between Oldtown Mall and Hopkins.
Speaking of Oldtown Mall, where does it fit into all this new development? Well, as these new developments are being built, this is the perfect time to reopen Gay St. to vehicular traffic and make it a thru street from Pratt St. to Belair Road using its old right of way. Rehabbing the Old Town Mall buildings before this takes place would be futile. Once Gay St. has reopened, then and only then can life be breathed into Oldtown Mall.
The goal for Oldtown Mall is historic preservation. When the layers of bight are peeled back, the buildings are beautiful and should be treated as such. Once rehabbed the buildings will be filled with Neighborhood Retail on the ground floor with Residences on the upper floors. In short Old Town Mall will be a better version of what it is. Once fully redeveloped this area will be one of Baltimore's most sought after addresses as part of Baltimore's New East Side.

Friday, July 5, 2013

Baltimore's Next Arts & Entertainment District: LaTrobe Homes?

 As part of my ongoing Series on Neighborhoods in East Baltimore between Downtown and Hopkins, I'm brought to Latrobe Homes, a public housing development consisting of approximately 700 low rise Apartments bordered by Homewood Avenue and McKim St. to the west, Aisquith St. to the east, Madison St. to the south, and Eager St. to the north. Esnor St.,  (which in my last post I have renamed Harford Avenue) runs through the middle of the development.
Numerous public housing developments in East Baltimore have been torn down in East Baltimore and the new developments that replace them have been met with great success. My goal is to redevelop Latrobe Homes in a fashion that will produce similar results (population growth, higher quality of life, lower crime etc.) but the types of housing and businesses are different than those found in other developments.
 I haven't been able to find much information on what was on the land LaTrobe Homes now occupies but given its proximity to the Jones Falls, It's safe to think that it may have once played host to Mills not unlike those found in Hampden-Woodberry. My other theory is that it was dilapidated slums which is what most public housing developments replaced. In either event, LaTrobe Homes served the purpose of housing an influx of workers during the great migration and World War II. When the demand for those jobs went away, the "workers" stayed which created poverty throughout the City especially in public housing developments and LaTrobe Homes was and is no exception.
The Communities surrounding LaTrobe Homes are currently in shambles especially those to the north and east (Johnston Square and Oliver) The crime and blight of LaTrobe Homes feeds off the crime and blight of Johnston Square and Oliver making for a vicious circle. It has to stop. I don't building on the vacant lots of Oliver and Johnston Square will yield much change without the redevelopment of LaTrobe Homes first. Given the age and size of the development, it makes sense that redeveloping LaTrobe Homes will have great rewards.
One can't help but notice when looking at a map of LaTrobe Homes that actually very close to Greenmount West, which is part of Station North. Station North is gentrifying more and more by the day and the gentrification is heading east from the Charles North area to Greenmount West. Charles North may become a victim of its own gentrification efforts as glitzy new developments for the area are planned in the coming decades.
Now I can't stress this enough; Station North is not meant to be another glitzy Harbor Neighborhood, It's a Live/Work Community for Artists that provides affordable Housing and Studio  Space for said Artists. If the developments proceed as planned, these Artists will be priced out of their Neighborhood and would need to relocate elsewhere.
This is where LaTrobe Homes enters the picture. We have yet to see a public housing development redeveloped as an Arts & Entertainment District. All other new developments that stand where public housing once stood are mostly mixed income urban Apartments and Town Homes. Although these new Communities are worlds better than their predecessors, I would like to see something different when redeveloping LaTrobe Homes.
I envision LaTrobe Homes as an expansion of Station North. I think that will then encourage the rehabilitation of existing row homes and redevelopment of vacant lots in Johnston Square and Oliver. So now there's the burning question of how this new development will look. First thing's first; public housing for Seniors. This is a must have for any development replacing outdated public housing and LaTrobe Homes is no different. The Senior public housing will act as a barrier between the prisons and the rest of the new development. It will contain a mix of amenity filled services including independent living, assisted living, and nursing home setups. Existing LaTrobe Homes Seniors will get first puck when it comes to available units.
Now the fun stuff, the actual Arts & Entertainment area; it will be focused along Harford Avenue (the Main St. of the new Neighborhood.) I envision Harford Avenue to flanked with live/work lofts with Art Galleries and other Retail that will serve the Neighborhood like a Farmers Market. Perhaps even a Grocery Store can go here as this area is a Food Desert. The Live/Work lofts will be sprinkled throughout the new development but the heaviest concentration will be on Harford Avenue. The goal for Harford Avenue is for it to emulate North Avenue in Station North. The Live/Work lofts as well as some of the regular residences, will have Artist subsidies. 
In addition to the Artist Housing, there will be normal market rate housing some of which will emulate some of the housing recently built in Station North. There will be a few public housing sprinkled throughout the development for LaTrobe Homes Residents who aren't seniors. 
Right now LaTrobe Homes is an area of the City plagued by crime, blight, and population loss. Once redeveloped the area (including Johnston Sqaure and Oliver) will be flanked with population growth, safety, beauty, and a high quality of life for all Residents.