Wednesday, January 29, 2014
The Social Security Complex originally moved to this newly constructed Super Block fortress as part of an Urban Renewal Effort with the theory that bringing public jobs Downtown would fuel private investment in the already ailing Westside of Downtown (pictured above). This did not occur and Downtown felt became all the more blocked off from West Baltimore as a result. Connectivity between Downtown and West Baltimore had already weak due to the Road to Nowhere, MLK Boulevard, and the crime ridden high rises of Murphy Homes and Lexington Terrace on either side of the Road to Nowhere.
Today this area of the City along with State Center, Lexington Market (pictured above), and the Super Block represent some of the most potential and hope for Downtown, Downtown's Westside, West Baltimore and the City as a whole. It's time too streamline development plans so that each parcel of land has its full potential recognized. It's also important to note that there are some bright spots in the area, both Lexington Terrace and Murphy Homes have been torn down and replaced with The Townes at the Terraces and Heritage Crossing respectively and the new Red Line is slated to run right through the area. Just to the south in Lexington Market is the potential for a transit hub connecting the existing Light Rail, the existing Subway, and the Red Line.
Before any real dialogue can take place regarding the redevelopment of the soon to be vacated Social Security Complex, we must first talk about the Road to Nowhere. I find that to be the biggest hurdle in opening up the barriers between West Baltimore and the Westside of Downtown. Currently there is a Master Plan for dismantling and redeveloping it however it has an obvious fatal flaw; they're doing it backwards! The plans for redevelopment start at the opposite end of the Road deep into West Baltimore at the MARC Station (pictured above)where the redevelopment energy now in Downtown's Westside is still eons away.
When it comes time to demolish the Social Security Complex, it must be done cohesively with the Road to Nowhere. As soon as the larger than life than life intrusion hits the wrecking ball, so too should the bridges (pictured above)that carry the Road to Nowhere traffic over MLK Boulevard and into Downtown where the re-assume being parts of Franklin and Mulberry Streets. Westbound, from Downtown Franklin St. traffic will never merge onto the Freeway as its right of way will be gone. Eastbound from West Baltimore, the freeway can remain almost in full except ALL traffic will exit onto the MLK Boulevard "ramp" thus eliminating the bridge. This idea for the Road to Nowhere is not my own, it was first proposed by fellow Blogger Gerald Neilly several years ago. I just happen to support it.
Now that the Social Scurity Complex has been demolished, we can finally have a real conversation about redevelopment. West of MLK Boulevard, I would build a Town Home Community to bridge together Heritage Crossing (pictured above)and the Townes at the Terraces. It will be a mixture of Home Ownership units both market rate and affordable. Fremont Avenue will be reopened between Franklin and Mulberry Streets and will serve as the western edge of this new Community. As for the Social Security Complex, I don't really know what to do with it at this time. All I can do is say what I don't want.
I don't want anymore Office Space. Well, I don't want anymore now. The City has way more Office Space than it can handle. The Central Business District (pictured above) has high vacancy rates as Offices have begun to move to Inner Harbor East and Harbor Point when it comes online. In fact if you read my "Keeping the State Out of State Center" post you will see that I intend on demolishing the State Center and having all of its Office Space move to the Central Business District to lower the vacancy rate. I would purposefully stall the any Office portion of State Center's redevelopment until the demand for it has returned.
I'm pleased that the Social Security Complex is being vacated and relocated. I'm even more pleased that the jobs are staying in the City and I hope this means major redevelopment for the building and surrounding areas. One reason I'm being so vague about what could go in its place is that the possibilities are endless. It's no wonder that I'm pleased about the pending move.
Thursday, January 16, 2014
East Baltimore had always been a working class Neighborhood. Small two story Row Homes were built to house workers from the Factories and the Docks both South and East. Bethlehem Steel was a major Employer of East Baltimore as was the American Can Company and the Breweries on Brewers Hill. Johns Hopkins and Church Hospital at the time occupied small spaces in the Neighborhood and their staffs were a fraction of the number employed by Hopkins today. In short, Hopkins workers didn't make up a large percentage of the East Baltimore Workforce.
As the 20th Century wore on East Baltimore began changing, White Flight and Blockbusting changed Neighborhoods from White to Black almost overnight, industry in America as a whole began drying up which made this once proud working class Community fall into Poverty, Public Housing High Rises were being erected between Downtown and Hopkins, and just as quickly as middle class Blacks began settling into East Baltimore, they began fleeing just like their White predecessors had as crime had begun to spillover from Neighboring Public Housing Developments. Poor Blacks in the area did not have the resources to move out of their once tidy row house Community so they were forced to stay in their constantly shrinking increasingly violent Neighborhoods where by the end of the 20th Century, boarded up row houses were beginning to outnumber occupied ones.
One fascinating detail of this all too common story of urban decay is the tremendous growth of Johns Hopkins Hospital during this time. As East Baltimore's row homes were being abandoned, Hopkins was acquiring land to expand their Hospital to offer more Patient beds, build new departments of growing Medical Fields where they hired the best and the brightest Doctors, and classrooms for Med Students, Interns, and Residents to become the best Doctors they could be. This expansion led to Patients coming to Hopkins and only Hopkins from around the Country and around the World to be seen by Doctors at Hopkins because they knew they were getting the best treatment in Medicine. This propelled Hopkins to become one of Baltimore's largest private sector Employers bypassing Bethlehem Steel.
The growth of Hopkins and the decay of the surrounding East Baltimore Community seemed to contradict one another. If the Neighborhood was decaying so much how could an institution like Hopkins grow with such surroundings? On the flip the question was asked, why weren't efforts being made to make more of the Hopkins Staff into East Baltimore Residents? The answer was and still is crime. The Hopkins Campus is heavily guarded day and night by Security and Police Forces alike. However. if somebody gets lost trying to find Hopkins or an exit from Hopkins, well that's a different and often scarier story. Hopkins workers for the most part have the means to live elsewhere, therefore they do.
In the early 2000s, Biotech Parks were sweeping the nation by storm. It seemed that every Hospital and/or University wanted to add one to their campus(s.) On the West Side, University of Maryland had wanted to add one (pictured above) and took the bold step of crossing MLK Boulevard into Poppleton, a West Baltimore Neighborhood that has seen the same crime and blight that East Baltimore has. Hopkins also wanted in. Only difference with Hopkins is that they wanted to use their Biotech Park as a springboard for full scale redevelopment of 1000+ row homes in East Baltimore north of Hopkins.
Neighborhoods south of Hopkins such as Washington Hill, Butcher's Hill (pictured above), Historic Jonestown, and Patterson Park had begun to see new signs of life partly due to the dismantling of the public housing high rises and new mixed income Town Homes that risen up in their place. These Neighborhoods have also provided a link from Hopkins to the Harbor as well as Downtown. Suddenly Hopkins and East Baltimore didn't seem so far from Downtown and the Harbor.
As the Master Plan for the Biotech Park and the redevelopment of the 1000+ vacant row homes north of Hopkins began to take shape, the recession hit. Today, the housing market is beginning to pick up some steam but there are those who say the entire New East Side is in Jeopardy because the Biotech Park part of the plan is in lingo. I'm sorry but isn't John Hopkins Hospital one of Baltimore's largest Employers with a infinitely growing staff? On that same note aren't people in general moving back to Cities because they're sick of long commute to and from work? The answers to both questions is yes.
The idea of actually having a thriving safe sustainable Community surrounding Hopkins is a relatively new idea. Most of the reasoning of it being so new is because Hopkins was so much smaller and employed so few people when East Baltimore actually was a thriving Community. The thinking has to be; Biotech Park or not, The Neighborhoods surrounding Hopkins can and should be desirable simply because Hopkins is such a huge institution that it's a magnet that draws Residents to it.
Neighborhoods south of Hopkins have fared much better than those north of it so full scale redevelopment or even small scale redevelopment isn't needed like it is north of the Hospital. That being said, Baltimore's new East Side should continue to build and reach its goal of 1200-1500 new and rehabbed homes. The only real question is what to do with land that had been set aside for the Biotech Park. I'm sure there are uses for it such as Community space, additional housing, or the land could be banked in case the demand for a Biotech Park resurfaces. I also don't see the Hospital's expansion stopping anytime soon so the Biotech Park land could also be used by the Hospital.
Tuesday, January 14, 2014
As the flight to the Suburbs was on in full force so was the plight of the Neighborhood Corner Store. The City Blocks that they served were emptying out and the Shoppers who were moving to the Suburbs had big new Grocery Stores they could shop at. During the flight to the Suburbs the automobile became front and center in American Life and your Neighborhood Corner Store doesn't exactly have "acres of parking" something that Suburban Grocery Anchored Shopping Centers would boast about when trying to lure Shoppers. The Automobile and the Flight to the Suburbs effectively killed the Neighborhood Corner Store.
Meanwhile, the lower density Suburbs sport many Grocery Stores some with square footage exceeding 100,000. Take Owings Mills for instance. Its population is growing rapidly and according to the 2010 Census it had reached 30,622. Now lets take a look at the Grocery Stores serving Owings Mills. There are two Giants one in New Town Village Center the other in St. Thomas Shopping Center, there's a Safeway, a Food Lion, a Wal Mart, a Sam's Club, a Target, and a Wegman's under construction at the old Solo Cup Factory. That's a lot of Grocery Stores.
Now lets go into the City and find a plat of land that has roughly the same population as Owings Mills. Lets try SoWeBo, West Baltimore, Downtown, East Baltimore, and Southeast Baltimore. As long as you don't trek into North Baltimore, you will find food deserts.
These plats of land in Baltimore may in fact have a larger population than Owings Mills yet it doesn't have nearly the amount of Grocery Stores. Why? I mean everyone needs food to survive right? What makes the City so different from Owings Mills? If a Grocery Store were to open anywhere in the City the amount of people living within a square mile of it is staggering compared to a Suburb like Owings Mills yet there they aren't.
The density of the City is so high that if the same amount of Grocery Stores that are in Owings Mills were built for every 30,000 Baltimore Residents, there would be a 60,000 Square Foot Grocer every couple of blocks. The fact that this hasn't happened is partially why many parts of Baltimore appear to be barren Food Deserts. There could in fact be a Grocery Store a couple of miles away but the area is so dense, it would warrant one or two Grocers to be closer especially when comparing populations with Owings Mills.
Despite the good news in the above paragraph, there are still many Food Deserts in Baltimore. Some of these Deserts are even located in some of Baltimore's most sought after Neighborhoods that are receiving large amounts of Population Growth. Fells Point, Butchers Hill, Mount Vernon, Downtown, Highlandtown, and Patterson Park are some of the areas in question. All of these Neighborhoods could each get their own 55,000 to 65,000 Square Foot Grocery Store and the Market wouldn't be saturated. If I were a Grocer, I would be looking to open in any one of these areas.
Not all Food Deserts are located in sought after Neighborhoods that are growing. In fact one reason these Neighborhoods are Food Deserts is because they're also "People Deserts." So many Neighborhoods in East and West Baltimore as well as Park Heights in Northwest Baltimore. These Neighborhoods have some of the most concentration of population loss in the City with nearly half the buildings and lots vacant in some cases. In East Baltimore especially near Hopkins, there are redevelopment Master Plans in effect that are aimed at attracting growth and with it more Grocery Stores. The Park Heights redevelopment plan also calls for Grocery Stores. Both of these plans are using the "if you build it they will come mentality."