Wednesday, May 25, 2016

Charles North: No High Rises Please

During the latter half of the 20th Century, the Charles North Neighborhood was nothing more than blight separating Baltimore's showcase neighborhoods of Charles Village and Mount Vernon. A big reason this neighborhood became blighted was due to the fact that North Avenue runs directly through it and Goucher College, an institute that anchored neighborhood both in employment and residence had moved to Towson thereby emptying out the neighborhood.
In the early 2000s, in order to revitalize Charles North and neighboring Greenmount West, were designated an Arts & Entertainment District known as Station North. The City looked to capitalize on the area's proximity to Penn Station, Mount Vernon, Charles Village, Johns Hopkins University, MICA, and University of Baltimore which are all within a stones throw of Station North. This post however, will only discuss the Charles North portion of the district.
The Arts & Entertainment designation brought artists far and wide to Charles North and taking up residence in the area and opening businesses which brought both sweat equity and foot traffic back into the area. Buildings that long been vacant like the North Avenue Market, the Center Theatre, the Parkway Theatre, and the Charles Theatre are seeing brilliant restorations while businesses like the Windup Space and Joe Squared Pizza have drawn more people into the area.
There's a downside to Arts & Entertainment Districts though. They're meant to be for those with lower incomes to rent or purchase homes and businesses in the area and revitalize them using sweat equity. Sadly, this sweat equity make the property values sky rocket and the very Residents who helped create this vibrant Neighborhood are then priced out as landlords look to raise the rents and full on gentrify the Neighborhood. Charles North was no different.

In 2008, a Master Plan for the Charles North community was published and it showed six high end high rises buildings dominating the landscape of Charles North. I don't have a picture of the rendering but the high rises resemble those currently proposed for Port Covington. That part of the Master Plan did not go over well for Charles North Residents. Actually, very few parts of it did since they the Residents, built the Community into what it is today and they didn't want the City butting in to the Community they built.
I was for the Master Plan in 2008 when it came out. My mind has since changed and I am now not for them. Charles North was one Community that I believe benefited from the economy crashing in 2008. Had that not happened I believe the high rises would have been built and Charles North Residents would begin to be priced out of the Neighborhood they rebuilt.
As the years went by, existing buildings continued to be rehabbed and brought back to life. Throughout Charles North there a few buildings demolished quite possibly to make way for the proposed high rises. As of now, only one plan for a high rise has been submitted and that's in the surface level parking lot just above Penn Station.
So why did I flip flop on the issue of high rises? Well that's simple, I walk around the Charles North area and I see a plethora of Art Galleries, independent Restaurants and Pubs, a diverse array of Residents and Businesses, beautifully restored buildings, a landscaped median made up of work by local Artists. I don't want to see any of that change. As higher incomes flood the Neighborhood so too do the chain stores and the increased rents. In addition, the architectural gems in the area waiting to be restored would have a higher chance of hitting the wrecking ball.
So what do I have in mind for Charles North? More of the same, more rehabbed Artist Housing, more Local Businesses setting up shop, more green space, an expanded North Avenue median, a fully renovated Penn Station with its upper floors used a Hotel, and no affordable rent hikes. I would like all of that and more but no high rises please.

Thursday, May 5, 2016

Dismantling the JFX II: Northbound

When dismantling the southbound lanes of the JFX, it more or less opens the back doors of Downtown and Mount Vernon and puts them on ground level to generate more foot traffic. When dismantling the northbound lanes, we uncover a piece of the City that has been forgotten due to the construction of the JFX. Forgetting this part of the City was deliberate and when traveling down these old roads, it's apparent. The area I'm referring to, is the Fallsway.

The Fallsway, besides being my route for northbound traffic once the JFX is dismantled, served as a two way means to get to and from Downtown from the northern stretches of the City and County. It also covered up the namesake Jones Falls so that Downtown and East Baltimore may connect to one another. Access to Oldtown Mall, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and all of East Baltimore now had easy access to Downtown and Mount Vernon.

At the time the Eisenhower interstate bill was being funded, East Baltimore had begun decaying quickly and shareholders didn't want that blight to come to Downtown or Mount Vernon. Since an expressway was supposed to cut through Downtown and then go through Fells Point and Canton via Fleet St. and Boston St. respectively, the path in between Downtown and East Baltimore was the best choice to act as a Boundary between the two. Once the JFX opened, it worked like a charm.

During the early days of the JFX, Downtown began its renaissance with Charles Center and eventually the Inner Harbor while East Baltimore continued its decay. The Fallsway began to like the Baltimore of yesteryear as redevelopment quickly moved Downtown and in East Baltimore industrial decay made way for parking lots and residential decay made way for public housing high rises and low rises while Oldtown Mall continued its dissent to what we say today.

What we see today is a Fallsway that's all but forgotten. Not only has the Fallsway itself been forgotten but its cross streets have too. Hillen St.,? Gay St.,? Holiday St.? These were once important intersections connecting Downtown to East Baltimore that the JFX and the Orleans St, viaduct have made impossible to find let alone use.

Other parts of East Baltimore have seen a renaissance. The area around Johns Hopkins Hospital has become a hot bed for reinvestment and redevelopment with new homes, offices, labs, and eventually retail, and a hotel. In addition, there has also been great care taken to rehab existing row homes that are in good enough condition to warrant it. Currently, the goal is to connect the synergies between Downtown and Hopkins and the Fallsway has to play a big role in doing so.

As I have mentioned, this posts is dedicated to dismantling the JFX so lets go ahead and do so. My last post discussed an alignment for the southbound lanes primarily using Guilford Avenue and a then a small part of the former JFX to evenly connect it with President St. So lets talk about the northbound alignment for when the JFX is dismantled.

That alignment will be the Fallsway. In fact, not much will have to change about the Fallsway's layout. During most its alignment, the road is wide enough, the two way traffic will have to be converted to one way northbound lanes. There are on ramps and off ramps to and from the JFX which narrow the Fallsway for a block or two but part of the dismantling of the JFX will see those ramps demolished allowing for the Fallsway to be widened.

Now just like that, these forgotten roads and intersections that were severed by the JFX will reconnect Downtown and Mount Vernon to East Baltimore. Holiday St., Hillen St., and Gay St. will now be major player in moving traffic northeast via East Baltimore. There are more in depth posts on how this will be done in the future. Also streets like Eager St. and Monument St. will no longer stop and start up again on either side of the soon to be dismantled JFX. They will simply cross into East Baltimore without any interruptions.

The biggest change to the Fallsway will take place at its northern end. Currently just above Chase St. and curves west crossing the JFX and joining Guilford Avenue at its intersection with Biddle St. Once the JFX is dismantled, The Fallsway will will remain east of the JFX all the way to Preston St. where it will empty onto the JFX where the highway will continue its normal operations. Another addition above Preston St. will be a ramp to Greenmount Avenue via the current alignment of Belvidere St. This will help local not have to get on the highway and in turn keep the traffic more regional.

Now that the JFX has been completely dismantled, we can begin working on redeveloping and reinvesting in the part of East Baltimore between Downtown and Hopkins. There are many of dead zones that could expand Downtown and make Oldtown Mall a sought after destination. First we will have to look into how other intersections and roads make connections as I have been eluding to throughout this post. Stay Tuned! More in depth looks into those intersections are coming soon.