Tuesday, January 22, 2019

Clipper Mill: Additional development details revealed

Tonight the Clipper Mill and Woodberry communities will hear about two additional projects on the Clipper Mill campus. Here some details about the projects:

Clipper Mill history 
The 17.5 acre $88 million transformation of a defunct industrial site dating back to 1850 into a model of historic preservation, sustainability (including the nations presumably first green wall) and transit oriented development (TOD) opened in 2006 under the name Clipper Mill. By all accounts, the redevelopment was a huge success. 13 years later, its restaurants, studios, offices and residences form a vibrant community that has become a regional destination and a must see demonstration of authentic redevelopment of brownfields in an industrial legacy city.
Clipper Mill site plan (Cho, Benn Holback Architects)
The Urban Land Institute published the development as a successful case study. ULI described the Clipper Mill development this way:
[...] a long underused 17.5-acre (7.1-ha) site that once housed Maryland’s largest and most productive machine manufacturing complex into a vibrant, mixed-use community. The development team reused the 1853 historic site and its five deteriorating buildings to create 61,500 square feet of office space, 47,500 square feet of studio space for artists and craftspeople, and a wide range of housing, including 34 townhouses, 38 semidetached houses, and 62 condominium and 36 rental apartments. [...] Clipper Mill is a transit-oriented community that integrates many elements of sustainable development. It offers a unique sense of place that is created in part by the preservation of the site’s history and the incorporation of the work of resident craftspeople into the project’s design. [...] SBER wanted to provide safe, code-compliant, and affordable studio space for resident artists; preserve the charm of the historically significant site, which contained five buildings in varying states of disrepair and convert the complex into a viable mixed-use community that would attract families from outside the city of Baltimore. Its goal was not just to rehabilitate the property but also to inspire the neighborhood.
Valstone Partners' proposed projects

However, the original planned unit development was never completed. The financial crisis and the downfall of the developer, Struever Bros. Eccles and Rouse intervened. Eventually SBE&R offloaded their development and in 2009 parts fell into foreclosure. In 2017 ValStone Partners, a Michigan-based private equity investment firm, bought the commercial buildings and properties of the Woodberry site and began planning for the remaining gaps. A preliminary study that investigated what could be done on the undeveloped lots  showed hundreds of new apartments, a potential coffee shop and sandwich place, small offices and parking garages. The new density brought neighbors and Woodberry residents out en masse to discuss and question what Valstone proposed. Existing residents and neighbors were especially opposed to repealing the 2003 Planned Unit Development Plan (PUD) in favor of more density.
Aerial of the Clipper Mill site with a view of the Tractor Building
(Photo: Baltimore SUN)

This Tuesday the community will receive an update presented by Caroline Paff, a principal at VI Development, which is shepherding the entitlements for ValStone. The proposed development is limited to just two sites (The Tractor Building and the Poole & Hunt parking lot at 2001 Druid Park Drive. The density and uses are based on the the existing 2003 PUD, even though the underlying zoning was changed as part of the new City zoning code to be a TOD-2, a zoning category that favors density around transit stations. The proposed projects are further developed from the feasibility study presented in 2018, done by Marren Architects who are also retained to be the architect for the Tractor Building in concert with Design Collective. The designers for the townhomes will be BCT architects. Valstone selected two developers as partners for the two projects, Commercial Development for the Tractor Building and Garver Development Group for the townhomes. The sites will be subdivided from the rest of the Valstone holdings.
Valstone considers the properties in Clipper Mill long term investments. [..] Valstone understands the significance of the clipper mill aesthetic and is prepared to invest in a plan that preserves the tractor building. The plan is keep the building and remove the old roof and rear wall to enable redevelopment (Paff)
No use of historic tax credits or any other public funds is planned, Ms Paff told Community Architect Daily upon request.
Potential Valstone development parcels in green
(Site plan as shown at 2018 meeting)

The development plans foresee approximately 99 apartment units, between 140 – 155 parking spaces, and a small amount of street level commercial space for a 6 story tall redevelopment of the Tractor building with one level of below grade parking. For the Poole & Hunt lot 48 rental 2-3 bedroom townhouses are envisioned, three and four stories high. The total square footage is to be about 48,000 s.f. The proposed developments are far less than the 336 units that were discussed in prior meetings, but they also do not include all potential development parcels.

VI Development states that the development team hopes to start construction for the townhomes in the fourth quarter 2019 with about 15 months until completion and that construction on the Tractor Building could start a year later, estimated to take 16 months to complete.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The article will be updated after the community meeting to be held Tuesday, 1-22-2019 at 6:30pm in the Poole & Hunt building.

Baltimore Fishbowl reported about the developer selection
Baltimore SUN reported about a community meeting in August 2018


Friday, January 18, 2019

Shopping in Baltimore remains a challenge


There is a lot of irony in that Target and Marshalls should shut their Mondawmin stores. Not that the country wouldn't be hopelessly over-retailed in light of a diminishing demand for brick and mortar stores. Not that big boxes and malls are closing all over the country. The US has about 5 times more retail area per person than Canada or Europe. But Baltimore actually continues to suffer from being under-retailed.
Struggling Mondawmin: The new Planet Fitness won't cater to shopping
needs (Photo: Baltimore Sun)

In spite of a fairly high population density and aggregate purchase power, retail in Baltimore is scarce. Attractive and modern retail can basically only be found at the periphery in places such as Canton Crossing or, in an older less up to date version, out on the historical radials such as Reisterstown Road. A copy of Canton Crossing is planned as Yard 56 in Greektown and a redo of the Northwood Plaza by the same developer is also in a non central location and based on a typical suburban strip center layout with parking in front.

Real urban shopping like at the Gallery Place at the Inner Harbor and the stores of Harbor Esst remains rare, and hardly serves typical daily needs. The shops at the Inner Harbor and along Pratt Street struggle and rarely stick around for long. Even the ubiquitous drugstores don't always stay in the strategic downtown spaces as the closure of the Rite Aid at Howard and Lexington proves. In 2011 the Baltimore SUN was hopeful:
Shuttered Target at Mondawmin (Photo: BBJ)
"Downtown is ripe for additional expansion for retail companies that at one point dismissed coming into the city," said Mark Millman, chief executive officer of retail executive hiring firm Millman Search Group. "You'll continue to see more and more of this all over the country. Retailers are looking at cities closely as major profit areas."
Some retailers are expanding amid the recovery, and for many, urban sites are in high demand. Long after suburban retailers began tapping into urban markets, cities such as Baltimore still find themselves underserved in some areas, experts say. (Baltimore SUN)
Online shopping, robot delivery: Kroger test Phoenix AZ
But in spite of an ongoing recovery since 2011, Baltimore's retail never saw a really convincing wave of retail seeking out downtown as a "major profit area". Large parts of Baltimore continue to have trouble finding a decent full service supermarket and for the popular national chains like Target residents have to travel all the way to Canton, a place much more difficult to reach than Mondawmin Mall with its transit center and subway station. While several "main street" commercial districts such as "the Avenue" in Hampden or Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown see a certain renaissance, it remains difficult to find standard articles like hardware, office supplies, kitchen needs, furniture or toys in the city.
McKenzie market data 2018: A scarcity of useful data

In this complicated situation the historic downtown retail center known as Market Center is trying to define its future. It shouldn't be too hard to support retail with so many new residents in Baltimore's "fastest growing neighborhood" (Downtown Partnership slogan) and the large inner city neighborhoods to the west nearby. But retailers remain skiddish and the local offerings remain very heavy on barber and beauty shops or places selling luggage. That this doesn't have to be this way, has been pointed out by the Urban Land Institute when they were called to provide suggestions for the Westside in 2010. The national experts pointed to Cincinnati and its Over the Rhine area as a good precedent on how to revive an ailing historic retail area. In a visit not too long ago I found a bustling district full of shops and restaurants, mostly local specialty store, not national chains in an area that at the turn of the century looked much like Howard Street.
Retail on Howard Street (Photo: Philipsen)

As I have described in previous blog articles, the Cincinnati turn-around was the result of a big investment initiative in part fueled by  local corporations, an approach that is eyed with suspicion by many local activists. The new Opportunity Zones with their designated federal and state funds may make a difference. Baltimore has certainly designated a record number of those zones. But critics have already pointed out, that via the promised tax credits most of the money will go into the pockets of investors and will not necessarily fuel local entrepreneurs such as storekeepers.

As the national retail scene develops, it may well be that amidst online shopping, robot deliveries and failing malls the small, local, walkable urban storefront with the friendly owner behind the counter providing human based service will be the format that is most likely to survive.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

BBJ: Yard 56 article
Kroger CEO: Harris Teeter acquisition was a preemptive shot at Amazon
Harris Teeter has been expanding across the Baltimore area and its local stores include Locust Point, Canton, Severna Park, Columbia and Ellicott City.

Friday, January 11, 2019

Share what you think about those dockless bikes and scooters

Even though their real impact on the regional transportation problems is minimal, dockless scooters have captured a large portion of the national discussion about transportation, about cities and about the sharing economy. (For am overview see here). Even  Rolling Stone took notice: From Toy to Thrash: How Scooters Are Becoming Millennials’ Extreme Sport of Choice.
Latte sipping, helmet free scooter zipping on the sidewalk: Not the whole story

And as it has become common, unfortunately, two seeming irreconcilable camps have quickly formed, those who love scooters and those who hate them. In whatever city one travels in the US and increasingly also internationally, unused scooters are cluttering sidewalks and happy scooter riders are zipping around, all too often in the streets against the traffic or on sidewalks stealthily and silently approaching from behind whisking by sometimes within inches of the walking public.

The debate mirrors most of the usual opinion blocks. There are those who want more regulation opposed to those who hate regulations, the young and the old, the able bodies and the ones with impairments, the ones who care about the environment and those who don't want car driving any further impeded. But the battle lines in the equity debate have become more complicated. Unlike in the earlier debates about bike-sharing, the scooter discussion is less racially charged because, unlike bicycles, the scooters have quickly been accepted by young people of color  and their use has penetrated well into the disenfranchised and disadvantaged communities; possibly this, in turn, has hardened the scooter opposition of suburbanites riding into town in their cars.
Old docked bikeshare is out, at least in Baltimore (Photo: BBJ)

Meanwhile new arguments are pouring in, injury reports from emergency rooms attributed to scooter crashes, reports about the near monopoly of one scooter manufacturer in China (Bloomberg: Almost Every Electric Scooter in the World Comes From This Chinese Company) and increasingly experience with scooters that don't operate properly. Not surprisingly, the lawyers are just waiting to pounce. Plenty to sue about: How do scooter companies enforce the rules that their vehicles are to be used with helmets, not operated by anyone under 18, not be operated on sidewalks?

Regulators in Cities are right behind the lawyers. Some cities have banned scooters altogether, some declared them motor-vehicles and others, like Baltimore take a wait and see attitude. Actually, Baltimore's DOT isn't entirely hands off. They provided the share companies of Lime and Bird temporary licenses with a maximum number of vehicles, fees per scooter and bike, a requirement to share data,  and certain obligations for facilitating access to the poor. (Details can be found on BC-DOT's website here). The pilot will end in February. In 2018 649,343 scooter rides were logged (starting August 15) and 4,635 Lime bike trips in December alone.
Bird and Lime scooters are permitted in Baltimore

Baltimore City, led by DOT, has launched a Pilot Program for shared dockless vehicles which will last from August 15,2018 until February 28, 2019.  These vehicles can include bicycles, e-bicycles, and e-scooters which are available to the public for rent. At this time there are two companies who have entered into agreements to operate during the pilot period (website)
In an effort to tally up experiences in Charm City, BC-DOT now wants your opinion and launched an online survey in which users and non-users, lovers and haters alike can voice their opinions.  The four page survey can be found here. No matter where you stand, take the survey before it is too late (the survey closes on Jan 20) and the City will decide whether to extend the program.
Dockless Lime bikes also have electric power. (Photo Stephen Babcock)

The scooter debate doesn't have to be all or nothing and using dockless vehicles doesn't need to become a regulatory nightmare either. Scooters could easily become safer and more comfortable with bigger wheels that don't get caught as easily on Baltimore's rugged streets, more protected lanes should be provided so scooters don't have to be used on sidewalks or amidst of cars and trucks and visibility could be increased with better front and rear lights. The companies could be forced to do better maintenance and better collection of damaged scooters. Nothing is more annoying for haters and lovers alike, than damaged scooters which litter the sidewalks and can't even be used. So there may be some common ground, after all. And in terms of equity: Dockless vehicle collection and scooter repair provide low threshold job opportunities as part of the burgeoning gig economy.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

online DOT survey

If the survey doesn't do your concerns justice, contact Meg Young, Shared Mobility Coordinator Baltimore City Department of Transportation, her e-mail: Meg.Young@baltimorecity.gov



Wednesday, January 9, 2019

Is New Orleans like Baltimore?

After the comparison with Fort Worth was just too much a stretch and, as far as policing, is obsolete now, how about New Orleans? There is a general sentiment in Baltimore, that the Big Easy has a lot in common with Baltimore, in terms of problems, and in terms of attractions.
Baltimore and New Orleans (Data USA)

As has been discussed on all platforms since the Mayor's new favorite police commissioner was announced, NOLA and Baltimore both have had lots of issues with their police departments which brought a federal consent decree to both, to NOLA, in fact, much earlier and possibly for even more egregious transgressions. Both cities regularly rank tops in crime and murder rates. Are there other commonalities?

New Orleans lost a lot of its population as well, although not only in a steady trickle like Baltimore, but through one big catastrophe, hurricane  Katrina which hit the city in 2005.
New Orleans cultural cliche: Music and jazz
(Photo: Philipsen)
Both cities are the largest in their state. Both dealt swiftly with their Confederate Monuments, both have a majority black population, both have now a female black mayor.  Both share high poverty rates.

New Orleans isn't doing as well with job creation as Baltimore, but home values are a bit higher there. Baltimore's metro area is twice as large as that of NOLA and, obviously, the Big Easy sits far away from the nation's capital and has no nearby city to lean on. Baltimore's history has strong German influences, New Orleans' is French. Both are port cities. Both are known for their historic architecture. Both cities know entrenched poverty and an economy that benefits some and leaves many behind. Both cities seem to be perpetually at the crossroads.
New Orleans cliche: The historic red streetcars
(Photo: Philipsen)
As New Orleans approaches its 300th anniversary next year, it ranks as the third-most unequal city in the U.S. based on income gap, according to a recent Bloomberg analysis. The metro economy is adding lower-paying jobs at a faster rate than higher-paying jobs that could build a stronger middle class. The poverty rate in the city remains a staggering 27 percent, twice the nation's rate. [...] minority-owned businesses represent 27 percent of businesses in the New Orleans metro area and get only 2 percent of all revenues generated in the city, according to The Data Center. That 2 percent hasn't changed - nationally, it's 4 percent - despite all of the post-Katrina spending.(The Times-Picayune Sept 21, 2017)
New Orleans cultural cliche: Bourbon Street (Photo: Philipsen)
Of course, the Baltimore Convention Center would be glad if it had the occupancy and conventions that NOLA can regularly attract.  Fells Point and the Inner Harbor attract day tourists, but Bourbon Street and the Mississippi  attract tourists from around the world. In fact, New Orleans residents may find it a stretch to be compared to Baltimore. Yet, they mourn the departure of their police chief and Baltimore leaders are celebratory:
Six weeks ago, I had the opportunity through the Baltimore Metropolitan Council to visit New Orleans and meet Chief Harrison to learn what was working there that may be applied in our City and region.
Within minutes, it became clear that Chief Harrison was the type of leader that Baltimore needed, that Baltimore deserved. He understood the role of a police department to rebuild trust among all as the basis for safer communities. He spoke of the federal Consent Decree reforms in New Orleans as the driver for culture changes that reduce violence. And he spoke of partnerships with human development agencies to reduce crime by empowering people. 
Ethnic diversity, Baltimore and New Orleans (Data USA)

And it has worked. As of 2018 and four years with Chief Harrison at the helm, New Orleans saw the lowest violent crime rates in the City since 1971. They are in the midst of exiting their Consent Decree successfully. And they've restored trust and accountability between law enforcement and the residents of the city. That type of experience and leadership is what our Baltimore Police Department and the citizens of Baltimore deserve.(Senator Bill Ferguson in an e-mail)
Median income, Baltimore and New Orleans (Data USA)
New Orleans is a much less densely populated city and spreads over a much larger area (about twice the land area of Baltimore). NOLA police offers about 3 officers per 1000 residents, Baltimore has 4. In spite of a hefty budget increase in 2018, the NOLA police budget with just shy of $200 million is still less than half of Baltimore's.

Endless rows of boarded houses are uncommon, but 5 years after Katrina the city counted 47,700 abandoned properties, in 2018 there were still 14,700 vacant residences, based on population that is on par with Baltimore.
Sinking vacancies in New Orleans (Report)

Even though it, too had serious leadership problems with a mayor who was indicted and sentenced, the city seems to be less inclined to self loathing as Baltimore's residents, not even after Katrina when the entire state of Louisiana was frequently compared to a third world country. Mayor Mitch Landrieu who followed Nagin was well respected not only in his city but across the US until he left office in May of last year.

All in all, in the end New Orleans may not be all that similar to Baltimore, but unlike Fort Worth it is a city with which we can identify, and maybe even one, we would like to be compared with, at least when it comes to reforming the police department.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
Downtown glitz does not spread into all neighborhoods
(Photo: Philipsen)

New Orleans on pace in 2018 to have fewest murders since 
New Orleans Police Chief Michael Harrison leaving to head Baltimore policeNOPD Budget presentation 2019

Also on this blog:
Confederate Monuments: Learning from NOLA?

Thursday, January 3, 2019

No, Fort Worth isn't much like Baltimore

Ever since Forth Worth's police chief Joel Fitzgerald (born in Philadelphia) has been first rumored, and then confirmed, to be favorite pick for Baltimore Police Commissioner, people have been grappling with this choice. One of the reasons for the consternation: Considering the DNA of Baltimore, whether it is historical, demographic, economic or geographical, there is hardly a place that is more different than Fort Worth, Texas, a place that many consider the most Texan of all Texan cities.
Baltimore and Fort Worth,  hard to compare (Date USA)

Since there is so much talk about Fort Worth, here a few fun and not so fun comparisons:

When Baltimore was America's second largest City, Fort Worth had hardly even been considered as a stop on the Crisholm trail. But today Fort Worth's population exceeds that of Baltimore by roughly 250,000 and is home to several Fortune 500 companies. (Baltimore: Zero). Fort Worth's largest employer is American Airlines (about 22,000 employees), Baltimore's is Johns Hopkins (about 35,000 employees). Both metro areas are home to Lockheed Martin plants. Baltimore's unemployment rate in May 2018 was 5.6%, that of Fort Worth 3.5%. Baltimore's poverty rate is 23%, that of Forth Worth is about 22% (2016) but because of different statistical methods it is also sometimes given as a much lower 17%. Our property tax rate is 2.25, theirs is 0.78 per $100 valuation. (Baltimore's actual average effective rate is $1.65 due to homestead credits).
Christmas at Sundance Square, Fort Worth
(Photo: Philipsen)

The largest universities in Baltimore, MD are Johns Hopkins University, with 8,159 graduates, University of Maryland-Baltimore, with 2,126 graduates, and Loyola University Maryland, with 1,642 graduates. The largest universities in Fort Worth, TX are Tarrant County College District, with 7,759 graduates, Texas Christian University, with 2,796 graduates, and University of North Texas Health Science Center, with 663 graduates. The median property value in Baltimore, MD is $153,500, and the homeownership rate is 45.7%. Most people in Baltimore, MD commute by driving alone, and the average commute time is 28.9 minutes. The average car ownership in Baltimore, MD is 1 car per household. The median property value in Fort Worth, TX is $151,000, and the homeownership rate is 57.1%. Most people in Fort Worth, TX commute by driving alone, and the average commute time is 26.7 minutes. The average car ownership in Fort Worth, TX is 2 cars per household.(Data USA)

From a policing point of view both cities share a rough and tumble past. Baltimore is also known as Mobtown whereas Forth Worth had its "Hell's Acre" or "bloody third ward".  Both cities also have a strong railroad past, Baltimore as the origin of the nation's first passenger rail line, Fort Worth as historically the westernmost rail-head and a switching station for cattle transport. Both cities' history includes an influx of black Americans followed by segregation policies. However, overall Forth Worth has only about 20% black residents. The Texan town has a Star as its local paper, Baltimore, of course, a Sun ("light for all"). Both Cities have ridiculous visions and slogans. "Fort Worth will be the most livable and best managed city in the country" and Baltimore of course simply wants to be "the best city in America".
Christmas in Baltimore (Photo: Philipsen)

Interestingly, Fort Worth is also home to one of the oldest public housing projects in the nation (constructed in 1939) and a Housing Authority (FWHA) that goes back as far as 1938. Butler Place, the locale of the historic public housing project there, is today separated from downtown in a similar way as Cherry Hill from downtown Baltimore, namely through a jumble of elevated highways and railroad tracks. Like Cherry Hill Butler Place is a mostly African American community. Like Baltimore Housing, FWHA (now called Fort Worth Housing Solutions (FWHS) is experimenting with federal rental assistance demonstration program money (RAD) to engage the private sector in rehabilitation. Like Baltimore Housing is re-imagining Perkins Homes and Somerset as  a new mixed use, mixed-income community, so is FWHS looking for ways to "re-invent" Butler Place, considering relocation of all of its residents. Displacement, apparently, isn't a big issue there.

Both cities have women mayors, but that is where the similarities end. Baltimore's Mayor has lots of power whereas Forth Worth's Mayor Betsy Price is more of a figurehead in a city manager system. Baltimore is landlocked and surrounded by a county with its own government, in Texas cities are part of the county. Tarrant County is Republican, Baltimore City Democratic. Baltimore's murder rate is 307, Fort Worth's is under 70.
Butler public housing in Fort Worth  (Photo: Philipsen)

Baltimore's downtown once was a vibrant retail center, Fort Worth's downtown has only recently become a real place after Downtown Forth Worth Inc. was founded in 1981 (a group similar to the Downtown Partnership here) and created  Texas' first public improvement district in 1986, then in 1996 a downtown tax increment financing district. Today Sundance Square gives Fort Worth a "there" that many find worth visiting and that has plenty of programming, retail and restaurants. Baltimore has the Amtrak Northeast Corridor as an excellent rail connection, Fort Worth has an anemic commuter train linking it to its twin city Dallas and is dreaming about high speed rail that will one day connect it all the way to Houston.

While Maryland forewent fracking as economic development because of its environmental hazards, the Fort Worth economy is heavily relying on fracking and gas.
Chief Fitzgerald was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, in 1971, and was educated locally and attended Villanova University, where he graduated with a Baccalaureate Degree (B.A.) Liberal Arts. He continued his education at Eastern University, where he earned his Master of Business Administration (M.B.A.) degree, and later earned a Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.) in Business Administration. Fitzgerald received appointment to the City of Philadelphia Police Department in 1992, and served over 17 years in various ranks before his 2009 selection to serve as Chief of Police in Missouri City, Texas. In December 2013, he became Chief of Police in Allentown, Pennsylvania, where he faithfully served until 2015.. (Fort Worth website)
The Baltimore police department has 2,514 sworn members with a budget of nearly half a billion dollars policing 92 square miles. Forth Worth has 1,700 sworn officers policing 350 square miles a budget that is a bit more than half of Baltimore's ($253,000). Fort Worth's operating budget is about $1.9 billion, its General Fund $611 million (2016). (Baltimore's combined budget is $3.4b)
Unemployment map of Fort Worth: Another black butterfly

Fort Worth's murder rate "has mostly mirrored the national trend. From 1985 to 1995, an average of 138.5 murders occurred each year, including a high of 200 in 1986. In 10 of those 11 years, no fewer than 108 murders (1995) occurred. The outlier, 1987, saw 97 murders, a number that hasn’t come close to being matched since homicides in the city dropped dramatically in 1996....In 1986, Fort Worth’s population was 432,342. By 2016, it hadulged to 851,849." (Star Telegram).

Based on population the Fort Worth murder rate is about 8.1 per 100,000, Baltimore: 51.1.

Baltimore residents can meet the proposed police commission this weekend in two "meet and greet" events. The City Council will have a conformation hearing coming Monday.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The interviews  City Council members conducted in Forth Worth can be found here.
The job application and resume Fitzgerald submitted to the City can be found here.

Update: The below meetings have been cancelled due to a medical emergency, so Mr Fitzgerald has postponed his visit to Baltimore (Baltimore SUN, Ja. 3, 4:46pm)
City Council meeting: The council will take comments from the public on the nomination at a 10 a.m. meeting Saturday in its chambers at City Hall.
“Westside Community” meeting: A meet and greet with members of the community will be held 10 a.m.-11:30 a.m. Sunday at the Jewish Community Center, 5700 Park Heights Ave.
Fort Worth has conflicting views on Baltimore police commissioner nominee Fitzgerald, report shows
Eastside Community” meeting: A meet and greet with members of the community will be held 2 p.m.-3:30 p.m. Sunday at Morgan State University, Morgan Business Center, 4200 Hillen Road.
Second City Council meeting: At 5 p.m. Monday, the council will hold a second meeting in its City Hall chambers, during which members will question Fitzgerald
. (Baltimore SUN)

Monday, December 31, 2018

Is Baltimore really always at the cross-roads or are we further along than we think?

Whining about the state of affairs is always in season in Baltimore

Baltimore is never far from navel gazing and feeling sorry for itself, from diagnosing that everything is falling apart and lamenting that nobody has a grip on anything. And how much better we would be off if we had better leadership. In fact, this seems to be pretty much the normal state of affairs ever since I set foot here 32 years ago and probably before. Once in a while a new Mayor or a few positive news set off a more optimistic tone and a sense of resolve, only to soon subside and make place for the usual sense of doom.
Hand-wringing about Baltimore has become a national pastime

The low self esteem of this city spreads as news. Currently a front page article in The Washington Post was titled "Baltimore's Open Season". Needless to say, the high murder rate and the low clearance rate on everybody's mind anyway being highlighted on the front page of a national paper didn't lift the spirit either.

State Senator Bill Ferguson placed a photo of the paper on his Facebook page from where it was shared on the Baltimore City Voters page. Ferguson lamented:
we wait months and months for a commissioner to be nominated and weeks and weeks for any actual transition. We lose our director of Mayor's Office of Criminal Justice. We still haven't expanded Safe Streets after money was granted by the State. We flounder along in implementing the consent decree. And we continue to stagger without a coherent crime and safety plan for the City. It doesn't have to be this way, it simply doesn't. We are so much better than this, Baltimore, and we cannot accept such low expectations for our City. (Senator Ferguson)
One can't argue with any of that. Dan Sparaco, once in the Mayor's office under Stephanie Rawlings Blake, used the Senator's post to put his own view online. It, too, takes the tone of "the end is near" (unless we do something drastic).
Sadly our challenges seem so complex and so intractable no one knows who to blame.
Those of us who can't stand what's going on are going to have to figure out how to tell a different story about what's going on. It cannot just be about personalities, or who happens to be mayor.
For my part, I started something called BmoreNow.org. It's not just a political project. It is a historical project. We have to understand how we got here, and we cannot wait 20 years for the historians to tell us. We have to make our history into a political project.
That history leads us to the fundamental truth. Aside from all of our inherent strengths as a city, the fundamental truth about Baltimore that was hidden before 2015 and that came to light after 2015 is this: this is the worst place in the country to grow up Black.
This sense of foreboding, the sense that all is lost and that the City's fate is all but sealed is not even uncommon in academic circles. Already in 1995 David Rusk wrote a pamphlet titled "Baltimore unbound" which postulated that the City is "beyond the point of no return." Some ten years later nobody thought that this was the case any longer, the spirit had slowly lifted. But then Mayor Dixon was indicted, the financial crisis hit, followed by the second Baltimore uprising and since then gloom is in season again. The SUN published an op-ed at the end of 2018 which once again summarizes all of Baltimore's ailments and combines them with ridiculous ideas for a fix (Make the courthouse a state museum, locate a university on Howard Street). In short: overstated problems no real ideas for solutions.

Crime, police and leadership

Certainly, the fact that Baltimore City alone has 30% more murders than the the entire country of Canada  can make even the most ardent optimist depressed. The almost daily slaughter is, indeed, terrible and unacceptable. But we need to keep things in perspective, nevertheless. In the international comparison, the entire US has a terrible murder rate per capita. There are even cities with higher murder rates than Baltimore (list). But those troublesome facts shouldn't
Not a great selection process: DeSouza
mean giving up. Take New Orleans, a city which typically had a higher rate of shootings and murders than Baltimore or Chicago and had been additionally decimated by hurricane Katrina. In spite of those blows, the city didn't resign to doom. Today NOLA is widely seen as on the mend, Mayor Landrieu is praised for having led NOLA to a new renaissance. His swift removal of confederate monuments was adopted by Mayor Pugh in Baltimore. "We see you," Landrieu is fond of saying. In Baltimore many don't feel they have been heard. Which gets us to leadership.

The Sparaco and Ferguson Facebook posts were followed by lots of online lament about how poor our leadership is, even though Sparaco had just pointed out that the Mayor still enjoys an over 50% approval rating according to a poll he didn't name. Between an unpublished poll and the unreliable gauging obtained from social media posts it is hard to tell, how many people really blame the Mayor for the poor performance of the City when it comes to crime, policing and finding the perpetrators.

Sparaco says that we need to get beyond looking at the persona of our leaders and approach the problems more comprehensively, but the spite that is spewing on the Facebook pages when it come to the Mayor, is palpable. The same was true for Stephanie Rawlings Blake and before her Sheila Dixon. Can it be true that all these mayors are losers or could it be that the critics are especially harsh when it comes black women? And wouldn't it be fair to argue that a city gets the mayor it deserves? After all, Baltimore's mayors got all elected, no matter how low the turnout may have been.
Washington Post front page

Could it be, that being the Mayor of Baltimore is an impossible job? Or better, that pleasing the residents is an impossibility in a city which is myopic, parochial and consists to a large degree of people who either don't know any other place or don't care making an actual viable comparison?

Could it be, that it is much simpler to throw the baby out with the bathwater and declare that the city is going to hell in a hand basket than to do an actual detailed analysis which puts things in perspective and names actual doable steps towards improvement? The deplorable condition of the police department is a case in point. Three police commissioners in one year, federal investigations and a consent decree, crimes and cheating on all levels of the department, who wouldn't describe this as a morass? Yet, wouldn't it stand to reason that in a city with so much crime and dysfunction, police would be more likely a mirror of these conditions than some magical organization of competence and upstanding citizens? Especially, considering that the police finds itself pulled in two directions: Tougher and more effective on crime on the one hand, and bringing more equity and more civil rights on the other. Sure, it has been rightly pointed out, that real justice eliminates this false alternative between toughness or equity, but this is hard to explain to the average Joe. And the harder the job of being a cop in Baltimore is, the less likely it is to attract people that are much above average.

People complain about ineffective police but also that police absorbs more of the budget than education. But wasn't it Mayor Pugh who had publicly vowed to change that (and did for a while, at least on paper)? People rightly say that crime can't be fought on the level of catching criminals but it must start much more upstream with education, recreational and job opportunities. Isn't that exactly what the Mayor had suggested as well followed up with $20 million for pre-emptive crime prevention strategies and with free community college for Baltimore students?

The limits in the available personnel pool are true for teachers, department heads, police commissioners, and, well, mayors, especially when the usually concerned citizens clamor for hiring from within the community. A Mayor faces these contradictions and tugs in different directions every day. A Mayor who is there for all people will never please everybody. Pugh doesn't play well in a team, the critics say, she doesn't analyze problems well and then act. She decides too much alone on gut instinct, they say. But isn't she the Mayor who hauled her entire cabinet in a bus to Sandtown as one of her first deeds in office, asking everyone what they can do post-Freddy Grey? Isn't this the Mayor who demanded of her department heads to come in an hour early to discuss as a group how crime can be lowered? Time and again?

People always complain that the Mayor is in the pocket of developers and pays attention only to downtown and the "white L". But wasn't Pugh the Mayor to work with the Council to put together a community reinvestment fund with the express purpose of investing in the distressed and neglected neighborhoods? Wasn't it her planning director who appointed an Assistant Director for Equity, Engagement and Communications who analyzed the capital budgets and found blatant inequities that have since been corrected?

The actual statistics

How does it fit a city that is supposedly a step away from falling apart, that its fiscal health has been greatly increased lately? The baseline deficit through 2022 was reduced from $745M to $65M, an over 90% reduction? Or that the City has lost only 3,000 people in the last 8 years, way less than in any of the decades before, even though, this falls, of course, way short of the goal of growing the city by 10,000 households. The fact that only Baltimore and Detroit lost any population in a time of urban renaissance is certainly a cause of concern, but it is necessary to look beyond just one metric. More important than population numbers is fiscal health.
Baltimore's tax base and fiscal health is rising

Baltimore gained a lot of new young and educated people, many of them single. This explains how a city with decreasing population can still have an actual increase in the number of households. This isn't a sign of decline. Nor is it decline that the City gained about 30,000 jobs in the last ten years and that the number of poor households decreased.  City unemployment decreased as well, in absolute numbers and relative to the State average as well. In 2010 it was over 4% higher than the State average, in 2017 it was only 1.8% higher. Assessed housing values continue to gain, even though these gains in the City are only a bit more than half of those on the State average, given the City's high number of houses with nearly no value at all, this value gain is still a remarkable fact.
In 2010, the total number of households in the City was 238,392, of which 141,892 or 59.5% was composed of households earning less than $50,000. Contrary to the population experience, the City actually gained more than 4,000 households, or 1.7% between 2010 and 2016, and reached a total of 242,416 resident families. Out of this total, 45.3% or 109,811 is composed by households earning more than $50,000, an increase of almost 13,311 or 13.8%, while those earning less than $50,000 decreased by 9,200 or 6.5%. (Summary of the Budget Fiscal  2019)
In the year end stories compiled by national media, Baltimore's large number of vacant is always worth an article. In a story about Baltimore's "disappearing act", AP once again recites the numbers. But in it, Seema Iyer, head of the University of Baltimore based numbers team BNIA (Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance) expresses cautious optimism: "The mayor’s put together a really strong team. All the pieces are there. Whether they can connect the dots remains to be seen.” The article quotes her.
The AP article also mentions what the City has been doing to combat vacant homes and bring re-investment to the distressed communities now widely known as the "black butterfly" (the large wings eat and wet of the "white L"):
But Michael Braverman, the energetic director of Baltimore’s Department of Housing and Community Development since 2017, is confident the city is turning a corner. Braverman says city government is focused on stabilizing and revitalizing neighborhoods that can grow, and on building from areas of strength.
Disenfranchised areas are expected to see new investment via federal “opportunity zones” and a public-private Neighborhood Impact Investment Fund, created by Mayor Catherine Pugh earlier this year in part with $55 million from city-owned garages. Other grants and funds aim to boost affordable housing and foster what Pugh touts as an inclusive “new era of neighborhood investment.” (AP)
 The reality of vacant housing isn't particularly encouraging, because in spite of significant rehabilitation efforts  (about 4800 units in four years, not counting demolitions), the number of vacants remains flat for the last ten years. The reason is ongoing population loss, especially from distressed neighborhoods. (17 neighborhoods in Baltimore showed population growth).

The Departments

The Baltimore hand wringers usually just take it as a foregone conclusion that Baltimore's administration is bloated, inept and lacks innovation. A closer look at individual departments provides a quite different picture.
investments in distressed communities were increased

Take the Health Department: It had three extremely successful Commissioners over the last several mayors and has made big strides in reducing infant mortality, teen pregnancy and a few other indicators. In fact, the last commissioner, Lena Wen, had such a high national profile that she was appointed to be the national executive director of Planned Parenthood.

Housing was already mentioned, as an agency with a very broad portfolio (Mayor Pugh split it into two agencies that manage public housing and community development) it is responsible for everything from public housing and housing units that fall into the City's hands through delinquent owners, to code enforcement and permits. The Vacants to Value program aiming to recycle vacant units has gone through many years of refinement and is now a nationally recognized program with quite a few innovative tools. Housing is also a key recipient of RAD funds (Housing Assistance Demonstration), an innovative way using public private partnerships to rehab affordable housing.

Planning finished a new zoning code, a new Sustainability and Resilience Plan and a Green Network Plan, something that none of the surrounding counties has managed to achieve. Only a closer look at these documents reveals how closely they track the best practices from cities like Philadelphia or New York. Since Planning is the agency to lay out a vision for the future and also put together the annual capital budget for the entire city, it isn't just academic what happens in this department.
Baltimore Parking Enterprise Fund

Transportation: Most would agree that this department has been a hot mess for years. It isn't clear yet if the new director is able to swing things into an altogether better direction. But progress has been made. The department now collaborates closely with MTA to expedite buses on separate lanes and with signal priority, it has continued the "orange cone" street repaving program begun under previous mayors. In spite of the bad image of Baltimore's streets, many miles have been repaved downtown and in distressed neighborhoods, potholes get filled within 48 hours, but the process is flawed and performs way under the necessary targets. The Circulator bus is now under new management, so is Baltimore's Water Taxi and a very progressive Complete Streets bill was passed thanks to a new and invigorated City Council. The department has learned from other cities and after being late and failing twice, it put in place regulated and managed test periods for shared scooters and bikes and has finished a few additional protected bike lanes. The new speed and red light cameras seem to work without major problems.

Related to transportation is an unmitigated success story: Baltimore's Parking Authority, a body that has adopted best practices in everything they do. It is managing parking with meter kiosks, garages and dynamic pricing. The authority makes money and fuels the Circulator Bus. The revenues for the reinvestment fund also come from leased garages.

Schools: Baltimore City with the help of the State has set aside unparalleled funds for school construction. The program is midway and people point rightly to a still sinking student population and bad test scores to say that a focus on buildings isn't enough. There are a few very good schools, but there are also many in which education doesn't happen. However, even the most ardent critic will have to admit, that a school in the center of an area that has been distressed for many decades, has a student population that it alone can't turn around.

Conclusion

The purpose of this article isn't an apology for the many things that go wrong in Baltimore. I am one of the first to confess to losing patience at times about the snails pace of progress and the many missteps taken. Following what is actually done here and elsewhere quite closely, I once thought I knew the answers, but now came to realize that for each solution there are unintended consequences and disgruntled constituents and most importantly, larger national and regional forces that can nix local efforts. That whatever Mayor there is, a fragmented and splintered population is ready to throw its leaders under the bus. The wholesale condemnations do nothing to bring progress. Instead, a more differentiated view is needed.
City Health care cost trajectory (bottom)

Most of all, though, what is needed, is that the private sector, the large non-profits, the institutions and the bigger community associations with their community development corporations engage and look beyond the City's boundaries for comparison and best practices to agree on a few larger goals. This may sound like a trite solution, but compared to Pittsburgh, Cincinnati or Detroit the Baltimore private sector, the universities and the large non-profits have hardly engaged at all. There is nothing gained from calling all city leaders incompetent, corrupt and ill meaning. Those cities which are ahead of us, succeeded because they created a consensus agenda of where they wanted to go and created a sense of mission. In that, even Detroit is now ahead of us.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Friday, December 21, 2018

Will three new County Executives boost Baltimore's standing in the region?

Nothing makes people yawn faster than mention of the word regionalism. Local politics isn't exciting to everybody anyway, and local policy extrapolated to a larger place even less. Those who at least understand what regionalism means might say, "Yeah, sure, maybe in Portland or Minneapolis, but not here. (Portland has the only elected regional government in the country, Minneapolis-St Paul is widely seen as a success story of regionalism.) Will the results of the recent mid-term elections make a difference in the Baltimore region?
The Baltimore region represented in the Baltimore Metropolitan Council

Baltimore's regional government, the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, has been so much on snooze that its website has been saying "under construction" for month and finding anything there is more miss than hit. More miss than hit is also true for the various initiatives and ongoing policies of the BMC, a body that consists of Baltimore City, the City of Annapolis and Baltimore, Harford, Anne Arundel and Carroll counties.
The Baltimore Metropolitan Council (BMC) is a nonprofit organization that works with the region’s elected executives to identify mutual interests and develop collaborative strategies, plans and programs that will help improve the quality of life and economic vitality. BMC is a resource for the region. (Facebook page)
Needless to say, the interests of those members hardly ever align. The slowest and most reluctant thinker always determines the speed of this train, and when it came to regional collaboration and solving metropolitan issues, deeply conservative Carroll was usually activating the brakes.
The new Howard County Exec Calvin Ball

But lately there has been whispers of hope: Anne Arundel, Howard and Baltimore Counties each elected a  relatively young new face, Steuart Pittman (57), Calvin Ball (43) and John Olszewski (36), all Democrats and all interested in collaboration. Could it be that the region finally is moving closer together? That they truly realize that most local issues expand way beyond the respective jurisdictional boundaries?
Most challenges, after all, span multiple jurisdictions. Carbon emissions don’t stop at city borders. Workers look for housing and jobs, consumers buy groceries and other goods, and parents seek out schools for their children across city, county, and even state lines. Cities and suburbs are deeply interconnected and thus need each other to tackle the major issues of our time. The best local climate change plans will reflect regional commuting patterns and industry activities, just as the most effective economic strategies will connect neighborhoods to broader regional opportunities.(Brookings)
In full realization that urbanization and international competition require a look at metropolitan areas and not arbitrary lines on a map, the United States Office of Management and Budget (OMB) has long created the Baltimore metropolitan statistical area (MSA), an area of a 2,600 square miles slightly under 3 million people. (The MSA includes Queen Anne's County). This puts the Baltimore MSA nationally on rank 28, behind Tampa, Denver and St Louis but ahead of Portland, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati Cleveland and Austin.
Surprise winner: AA County Executive Steuart
Pittman

Water, sewer, traffic, electricity, are all obviously part of a regional system and require regional coordination. But wouldn't this mean that planning, land preservation, transit and affordable housing (to just name a few) also need to be coordinated? Wouldn't that be a particular obligation for Baltimore County and Baltimore City which hold each other in this peculiarly tight embrace that defies all planning logic?

The thing is, that not even water is truly regionally planned these days even though it has a regional distribution, pipe, and reservoir system.  Baltimore County plans, designs and builds its own water lines, the City only maintains them. The City really doesn't have a say about the design, composition, or development of new subdivisions and their pipes. In matters of stormwater the two jurisdictions are entirely uncoordinated, even though stormwater freely flows from Baltimore County into Baltimore City, following the general contours of the watershed. The City had no say when the County abolished its impact fees for run-off. (Which people who don't understand stormwater management called the "rain-tax", a term that completely misunderstands the importance of the issue).

Of course, transportation coordination is already required by federal law which mandates the creation of metropolitan planning organizations. Our's is the Baltimore Regional Transportation Board (BRTB) which sits inside the BMC. (Regional transportation planning has occurred even before it was a federal mandate). But the entire regional alphabet soup didn't prevent the State Secretary from single-handedly cancelling the Red Line and with it the 2002 metro area rail plan.and that he channels all transit money into rural roads or MDOT puts its capital budget together based on their "road show" in which individual local jurisdictions tell them what they want. Maryland where transit is largely managed by the state, desperately needs local government to step up their game, so that they don't need 4 years to recover from a strike like the cancellation of the $2.9 billion Red Line.  To create a stronger counter force the General Assembly last year voted to require the creation of a new regional transit plan which will be juggled between MDOT/MTA and BMC and needs to be completed by Oct 1, 2020. The plan represents an opportunity for the members of BMC to engage in transit and provide meaningful contributions.

BMC put out a pretty good document, when it organized the Regional Opportunity Collaborative in 2015 based on rich regional data mining. Everybody connected it to the unrest in the spring of the same year and vowed that the opportunity document  should not sit on a shelf. Which is, of course, exactly what happened.
Opportunity mapping grows out of the reality that where one lives heavily influences one’s social, economic, and health prospects. This use of non-traditional housing data provides a more holistic understanding of a community’s health. We used a range of indicators related to education, housing and neighborhood quality, employment, public health and safety, and transportation to rank the region’s census tracts in quintiles (each one-fifth of the region) from highest opportunity to lowest opportunity. (Opportunity Collaborative Report)
The true metro area includes two core cities
The opportunity report should be required study for all three new executives so they can glance from it some immediate tasks. They all understand that the region will only be strong through collaboration and coordination with a meaningful division of labor and synergy between the strengths of each jurisdiction and a cooperative approach to addressing the weaknesses.

All three executives and the Mayor of Baltimore understand that the region can't be strong if the core, the largest city and the still largest employment center continuous to ail. Furthermore, the times when the suburbs could thrive on the simple notion that they were not the city (i.e. a place to flee to, a notion in good part driven by racism) are over. The so-called "inner ring suburbs" are no longer places of prosperity and homogeneity and their prospect for the future may be more complicated than those of the City since those suburbs mostly lack the parks and cultural institutions which can make a city attractive.
Opportunity distribution in the region (darker means
more opportunity)
An increasing number of suburban residents now live in poverty, including in neighborhoods with concentrated poverty and racial segregation. (Brookings)
Things become even more complex once one understands that the Baltimore region cannot be understood without the Washington region. Coordination between the two regions is still rare, even though MTA and MDOT manage transportation in a large part of both regions.

Johnny Olszewski has made regional collaboration a big part of his campaign. At several events he stood side by side with Baltimore's Mayor Catherine Pugh. One has to see if the three new Executives and the Mayor will be able to lift the BMC out of its slumber and begin the kind of collaboration that is needed pretty much across the board of everything for which local government is responsible.
Such an awakening would be good for the City but aslo essential for each of the counties.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA


Brookings: A modern case for regional collaboration