Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Allied Signal - Honeywell - Excelon

Nothing can better signify the change the legacy city of Baltimore is going through than the peninsula jotting into the Inner Harbor which is now called Harborpoint.

From 1991 to 1993  I assisted in working with the community, the then owner Honeywell, Enterprise, Struever Brothers and then Cho Wilks and Benn architects  on an ambitious Planned Unit Development that was based on an even more ambitious environmental remediation plan capping the site, surrounding it with slurry wall piles and containing the hexavalent chromium contaminated soil.

It is very exciting to see almost a quarter of a century later cranes and concrete and the first floors rise from this capped site to become the landmark tower of the energy giant Exelon. The PUD has been amended twice since my time on this and the total allowed square footage has grown from 1.7 million square feet to almost three million.

The base of the new Exelon tower. (Photo: Baltimore Sun)

Tuesday, February 24, 2015

ULI Service Panels, a long tradition of assisting communities

ULI has assisted communities since 1947 in any number of issues including development, land use, transportation, sustainability and healthy places.
This week I am participating in a panel that will work with the residents of the three barrier island towns of Anna Maria (Bradenton Beach, Holmes Beach and Anna Maria) on a list of challenges that the residents, commissioners and mayors of these three communities put together,. Their chief concern appears to be that they feel overrun and that their residential communities are changing from permanent residents or yearly renters to short-term use by weekly visitors.

Bradenton Herald

Peaceful and idyllic (Bradenton Beach pier)

but also congested. Can success devour itself?

Small beach cottages grow larger and are increasingly  rented to weekly visitors

The Operations Cost Trap

The ICC interchange with US 29 
For years experts have warned how eventually maintenance of ever larger road networks will eat up any ability to build something or neglect maintenance. Now the dilapidated status of our infrastructure is legendary and political attempts of increasing the available resources through taxes are tepid or non existent.

Concrete has been falling off Maryland highway bridges: If Maryland's new DOT Secretary Rahn wants to emphasize maintenance over new construction it should include a review of how maintenance-intensive new highway projects are. From what I can see, the bridge orgies of the ICC or the new I-95/I-695 interchange will cost huge amounts to maintain and will bankrupt us in the future. They are like a Hummer that gets 8 miles a gallon whereas the old interchange was like a 1985 Toyota Tercel, slow but 40mpg; a non existing ICC didn't cost anything at all.

When will we see a LEED standard for infrastructure, especially roadways?

The new I-95 interchange with the beltway north of Baltimore
(photo: Jeffrey Sauers)

Friday, February 20, 2015

Smart Cities and Innovation: Resilience, Adaptation, and Eco Districts

In a Pasadena/DC/Seattle/Baltimore online conference call I participated in coordinating a panel presentation at the National AiA Convention in Atlanta this year. 

Smart Cities and Innovation: Resilience, Adaptation, and Eco Districts

Among other things I want elaborate on this: 

Cities now represent the core hubs of the global economy, acting as hives of innovation in technical, financial and other services. A quote from a 2011 brochure titled “the new economics of Cities”  

Cities and metro regions have become the dominant human life-form, 
Cities are considered more nimble, easier to govern and therefore more innovative
Many Cities have become the drivers in sustainability, in resilience, in local food production and in alternative transport
Increasingly mayors collaborate across continents 
The Global Cities Initiative is a five-year project that aims to help leaders in U.S. metropolitan areas reorient their economies toward greater engagement in world markets.

In this context it is obvious that urban design has to step up its game. 
No longer can it be simply a Collin Rowe’s “bricolage”, a Collage City of artful but gut level juxtaposition of fragments nor can it simply be what Rem Koolhaas has occasionally propagated, mere self organization. No longer can we represent cities with wood models. 
The Big U a collaborative resilience plan for lower Manhattan, a AIA National Honors Award 2015 winner (I was a jury member) 

Thursday, February 19, 2015

The Segmented Hotel Market Produces a new Brand Hotel in Baltimore

The latest segmented hotel brand is Hyatt Place which now has an urban presence in Baltimore's on the edge of swanky Harbor East on a block where warehouses dominated until now and still adjoin the hotel. Designed by Cooper Carry's hospitality design division, the hotel fits 208 rooms (they call it "keys" as if anybody still had those) into a design that stays under the highrise limit and accommodates a spliced in second floor garage level for 64 cars.

The new hotel seen from the southwest. Note the well hidden second level garage
which is naturally ventilated and largely concealed by those awnings. Under the awnings
are restaurant and retail spaces, the hotel entrance is on the side on Central Avenue
photo: Cooper Carry

The investor, Ken Finkelstein is bullish on Baltimore and says that the new hotel is doing very well with bookings since it opened in December 2014..

Hotels this size are run as franchises and are more efficient to run than the full service 450 - 600 room hotels, Finkelstein says.

The hotel peaking over properties that represent the old industrial time of this area

View from the new hotel towards the northwest shows the space between Harbor East
and Little Italy that has not yet been "gentrified"

The Cooper Carry section shows the second level parking and concealed utility zone on the roof with cooling tower and mechanical equipment

Clean lines and modern touches in the guest rooms which currently go for $165 per night

IS 435 01 Urban Resilience 3.0 - a MICA class

Tomorrow I am invited to speak to a class Sarah Doherty teaches at MICA (Maryland Institute College of Art), the topic is urban resilience.

Here some talking points I prepared:

IS 435.01 Spring 2015
Urban Resilience:
Context and Intervention
Syllabus Friday 9--‐3pm         Instructor: Sarah Doherty
Station 112

Urban Resilience, what do we mean by that?

 the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens
the ability of something to return to its original shape after it has been pulled, stretched, pressed, bent, etc.

 "act of rebounding," from Latin resiliens, present participle of resilire "to rebound, recoil," from re- "back" (see re-) + salire "to jump, leap"

What do we mean by this when we apply it to a city?
  • ·       Resilience against climate change
  • ·        Climate adaptation
  • ·       Social resilience
Baltimore's Fells Point during hurricane Isabel

How can resilience be applied to transportation?

Alan Mallach, FAICP, Senior Fellow, Center for Community Progress

All those legacy cities... have more jobs than residents;... it's not even a skills mis-match. It's a matter of connectivity.”

Resilience and social justice and equity   - Baltimore’s greatest challenge

The Baltimore Red Line, a tale of two cities 

Art in Transit: Red Line
The Maryland Transit Administration aims to enhance the stations and the environment along the corridor, making the Baltimore Red Line welcoming to riders and reflective of communities' unique characteristics and histories. Communities' input will be an important component of the artwork created for specific station and location with the corridor.
Phase I of the Program launched in November 2012 and resulted in the creation of a master plan of art opportunities at the stations and structural elements such as the Red Line bridges and portals.
Phase 2 of the Art in Transit Program began in June 2014 and will focus on identifying the art for the stations and structural elements. Community comments will be collected in a series of three meetings, including a meeting with the artists, and used in conjunction with other criteria to select artists and final works. Learn more about the mission and goals for the Art in Transit Program and the opportunities for art at the station in your community in the Art in Transit Meeting 1 presentation.

Resilience and public space articles:
on My Blog Community Architect:

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Design - Reality and Fetish in the Wende Museum

East German reality before the Wende: Volkspolizei in the Trabant car
The State was everywhere.

The design of Socialist realism as cult object in a museum and a full page in this month's Metropolis Magazine.

Not sure what it tells us that there is a Wende Museum (Wende is what German call the fall of the wall) in Los Angeles and not in Berlin or Dresden.

It probably means that in order to fetishize an object, one has to be far removed of the squalid context in which originated. People in Dresden or Leipzig would not yet be ready to make the former life a cult object, even if they often seem to be plenty "homesick" for the old times.

East German transistor radio named Trabant just like the ubiquitous two stroke car that
became a symbol of the East German brand of socialism 

Anna Maria Island Study

While locked in the ongoing deep-freeze in the Northeast this week, I am studying Florida's Anna Maria west coast barrier island south of Tampa bay in preparation of a ULI Advisory Services assignment next week.

The island wants ULI to advise on matters of tourist management, permanent residents versus seasonal renters (sounds familiar, Ocean City?), parking management and traffic congestion. Curiously absent from the issue list provided in the briefing book is resilience, sea-level rising and climate adaptation.

I previously participated in Advisory Panels for the Raleigh Durham Airport (RDU) and healthy community panel for Arvada, CO. The about six person multi-disciplinary panels of national experts are great learning experiences and have a record of providing meaningful advice since 1947.

Ghost development Villa Rosa: Living on the canal proved to be a flop in light of the great
Florida real estate bust. It is Anna Maria's last new development and apparently now ready to take off.
Diagram from a ULI Advisory Panel for Manatee County in 2013

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Volunteer Work in Non-Profits needs "Capacity Building". What is that?

Many well meaning non profits and activist organizations don't consider capacity building sufficiently. Here what "capacity" is thanks to Barbara Hopkins, Executive Director of NeighborSpace, an urban land trust of which I am board chair. Check out the Neighborspace website, it has a has a lot of resources. If you like to have good open spaces in urban areas, you can consider becoming a member.

Capacity Definition
·         Capacity is an abstract term that describes a wide range of capabilities, knowledge, and resources that nonprofits need in order to be effective.  What makes an organization effective?  According to Grantmakers for EffectiveOrganizations, it is “the rededication to achieving results.”  Organizational capacity is multi-faceted and continually evolving.
·         Building capacity is about building an organization’s ability to perform well.  The framework for capacity building includes six elements of organizational capacity (see below).  These interdependent elements provide the framework for successful capacity building, as they are important elements of a nonprofit organization’s health and performance. 

Dangerous rail cargo in our midst

Seeing this massive fire of an oil train falling into a river and setting the stream ablaze renews the concern that these same trains roll right through the hearts of our cities. 
Makes one dream about a post oil society and solar panels!
Baltimore sure had its tunnel scare once. Communities are nervous now! New freight routes are discussed but far off in the future.

New York Times article

100 car oil train tips into river in Fayette County, WVa and sets it ablaze.

Tax Breaks for Developers cost Schoolkids Money

Thanks to a state formula that supports local schools based on assessed wealth and not actually collected taxes, the debate about tax credits has fully flamed up again. Is it smart to give developers those incentives?

I opined on Facebook:

In this debate about tax breaks we need to be sure we remember things correctly. It was [Mayor] Schaefer's vision that anticipated Inner Harbor East and the land owners were reluctant to embrace it. [Baltimore baking magnate] Paterakis said "I am a baker, not a developer." The city then paid up front for streets, sidewalks, all new utilities and new bulkheads and, still, that layout sat there for years with just little Victors cafe overlooking the water and no investors until finally Sylvan Learning Center, one of Baltimore's first start ups built a modest headquarter there. It was Schmoke who then thought that this place would be great for a Convention Center hotel. When Paterakis wanted to build a real big hotel I helped fighting the tall tower because it violated the masterplan [which concentrated tall buildings in the center allowing views of the water]. So it got somewhat smaller, the incentives were put out to get it built and Harbor East started to unfold. 

Without any of this public subsidy, would Harbor East still sit fallow? Probably not, but it would most likely not have followed an award winning masterplan at all and it may have happened much slower. Would the City have made more money with no incentives? Who can say, but we should keep in mind that tax breaks require that first something has to be in place to give the break on. 

And don't we still have many more places where there is nothing in place for which to give a break? We tend to forget that those areas of desolation included once even the waterfront. That is not to say neither the city or developers should forever act like beggars but we do need to remember correctly.

Global Cities at Brookings with London's Mayor as Entertainer

London's Tory Mayor Boris Johnson is quite the character and hellbent to come across as folksy and humorous. "The cities have made it" he declared, "now it is time to worry about suburbs and small towns".

See this revealing interview in the British Guardian newspaper which sheds some light on this mayor.
London Mayor Boris Johnson in conversation with Bruce Katz and San Diego's Mayor 

He looks like he is ready for a fight

Resilience? Not when it snows!

The more we talk about resilience the less resilient we seem to get. In the case of doubt, just close everything, including the entire Federal Government, right after it was closed for President's Day. For too much snow, too much ice, too much wind, too cold or too hot. I am all for additional vacation time, but this seems to be inefficient and unpaid to boot.
Winter storm causes dozens of flight cancellations, disrupts commutes
Deserted streets. US 40, normally a clogged artery. Salt isn't terribly effective at 14F, probably it would be better to just let the fluffy snow be instead of this sloshing mess.