Tuesday, April 28, 2015


Sometimes it isn't easy to be a a promoter and supporter of Baltimore. At times it looks like we are moving two steps forward and three steps back. Last night was such a moment. I had to flee my office in light of marauding teenagers in the area that seemed to grow in numbers as I watched from my windows and finally walked down the block witnessing looting at the 7-11 on Franklin Street. Later watching TV seeing fires erupt, specifically the community resource center under construction near the restored American Brewery on Gay Street, was devastating. I noted this late in the evening:

Like so many others I am sad and devastated tonight. I feel that 29 years of what I fought for here is going up in smoke and flames right now. Tomorrow which seemed to be bursting with opportunity has been deflated. 
The shock and awe from seeing the area around my office become engulfed with marauding youngsters is in my bones as a physical experience I have never had or seen before. There is no glory in this type revolution in which the biggest devastation happens where the needs are the greatest. Churches on fire. Like a terrible nightmare.

The actual "tomorrow" this morning brought a new perspective. After touring the area on Baltimore's west-side I noted this on Facebook:

The Sun is up, the smoke has cleared and Baltimore wakes up as a changed city. Almost all pharmacies and convenience stores in the inner city looted, some burned. The CVS in Rosemont/west Balto burned and shattered. But traffic flows, birds are singing, the construction workers at Paca and Franklin continue to build student apartments, some bike to work. The brooms are out and a city is picking up. How far we are thrown back will depend on how much we can come together today.
Today, in the afternoon at the same time the unrest had started to build here yesterday, in stark contrast to yesterday this happened: A group of African American men in T-shirts stating "300 Men March" walked down Eutaw to keep peace. This group has marched to keep peace in neighborhoods for years:

We are a movement of men and women across the entire City of Baltimore united to press the issue of everyday gun violence in our urban neighborhoods. We do not protest, we do not blame others, we are not a prayer group. We are citizens, fed up with current accepted patterns of violence in our community. We exist to fulfill our mission. Our mission is to decrease gun violence.   
 Baltimore County moved into the spotlight as well with social media sharing a slide indicating that a "purge" was planned for Security Square Mall in Woodlawn". Probably a hoax, hard to imagine how disruptive protest should work there, as isolated and non walkable the mall is.

It is too early to declare this day a success. It is too early to draw definite conclusions about what needs to be done. The damage is far larger than brick and mortar or glass that was destroyed. Damage includes the reopened question how safe a place this city really is, it includes the rekindled distrust in young black men and the question how strong the compact is which  unites the citizens of Baltimore across races and classes.

Many messages I received from folks of all walks of life gave me courage and renewed optimism. I will try to sort them out for my weekly blog. One message I received from a new friend and resident who came from far to make Baltimore her new hometown gave me the hope that our new residents are not as thin skinned or shaky in their allegiance as one may fear. Far from turning her back on her new city she stated this:
My new home. Wishing us all peace. And that what is at the core of all this.... the complex core.... will find justice and resolution.
The strange thing is yet to come. A baseball game at Camden Yards under exclusion of the public. It would be nice if we had the courage to make it public but the game on Saturday when fans ran into unrest around the stadium has given everybody pause.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Link to a BBJ open letter: Invest in People Now!
Link to BBJ economic cost:

Friends, BSO family and all who love the great City of Baltimore:
Join musicians of the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra outside the Meyerhoff at 12 noon TOMORROW, 4/29, for a free concert in support of our community. It seems we could all use a little music in our lives right about now. #BSOPeace
"This will be our reply to violence: to make music more intensely, more beautifully, more devotedly than ever before."
-Leonard Bernstein

This morning bright and early men were using weedwhackers to care for Baltimore's famous Washington Square
in Mt Vernon, home of the country's oldest Washington Monument

Busted windows in the neighborhood, this a store that many don't know,
a true treasure trove frequented by police, outdoor enthusiasts and alternatives alike

Many of the inner city convenience stores and drugstore chains fared much
worse than this, several burned including a CVS in West Baltimore which
is one of the few retail places serving the community.
Charities are organizing medication drives to supply what elderly and sick
used to by in these stores.

Peaceful demonstration downtown 7pm Tuesday

Armored vehicles following demonstrators in a distance
National Guard
Dancing on North Abenue Tuesday night

In a shift away from Baltimore City the
Security Square Mall in the County 
Is locked up and secured by police
In reaction to online rumors. 

Monday, April 27, 2015

Bus Transit Center in Langley Park Taking Shape

This important bus transit project goes into its tenth year this year, unusually long even for large transportation projects, in part due to lengthy site acquisition.

It adds excitement for the architect and designers when the project finally comes out of the ground, best of all, designed largely as originally conceived.

The MTA project is remarkable in many ways, most of all that it happens at all. A grand sweeping design gesture for bus users isn't an everyday occurrence, even though  one can find now a good number of attractive bus transit centers across the nation. The center it is a remarkable collaboration between the State (MTA), Prince George's County, Montgomery County and the City of Takoma Park. Remarkably MTA planned, pays and builds the facility without having any of their own buses operating in the area. For this reason WMATA will operate the station.
The need for a transit center instead of scattered standard bus stops at the intersection of New Hampshire and University came from the high transit ridership in the area and the extremely high traffic volumes on the two arteries, a often deadly mix.

Pedestrian crashes came from the fact that bus riders shad to reach the scattered bus stops through crossings the busy arterials University Boulevard and New Hampshire Avenue sometimes several times, especially if  riders transfereed from one bus to another.

The main operator of the Transit Center will be WMATA with Montgomery and Prince Georges County buses using the facility also as a layover. Ride on Buses waiting for their next route on Lebanon Street was described  as a nuisance by residents living on that street. The project is coordinated with the future Purple Line to the extent that the planned Purple Line Station on University Boulevard will sit alongside the bus transit center with direct at grade pedestrian crosswalk connections.

The transit center will serve 11 bus routes that provide transit service to 12,000 passengers daily at the Takoma / Langley Crossroads.  This area is the largest non-Metrorail station transfer point in the Washington region.  The project will provide a secure, attractive, comfortable ADA accessible off-street facility with lighting, building with bathroom facilities, shelters and a large canopy where transit users can connect with various bus routes without risking pedestrian / vehicular accidents.  The transit center accommodates 11 buses, one layover and will provide a convenient transfer point to the future Purple Line station in the median of MD193 near the MD 650.
The site will incorporate bus loading and unloading areas, bus shelters, lighting, bicycle racks, landscaping, storm water management facilities, a large canopy, bathroom facilities and a service building.  The project includes two bioretention facilities and uses rain water harvesting from the canopy for irrigation. MDE has reviewed and approved the SWM concept, with comments.  The project avoids any environmental and historic impacts.  This project received NEPA approval in January, 2010. [An earlier construction cost estimate for the project was about $11,000,000.00, not including the actual site acquisition cost]. 
The below pictures were taken this week (all photos copyright ArchPlan Inc.).

The steel structure will be covered with pixelated glass. There will also be solar panels. The facility building includes a ticket sales office, a police station and bathroom facilities for bus operators and the public.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

ArchPlan is the architect of record. The lead engineering firm is Wilson T. Ballard (Civil, structural) in collaboration with Century Engineering, URS (HVAC, plumbing, electrical), Sabra-Wang (Traffic, Signage) and AB Consultants (Landscaping). 
The project is funded by Montgomery and Prince Georges County, the State of Maryland and federal TIGER grants.

All photos copyright ArchPlan Inc.
ArchPlan visualization of the completed project including the Purple Line Station. This 
representation may not be accurate for specifics of the Purple Line station location, design and University Blvd roadway design and simply shows the general relationship. 
Rendered site plan showing how buses move through the center and
service it from the curbs of New Hampshire Blvd. and University Ave.
Dark grey are exclusive bus areas.

From an early project description:

·         The Takoma/Langley Park area is situated northeast of Washington, D.C., inside the Capital Beltway, centered around the intersection of MD 650 (New Hampshire Avenue) and MD 193 (University Boulevard), an area also known as Crossroads.  A transit center to serve the Takoma/Langley Park area has been discussed for many years.
·         Some of the Washington region's heaviest bus passenger volumes travel through the Takoma/Langley Park Crossroads.  The Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA), Montgomery County Ride-On and Prince George's County The Bus provide transit services in the Crossroads area.  A total of 11 bus routes currently operate through the Crossroads area with over 12,000 daily passengers using bus stops in the area.  Approximately 61 buses per hour traverse the Crossroads area in the evening rush hour period.
·         In the Crossroads area, there is a history of many serious pedestrian accidents and fatalities.  As a result of pedestrian safety concerns for the area, the Maryland State Highway Administration (SHA) has completed design of a project to provide safety improvements to MD 650 and MD 193 that include traffic calming enhancements, streetscaping, crosswalk and intersection improvements, roadway resurfacing, and fencing to channel pedestrian flows.  Proposed SHA improvements in the area of the transit center are to be constructed along with the transit center as one overall project for the Crossroads area.
·         The Maryland Transit Administration (MTA), working closely with SHA, Montgomery County, Prince George's County and the City of Takoma Park studied four sites for a potential location for a transit center at Takoma/Langley Park.  The site selected for the proposed transit center is located in Prince George's County in the far southern portion of the Langley Park Shopping Center in the northwest quadrant of the MD 650/ MD 193 intersection.  The transit center site, which is currently occupied by a Taco Bell restaurant leasing the property from the shopping center, is centralized in the area making it highly accessible.
·         Objectives and design principles of the Takoma/Langley Park Transit Center project include:  providing a safe, attractive, pleasant, comfortable and efficient facility for passengers and bus transfer activities; improving pedestrian safety, accessibility and connections to bus services; minimizing pedestrian conflicts with auto and bus traffic; maximizing the number of bus bays and accommodating the Bi-County Transitway; and minimizing impacts for the shopping center owner.
Numerous conceptual design options for the transit center were examined during the initial site development stage.  The selected option consists of multiple, parallel, straight bus bays

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Protests, Disruptions and Provocations

As much as disruption, disobedience and disorder are justified as means of protesting injustice and to achieve greater equity and equality, rioting is no such means. 

Burning stores in 1968 has hurt and set back communities in which burning and looting occurred for decades. Baltimore is no exception. 

Nothing is achieved by some hotheads throwing bricks into a bus or store window. 

But if Baltimore's Freddie Gray case can be the drop that made the bucket overflow, meaning police brutality being now the subject of a federal investigation, at least one good thing was achieved through it. 

There is a fine line between "business as usual" and punishing the wrong people. Many small businesses downtown eek out a marginal existence, provide jobs and services and are in no way contributing to police violence, the obvious occasion of the protests. Damage by "riot" isn't even covered by insurance. Owners have to pay repairs out of pocket. 

In the sixties I have heard the argument  that violence against objects is justified in calling attention to violence against people before. It was then made by the Red Army Faction in Germany which eventually had expanded from arson in department stores to murdering people). 

 Even objects are intertwined with people; violence, once it happens has a way of spreading out of control.

On the other hand, the media just wait for the first window to be smashed so they get exciting pictures. To fall for this is tactical stupidity at best or working for the other side as an agent provocateur, in the worst case.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

updated 4/27/15

Peaceful demonstration on Pennsylvania Ave Saturday

From the Mayor's press release Sunday noon:
From the days of our nation’s earliest civil rights sit-ins, Baltimore has a long tradition of peaceful and respectful demonstrations.  Together, as leaders of different faiths in our city, we join Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and call for our citizens to honor and continue that history as we pray for the family of Freddie Gray.

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Quality over Quantity

For decades there was one thing that set Americans apart from Europeans, the firm belief that bigger is better,  and more of something for less is the biggest goal of all. 
This gave us McDonalds, Walmart, gas guzzlers, McMansions and Coors Light. And, of course: Sprawl. 

Now the trend is turning. Americans cherish micro apartments, craft beers, cities, stone hearth baked bread and restaurant meals sourced from community farms. We ask ourselves: do we have to fly to Heidelberg or Barcelona to see a neat city? Couldn't we have them right here at home?

The SUN called the old paradigm  "the McDonalds Trap" in a recent editorial and expanded the metaphor to the local planning  of Baltimore County, solidly grounded in the thinking of the last century. 
It must be noted, that Baltimore City with its smaller homes, compact ways and excellent parks is no longer just the place people flee for the county. It is now a place attracting the young generation that the County desperately needs to stay healthy. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Violence in Neighborhoods

After another black man died related to police action, Baltimore is in the news around the nation and as far as the BBC, not something to be proud of.

One has to ask what the debate of police brutality or violence in neighborhoods has to do with urban design. To which I would say: A lot. 

How much so, I became acutely aware again in discussing Baltimore's authenticity with the young African American former street kid and now writer in demand, D Watkins. We spoke the same language (give or take) but we didn't have the same experiences, we didn't know the same city and we didn't know it from the same perspective. And that was true, even though I have fairly good knowledge of the black communities he grew up in from working for decades on projects in areas like Sandtown, Middle East, Somerset Homes, McElderry Park, Sharp Leadenhall and Druid Heights.
Freddie Gray protests in Baltimore, a world not known to whites

A city in which white people and black people are so segregated that there are many neighborhoods that are almost 100% black and through which most white people have never driven, let alone set foot into,  communities cannot easily come together as one  on even the basics like policing, trash, schools, jobs or food, not to mention discussing growth, the role of the arts, urban design or anything else. 

People in the two Baltimores live like people on different continents. And the disparities between some of our poorest communities and some of our richest are indeed, like those between Rwanda and Denmark.

We will not solve anything until we mix ourselves up and get to know each other. Not a new insight, but one still unfulfilled. We will find that we actually need the same peace and services for a quality life, the very attributes the poor communities don't currently have. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The Biggest Stoop in Baltimore

The New York noon profit Project for Public Places (PPS) has one mission: improve the often loveless and sad public spaces and turn them into places. 

The areas around the Transamerica Tower, Baltimore's tallest building (once called the USF&G Tower) were conceived as mere setbacks from the street, partially elevated above a underground garage, a space to emphasize the tower for drivers whisking by on Pratt Street but not a space to walk and stroll. People walking diagonally across, on their way from Charles Street to Harborplace, for example, know the place as windswept and without any reason to slow down. Recent upgrades by the tower owner did little to change that.
PPS Illustration

The Downtown Partnership (DPoB) has set their eyes on making Pratt Street that grand urban boulevard it could be and developed a masterplan for it.  That huge space between the tower's south side and the curb is a part of the envisioned conversion. And as DPoB they did on Center Plaza, they have asked PPS for advice.

With a small grant from Southwest Airlines, lately also in the business of sprucing up the cities in which they have a major airport presence, a design has been prepared and presented yesterday that is more to be thought of as "pop up" and a demonstration of possibilities than as a permanent fix.

While some may find this private and corporate influence on the design of public spaces worrisome, however, it is the only game in (down)town when it comes to improvements of public space in a time of diminished government.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

In 1988 the author worked on a plaza revitalization plan around the USFG Tower as part of an assignment by Cho Wilks and Benn architects who looked at a number of public open space improvements at the time. He also worked in an advisory function with DPoB in the early stages of the Pratt Street improvement planning phase. 


From a June 2014 DPoB Press release:

 Downtown Partnership of Baltimore announced today the award of a grant from Southwest Airlines to transform the pedestrian thoroughfare at Pratt and Light Plaza into a vibrant, everyday gathering place for the community. The revitalization and activation of this public space will mark the latest major improvement to Pratt Street, the most heavily-used pedestrian street in Baltimore and the city’s face to the world. This project complements broader efforts to improve Downtown Baltimore through enhancing streets, sidewalks, parks and plazas. This is the first of Southwest Airlines’ nationwide Heart of the Community grants to be announced for 2014; the Heart of the Community program, in partnership with Project for Public Spaces, supports and revitalizes public spaces in the hearts of cities nationwide.
The vision for the new public space will be created in partnership with the local community through Placemaking – a movement and process rooted in community-based participation that involves the planning, design, management and programming of public spaces and capitalizes on a community’s assets and potential to create vibrant destinations. Project for Public Spaces, the pioneering nonprofit organization behind Placemaking, will facilitate a series of workshops and events with the community to develop the vision for the new public space. Once this vision has been developed, PPS will partner with Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and Southwest Airlines to implement new physical amenities, installations, programming and activities that will further activate and enhance Pratt and Light Plaza.
“Southwest Airlines believes that vibrant public spaces connect people and strengthen local communities,” said Megan Wood, Senior Manager of Community Outreach at Southwest Airlines. “We have served Baltimore for more than 20 years and it is one of our largest operations, so we are excited to strengthen our ties with the community and support the efforts to activate this new plaza in such an important location.”
The activation of Pratt and Light Plaza continues the work of the Pratt Street Redesign Plan, a master plan developed by Downtown Partnership of Baltimore, in conjunction with the City of Baltimore, to transform this important thoroughfare designed for vehicles into a world-class urban boulevard designed for the community.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Earth Day

No matter that the dedication of days to a topic is questionable when not one day but continued and daily effort is needed, let's make an exception and celebrate Earth day!

From the authentic website this:

Earth Day, observed by over 1 billion people, is the only event celebrated simultaneously around the globe by people of all backgrounds, faiths and nationalities.
The first Earth Day, on April 22, 1970, activated 20 million Americans from all walks of life and is widely credited with launching the modern environmental movement. The passage of the Clean Air Act, Clean Water Act, Endangered Species Act and establishment of the EPA soon followed. Growing out of the first Earth Day, Earth Day Network (EDN) works with over 22,000 partners in 192 countries to broaden, diversify and mobilize the environmental movement. More than 1 billion people now participate in Earth Day activities each year, making it the largest civic observance in the world.

And this from CityLab:

In 2015, Earth Day feels fairly anodyne. The litter pick-ups, the festivals selling recycled crayons, even the President's speech in the Everglades: It all seems quaint in light of the daunting climate issues we confront daily in the news. But if you, like plenty of our readers, look to cities for a bit of environmental hope, give a nod to Earth Day. It's what made [cities] look green.

Earth Day 1970 in New York City

Hogan Fires MTA Administrator

It doesn't come as a surprise, Robert Smith, second time MTA Administrator with roots in Chicago got fired by the Republican Administration under Governor Hogan.

The rumor had been out there for a week but the official confirmation came only yesterday. Smith, a likable guy kept a good bit of space between himself and the old MTA that he knew from a first stint under then Governor Glendening when he succeeded in stopping wheels from falling off buses.
This time Smith had wanted to be more ambitious and had envisioned a number of operational reforms especially around bus service. The MTA moves over 200,000 people a day in buses, compared to about 30,000 on light rail and 50,000 on metro. Hired during O'Malley's  term to replace Ralign Wells, an insider of the MTA, Smith had kept low public visibility and disappointed many by delaying the much advertised bus improvement plans BNIP many times.
Robert Smith

How much the head of a transit agency can actually achieve is on display at Atlanta's MARTA and their CEO Keith Parker. The Atlantic Cities (CityLab) reported in January:
He brought more work in-house: the agency developed a real-time transit information system itself for $50,000, he says, while outside firms wanted more than $1 million. And he convinced Wall Street to upgrade the agency's credit rating.
Then he reinvested the savings. MARTA increased service and high-frequency hours, upgraded its bus fleet to natural gas, and—most importantly in Parker's eyes—kept fares flat. As of October 2014 ridership was up for the year.
Reports like this didn't come out of Baltimore while Robert Smith was at the helm. Instead, Baltimore's transit ridership in 2014 declined.
It is hard to imagine that the transit skeptical Hogan administration will find a CEO of Parker's caliber for the MTA, but one should never give up hope. Maybe MDOT Secretary Rahn can make it his hallmark to reform the MTA instead of redesigning or canning the two large planned Red and Purple line rail projects. Should he move ahead with the combined $ 5.6 billion dollar projects, it will take a strong MTA to oversee construction and operation.


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The author served on the transit committee of O'Malley's transition team, had been appointed by then MDOT Secretary Porcari on a Transit Oriented Development blue ribbon panel,  and has worked as a consultant on a number of MTA projects over the years, including the implementation of the MTA Quickbus system initiated under Republican Secretary Flannigan. 

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

BWI - Is bigger better?

BWI is on a roll, even with slightly sinking passenger volumes the airport is moving from one expansion project to another. (The airport has about 22 million passengers per year and ranks #23 in US airports, right after Dulles and before Salt Lake).

The airport's big engine, of course, is Southwest Airlines.  Even after that once innovative start-up is showing some age and  looks more like a legacy airline with service in many more airports, BWI remains one of the main hubs.

Governor Hogan would be foolish to replace the successful and experienced airport manager Paul Wiedefeld and as if to demonstrate that he is not afraid, he announced big new plans for the international terminal this week. That is a bit surprising given that the international terminal had been languishing for years with flights to Ghana, Iceland and Germany on and off; more off really. 

But now Southwest jumped into the breach with what they call international flights into the few close by places that their fleet can reach but that require a passport. 

BWI, once a really easy-in-easy-out airport has added quite a bit of complexity since it had been first transformed from being the sleepy Friendship Airport. That giant garage at the heart of the big U hasn't helped to make it look as clear and neat as it did in the initial concept. Still, the Southwest terminal is a joy to use and architecturally pleasing, so is the new C Gate connection to it. Compared to many airports, BWI still is a model of simplicity, convenience and order.

The A Gate area at the Southwest terminal
8 Best Alternative Airports in America (Inc)
With 94 unique destinations, BWI offers travelers looking for an alternative to Washington, D.C. Dulles International airport with extensive options and is just 34 miles from the center of Washington, D.C. With a 77 percent on-time rate and great ground transportation options this smaller airport comes with few drawbacks compared to its larger, busier counterpart.
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Monday, April 20, 2015

More Progress on the Westside: Fillat on Liberty

While the Superblock is still a largely dormant behemoth waiting for a prince to wake it again (better for the legal dispute with the previously dismissed developer to disappear) and the Weinberg Foundation continues to let the north side of Lexington Street at Liberty Street be a fenced in rather useless "park", a ray of hope comes from across the street:

UDARP reviewed last week the design for the Liberty and Clark parcel to be developed by selected developer Housing Trust of America. The BBJ reports that
The six-story building, called Lexington Gateway, will include housing for a mix of low to moderate income renters and is expected to be subsidized with state tax credits.
Peter Fillat is the architect of record. The team has already completed a similar project on the northern edge of the Westside, the M on Madison and Howard.

Peter Fillat knows the Westside well. He was the architect for the abandoned mixed use Superblock project and he has done an extensive survey of available space on the Westside.

The Baltimore Development Corporation under former Baltimore council member William Cole is stepping up the pace in which it disposes of vacant land and vacant buildings it holds in the area. Cole is working closely with the University of Maryland in a Westside revitalization partnership that ULI had suggested in late 2010. BDC is currently reviewing a consultant report for the renovation of Lexington Market and analyzing the cost and benefits of various scenarios in an advisory capacity to the Market Board.

All images from the BBJ article

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

ArchPlan Inc., my architecture firm is located in the heart of the Westside. I served for about 10 years on the now disbanded Westside project area committee at BDC. The above project site had been advertised by BDC in previous requests for proposals. 

Friday, April 17, 2015

One-Way or Two-Way in Mount Vernon?

A matter that has been broiling or simmering for decades is now on the front burner with an ongoing $400K plus study by traffic engineers Sabra Wang for DOT which is trying to get the facts together that would finally allow a decision.

The question: Should Calvert and St Paul Streets be converted from multi-lane one way streets to single lane two-way streets? How does it affect residents, drivers, pedestrians, bicyclists, deliveries and transit? What would haven on adjacent streets such as Charles, Cathedral, Park?

A Steering Committee has met at least four times and each time is being showered with facts and figures such as "lane capacity utilization", utilization of parking, transit lines and ridership, and the flow behavior of cars during peak, off peak and weekend hours, to name just a few of the chart, plans and tables that have been prepared by the consultant.
Warning! Two Way Traffic Ahead!
The steering committee seems to be as divided as the residents and stakeholders at large. Opinions galore and it is questionable that the additional facts can resolve the matter. At this point it is hard to see how the consultants can provide an answer or if the matter can be resolved at all without looking at more than one couplet of streets and without having urban design consultants involved that look at the quality of life issues that are really at the root of the disagreements.

As usual, specific solutions are discussed before there is agreement on the desired outcomes or a set of guiding principles. The guiding principle that there is is a DOT "Complete Streets Policy" that is in effect but has gained little traction in the reality of Baltimore's streets. The consultant has talked little about that policy or how it would inform their approach to the problem and the many facts they are collecting. It doesn't even look as if the possibility that the goals could be achieved with something that is not related to one directional or bi-directional traffic. To date there are no charts that show the desired metrics and the pros and cons of various scenarios in a comparative way.

Nationally,meanwhile, new urbanists are pretty solidly in the camp of two-way streets as part of their belief system that includes mixed use, transit, walkability and redundant street grids forming blocks with alleys.  Anybody who questions this canon of dogma commits heresy.

At this point, I don't want to add to the fallacy of opining about the best solution before being clearer about the problem. But I do have a hunch what I'd prefer if somebody would put a gun to my head.

If you care to see my somewhat more detailed deliberation of the issue, I wrote a longer article about it last year. No answer there either, just more questions. A Planetizen article, by contrast is much less reserved, its two-way all the way. Yesterday on Facebook, I was wondering allowed why this discussion is limited to the mostly white and affluent Mount Vernon Charles Village - Downtown areas when the  the same issues exist all over the city, for example with the Fulton/ Monroe one way couplet in the African American communities in West Baltimore?

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

I have been involved in extensive traffic calming studies and implementation of a slew of calming measures when I was a Borough Council in Germany some 35 years ago, especially in residential areas. My firm ArchPlan has been a sub-consultant to Kittelson in a feasibility analysis for placing streetcars in the Charles Street corridor. I was asked by a Mt Vernon resident to join the steering committee and own property along St. Paul Street. 

Lane Utilization analysis showing how close to capacity lanes are used on the north and south segment of the
Calvert/St Paul street pair. Red is at capacity, yellow approaching capacity and green is more than 150 cars below capacity
(capacity is assumed to be 650 cars per lane).
The volumes are based on 2012/13 surveys at a time when Charles Street is under constrcution

Thursday, April 16, 2015

New Apartment Building behind the "Chesapeake": Station North TOD

Ernst Valery has been talking about it for years, a new apartment building behind his recently completed mixed use Chesapeake project that would span the alley (love grove Street) fill two surface parking lots there and face the large Amtrak area behind Penn Station that is also slated for redevelopment. The Lanvale lots are part of a land disposition agreement with BDC.

The project, called the Nelson Kohl Apartments, was presented to the City for design review at UDARP today with an introduction by Valery who did quite a bit of Station North boosterism, emphasizing the TOD aspects. It includes 100 units in an eight story building with 25 parking spaces and a small retail component facing Lanvale in the western portion of the building. The developer wants to define "a sandbox as a framework" for extensive community involvement in the design. Outside the inclusionary zoning that the city doesn't currently exact, the developer wants to "self impose" affordability for the folks "that are there" (in Station North).

Panelist Gary Bowden FAIA asked "where does the building start to compete with the billboard?" He believes the architect would be more competent to make design decisions than a citizen committee. Panelist Richard Burns, FAIA reminded the architect that this building needs to be contextual in the block. Landscape architect panelist David Rubin  pointed out that the high visibility will be temporary and end when the Amtrak development will be in place. He called the proposed first floor colonnade romantically a good idea but not practically. "The facade has great opportunities but is there an opportunity for an 'event'?" "Don't be afraid of color" Rubin said, Bowden throwing in "orange will always be popular in Baltimore". Bowden suggested placing the lobby at Lovegrove to enliven the alley tunnel. Tom Stosur is excited about the project but reminded the architect that people want to come here for years and call it home, so it wasn't all about having fun with the design. Richard Burns applauds the contemporary design but warns that the building could become "too self important". He says the building still lacks of a stronger sense of order. 

The development entity is SA+A Development and the architect is LSC Design of York, PA. The SA+A team which is active nationally includes the Baltimore residents Ernst Valery and Joshua Neiman. Neiman was a senior development director with Struever Brothers before he joined MEDCO, the State's economic development entity. Since 2007 he has his own development consultancy Hybrid development LLC. The general contractor is Kinsley. The architect is related to Kinsley and is participating in the development aspect by deferring the design fee. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Link to excellent BBJ article of 4/17/15

ArchPlan Inc. has completed two projects with Ernst Valery as a development partner, the 32 townhomes on Calvert Street (lead developer: Somerset Development) and the rehabilitation of a corner rowhouse also on Calvert Street. Klaus Philipsen and Ernst Valery are members of the board of the growth management group 1000 Friends of Maryland.

Here the first images:

Wednesday, April 15, 2015

Bill Struever Re-Emerges

If you have asked yourself what Bill Struever has been up to, today's BBJ has a partial answer.

Bill Struever, innovative and groundbreaking developer of many re-purposed industrial complexes in Baltimore (Tindeco, Canton Cove, The American Can, Clippers Mills, Steiff Silver and Procter and Gamble/Tide Point) and beyond (Wilmington, Durham, Rhode Island) has been out of sight for some time after the Great recession forced him to close his  development and construction companies Struever Brothers, Eccles and Rouse. SBE&R had a phenomenal success trajectory from home repairs from the back of a pick-up truck to a nationally known development company. Bill Struever was then highly visible a a tireless promoter of Baltimore and its future. In 2008 when Lehman Brothers blew up, Struever's loan negotiations went up in flames as well and he had to give up on plans to expand Tide Point (now Under Armour's headquarters), gave up his share at HarborPoint (now fully controlled by Beatty Development) rand walked away from State Center now run by his former employee and COO, Caroline Moore.
Rendering of proposed renovation

Located at 875 Hollins St. in Baltimore, the old Lion Brothers Co. Inc. building is on the National Historic Register. The company, established in 1899, was once the world’s largest manufacturer of embroidered emblems and insignia. It still exists and is now headquartered in nearby Owings Mills.

But Bill Struever isn't one to give up easily and quickly formed Cross Street Partners, a firm with a much lower profile, initially focused on real estate and development consulting, mostly outside Baltimore. Struever, who often named Jim Rouse, the legendary founder of Columbia as his mentor and frequently used quotes he remembered. In Failure he once mentioned this:
"If you succeed at everything that you set out to do, your goals aren't set high enough". (James Rouse)

Per today's Baltimore Business Journal, Bill Struever now returns to his root business, the conversion of old factory buildings into other uses, such as incubators (already tested at the Can Company and Tide Point) or dwellings here in Baltimore.

As I pointed out in yesterday's article about La Cite, the Poppleton area needs investment badly that goes beyond the successful UM Biotech Park on Baltimore Street.  Kevin Litten reports that

"The 37,500-square-foot building was constructed in 1885 as a home to the Lion Bros. embroidery company, according to the Maryland Historic Trust. It's been vacant for more than a decade, but Cross Street Partners wants to change that when the building reopens in the second quarter of 2016".
 The project fits Struever's interest in projects that are related to universities, education and innovation. In 2012 he told the BBJ in an interview:
"I’m most excited about is the work we’re doing around the university-related research parks. I’ve always believed the greatest threats to American democracy are how we deal with issues of our cities, public education first and foremost, race, poverty, economic opportunity. It’s not that there aren’t issues outside of cities. If we can solve them in our cities, our democracy’s good to go for a long time to come. So, it’s really important." 

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Held together by TIFs and Bonds

Yesterday La Cite, since 2006 in the possession of a land disposition agreement, a stealth developer without a public record and a contentious past relationship with the City (La Cite and Housing threatened to sue each other) inched another step forward with his ambitious Poppleton project. The ten year history can be summarized like this: Many times promised, never delivered.
The Sun writes today:

"Plans have been in the works for nearly a decade, since La Cite won rights from the city in 2005. New Jersey-based Diversified Realty Advisors LLC is also a member of the development team, charged with remaking about 12 blocks, roughly bordered by Mulberry Street and Fairmount Avenue to the north and south, and North Carrolton Avenue and Amity Street to the east and west."
La Cite rendering of phase 1 as reviewed by UDARP

Larry Silverstein and panel member put his finger on the soft spot: 
"The lead developer lacks the record".
“It’s a very, very complicated project that few people have been able to pull off successfully. ... It’s certainly a worthy project … [but] it’s half-baked.”
 His quote was omitted from the Sun's online version of the print article. The Baltimore Business Journal has a much more extensive quote from Silverstein:

"My biggest problem with this project is that it's huge, and it's the most difficult type of project to do in a city — mixed income," Silverstein said. "You end up with one developer controlling the fate of this whole neighborhood and it moves at the developer's pace. And we have a lead developer who has almost no experience on this type of project."
La Cite descrivbes the "hugeness" of the project on their website with these words:
Following an extensive selection process, La Cité Development has a fully negotiated Land Disposition Agreement with the City of Baltimore. The overall project known as Center\West is a large scale redevelopment of 32.94 acres of land in the Poppleton neighborhood of Southwest Baltimore.
In total, the project will build 2.5 million square feet creating approximately 1,700 to 1,800 units of housing through four phases of construction. This includes approximately 293 units of rental housing and 1,200 units of residential homeownership, of which 321 will be town homes. Additionally, the project will involve the development of approximately 100,000-200,000 square feet of commercial space to be located on the block between N. Schroeder and N. Amity Streets, extending from W. Baltimore to W. Lexington Street, and the creation of parking, municipal services, and green space. The housing units generated by Center\West will consist of 20 percent affordable housing, with the remaining 80 percent being sold or rented at market rate.
Development costs for all phases of the project are estimated to approach $800 million. (La Cite website)
Model of the full La Cite controlled area (top left is US 40)
The La Cite project is not linked to UM and its bio park in the same way as the EBDI masterplan is linked to Hopkins. Neither has the Center|West the oversight and backing of an entity like the Goldseker Foundation which invested heavily there softened many community impacts in East Baltimore. La Cite plans have left a large swath of Poppleton in limbo and in anticipation of what La Cite would eventually do in their later phases. As a result of UM and the private investor running independently, the UM BioPark has turned out to be very successful, probably more so than Hopkins' biotech area. But it is crucial that La Cite can deliver and the past has not been promising. It is a question of the large amounts of public backing can really make the project vialble, as desirable as that would be.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
updated 11:00h 

I have worked with Dan Bythewood of La Cite as part of the Poppleton Station Area Committee for the Red Line, participated in a session at the Planning Department in which La Cite discussed covering the sunken US 40 expressway between Harlem Park and Poppleton with big box retail, and participated in a session about green strategies for the La Cite Development at MDE. 
My firm also prepared the Poppleton Empowerment Strategic Plan in 2000 that preceded la Cite.

Monday, April 13, 2015

Kevin Litten to leave the BBJ and Baltimore

It is hard to imagine the Baltimore Business Journal without Kevin Litten, its most prolific writer and reporter about Baltimore's real estate. But Baltimoreans have to get used to this thought according to an invitation to a good bye party sent around to folks who have worked with Litten.
Kevin Litten's signature image in the BBJ

"Please join us to give Kevin a sendoff from Baltimore as he begins a new adventure in Baton Rouge, Louisiana."

Kevin is a devoted journalist who in just a few years gained a vast and encyclopedic knowledge about Baltimore's real estate community.  I saw him regularly at the Baltimore Design Review Panel meetings where with fast fingers he typed pretty much ready to go articles into his laptop that showed up on the BBJ's online announcements only a short while later. Kevin is proof that journalism isn't dead.
According to a brief mail to me he has accepted a job with the  Times Picyune to cover state politics. The best of luck to you, Kevin!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

An example of Kevin's writing from today's afternoon BBJ edition: article 

I have worked with Kevin and learned to appreciate him as a great source of information for my articles and in Dan Rodrick's radio show Midday, in which Kevin is a regular guest given a breathless and precise account about Baltimore's newest developments. Occasionally we shared the microphone. 

Ed Gunts - Still a Great Writer about Architecture

Ed Gunts, the former architectural critic of the Baltimore Sun still gives us great architectural writing. See this article in
The Architect's Newspaper

(link) where he investigates what Hopkins may do with the three arts pavilions that the university had commissioned with  Tod Williams Billie Tsien Architects in 2001. Gunts writes:

"Fourteen years after the project opened, a different university president, Ron Daniels, has expressed a desire to do even more to enhance student life outside classes. Hopkins does not have a traditional student union the way many campuses do. One of the administration’s goals is to build a student union or campus center by 2020 to help improve student life outside classes.
In 2014 Hopkins launched a feasibility study to help determine exactly where to build such a facility, which officials say could be one building or more than one building grouped in a student life “precinct,” near the heart of campus. The university also selected two firms to lead the study: Ann Beha Architects of Boston, to serve as architect, and Gustafson Guthrie Nichol of Seattle and Washington, D.C., to serve as landscape architect.
Campus leaders have not disclosed any decisions about the exact location for the student life project. But in announcing design team members for the study, Hopkins identified the area they are considering. That is when the Mattin Center was first publicly identified as a candidate for possible demolition or alteration. “The area encompassing the Mattin Center, Whitehead Hall, the Merrick Barn, and the new Brody Learning [Commons] is proposed as the site for a new Student Union/Campus Center precinct,” Hopkins’ announcement stated. “Identified as the ‘campus heart,’ this location serves as a crossroads between the traditional core of campus and the neighboring Charles Village community.”
But Ed Gunts doesn't go off on a "this architecture must be saved" campaign. Instead, he gives community leader Sandra Sparks a voice who is critical about the 2001 architecture:
The Mattin Center (Photo: The Architects Newspaper)
Sandra Sparks, president of the Charles Village Civic Association, which represents the community that adjoins the Homewood campus closest to Mattin Center, said Hopkins officials have informed community leaders that the university has a new project in the works but that she has not been invited to attend any meetings about it.
Sparks, who was involved in the planning for the Mattin Center, said she believes the Williams and Tsien buildings have not been successful from the community’s standpoint. She said the buildings were designed at a time when Hopkins planners wanted campus buildings to face inward and away from the neighboring community. Today, she said, the current administration has been making efforts to strengthen connections between the campus and surrounding neighborhoods, and its latest projects reflect that. Because it turns its back on the community and presents a wall to Charles Street, she said, Mattin Center reflects the planning philosophy of a previous administration and campus planners who are no longer making decisions at Hopkins.
“It represents the end of an era when the university faced inward and was moving very gingerly to interact with the community,” said Sparks of Mattin Center. “I think they found that it just didn’t work. It never addressed Charles Street. It never was designed to welcome the community. It’s a prominent site. I think they just found the space is not serving them well. It doesn’t serve the university or the community the way the location could. I just think Mattin Center doesn’t address what they need on many levels.”

Oh, we miss you Ed! But thanks for not resting your pen and continuing to see what happens with Baltimore's architecture.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

I write occasional architectural reviews in the Baltimore Business Journal, a weekly business paper with twice daily online updates, after the paper invited me to write about architecture in their effort to strengthen their local media presence beyond business articles.  Absent Ed's regular Sun architectural reviews, I gladly accepted the opportunity of giving architecture another forum. 
Lee Driscill, AIA provided the link to Ed Gunt's article of 4/8/15.