Sunday, May 31, 2015

The Economy, Inequality and the Dilemma of Cities

This Saturday former Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley told the nation on the occasion of declaring his run for the presidency that "the economy is upside down and backwards".

As Martin Luther King had already observed, injustice, whether urban or rural cannot be overcome by philanthropy alone. Let me add: Or by urban planning.
 “Philanthropy is commendable, but it must not cause the philanthropist to overlook the circumstances of economic injustice which make philanthropy necessary.” (Martin Luther King)
Peter Dreier, a professor of politics recently took this one step further in an article about  "Philanthropies Misguided Ideas for Fixing Ghetto Poverty". Dreier says in it as the Atlantic CityLab summarizes it:
What government and philanthropy should focus on is system-wide reform of the market system that perpetuates economic inequality. Neighborhood revitalization projects are trivial when what’s really needed is an extreme makeover of capitalism. 
Published May 2015
This is also what my brother, Dirk Philipsen concludes in his new book: "The Little Big Number", a history about the GDP, the metric of the Gross National Product, which became the indicator of all indicators in capitalism, published at Princeton Press. His book begins with a quote from Einstein: "The significant problems we face cannot be solved with the same level of thinking that created them". My brother then writes:
[...] as a measure, GDP is both primitive and dangerous and should be abandoned. It is a delusion that jobs, the good life, or progress itself depends on GDP growth. (p. 208) Sustaining and expanding human well-being, which should be our goals, are not the same as promoting growth or income.
Fixing Baltimore City cannot wait until capitalism has been reformed or abolished, not even until the GDP has been replaced with more meaningful indicators. Still, it needs to be realized that [for us] "Baltimore is the country and the country is Baltimore" (O'Malley). In other words, what ails the urban ghetto cannot be resolved within one neighborhood or one city alone. It is a function of the national economy which, in turn is a function of international markets. This is why it is so incredibly difficult to affect real change, even as President  of the United States, let alone a city mayor or his police or housing commissioner.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

My brother is a professor of economic history, a Senior Fellow at the Kenan Institute for Ethics and a Duke Arts and Sciences Senior Research Scholar. He was educated in Germany and the U.S., and holds degrees in economics and history. His work and teaching is focused on sustainability and the history of capitalism.
His first book is titled "We Were the People"

[Dirk] Philipsen argues that not only is GDP a flawed statistic in need of replacing—but the whole notion of open-ended economic growth needs to go, too."
He estimates that since the 1950s there’s been enough global wealth to “provide food, shelter, education, health care, and a decent living environment for every man, woman, and child on earth.”  --Kevin Hartnett, Boston Globe

Friday, May 29, 2015

Urban Design Inside Buildings?

We have seen plenty of buildings without consideration for urban design, it is quite a pleasant surprise, therefore, that urban design seems to have found its way into buildings. Yes, not as a consideration of the surroundings and the setting, but as an interior organizer!

Uber design by SHoP Architects
Architect Magazine reports this in its article about the new Uber building and its design:
The building is designed as a kind of vertical city, divided into "neighborhoods" with a circulation spine on the Third Street side called "the Commons." [...] the idea is really that every neighborhood, every engineered neighborhood is connected to this interior street called the Commons." (Christopher Sharples, Principal SHoP Architects)

 Even the Department of Defense uses urban design terminology in its ed-specs for its 21st century schools on army bases (DOD's school system is only a tad smaller than the Baltimore City School System which also uses the term 21st century schools for its school construction program and has similar words in its ed specs:

A neighborhood has four different sizes of instructional spaces, the Learning Hub, the Learning Studio, The Group Learning Space and the One to One Space
What can possibly go wrong inside these buildings with their streets, neighborhoods and commons? Not much more than in any actual city!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Thursday, May 28, 2015

Baltimore Recovery. What NDC, AIA and CPHA can Do.

It doesn't happen too often that the Baltimore AIA, the Neighborhood design center, CPHA and the BDC (Baltimore Development Corporation) meet and coordinate or come together in one meeting. The aftermath of the Baltimore uprising and the intended "recovery" efforts made it happen.

AIA President Rob Brennan and Executive Director Kathleen Lane heard from BDC's Alex Hutchinson that 370 damaged businesses had been identified and contacted, many of them in need to money and technical support. BDC has an array of grants and funds available for relatively quick, bureaucratic and direct help. (Link). Those immediate loans will be available until June 30. Some will be forgiven entirely if a business will stay in operation for two years. Loan advisors have opened an advice booth in the Penn North and the Highlandtown libraries.

AIA has list of architects standing by for small pro-bono services to assist small store-owners to obtain construction permits from the city. (Sealed drawings are required for commercial work).  BDC has been in contact with KAGRO (Korean merchants) and LEDC (Latino businesses).
Step two, final repairs are needed now. Photo: Baltimore SUN

AIA suggested that a community advisory group would be helpful in overseeing the loan process and any activity associated with the "recovery". Jennifer Goold, executive director of NDC suggested, that Baltimore should not be aiming to return to the status from before the uprising but move forward and improve stores along with the often strained relationship between store owners and residents.

All agree on a longer term strategy that would evolve around North Avenue, an about 4 mile long corridor through blighted ares of Baltimore. NDC had recognized the importance of this spine long before the riots and had started a corridor streetscape project in 2013 that is now in the hands of DOT. Stakeholders and participants in the streetscape project include the Coppin State University CDC, the Druid Heights CDC, the Reservoir Hill Improvement Council and Councilman Mosby's office. Baltimore DOT has instructions to prioritize the project towards working drawings and implementation.

Various ancillary opportunities might well be linked to North Avenue such as development outside the right of way and more efficient ways to run the #13 bus and other transit through the corridor.

There was agreement that the AIA will hold its fall urban design lecture under the tentative title "Open Baltimore" - Unlearning Design of Exclusion towards Design and Planning of Inclusion and Equity."

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

I am a member of the AIA Recovery Working Group and co chair of the AIA Urban Design 

 Committee. Anybody interested can contact me at 

SUN article about recovery help from City Agencies

SUN article about damaged businesses:

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

Transit as Equalizer in Baltimore

Good transit could be the great equalizer of a city so divided.
We know, Baltimore's transit system isn't usually called a good system. 
More on transit access to jobs on the Rodricks show today at noon. (Guests: Jimmy Rouse of Transit Choices and I). 

Transit Choices met this morning and heard Delegate Brooke Lieman speak about "Challenges and Opportunities in Baltimore Transit". 

"I missed my court case because the bus didn't come". (Delegate Brooke Lierman from her experience as an attorney). The delegate noted that in the last legislative session the hearing with MTA was the longest of all hearings. 

She noted that MTA has problems in service, strategy and systems. It has one of the lowest paid administrators in the country. 

Lierman introduced HB 546, a bill that did not yet pass, would create an oversight board for MTA. The bill is now in "summer study" while. Work Group further studies MTA issues. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

I am a participant in "Transit Choices".

A full blog article about transit will appear on my Blog Community Architect this Friday. 
Buses tied up in traffic on Eutaw Street

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

Coppin as an anchor institution

With a new president comes new hope to Coppin University.
Coppin, a HBCU is a school struggling with low student enrollment (many departments offer degrees which are fully staffed but had less than a handful of graduates as one could see in the recent graduation program), very low graduation rates (16%, one of the lowest in the country) and flagging morale stemming from lack of inspiring leadership. 

This comes at a time when Coppin's location on North Abenie in West Baltimore would make it an ideal community anchor. This role has been written into its masterplan about a decade ago. Coppin has a CDC for community development and has begun rehabilitation of a few rowhouses. It also guides a community school. Still, many aspirations remained just that, among them hopes to develop the former Lutheran Hospital site owned by Coppin. 
             Orphanage building on the        Lutheran hospital site

In spite of the academic difficulties, Coppin has engaged in an extensive construction program on its campus and boasts a new student center and athletic center. A new science center is still under construction. 

One has to hope that the new president will give Coppin the strength to become the community anchor West Baltimore so desperately needs. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

I worked with the department head for Social Studies at Coppin qon the board of D:Center. One of the goals was to achieve collaboration with MICA and Morgan. 

BBJ article about new president 

Sunday, May 24, 2015

The national trend towards cities continues.

Not New York or San Francisco are the big winners in national urban growth trends but these cities according to a Brookings study by demographer William Frey:

" the fastest growing big cities in America over the past year: Seattle, Austin, Texas; Orlando, Fla.; Durham, N.C.; Henderson, Nev.; Denver; and Fort Worth, Texas. All grew faster last year than they did the year before. Austin gained more than 25,000 people.

Anyone who has been to these cities knows that the sunbelt cities among them are not dense and often struggle to gain some urbanity. Of course, some like Austin had good success with that. 

The study says:
In the city versus suburb realm, the new numbers once again affirm a reversal that counters decades of suburban-dominated regional growth among metro areas with more than 1 million people. Now, for three years running, primary cities are growing faster than their suburbs (See Figure 2). 

Baltimore's growth aspiration of 10,000 households over 10 years seems outright anemic by comparison, especially considering that the city sits in a still pretty rapidly growing region. We need to continue to aim for growth, the only way to address the many urban ailments. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Friday, May 22, 2015

How this historic Elementary School Can be Saved from Demolition

Save for the Salem Lutheran Church the old Elementary School is the most substantial historic building on Frederick Road in Catonsville, this Baltimore County town's main street. Still, the County administration has slated it for demolition. The old Elementary School is part of a three way deal in which the ES moves to the old Bloomsbury School around the corner and the community center facilities currently accommodated there would be rebuilt in a smaller new structure on the rubble of the old school. The Elementary School is scheduled to be turned over from the School system to the County in the summer of 2016.
Historic Catonsville Elementary School on Frederick Road
(Photo: ArchPlan Inc.)

The savior of the historic building may be the Baltimore County Arts Guild, a group that convened in recent years with the goal of creating a regional arts center. A similar attempt tried by another group some years ago in Pikesville failed.
But this non-profit appears to have taken a more successful approach. The group just obtained an interim facility on Maiden Choice Lane near Wilkens Avenue, which has yet to be made operational.

The Arts Guild has impressive objectives:

  • create a State recognized  Catonsville arts and entertainment district based on music which in the form of music stores and venues has been a Catonsville theme for decades
  • create an arts center that provides incubator spaces for artists 
  • a sculpture garden, gallery spaces, a gift shop and a children center 
  • brings art classes and performances to the elderly in a partnership with nearby Charlestown
  • collaborates with the art department of UMBC and ties the university closer to Catonsville
The concept of the envisioned center is tailored after Alexandria's Torpedo Factory and the Annapolis Maryland Hall.
The Guild lists these organizations as their

In a crucial meeting with County Executive Kamenetz in February of this year the group received an important concession. The Exec offered a one year stay on the demolition during which time the group can demonstrate that it is able to find sufficient support to fund the proposed center. 

A robust art center on Catonsville's "main street" can add significant value to existing businesses and the community at large as many art centers arts and entertainment districts have shown all across the country. A very convincing case can be found in Highlandtown with the renovated former movie house "The Patterson", now the home of the Creative Alliance. This venue played a significant role in turning around Eastern Avenue, Highlandtown's own "main street".   

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

I have contributed programmatic floor plans and graphic design support for a slide show that promotes the arts center of the group.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

New Data: Baltimore, still hyper-segregated, but (almost) Growing

It is another "Big Data" day for Baltimore and as we have started to get used to, the numbers aren't always good. A new Massey report shows that the number of hyper-segregated metro areas in the US has almost halfed, but Baltimore remains among those cities that still are.
The concept of hyper-segregation was developed in 1989 by Douglas Massey, currently a sociologist at Princeton and director of the university’s Office of Population Research. Its social effects are predictably terrible: povertycrime, and bad schools among them. But as Massey reports in a new paper in the journal Demographythe number of U.S. metro areas suffering hypersegregation seems to be on the decline—down from 40 in 1970 to 21 in 2010. (CityLab)
Baltimore, Maryland, and Ferguson, Missouri, share more than being the sites of racial strife over the past year. Both are part of metropolitan areas where black residents have been hypersegregated for the past four decades, according to Princeton researchers. (Princeton press release) 
Display on Metro Gallery Window why we love Baltimore (Photo ArchPlan. Inc.)

 The other set of data comes from our very own Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore and its Neighborhood Indicator Alliance, brief #3 under the title "Grow Baltimore", an investigation in the data aspects of the Mayor's initiative to grow Baltimore by 10,000 households.

this set of findings from the the report may not come as a big surprise:

Migration to and from Baltimore City: 
 38% of residents anticipate moving out of Baltimore City within 3 years.
 20% of Baltimore City public elementary school students who do not participate in the Free and Reduced Meal program transfer to other MD public schools each year.
Key Pull factors to Baltimore City: unique, affordable housing, a strong sense of community and walkability to amenities and work.
Word Cloud from the report
Key Push factors from Baltimore City: daily stressors such as litter, parking, property crime and vacant housing; high property taxes and insurance rates; poor performing public schools and lack of information about school choice; and few market rate housing choices for new retirees.
 5 key life moments for Baltimore migrants: entering college, changing jobs, household formation, child changing schools, and retirement.
Using the 5-year Homeowner Retention Index, Baltimore City retained 73.5% of owner-occupied households between 2008 and 2013. Loch Raven had the highest retention (82.5%) and Canton had the lowest (58.6%). 

The report comes at a time when Baltimore is taking a long hard look at everything that has been tried before to see what has worked and what hasn't. While the city has been successful in attracting immigrants, millenials and students, it has been unsuccessful so far in turning the in-migration into actual growth. Too many families still leave the city.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

BBJ article

Out-migration and destinations (Report #2)

Wednesday, May 20, 2015

How Can Professionals Engage Towards a Better Baltimore?

The business community collected money at its annual meeting, Senator Catherine Pugh collects for a fund to employ youth during the summer, Coppin University links the selection of a new president with opportunities to act in the community as an "education team leader".
Now, the work begins for all....the Regents, Dr. Maria Thompson, newly-elected President of CSU, the broader Campus Community and THE Entire Baltimore Community. With the recent events in Baltimore City, there is an opportunity for CSU to make a difference in many ways….., particularly as as an Education Team Leader.(From a Coppin University e-mail to University System Chancellor Kirwin today)
Rendering of Coppin University Science Center under construction
AIA, APA, linked up to present ideas from the Neighborhood Design Center, the University of Baltimore Neighborhoods Indicator Alliance and Maryland's Center for Smart Growth  to discuss "the Role of Planning and Design to Strengthen our Communities". Dan Rodricks has used almost all his Midday shows to discuss Baltimore's situation after the unrest and many others have stepped up to make a better Baltimore.
Join APA and AIA for a discussion on the current state of Baltimore’s neighborhoods, the opportunities available to its residents, and the work that is being done to improve them. 
The Baltimore Brew online newspaper uses the riots as a vehicle to repeat their quest to use the abandoned federal Metro West center as a vehicle to improve West Baltimore.
Like it or not, by owning the site, the GSA bought into the problems in the surrounding area. The feds shouldn’t be allowed just to walk away. (Gerald Neily, Baltimore Brew)
AIA Baltimore will convene a Working Group this afternoon to see how architects can engage towards a better Baltimore. Ideas range from involving Morgan State University architects in planners in a extensive study of urban conditions with white papers and presentations to dispatching one of the Urban Assistance Teams here, those RUDAT teams that the national AIA brings into areas of need and simple things like pro bono design and permit work for small businesses in need of professional services after having been damaged in the unrest.

I see a danger of starting from scratch when, in fact, many things are already underway and need to simply be continued, possibly with additional funds, more focus and added resolve.

Let's just consider North Avenue, arguably the most recognizable artery in Baltimore when it comes to disinvestment, impoverished communities and the events of 4/27 at Penn and North.
In fact, North Avenue boast abandonment, decay and dilapidation from one end to the other.

But lately it is dotted with symbols of change and progress: From the new Nursing School and the still under construction new science center of Coppin University and the Gateway Apartments on the west to MICA's extensive investments ranging from student housing, a student center new galleries and partnership in the rebuilding of old theaters in the center section of North Avenue to  the Great Blacks in Wax Museum and the new Apples & Oranges local food store on the east.

NDC has for a while shepherded an inclusive design process for a new streetscape of the center section of North Avenue. Johns Hopknis and the University of Baltimore are partners in the Central Baltimore Partnership which is rebuilding a large portion of central Baltimore with the Station North arts and entertainment district at its heart.
Leaders emerged from everywhere  –  not just community activists, but neighbors who leapt into action because they knew their community needed them. It was community building by people who never use the term “community building,” not from the top down, but from the grass roots up. The foundation’s been laid and we have to keep building it higher. Whether it’s simply talking to each other, working together, or strengthening organizations (at the block, neighborhood, and congregation level) that are the backbone of the city, we have to keep this momentum going.We also need to harness that energy to fix larger, more systemic problems. The resurgence of economic opportunity in the city and region must not blind us to the frustrations of our fellow Baltimoreans, who due to prejudice, and geographic and employment barriers, are isolated from those economic opportunities and living in areas of concentrated poverty. (Central Baltimore Partnership Newsletter)
It would seem to me that North Avenue would be the perfect geographic place to concentrate efforts of affordable housing, commercial revitalization, job creation, education, transportation and recreation until this once glorious spine will shine again.

While the energy of all the organizations I mentioned is a wonderful thing, the impetus and the direction for this energy needs to come from the various communities and from within. It cannot come from the outside as we have learned in New Orleans after Katrina where scores individuals and organizations motivated by of good will, grandstanding and self promotion descended on the city and often slowed the rebuild of the city rather than aided it.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Events of AIA:

APA, NDC and AIA: Perspectives on Baltimore:
The Role of Design and Planning to Strengthen our Communities, 5/20 5:30pm, Engineers Club
Topics will include the mapping of community opportunities and the current low levels of opportunity in certain neighborhoods across the City, the work that is being done in conjunctions with City residents and community groups to face the challenges caused by this lack of opportunity, and a discussion on how the City can improve in the future. Speakers for the evening will be Jennifer Goold, Director, Neighborhood Design Center; Chao Liu, Faculty Research Associate at the National Center for Smart Growth Research and Education (NCSG) at the University of Maryland; and Seema Iyer, PhD, Director of the Real Estate and Economic Development (REED) program in the Merrick School of Business (MSB) and associate director for the Jacob France Institute (JFI) at the University of Baltimore.
The session will begin at 6:00 pm with an opportunity to network and socialize beforehand.  A cash bar and light hors d’oeuvres will be available during this time.

RSVP before May 15th please!
Email Lauren Good at
Tickets can be purchased through PayPal by visiting the APA Maryland website ( or by check (payable to APA Maryland) at the door.
AIA Baltimore Resilient Competition

Tuesday, May 19, 2015

The East Baltimore EBDI Development - Success or Failure?

Many have long concluded that EBDI is a massive failure that can be lumped in with the many other failed large scale "tabula rasa" urban renewal projects. This verdict is largely based on the massive demolition of phase one where every house in the initial development area was leveled and all families and households were relocated.

I would agree that this large scale demolition was a mistake not only running afoul with a memorandum of undertsanding ( MOU) with the Maryland Historic Trust but also destroying too much historic fabric.
2012 demonstration for jobs with the new Hopkins developments
in the background (article)

But the story of EBDI is much more complicated than the demolition. Then and now, the vision is tandem development of biotechnology businesses and housing until a real community is created. A brand-new school exists already, a new park is planned and new housing is by no means all "gentrified" upscale stuff but follows the formula of thirds for affordable, market rate and homeownership.
2013 masterplan as reviewed by UDARP

The partnership of the Casey Foundation and Johns Hopkins unites two powerful organizations with Casey balancing Hopkins interest and augmenting it with the community perspective. Forest City is a nationally known master developer.

With the attention finally again on the state of impoverished neighborhoods and communities, the EBDI project soldiers on and is worth a second look.

The non profit East Baltimore Development Corporation has this as their vision statement:

East Baltimore Development, Inc. (EBDI) is a 501 [c] [3] established by community, government, institutional and philanthropic partners to revitalize, re-energize and rebuild the East Baltimore neighborhood by:
  • Leveraging proximity to the Johns Hopkins medical complex into a stronger economic driver for the neighborhood – increasing investment and employment in medical and life sciences industries but also capturing a greater community contribution from students, employees, faculty and visitors.
  • Making the demolition, construction and development activities undertaken as part of this initiative produce significant economic benefit to residents and businesses of East Baltimore while growing the life sciences industry of Baltimore. 
  • Strengthening and revitalizing greater Middle East Baltimore with institutions and amenities that will encourage former residents to return and new residents to settle in this community.
  • Replacing aging, obsolete, lead-filled houses with new units of mixed income rental and sale that meet the needs of today’s families.
  • And in doing these things, ensuring that those families directly affected by the redevelopment be treated more fairly, more supportively and more respectfully than has yet been the case in projects of this nature across the country.
As the Baltimore Business Journal reports this morning, there are many projects moving forward, not only bio-tech but also in community building. Here’s a list of the projects as compiled by the BBJ:
  • Preston Place, 1700 block of Biddle Street and 1200 block of Gay Street: The Reinvestemnt Fund is leading development of 24 rental units to add to 24 units that are already complete.
  • McDonogh Square at Eager Park, 1100 block of McDonogh Street: Tadessee Associates is rehabilitating 10 units, the first three of which will be available for sale in June.
  • 1000 block of N. Washington Street: Tu Casa Development Group is building three new row houses. The first is already under contract and expected to be completed in July.
  • Eager Park West, 1000 block of McDonogh Street: Eager Park West LLC is rehabilitating 25 units, five of which were completed last year. The next phase breaks ground in June.
  • Windemere LLC, block bound by Rutland Avenue, Eager Street and McDonogh Street. Ron Lipscomb and Greenebaum and Rose Associates plan to construct 49 new, for-sale row houses. The project is under review and is expected to break ground in September.
I would submit that judgment if EBDI is a success or a failure should be deferred until a clearer picture of a new community emerges. It requires a careful review of all the facts, efforts and aspirations.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

I participated through the AIA Urban Design Committee as an adviser to then City Council  Paula Branch Johnson. We developed set of urban design principles. Later my firm ArchPlan Inc. was retained by Sasaki Architects and Planners of Boston to participate in phase two masterplanning. Subsequently my firm was contracted by EBDI to design the rehabilitation of existing historic homes in the phase two of the project. Owners controlled the design and returned into the units upon completion. They received the same funds that residents had received in phase 1 as relocation money.

Monday, May 18, 2015

Hope Fading for new Maryland Transit Projects

For months it was Maryland's big guessing game: what would the new governor Hogan do with those two New Starts projects, both designed and ready for construction and just waiting for the bids to be tallied?

Well, for those reading the smoke signals, the smoke is getting thicker and the signs are not good for the projects. A deadline last week by which the Purple Line bidders were supposed to get a nod whether the bid deadline in August was real and a serious bid worth their while came and went. 
Instead Hogan told the Washington Post the bid date has been suspended and "another month" of deliberation was needed. No precise date has been set.

Hogan said the existing price tag of $153 million per mile for the project, which would link New Carrollton with Bethesda, is “not acceptable.”
“Two miles of that would fund our entire school construction for the entire state,” Hogan (R) said. Asked whether he has an acceptable cost in mind, Hogan said, “It would have to be dramatically lower than that.”
Aides to the governor insisted that he has not yet made a decision. (WP)

The Purple Line is estimated to cost $2.5 billion and was supposed to be built as a public private partnership in which the public side offers the framework under which a private consortium would do the final design, build and operate the system. In such a P3 set-up the initial cost exposure of the State is lower than in a traditional "design-bid-build" set-up. However, the private side requires re-payment over time and like any mortgage, this increases the base amount.

The Red and Purple Line projects are on the list of federally recommended projects with $1.8  billion potential federal funding share for both combined. About half a billion dollars have been spent on design to date.

The projects would be the first modern light rail applications in Maryland using low floor vehicles that operate on a separate right of way in many respects like metro, in the case of the Red Line, also in a tunnel for sections of the alignment.

It was generally thought that the Purple Line was better positioned to receive the nod of the Republican administration  since P3's are typically liked by conservatives. 

The finalization of the P3 portion of the Red Line bid packages has no deadline anymore, making the prospects of that $2.9billion project even dimmer than those of the suburban Washington project. 

Red Line rallies in support of this Baltimore line  were held last week  and another rally is planned for Wednesday 5pm at West Baltimore's MARC station. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
updated 16:32h

Saturday, May 16, 2015

The long hard Path to Park Height's Renaissance

This Baltimore SUN story (link below) illustrates that the struggle to get disinvested neighborhoods back on their feet is long, protracted and riddled with small failures even if orchestrated from within (Park Heights Renaissance) and well funded (with Casino proceeds). 

I stood there when then Planning Director Otis Rolly kicked off the Park Heights Masterplan a decade or more ago. (He is now in New Jersey). I went to the synagogues when my kids friends had their Bar Mitzvahs. 

My firm competed for the consultant job to prepare the master plan (and lost against Goody Clancy of Boston, a nationally known urban design and architecture firm).
Already back in the nineties my firm did the design for the Samester Apartment renovation there for Struever Bros who saved this complex for affordable housing. 
We designed a TOD concept for Bank of America on Rogers Avenue that never came off the ground. Failures and small successes. 

The path has to continue. Park Heights is too large, failure is not an option. But for the armchair strategists who think there is a simple fix: It ain't so. The dysfunctionalities are multiple and so have to be the solutions. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

SUN story:

Friday, May 15, 2015

Progress on the Westside: Apartments at Park and Franklin Proposed

The 520 Park Avenue project was a gamble. Would the area be perceived as part of Mt Vernon or as part of the ailing Westside? Would the re-purposing of the bland former Hochschild Kahn industrial building be able to generate the sought after loft style design for apartments? Time Group Development and its director Dominic Wiker moved forward with Marks Thomas as the architect and the answer was resounding.
520 Park Courtyard with former column as
a sculpture (photo: ArchPlan)

The building is not only 100% leased now and construction of a market style retail component on the ground floor underway, the developers even decided to embark on another project right next door on the vacant lot used for parking that sits very visibly at the corner of Park Avenue and Franklin Street.
the proposed corner development at Park and Franklin
looking south on Park Avenue towards Franklin Street

With retail at this corner and another 150 apartments the area just west of the famous Basilika of the Assumption and the Pratt Library will get a big facelift which should help to get developers interested in the area immediately to the south across Franklin Street, one of the most dilapidated blocks on the downtown Westside. BDC just recently chose Murphy Dittenhafer's design concept  to solicit developer proposals for that block.
The Murphy Dittenhafer proposal seen from the northeast (Franklin Street
in the front)

Meanwhile, Ted Rouse's theater proposal is in the stage of a land disposition agreement for the 400 block of North Howard Street (just west of the block mentioned above),
412 N. Howard Street to be converted
into a theater incubator by Ted Rouse
Peter Fillat will build on Liberty and Clay Streets
Liberty and Clay Street development. Design: Fillat Architects
and BDC and the City Market Board are pouring over the Lexington Market report to identify a course of action for the renovation of the market to name just a few Westside activities. The BBJ reports that the market will issue a request for proposals from architects and engineers on 5/18/15. Apparently BDC and the Market Board concluded that a full overhaul and re-build would be the best course of action.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Thursday, May 14, 2015

Amtrak: Reckless Engineers and Politicians

The debate about the state of Amtrak is like the one about the state of cities kicked into overdrive by calamity and disaster. Naturally, that is no way to operate, but sadly enough, only the spotlight on the decrepit state of affairs will bring the type of change that is needed. That is where we are in the US with our ideological stalemate in Congress.

So it is that Congressman Andrew Harris can ask with a straight face (as much as one can see it on radio) "do we really need all those passenger railroads" in the US. Really? It would be nice if these folks would look around the world a bit and check out some cities in other countries and while they are there use transit and trains. They will see that we are one the the very few"developed" countries in the world that doesn't have high speed rail or a solid nationwide rail system.

Of course, the Spanish train engineer that sent a train flying in northwest Spain in 2013 may have had a twin here and neither system did a positive train control system prevent the human error. The Spanish disaster had more than ten times the fatalities but the parallels are eerie, in any case:

The Spanish train crash of 2013

 Asked why he had exceeded the speed limit, Mr. Garzón told the magistrate’s court in Santiago de Compostela, where the accident occurred: “I have no explanation, I don’t understand how I didn’t see it. I should have known that at that point that I had to drive at 80 kilometers [50 miles] per hour.” He added: “The aftereffects of what happened are enormous and will stay with me for the rest of my life.”
Data from two black boxes retrieved from the mangled wreck showed that the train had been traveling as fast as 119 miles per hour just minutes before the crash on a section of the track where the speed limit is 50 m.p.h.
The Alvia 151 train was carrying 218 passengers when it derailed on a turn on July 24 near Santiago de Compostela, in northwestern Spain. The train careered off the rails before slamming into a concrete wall. Some of its cars caught fire. Most of the victims were Spanish, although there were passengers from Algeria, the Dominican Republic, Italy, Mexico and the United States.
Mr. Garzón told prosecutors that when he reached the turn, he realized almost immediately that he had made a lethal error, according to the report in El País. “In the curve I realized, I realized that I won’t make it, I won’t make it,” he said, adding that he had activated the brake. (New York Times, 7-31-13)
So maybe the crash does not teach us a bigger lesson. But violence in Baltimore and the sharp curve in Philly both show that the politicians who starve public coffers and prevent government from maintaining and updating infrastructure, amenities and essentials for the citizens of this country in the name of a misguided ideology are just as reckless as the speeding engineer in Spain.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
Yet the issue isn’t that the industry needs a little more time; the problem is that rail needs a lot more money. The Obama administration’s transportation budget for fiscal year 2016 includes $3 billion over six yearsto assist with implementing PTC, but the House voted on Wednesday—the day after the crash—to slash Amtrak’s budget.
CityLab: How Congress Failed to Prevent the Deadly Amtrak Crash

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Civic Lessons at CivicLAB of AIA Baltimore

The basement gallery space at the local headquarter of the American Institute of Architects (AIA) may not be very impressive but the group that assembled yesterday for an extracurricular session of "CivicLAB" certainly was and so was the mix of a writer, a politician, an artist and an architect to discuss, where architecture stands in society.

The architecture profession, like our nation at large, is also in the midst of a soul-searching moment. There are calls to equalize the vast gender and racial gaps in the profession. There are petitions to consider the ethics of what and where architects build. These outcries are premised on the notion that what we build—and how we build—speaks volumes about who we are as a culture. Architecture is nothing less than mankind's values writ large. (Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson)
Fra Carnavale, The Ideal City, 1480-1484, Walters Art Museum, Baltimore (from AIA's CivicLAB website)

Elizabeth Evitts Dickinson Baltimore's eminent writer about architecture, design, and cities in places like The New York Times, Slate, Design Observer, and Metropolis, among others, She is also a contributing editor at Architect magazine. Read Elizabeth’s most recent article on Baltimore  or Follow Elizabeth on Twitter and learn more by visiting

Briony Hynson, Briony,  leads the Prince Georges Office’s programs, staff and fundraising, and undertakes Design Leadership initiatives at NDC’s Baltimore and Prince Georges offices. Her recent work in Baltimore City, investigating public spaces that promote access to play within underserved areas, culminated in the Robert W Deutsch Foundation Social Design Fellowship in 2012-2013.

Elaine Asal, Designer/Architect at Gensler, Baltimore. Gensler with offices around the globe is the world's largest architecture firm. Elaine is leading an office initiative to incorporate social responsibility and community-driven design into architecture and planning projects throughout Baltimore City. She helped launch gServe, a corporate social responsibility program for Gensler and currently serves on the firm-wide steering committee.

Delegate Corey McCray, District 45, Baltimore, a trained Electrician, business Owner of McCray Properties, LLC, Member of Local no. 24, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW), financial secretar of the Baltimore United Democratic Club, and member  of the Bel-Air Edison Neighborhoods, Inc. and the Overlea Community Association.   

CivicLAB participants and guests participated in a lively discussion about the role of architecture and architect in today's society and in Baltimore in particular. Elizabeth reminded us to "challenge the challenges" so we are not only repeating what we have always done.
Elaine described how she has brought individual pro-bono work at the global Gensler universe into focus and under a common purpose.

Delegate McCray wrote me afterwards:
I had a great opportunity to expand my thinking in reference to architecture and the design of buildings. Such a great group of people working to empower this great place we call Baltimore. 
I had helped the late Karen Lewand, then executive director of AIA in Baltimore, to initiate  the CivicLAB program now in its fourth year. Back then I had described like this:
Thanks to the increasing awareness of environmental and social justice concerns, as well as a general realization that the built environment, indeed, plays a huge role in the well-being of both the planet and its people, architects are presented with a huge opportunity and responsibility.   As professionals who are trained to coordinate many disciplines and solve problems holistically through the integrated approach of design, we are uniquely positioned to address these concerns.  But even for us generalists, truly integrated design requires that we move out of our comfort zone and into areas which are adjacent and outside our fields of training.  Learning to engage community and achieve acceptance; to influence legislators and the regulatory framework; how our designs fit into the bigger picture; how to reform established methods and procedures for better outcomes —  these skills are not only essential for progress in our society, but are increasingly necessary for personal advancement in our industry.
AIABaltimore has stepped up to this challenge and offers a program that teaches these very skills to our young, promising emerging professionals.  This new and unique program, which is partly funded by a grant from The American Institute of Architects, relies upon local business leaders to nominate and sponsor promising young architects.  AIABaltimore is one of the leaders in the nation in its level of committee activism and involvement in a wide range of topics relevant to the profession. (Klaus Philipsen)
 The purpose is further described on AIA's website like this:
In 2012, AIABaltimore introduced CivicLAB (Leadership. Architecture. Baltimore), a series of participatory educational sessions that will help to mobilize AIA members interested in taking on or expanding leadership roles in their communities, their professional lives, and in academia.
As a result of participation in CivicLAB, AIA members will be prepared to help guide and implement public policies and community initiatives that ensure healthy, livable, sustainable, and high-quality built environments for future generations.  These sessions will introduce participating architects, interns, and allied professionals to opportunities for civic engagement across the full spectrum of their careers.  We invite the chapter’s emerging leaders to expand their role in critical issues facing our communities and the profession, and to communicate and demonstrate how architecture makes a difference.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

I am co-chair of AIA's local Urban Design Committee and chair of the national Regional and Urban Design Committee (RUDC)

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

New McKeldin Plaza Design Unveiled

The Downtown Partnership unveiled the new design of the McKeldin Plaza in a meeting of their new offices. The plan is supposed to be developed in three phases.
The designers are Ayers Saint Gross, Mahan Rykiel landscape architects, and Ziger Snead who developed a water feature designated to honor former Baltimore Mayor and Maryland Governor McKeldin.

Jonathan Ceci from Ayers Saint Gross explained the overall concept and stressed how the proposed design builds on the previous concepts for Pratt Street and the Inner Harbor going back to 2002, 2008 and 2013. He particularly emphasized how the design tries to rectify traffic flaws that made the McKeldin Plaza a traffic island.
Richard Jones of MRA explained the landscape design. The three principles and goals he stressed where to make a civic space, a gateway and stitch spaces together that were separated.He noted the forms of the slopes of Federal Hill as a notable and typical Baltimore landscape precedent which then found an application in the proposed design through a saddle shape with raised edges.He admitted that the current fountain had "a scale to it" that will now be repalced with a "much more modest amenity".
Steve Ziger explained how he learned about the extraordinaire political figure of McKeldin that will be honoered with elements of source (a stone with a quaote the brings the idea of the Inner Harbor as a vision back to McKeldin), flow ( a water feature along the diagonal line flowing towards the harbor) and a timeline which shows the steps from the vision in 1963 onward.

A rendering of the proposed design looking in from Pratt Street near the corner with Light

The main diagonal pedestrian and view connection from Pratt and Light (top left) to Harborplace in plan view with
the linear water feature and vertical water screen.

After the presentation the about 40-50 participants who followed the DPoB invitation  were divided into three groups to discuss the proposed design. 
The three groups were appreciative of the intents and concepts but critical about the phasing ("will we ever get beyond phase 1 which maintains the Calvert connector roadway?") and critical about traffic, programming and the lack of a real "wow factor". 


a view of the suggested water screen

The following series of screen shots show how the presentation developed the suggested design from analysis and objectives represented in various diagrams below.
An overview of the design objectives: Civic space, gateway and stitch

A diagram of existing problems

the concept of the saddle shape

this slide shows the dashed outline of the existing fountain and how it would sit in
the proposed new northbound lanes of Light Street

Steve Ziger explains the point of source for his water feature, a square rock with a McKeldin
quote inscribed that describes the 1963 vision of a new Baltimore waterfront

Jonathan Ceci explains how Phase 1 of the design demos the existing fountain and maintains the Calvert connector. 
Overall, the design is predicated on the conclusion of traffic engineers that once the Calvert connector would be eliminated, the remaining Light Street would need to meet Pratt Street with seven lanes, three northbound and four lanes southbound. This is two more lanes than the southbound portion of Pratt Street has today and requires the demolition of the existing fountain to be accommodated.

One observation had to do with McKeldin Plaza as a space of public gathering and speech as, for example, during the Occupy events. (HarborPlace, by contrast is technically not a public space and certain freedom of speech restrictions apply there). The new design blurs those distinctions. Several comments dealt with the current fountain and the regret that maintaining it was not studied.

As a public space in Baltimore's "living room" (the local architect David Benn) the space requires a public discourse about what should happen here.  DPoB as the "client" for the design firms and the organizer of past events about Pratt Street and Harbor 2.0 maintains that the past meetings introduced the concept of a demolished fountain and enlarged plaza and that those meetings were public. 

According to my information, DPoB intends to present the design concepts to UDARP, the city's design review panel. Additionally, Nan Rohrer of DPoB indicated more discussion about the traffic concepts.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Updated several times. last 5/13 9:34h

The quote attributed to me in the early online and print versions of the SUN is not quite correct. I made four comments during the group session:
1. The emphasis on "gateway" meaning how you arrive from the interstate via Conway Street is overstated. The designers own diagram emphasizes the real importance, which is the diagonal pedestrian connection from Harboplace towards Charles Street and deeper into the city.
2. The emphasis of the current design was also that connection and view for which the current fountain provided a "cradle" and protective backdrop. The saddle shape of the proposed design tries to provide this third dimension also, but the resulting vertical edges may again present a problem at least along the Pratt Street side blocking visibility.
3. We should not accept the proposed seven lanes of traffic on Light Street. If we don't reduce those highways around the inner Harbor (Pratt, Light and Key Hwy) we have not solved the fundamental problem of isolating the harbor by traffic as expressed by Adam Gross in his presentations on Harbor 2.0. 
4. The fountain should not be demolished before the final phase is funded and guaranteed. (If Light Street has fewer lanes the demolition is not a prerequisite of the reorganized traffic).