Monday, June 29, 2015

Uplands without the Red Line: What's next?

More than a decade after boarding up the two and three story low income brick walk-ups, most of the former low income community called Uplands still looks like a weedy field. Only a small segment is built and it resembles somebody dropping a piece of suburbia from one of the new subdivisions in Howard or Baltimore County there. What went wrong?

Almost everything. And the loss of the Red Line won't help.

As another heroic effort of super-sized urban renewal, the Uplands have been burdened by all the same albatrosses that hung around the neck of other urban renewal efforts which consisted of clearing parts of Baltimore's poorer neighborhoods for a presumably better future.
Uplands in 1997

The original government initiative of creating a mono-culture of housing for war veterans thrown up to relieve post WWII housing shortages was well intended, even though it was steeped in the then common segregationist approach, black veterans to Cherry Hill and whites to the Uplands.

Initially the Uplands thrived, the tree lined streets looked compatible with surrounding neighborhoods and almost a 1000 units formed a real community.  But as is so frequent for affordable housing "projects", the complex fell into the hands of bad management and the area became a menace to the surrounding stable neighborhoods. After the head of the Maryland Property Group, which managed the apartments at the time, was convicted of embezzlement and went to the federal penitentiary in Allenwood, PA, the entire complex fell into receivership. and every last family was moved out. All thousand units were boarded up. HUD eventually gave it all to the City, all buildings got leveled, a masterplan developed (Goody Clancy, Boston) and a request for proposals was issued to develop the area back.

Pennrose eventually became the master developer, and was charged to complete the final step of what had been the HOPE VI formula for Murphy Homes, Lexington Terrace and Lafayette Square: displace demolish, and redevelop in a suburban style with a mix of for sale and rental homes and a mix of affordable and market rate.
suburban rental homes in the new Uplands
Except, somehow, out here, at the Uplands, demand for the new homes is sluggish and the vast dirt-fields weigh heavily on the few retailers remaining in the area that still reel from having lost 1000 households full of shoppers. The redevelopment is (Slogan: Suburban charm urban convenience") appears to be stuck in a time warp, between the time when the suburbs lost appeal and the city gained it with the real benefits of neither.
US 40 today, looking west with Skill Center on the left

A precedent of TOD in a similar situation, (Tempe, AZ)
Recently Councilwoman Helen Holton had stirred some hope that the Red Line could fuel advancement of the school plans for Edmondson High and make the Skill Center south of Edmondson available for somewhat denser transit oriented development that could help transform the ailing but historic Edmondson Village shopping center become part of a true village center with the Red Line Station in the center.

Those plans now lost a key element of leverage: The Red Line and promises to be one of the many victims of this huge loss of urban investment. It would have at least brought urban charm within reach.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

ArchPlan Inc. has been a consultant for Maryland Properties in 1997 compiling a feasibility analysis for renovation of the 1000 Upland Units. As a member of the AIA Urban Design Committee I participated in discussions with Baltimore Housing about the future of Uplands, the RFP and assisted in making TOD a component of the master developer RFP. ArchPlan was a consultant on the Red Line and assisted Councilwoman Helen Holton in defining possible development scenarios along the southside of US 40.

See also a 2013 Blog Article I posted on the Uplands.

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