Friday, July 31, 2015

Should the Baltimore Jail be preserved? The building, not the institution!

In my book fewer jails and fewer inmates are a good thing, on this I am with President Obama and if need be, even Governor Hogan. But the architect in me asks immediately: What is going to happen with those castle like 150 year old granite buildings? What with the 27 acres of space?
Baltimore Detention Center complex

Hogan, all in clean-up mode already mentioned tear down. But would that be a good solution? Wouldn't it be a continuation of the typical knee-jerk reaction to punish the walls for what happened inside them?
The castle like granite structure as seen from Eager Street

Luckily the SUN just provided a little history of the jail and gives the date of construction as 1859, the year the gold rush began at Pike's Peak in Colorado. I mention this because it provides a standard for Baltimore's history compared to, say, Denver's.

After the construction of the elevated JFX and the following rapid decline of everything east of it few ventured onto East Eager Street and the area surrounding the jail which the SUN describes as Gothic Revival.

The New Yorker in an article about the Baltimore Jail and it being run by the Black Guerilla Family gang reported this:
The Baltimore detention center is the oldest continuously operating penal facility in the country. The Maryland legislature authorized the construction of a penitentiary in East Baltimore in 1804, and the first inmates arrived seven years later. In the eighteen-nineties, the state ordered a significant expansion of the complex, including the erection of a large, fortresslike central administrative tower, constructed in a neo-Romanesque style and made out of Port Deposit granite. More than a hundred years later, the tower, now covered with decades of soot, remains a Baltimore landmark of sorts, like the nearby Bromo-Seltzer tower. 
An interview from 1930 (Sun files)
Well, yes, it is a landmark and it should be treated as such. What should come down is not the old part of  the 27 acre complex but the JFX. The vast area between Madison and Eager and Greenmount Avenue and the Fallsway should be carefully planned in a manner that it nits east Baltimore to Mount Vernon again.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Clarification: Only a part of the 27 acre compound is affected by the closing of the State run men penitentiary. There is also a women prison and the city Central Booking facility not affected by the Governor's action.

Jefferson, MO Prison Reuse:
Eastern State Penitantiary Philly attraction

Thursday, July 30, 2015

Riding Transit with Kelly

It is six o'clock and Kelly Cross, his bold head wet from the steady drizzle looks at his watch. Kelly likes to connect with politicians, it isn't quite clear what brand he prefers, and before elections, he doesn't always sets on the winner. Last time when he convened transit advocates in the same place to tour transit with a candidate its was with Doug Gensler's running mate Jolene Ivey.  This time he is waiting for Sheila Dixon, once again at the Charles Center Metro Station, ostensibly to show how bad transit is in Baltimore.

But Kelly has also another agenda. He is one of the Red Line critics who thinks that now other transit plans can percolate, Red Line plan B becoming a veritable cottage industry at the moment.  He sets on streetcars and is sure that the money and the plans for that will materialize. "Transit is much more political than you think", he explains and current evidence confirms that, of course,  just not in a way that makes his transit option more likely. 

Candidate Dixon in her rain sneakers
Finally Sheila Dixon shows up, she had waited at the other entrance to the station, now she is also wet. amazingly, within seconds, she talks about her shoes, a topic that had spelled trouble for her before.  That sneakers on women are back again, that women in New York carry their high heels in a bag again, just like in the eighties. Clearly she is hoping for some flashback for her political fortune, too.

There isn't too much bad to say about the Baltimore Metro except that it doesn't go where most people want to go, a necessary flaw of a single line. Kelly points to the lack of working real time signs (electronic signs have been installed for years but still give just the day of date and time) and the general lack of information in the station. Some people in the group who never rode transit, are in awe about the gigantic subway station under Baltimore's downtown built in a time when tunnels were not yet considered boondoggles.

The group comes back to the surface at Baltimore's newest tourist attraction: Pennsylvania Avenue at North Avenue, to take the #13 bus east to Light Rail.  The area is always teaming with people, in part because of all the transit people are waiting for, in part because there are a bunch of stores and a library here (the CVS is still boarded up) and in part because this is West Baltimore where many people are unemployed. The former mayor is immediately mobbed. "Sheila, you are back?" they call out and the answer is, "I am trying". 

There is certainly much to point out here at ground zero of the Baltimore unrest, about transit and about redevelopment, streetscapes and traffic, all interesting topics for somebody who wants her old job back. But Dixon is now distracted with an ever larger throng of people posing for group pictures taken by dozens of cell phones and also by the professional photographer from the Baltimore Brew. Kelly Cross had alerted the Brew to his transit tour, a story may be upcoming.  

There is no #13 in sight. Somebody punches in the tracking # of the stop, there is either no response at all or only a #91 showing. So much for the touted MTA messaging app in this location.

Metro entrance at North and Pennsylvania Avenues
The alternative "Transit" app (a site created by hackers, not the MTA) shows two #13 approaching, one in 7, the other in 43 minutes. The earlier one disappears from the tracker and certainly doesn't show up on site. After some 25 minutes an articulated bus appears, the front display panel blank, on the side it says "not in service". But there are riders on it, the door opens and the driver cheerfully explains that this is a #91. 

More time passes, Sheila inspects some ADA issue on the other side of the street. Finally, after 38 minutes the #13 actually shows up and the whole group still fits on. Two properly filled Charm chip cards elicit the "rejected" sound at the fare machine, the driver waives those riders through anyway. Now full, the bus flies by the next stop packed with people who have waited at lest 38 minutes for their bus. No ride for them. Some waive their fists. 

The Charm Card poses problems again at the fare machines for the Light Rail where they have to be used to print a paper ticket since the trains don't have readers on the train. A puzzling feature only known to insiders. Four transit police officers check tickets on the train for which they have plenty of time since it sits at the North Avenue stop for at least ten minutes waiting for a second train to arrive to take its passengers on since that trains goes into the adjacent depot. Even after that time consuming maneuver progress is barely noticeable. "The train will come to a sudden stop" the operator announces and sure a jolting halt follows, evidently from automatic train control, possibly due to another train entering the track from Penn Station. No further explanation is given. The riders mostly want to go to the ballgame. They are already late and not amused. 

From the State Center LRT station Kelly guides the group back over to Metro, a connection that is close but far from obvious or convenient, as he points out with all the exasperation of someone used to the convenience of Uber and Zipcar.

The trip ends with the gates on the east end of the Charles Center station being locked, a fact not announced or signed at the platform level and therefore forcing the unsuspecting rider trying to leave where entry was made to backtrack the station in its full two-block length.
What Kelly had estimated to be a 8 mile 70 minute three-mode ride had now taken a full two hours. 
Whoever will be the next Baltimore mayor will have her hands full to get better transit to this city. That much is clear. How the death of the Red Line will make room for the birth of a streetcar system remains Kelly's secret. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Open space - an essential part of infrastructure

The two largest demographic cohorts in the US, the aging baby-boomers and their echo-boom children, the millennials,  decide where they want to live based on quality of life criteria. It should be a no brainer that good walkways, greenways, parks and rec spaces are an important part of quality of life.

Alas, many developers still open space like an infant what she holds in her hand: Can I eat it or not, or: Can I develop here or not. This view says, if a space can be developed, it shouldn't be preserved as an open space. How shortsighted!
the new community park for the Ridgely Manor Community near Towson,
the result of an innovative public private partnership
Photo: Community

Do we really have to remind people of Manhattan and how much lower its quality of life would be without Central Park, Riverside and Battery Park? Or Savannah without its famous squares? What was a natural for planners of our older cities somehow got lost when it came to the development bonanza of the post-war suburbs in which open spaces are mostly relegated to buffers along flooding creeks, ballfields behind schools and "buffer" strips between subdivisions.

Today, we find ourselves at a point where developers eye the last little bits of previously deemed undevelopable spots to plop down yet another small set of infill and they sell this as smart growth.

Real smart growth, however, needs parks, green-ways and bike-lanes and recreational fields, places where people can do all that healthy stuff they need to do to compensate for our sedentary lifestyle.

Since retrofitting suburbia with public amenities costs money, most suburban jurisdictions in the US ask developers to build open spaces as part of their development. Often times, all they got was inaccessible leftover spaces, barely usable for residents of a specific development, let alone the community at large. Increasingly developers and jurisdictions prefer a pay-option. In that option, money goes into a larger pot so open spaces can be strategically acquired, networked and become the amenities so desperately needed in so many suburbs.
Tollgate open space, a piece of nature with community
maintained trails (photo NeighborSpace)

Thankfully Baltimore County is just now considering such a bill that re-orders the current rules for open space, set-asides or payments since current rules don't work well for either the developers nor the communities.

Current rules are confusing and obtuse and those who create the largest needs for open space in places where land is the sparsest and costs the most are exempted. The Town Center developments, the Planned Unit Developments, the Transit Oriented Developments, they all don't have to provide open space at all and they don't pay either. No wonder the residents of Towson are upset about a slew of new developments that are exempted from open space requirements.

Do all County Council members, the Planning Department, the Administration, developers and the communities line up behind such an effort of laying the foundations for high quality of life communities? Places that make Baltimore County competitive with Howard County and Anne Arundel etc? Don't hold your breath. As obvious as it should be that all sides would benefit from good parks and open spaces amenities, many folks are mired in short-sighted thinking in which the initial cost or lost development opportunity is all they see.
NeighborSpace an urban land trust helps
Baltimore County to create open space
with fees collected from developers
(photo NeighborSpace)

Good planning creates long-term dividends on short-term costs. That is true for all public infrastructure. Fail on that simple understanding and the costs later on will be much higher. Just look at Tysons Corner which now after decades of unplanned short-term profit oriented sprawl has to claw its way into being a real community with transit, walkways, services, retail and yes, parks and open spaces. And this example doesn't even mention the cost of poor health due to an inactive life style, the cost of disinvestment that follows if amenities are lacking or the poverty that comes from being deprived of natural settings.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Klaus Philipsen is President of the Board of NeighborSpace


Tyson's Park System

DC's Navy Yard re-development started with a waterfront park that
brought people in and attracted development (photo ArchPlan)

Tuesday, July 28, 2015

With the eyes wide open - full steam into the distant past

I had thought that there can't be much else written about the abortion of the Red Line at full term, a terminology I have avoided so far because of its drastic tone.
Red Line: Edmondson Avenue Tunnel Portal

But the way the Hogan administration operates in matters of transportation is so drastic that it requires ongoing commentary and vigilance.

The joint hearing hearing of the Senate Budget and Taxation Committee and the House Appropriations Committee last Tuesday, July 21st, made it more than clear, we are going full steam backwards into an age we had thought to be long behind us: The age of asphalt, concrete and nothing but cars and roads. Current policy isn't just 20 years in the past, it goes at least back beyond the federal ISTEA transportation law of George Bush the elder of 1991 ("Intermodal Transportation" Act) and probably as far back as before 1972 and the first oil shock. It definetly goes way further back than the Republican Governor Ehrlich and his Secretary of Transportation, Bob Flannigan ever went.

Barry Rascovar wrote this in the Maryland Reporter:
You’ve got to give Maryland Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn credit for one thing: honesty.
He fessed up at a legislative hearing last week that Gov. Larry Hogan Jr. had stripped every last cent from Baltimore’s Red Line rail-transit initiative – as well as most of the state’s previously allocated dollars for the Washington area’s Purple Line – and shifted the entire amount into highway and bridge projects far removed from Maryland’s population centers.
All of those hundreds of millions of dollars earmarked for rapid rail expansion now “have been committed to roads,” an unapologetic Rahn said.
In place of a $3 billion rapid rail Red Line for Baltimore, Rahn and Hogan say they will make “cost-effective” improvements to the region’s slow-moving, underperforming bus system.
Those will be largely cosmetic fixes. Why? Because Rahn set up a situation where there’s no money to undertake major improvements.
Anybody who still thinks that it doesn't matter if one votes or how one votes and that "they are all the same", get your head out of the sand!

Governor Hogan dismantled the artfully constructed Maryland transportation policy of the O'Malley administration like a little kid brings down a delicate tower of building blocks: with a crash, unapologetic and without as much skill as brute force.

It is not really innovative to take the transportation trust fund and re-stack expenditures entirely in favor of roads. That is where it had been during most of the post WW II history, that is why the US has double the per person miles traveled by car (VMT), one of the highest per household commute costs, high traffic fatalities, unprecedented urban congestion, an enormous energy consumption per person and low transit ridership in almost all cities. Governors  Glendening and O'Malley tried to revert some of those negative trends through smart growth and by giving transit a larger piece of the pie.

It needs to be remembered that the 2013 Transportation Infrastructure Investment Act that was approved in Annapolis (typically called the gas tax bill) was a complicated and diverse construct (to some extent actually copied from the Republicans in Virginia). It allowed all the rural road construction that any legislator had dreamed of (that is how O'Malley got the votes of rural legislators) and enough money for transit so that both, the Purple and the Red Line could be built. The funding scheme was solid enough that the federal transit administration FTA accepted it and recommended setting aside its own share for both projects!
O'Malley announces the Preferred Red Line aletrnative
with Congressman Cummings standing by

Along comes Hogan, sees the low hanging fruit and just takes it in favor of  road construction bonanza that is beyond any reason. The argument that "we can't afford" (The Red Line or the originally anticipated $720 million State share of the Purple Line) is completely incredible if the money is not saved but simply spent another way without any further analysis of costs and benefits.

Across the world politicians of all colors realize that urbanized areas cannot build themselves out of congestion by adding roads or more lanes. Across the world it is recognized that road capacity produces "induced demand" and eventually sprawl which gobbles up the benefit while leaving tax payers holding the bag for ongoing maintenance and all the inefficiencies already noted. Across the world politicians recognize that we live in an age of cities. To ignore all of that knowledge requires an attitude that is the opposite of "the best solution rising to the top" (a stated Hogan goal), and simply gives all the dough to the best buddies.

As some Coppin State nursing students correctly observed when they attended the hearing in Annapolis for social study credits, cutting all new transit, raising the fares for transit riders while lowering road tolls is not only unfair, anti-Baltimore and anti-minority, it is a slap in the face, it adds insult to injury and it opens the door to all the anti urban innuendo that lurks in the suburbs such as this:
And rapid rail spreads crime...
And the homeless use the light rail cars as mobile homes and toilets at night... My wife used to use the light rail to get to her job and experienced these behaviors...
Some of the rail stations also become homes and criminals lurk there... Ask the people near North Linthicum how much they like the station...
Then, there was the 24 year old casino employee killed by an illegal dirt biker doing tricks in a station parking lot...She left behind a 6 year old daughter...
Crime also spreads via bus... And, some routes are dangerous to riders because of the thugs who ride the busses...(an online comment)
Folks that worked on West Baltimore station area plans
It is clear that one can disagree about the right transportation policies or the appropriate budget priorities. One can argue for lower State transit expenditures, but a reduction of 92% is beyond reason.  It is par for the course to criticize a predecessor's transportation project or even cancel it. But to do it with false statements ("the proposed Red Line does not connect to the existing system"), wrong analogies (the Secretary referred to the stuck tunnel machine "Bertha" in Seattle which got stuck boring a 60' diameter road tunnel while at the same time Seattle successfully completed 21' transit tunnels)  and insulting classifications ("fatally flawed, boondoggle" etc.) is neither necessary nor helpful.

Maryland's State transportation policy is stuck worse than Bertha in Seattle. To dig a relief shaft to free it from being mired way in the past will be costly, time consuming and hurt the Baltimore Metro Region for years to come..

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Barry Rascovar's commentary in Maryland Reporter

Sunday, July 26, 2015

Back in the Orbit

As the Baltimore born writer and cartoonist Tim Kreider recently commented in his quite cynical piece in the New York Times ("My own private Baltimore"): many "fail to achieve escape velocity. The gravitational pull of Baltimore them back in" they can't leave its orbit. Of course Kreider had managed to make it as far as New York and now felt infinitely superior to his high school buddies still hanging out in the same Baltimore dive bars with a-by Manhattan standards incredibly cheap- can of Natty Boh in front of them.
Tim Kreider cartoon (NYT)

So I have been pulled back as well over a distance of 1800 miles that took me three and a half days to cover by car but only less than three hours to return by plane. Boom, back in B'more, it's lazy summer heat, the sound of cicadas and Dan Rodricks' columns. Instead of the Rockies it is Appalachia again or better, the Chesapeake. Back to grousing about Mosby, Batts, Blake and Young, not exactly rock stars. Back from seeing the final touches being put on Denver's new airport rail line and a Governor who created FasTrack, one of the most ambitious rail transit plans in the country to one who has the most retro transportation ideas in America. 

The journey to Columbus, Indianapolis   St Louis and Kansas shows, Baltimore is not unique. Yes, it is the only bigger city so set on crabs that they come in buckets and are piled into the middle of a table, the only place that may give Natty Bo cult status even though it tastes like Milwaukee's Best, it may be the only one with a Hon Parade and a pink flamingo the size of a dinosaur mounted to a building front, but it is remarkably similar to any of its brethren in so many other ways:

The inferiority complex that comes from shrinkage and industry bleeding. The naive belief to be different and unique, comes from the culture of not looking much beyond the nearest freeway interchange.
"Just move to San Francisco already…"
For months, these words dominated a photo on my Facebook fan page. The phrase is spray-painted on a wall near Fountain Square.
For years, it summed up my relationship with Indianapolis. I would stubbornly tout ideas about urban living and encourage difficult conversations about race and income inequality, and then certain, more traditionalist, Hoosiers would tell me to shut up and move away. (IndyStar columnist Erika Smith in "Why I am leaving Indianapolis")
We are not the only place with an inferiority complex nor with a yellow-clad safe and clean team sent out by a Downtown Partnership (see Kansas City), we are not even the only ones with a kinetic sculpture race (see Kensington), not the only ones with historic public markets (see Columbus, Indianapolis, St.  Louis and Kansas City), not the only ones with a rising crime rate (see St Louis),
shrinking St Louis
not even the only ones where bicycle enthusiasts deck out their bikes in lights and ride through city streets to have a party (see Cruiser Rodes in Denver).  All US cities have some type of come-back, convert industrial buildings to lofts or bars (As cool as Baltimore's American Can, Parts &labor or Woodberry Kitchen, Denver's The Source old foundry conversion beats it all. Millennials and artists are flocking to places even like St Louis although there is no MICA. Urban farming, cool urban supermarkets, art walks and street festivals, bike lanes, bike-share, free bus circulators, hackathons, food trucks, gay pride parades and independent weeklies with a "Savage Love" column can all be found almost anywhere in the same way as a Holiday Inn, a Starbucks or a CVS are ubiquitous. Yes, folks, it's a race out there, and the speed in which each city adopts each other's "best practices" is mind numbing. 
I wanted to cry when I hopped off a plane, reactivated my iPhone and got a slew of news alerts about Gov. Mike Pence skirting questions about whether the law would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. I cringed just thinking about how Indiana was engaged in such a backward debate. (Indy Star columnist Erika Smith about the "religious freedom debate")
Add caption
Many Baltimoreans want to cry, too, especially after finding themselves in a state that considers the motto "open for business" innovative and actively pursues an agenda that was already dated when Reagan was President, Donald Schaefer jumped into the seal pond and U2 topped the music charts.

Another Natty Boh, please!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

If it consoles, Indianapolis has the same problem with a Governor who is way more conservative than the city and pretty much pushes "no" as his agenda, read this editorial in the IndyPost of 7/24/15

Friday, July 24, 2015

Going West - 1800 miles and nothing but cities?

Anyone following my cross country trip from Baltimore to Denver so far may ask: What about all those places in between? Is there nothing worth mentioning?

If you had this question, this article is for you .

You may be interested in the fact that there is a small town named Baltimore just east of Columbus. 
Or you may like to hear that you can avoid Breezewood, one of the most hellish places in the Interstate system (in its evil design intent), by taking I-68 towards Cumberland and then use US 40 towards Uniontown connections to get back to I-70 just east of Pittsburgh. The section on US 40 is like a throw-back in time when this was THE way to the West, the old National Pike with wayside stops, motels and roadside attractions.

For Marylanders where billboards are not permitted along public highways, the proliferation of those in rural landscapes such as the middle of Kansas is at times disturbing.
billboards advertising some sort of civilization

Turning off the major artery on the odd chance of discovering a hidden gem is a time consuming endeavor not recommended when the destination is still hundreds of miles away. And yet, so tempting.

So I found Blackwater, MO, a tiny railroad town with a few hundred residents and a fully deserted but nevertheless picturesque main street.

Then there are those smaller real towns large enough to have all the stuff but still manageable in size, towns like Lawrence in Kansas, a town with a wonderfully vibrant main street with many real shops that sell toys, shoes, clothing and other useful items and which in the age of Walmart usually long have bitten the dust.

"Flyover country" turns out pretty varied on the ground even in the vast plains of Kansas where there are grasslands, cornfields, tress, bushes, slight elevations that allow gigantic views. There are small oil pumps, grains silos and once in a while a small agglomeration of man-made structures that too often lack any type of place making or visual order that would be pleasing to the eye. The more those tiny towns kept structures from the distant past, the better they look. Something that should always make current architects and planners wonder. In Burlington Colorado a sign points to old town. It turns out to be a zoo of a few old buildings corralled into some section of a vast paved area
City Hall, Blackwater, MO
surrounded with a fence. There stand old Conestoga wagons and a museum has a collection of artifacts from the past, as recent as objects from WW II and a Nazi flag that soldiers from Burlington had taken when liberating a small French town from the Germans. Thus war opened up the world to the sons of the town. Today that is easier and it appears that the town has lost many younger people to new places because what is left appears to be only a shadow of the past, no matter that there are five stoplights hanging above deserted intersections, still changing between green and red, because stop lights are one of the silly measures of greatness that small towns developed when traffic engineers ruled the world.

It is hard to imagine to live here or in one of those real small dusty towns with a grain silo or a water tower as their landmark and I don't share the nostalgia about that kind of life that some cultivate. Cities were created as exchanges for goods, ideas and to meet people and this function grows with size, at least up to a point. This function remains even in the age of the internet and small handheld computers that allow connections even in the ultimate isolation capsule, the car and certainly in Colby or any other small speck in a wide and majestic landscape. But the virtual connections do not replace the real ones and the tight soicial control in small places has not diminished because of technology.
"Old Town" Burlington, CO

Near Denver I turn onto Colorado 86 to take in the increasingly more varied landscape with its pine groves and a couple of small towns that look like the Wild West in the movies. Plaques on the roadside remind of wagon trails and Indian attacks. A real estate office sells 50 acres for $150,000. Not bad 45 minutes from Denver and a clear view of the Rockies. But this outpost will not remain surrounded by landscapes once the Denverites will arrive here. A dozen or so of miles on, one can see that change with all the accessories of drive throughs and fast food places that make any place look like the other.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

this article needs further editing

Main Street of historic Blackwater, MO

Train station Blackwater

Main Street Lawrence, KS

Main Street Lawrence, KS

Lake near Lawrence

Manhattan, KS is surprisingly large, congested and surrounded by "anytown US"
accessories such as Staples and Walmart

what most people remember driving across Kansas

small towns along Kansas 24 are often little more than cluttered  structures
and mobile homes and a water tower

every hill allows vast views into the far distance and the endless stretch of
the road

Stoplights are the pride of small towns. Colby, KS
Main streets are huge, presumably for wagons to be able to turn around.

Colby's largest structure is not a grain silo but a community college

Stoplights are the pride of small towns. Colby, KS
Main streets are huge, presumably for wagons to be able to turn around.

at the interchange with I-70 all places look alike

Scenic route Colorado 86

Small Colorado town on 86 with a touch of Wild West

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Going West: Part IV: Denver

Far from being the geographic or geodesic center of the US which is located some two-hundred miles to the east in Kansas, Denver has taken the mantle of central hub. Frederico Pena, once a mayor here envisioned a gigantic airport that would replace the central airfields of Stapleton. Denver International is one of the world's largest airports (in land area) and is owned in full by the city of Denver and Stapleton has since become a new town, a welcome space for a rapidly growing city that is now bigger than Baltimore.
New towers and still open parking lots

But of course, this was a road trip and so I for once did not come in at DIA but had to make my way up I-25 because I had deserted I-70 in favor of a scenic route along Colorada 86, a for the most part really pretty and convenient ride.
always party time at Larimer Square, a historic area

Having come for work there wasn't much exploring of the city this time, but have been here many times before and will cheat a bit and mention previous experiences.

Denver has this cool factor that attracts young people in droves, a fact that leaves an East coaster a bit for loss of an explanation since Denver is afflicted by many of the urban ills that plague especially newer towns and cities, namely too many freeways (the hub idea again!) and too many demolitions and surface parking lots. But every time there are new towers rising, office, residential and mixed use. The city has good luck with strong Mayors, Hickenlooper, now governor of Colorado being one of them.  He famously opened a brewpub in the back then seedy Union Station area, later as Mayor built a ballpark there and then initiated one of the largest downtown re-calibration schemes in America, the Union Station TOD opening up whole new districts of housing, offices and retail, shifting downtown in essence through a memorable transportation hub. Denver set the standard for new transportation infrastructure, not only with its airport but with five new rail lines all in one package (FasTrack).
Denver also set a gold standard for the redevelopment of failed malls into attractive new urban areas. (Cherry Creek).
The baine of parking: Note that almost anything on this picture
is devoted to car parking incl the structure on the left
Denver Union Station area transit hub

Denver completed a comprehensive  re-write of its zoning code, a feat that many other cities like Baltimore, Indianapolis or LA are still struggling with.
Denver Libeskind Art Museum

Of course, Denver attracts active lifestyle folks and the proximity of the Rockies is a big draw in a place where it is a pretty long way to anywhere else (not counting Denver's satellites such as Boulder, Golden and other small towns in its orbit).

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Related articles I wrote about Denver:

Four Things to Learn from Denver
Denver Thriving
Calatrava's DIA train station concept. He
resigned from the project in September 2011. A similar design is now completed by the partner firm in the project, Gensler

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Going West Part 3: KC and KCK

There are the Twin Cities in Minnesota and then there is Kansas City in Missouri and Kansas City in Kansas, originally a suburb of KC but now its own city, sometimes abbreviated KCK. But the travel guides never mention KCK, so apparently there is less to see then in Minneapolis' twin, St Paul. And the Kansas twins are in two different states, of course, the one also named Kansas to add to the confusion, the river separating them is not the Mississippi but the Missouri and the river is only in parts the state line anyway.

Even the more famous twin KC cannot hold the candle to Minneapolis and that isn't only because they are still laying their trolley track while Minneapolis is already running several full scale LRT lines. Minneapolis has cooler architecture when it comes to museums and stadia, but then, Kansas Kauffman Center for the performing arts was once probably quite a head-turner, although I am not sure if it was always this Calatrava meets Saarinen design or just Saarinen with the glass and cable trusses as a later update. But today it doesn't compare in fame to Nouvel's Guthrie theater in Minneapolis. KC's Kemper Museum is no match for the Modern Wing of the BMA in Baltimore to bring the matter back home.

Talking about back home, crime happens in KC as well, as I saw first hand this morning when I almost collided with a black pick-up truck coming along on shreds of tires and smoking rims followed by ten or so police cruisers whose collective sirens had stopped me dead in my track in spite of the green light. Which was a good thing because the thieves or drug dealers in the truck apparently were heayily armed as I learned later on. That was near downtown, I may add. But I am digressing.

KC seems to be in fine shape, with 450,000 residents it is smaller than Baltimore but still growing. Estimates indicate that it will have added more than 10,000 households in less than four years. Its historic districts are small (Westport, City Market)) and are no comparison to Fells Point or the German Village in Columbus (see part 1 of my reports) or Soulard in St Louis (see part 2 of my reports).

Like St Louis, KC is fragmented by expressways and the ubiquitous surface parking lots. Still, it has bike-  sharing, it will soon boast a downtown trolley and there is an arts district called Crossroads centered around Baltimore Avenue and 19th Streets that includes restaurants, galleries, artists lofts and weedy leftover spaces in between. Apartments buildings go up everywhere and all that without really having a waterfront in spite of the mighty river. Maybe I just couldn't find it but it seems like that waterfront is severely impacted by steep terrain, railroads, freeways and power plants and those things that traditionally got prime spots along our waterways. Oh yes, there is also a public market, but on Tuesday morning at nine it was a total snoozer.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

all photos ArchPlan Inc.

view of downtown KC from the north

the City Market, a large complex with indoor and outdoor

the convention district with its large hotels and the Basilica of
the Immaculate Conception with its golden top

The Church sits in a historic part of town that
now is dubbed "Quality Hill"

shallow slab embedded track construction for
a new trolley

in the arts district "Crossroad" dreams are high for the
power of artists to be urban pioneers

Kansas isn't all flat, downtown seen from the
arts district looking north

converted fire house design studio

the disruptive nature of  inner urban freeways, even if like
in Kansas a convention hall sits on top

the historic Westport, now a place of beer drinking

The Kemper Museum of contemporary Art 

Old time neighborhood pub in the historic Market Area

an older bank and a modern office building, contrasts
very common in Kansas and many other places

Kansas has a very long Main Street, here the theater
district (Gas and Light)

an adaptive reuse of this large art deco landmark
in the Gas and Light District is
underway, fittingly on Baltimore Avenue

vast expanses of surface parking can be found many places. Here
right adjacent to historic Westport

large art on loan from Brooklyn: Adam Cvijanovic at the
Kemper (American Montage)