Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Ignite Baltimore - new initiatives in Baltimore - grassroots and corporate

Innovation Week also brings to Baltimore the annual "Ignite Baltimore" event, another pitch, another pecha kucha style presentation. The attraction of these fast paced 5 minutes-20-slides presentations remains undiminished as a large crowd gathering at the Brown Center shows. It could also be the beer and wine that comes with the low price ticket combined with the simple desire to network among innovators and those who want to move things to new levels in Baltimore.

16 presenters in all (see list here) couch ideas and stories from dating ("dating in Baltimore is hard but imagine dating in White Marsh instead"), 98 year old Polish Grandmothers (showing up in person), the problems of being a scientist ("41% of all post docs will be massively disappointed"), homelessness ("involves reproductive healthcare"), movie history ("cinovation"), opportunity access ("without access you can really be stuck"), home artist residency (involves 100 murals and feeling community love), city block stories, more communication, dream motivation, strategic planning, nurturing, art and exercise. A mix of pitch, stand-up comedy and lecture.

Networking before the Ignite presentations
With its huge success in its relatively new offering of Social Design, MICA is the ideal event sponsor. The Brown Center is a a perfect venue that hasn't lost a bit of its luster, which comes in large part from its place making qualities in tandem with MICA's historic main building across the Mt Royal Avenue. 

An Ignite 2014 grant brought about the three day "Bmore en Espanol" film festival in the spring of this year.  This year's grant went to Gather Baltimore by Arthur Morgan to collect waste food to provide it to the community. 

In stark contrast to these grassroots efforts to promote start-ups and making in Baltimore highlighted during this Innovation Week stands Under Armour and it's corporate attempts to do the same. 

Concurrent with Will Holman's maker space on Greenmount Ave rises an even bigger such share space on the Middle Branch, funded and constructed by Under Armour's Kevin Plank and his Sagamore Development. Plank even gave money to the Foundery, his first tenant there. Foundery is a non-profit teaching manufacturing and making. 
Baltimore Foundery is a 501(c)3 non-profit founded around the principles of community, education, and innovation. Our mission is to provide access to industrial grade tools and education, with the goal of sparking innovation within the Baltimore community.  We’re located between Fells Point and Harbor East, in the old Kavanaugh building on South Central Ave:
Plank is also engaged in a "local for local" initiative to promote or even have local production of some of its own products. These are laudable initiatives and Under Armour's large resources could be powerful boosts for the fledgling manufacturing and production renaissance in Baltimore. As long as those big guns don't blow the much more modest but also important grassroots efforts to smithereens. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Rodricks' new podcast

Dan Rodricks' last  Midday talk show on WYPR will be this Friday. After that Rodricks will focus entirely on his original employer, the Baltimore SUN. The SUN built a broadcast studio for him from where one will, once gain, be able to hear Dan's radio voice. I am still wondering how one would get SUN readers to be SUN listeners, but we will learn this in due course, I suppose.

Key to local news: Still the local paper
Sheilah Kast will host the new Midday which will be reduced to one hour from currently two. Below is how Rodricks describes and promotes his new podcast:
Hello, Dan Rodricks here, with just a few words about the podcast.
 Roughly speaking, about three times a week – for, roughly speaking, an hour or so -- I’ll be in this studio talking with men and women who are making and covering the news -- from public officials to Sun reporters covering the most interesting stories of the day -- as well as visiting celebrities, actors, authors, scholars and experts in health and medicine, the environment, science, sports, politics, the arts, the cinema, and American culture.
 You’ll hear updates and analysis of the trials of police officers in the Freddie Gray case, plus what people are saying about Baltimore’s future in the wake of the unrest last spring.
 We have a presidential -- and in Baltimore, a mayoral -- election year coming up. It’s a busy and important time, so a good time to launch the Roughly Speaking podcast at
 If you listened to my radio shows -- and even enjoyed them -- I think you’ll enjoy Roughly Speaking. Think of it as radio on demand -- you listen when you want to -- on your computer or smartphone, at home, during a walk or workout, in your car, just about anywhere.
 If you have trouble downloading the podcast, just let me know, I’ll come right over.
 That’s it for now. Please stay tuned.
  Dan Rodricks, columnist
The Baltimore Sun
410-332-6166, 443-600-6719<><><>
Midday on WYPR, 88.1 FM

I have been a guest on what then was WJHU back in the days when they had only a one hour a week local  talkshow hosted by Lisa Simeone who like first Marc Steiner and then also Dan Rodricks had some rough and tumble with the czars of public radio, Lisa nationally, Dan locally. Each time local reporting expanded and got better.

I enjoyed working with all three of them, each providing a distinctly local component to public radio, an incredibly important element that Sheilah Kast also supports with her Maryland Morning show. I am not clear who will run that in the future.

With print journalism on an international decline, any of the new forms of journalism, online news, blogging, podcasting, or whatever, has to be welcomed but it has to be also critically tested for its ability to research, cast the net, be critical and unearth actual information instead of just opinions. That capability still resides mostly with the newspapers and no successor for true, consistent and regular investigative journalism has yet been found. It will be interesting to see how the linkage of podcasting and traditional journalism will work out.
I will be part of the line-up this Friday, on Rodricks last Midday show. Topic: Under Armour's role in Baltimore. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Monday, September 28, 2015

Innovation Week Baltimore: Pitching to Steve Case

At Baltimore's Innovation Week the schedule is packed with attempts of harnessing the future.

Open Works' MakeScape 2015 was one such event in which Will Holman of BARC showcased the future makers space on Greenmount Avenue with a fair of Baltimore makers.
MakeScape 2015

A stop on Steve Case's national bus tour dubbed "Rise of the Rest" on Monday at the Museum of Industry was another.  As AOL co-founder Steve Case noted in an op-Ed on occasion of his Rise of the Rest Baltimore stop
"Baltimore is becoming more than just a port-city but an emerging, Mid-Atlantic startup hub with innovative minds especially in health, defense, research, education and technology. The city's tech talent grew by 42 percent between 2010 and 2013, making it one of the fastest growing markets nationally. Roughly 90 percent of the region's entrepreneurs are in jobs when they start new businesses, which shows that founders have the confidence and resources to take the plunge."

The 42% number I had also heard from Will Holman before. It gives Baltimore makers and innovators courage and it provides the buzz that brings interest and critical mass to Charm City. Steve Case and his journey across the country is part of a story that is larger than Baltimore: For him it is nothing less than the rebirth of America as a place of entrepreneurs, innovation and production, a revolution. He provides this optimistic overview on his website:
Rebecca Chen of the Deutsch Foundation,
funder of MARC
This is the beginning of a new era for entrepreneurship across the U.S. — high-growth companies can now start and scale anywhere, not just in a few coastal cities.
Revolution's "Rise of the Rest" with Steve Case is a nationwide effort to tell this story and work closely with entrepreneurs in emerging startup ecosystems. Since 2014, Steve Case, the Revolution team, and partners have visited 14 cities and invested a total of $1.5 million in new businesses.

Impact Hub, Baltimore at MakeScape
Attendance at the Museum of Industry suggested strong interest evident by a considerable crowd filling the place to capacity, youngish folks heavily engaged in networking banter and intense liking conversations even before Steve Case's talk moderated by a Financial Times journalist and the pitch of young Baltimore entrepreneurs even started. . 
Bluesky founder Greg Cangialosi who exited and sold the company in 2011 to found Baltimore Angels and Betamore, is an innovation and start-up granddaddy (Bluesky was founded in 2001). He spoke about community investors and the "the next stage of capital formation" as part of a strategy to bring more venture capital to our shores. His 2013 company Betamore is a 501c3 non-profit providing educational programming under the guidance of a 75 person advisory board. "Our ecosystem is growing" he says and  "We want to make Baltimore a  global destination for innovation."
Case's campaign name "rise of the rest" stems from his observation that 75% of all venture capital goes to only 3 states: California, Massachusetts and New York.  He is trying to give the other states a greater share and is taking his bus to 19 cities across the country. Baltimore is stop #15. His favorite stop, he says and gives a few plausible personal ties, one being that "Alex Brown in Baltimore ...took AOL public", another that he lives in nearby DC and has family here. "Money in the community is sitting on the sidelines" he says and people like he and Betamore's Cangialosi want to change that because "the best way to invest sustainably in your community is to invest in the entrepreneurs who grow the economy and grow jobs".
A large crowd attends "Rise of the Rest" event
When somebody asks Case if it matters these days what gets started where, he speaks at some length about Under Armour (which seem to be not represented at the event) but then concluded that even today where location is not as important anymore "focus matters... areas should focus".on their strength even though technically you can start about anything anywhere today". 
The highlight of the gathering was "the pitch" of eight Baltimore start-up entrepreneurs that presented their case in five minutes to a five person jury including the Baltimore innovator who founded Order Up which then could ask questions for another three minutes. After the mostly health and Hopkins centered pitches (yes, Baltimore showed "focus"), the jury awarded $100,000 as a check written from Case's personal account as the audience was assured. Criteria for the jury evaluation included  how bold the idea is, job creation, the business plan, diversity and audience reaction. 
Sisu Global won the prize for her innovation in auto blood transfusion work mostly applied in Africa, work that the pitch said could "affect 11 million lives". Carolyn Yarina, Chief Executive Officer, Gillian Henker, Chief Technology Officer and Gillian Henker, Chief Technology Officer shared the stage to receive the big check. Three women scoring well on the diversity metric as Steve Case admiringly remarked.
Sisu Global representatives get the prize
Sisu Global Health is a for-profit social enterprise. Our team firmly believes in a double bottom line of health outcomes and profitability to sustain our initiative. For over four years, the Sisu team has performed research in Ghana, Zimbabwe and India to develop our patent-pending technologies and business model.
But Baltimore cannot rest. Start-ups are discovering cheaper US territory elsewhere, too. Leaders in attracting them are Minnesota, Utah, Nebraska and Michigan. With Innovation weak a big flag is waving over Baltimore. 
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The BBJ with Case on the bus on  his Baltimore tour (article)

at times the innovation zeal takes on an almost religious character

Steve Case explains his take on Baltimore

The Maryland Start Up bus and the Rise of the Rest bus meet up at the Museum of Industry
Rise of the Rest alludes to the 75% of venture capital all concentrating in three states
Case makes the case for "the rest".

Sunday, September 27, 2015

Why the Book Festival should return to Mt Vernon

At a time when

  • the book has repeatedly been declared dead, 
  • yet libraries flourish as centers of the community and as non-commercial spaces of public interest,
  • Baltimore asks with renewed urgency if local politics are all about the Inner Harbor and downtown instead of the neighborhoods 
Baltimore's Office of Promotion and Arts (BOPA) decided to move the Baltimore Book Festival after 18 years of success in the Mt Vernon neighborhood to the Inner Harbor! (SUN).

Initially this was done because the Washington Monument was undergoing rehab but now after that work was done, it's "oh well, we stay down there for good".
The book festival in its new corporate setting in shadow of Transamerica
and Bank of America
The reasons: Sponsorship is up and so is foot traffic, both, apparently,  lead indicators of the success of a cultural undertaking. 

Place the Book Festival where the foot traffic is already sky-high and your metric for people coming by your booths will rocket up. How about Times Square?

Instead of where culture is, put the Book Fair where the sponsors
Corporate sponsor gained additional visibility: Ford at the Science Center
are, brilliant!

Instead of being nestled between the Walters and the Peabody we now have to browse the books between Hooters, Ripley's and Bubba Gump with corporate towers looming over top and banner airplanes overhead drowning out the authors reading.

Books between Bubba Gump and Hooters
I am not making this up! Sunday four of those pesky planes circled over the stadium on occasion of a game which also brought record numbers of Flacco 5 shirt wearers as foot traffic along the booths of the fair. 
Tourists and sports fans add to the "foot traffic"

Having the Book Festival at the Inner Harbor is like holding mass at Hammerjacks or having the Symphony perform at the Ravens Stadium. An interesting experiment but not satisfying in the long run, at least not for those who care about the event's original purpose.
The promenade, always bustling with tourists is now crowded
with tents and booths blocking the view of the water

"The city that reads" is now "tourists who gawk" while up in Mount Vernon the newly restored Washington Monument presides over one of the most beautiful but empty urban squares anywhere in the world. 

Antero Pietila, local author and urban observer thinks that the move is attributable to "laziness on the side of the city, it causes more problems to close the streets up there" he says. 

The vendors at the booths are split in their opinions. Many like that they have more space and an easier time getting set up. None I talked to saw sales go up significantly. They all thought Friday evening was terribly slow. The three ladies at the Daedalus cash register reported that sales were actually down and all agreed that the "neighborhood character at Mount Vernon" was much preferable. A guy at Red Emma's tent also thought that it had been "nice to be in the neighborhood" but now enjoyed all the extra space he had at Rash Field. Another vendor complained that it was "way too spread out", a lady at the Pratt Library Children Stage saw advantages at both locations but complained that it was too windy at the waters edge to keep things on display. Folks of the Black Writers Guild preferred the Harbor. "At Mt Vernon they always put us next to the popcorn stand". I suppose that can ruin it. 

Ultimately, the different kinds of events in Baltimore should all have their own characteristics that their location should reflect. The book as a vehicle of free speech 
is ill suited for a promenade which is a semi private space with restricted rights. Put back into a true public space, Mount Vernon and use the Harbor to celebrate sailboats!

If Mt Vernon started to feel cramped, an easy response would be to extend the festival up further along Charles Street. 

Event planners know: Rather a cozy place that is crowded than a large convenient one where one feels lost.

At the Inner Harbor the Book Festival can never gather the necessary critical mass to create a presence on its own, It never gets the chance to create a real space because it is nothing but an afterthought to the ever louder and more vulgar hustle and bustle of the Inner Harbor.

How long will it take until BOPA will realize that the success of the Book Festival cannot only be measured in sponsor dollars, foot traffic and in sheer size?
The book festival was a good fit for Mount Vernon

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

I love you, BOPA, but I've got to say that I don't think Book Fest works at the Inner Harbor at all." (Fred Scharmen, architect)
They should try out holding bookfest underneath where I-95 crosses the middle branch surrounded by a grand prix of air boats to create a deafening wall of sound and beauty. (Graham Coreil Allen Multi Media Specialist)
 I liked it a lot more this year than last. I do prefer the atmosphere of Mt. Vernon to the harbor by far; plus, it's lousy with history and literature vibes. But part of me also feels like it's good to encourage those randos to read a book. I also like seeing all the bookworms (myself included) spilling on and off the circulator. So long as it doesn't move downna Canton, tho, i'll probably go wherever the Book Festival sets up shop. (Rahne Alexander, Operations at MD Film Festival). 
I'll never go to the Inner Horrible for book fest. Back to Mount Vernon or bust. (Don Clark Jr., self employed)
Antero Pietela, author and Baltimore observer thinks
the city just picked the easier route
 I got several books I wanted for free. I really like it in the harbor, actually. Less cramped space = nobody jostling me. Plus I'm not often in the harbor, while I go to Mt. Vernon regularly, so it feels sorta vacationy and unfamiliar. I heard 3 good panels, had a crazy huge raw oyster that was delicious and got to ride in Lou Joseph's golf cart. Maybe that is the key to the whole thing, Fred. Lou's golf cart is the place to be. Wherever it is. (Miriam Des Harnais)

The relation between the promenade and Rash Field is poor, a flaw particularly
evident during the Book Festival where important tents are hemmed in between
a wall and volley ball fields

Ships and books, an unhappy combination

Friday, September 25, 2015

North Avenue, a proposal how to pick up after the uprising

North Avenue was the ground zero of the unrest in April and it has become the focus of many initiatives, some dating actually to a time before the protests:

  • NDC’s streetscape plans for the areas west of Howard Street, 
  • BCDOT’s streetscape construction on the east, 
  • the Mayor’s Link Corridor studies in collaboration with ULI TAPS that include North Avenue
  • Bluewater Baltimore's tree planting grant for street trees along North Avenue
  • Coppin's campus plans on both sides of West North Avenue
  • MICA's new graduate center on West North Avenue
  • The efforts of numerous communities and stakeholders in the corridor such as Coppin Heights and the Druid Heights CDC
Overlap this with the current discussions of "what's next?" after the cancellation of the Red Line. As part of the debate how to improve the transit system in Baltimore fueled by a slew of promises coming from the Governor's office, it is likely that improved bus service in the east-west corridor will emerge  as one of the components.
The corner of Pennsylvania Ave and North Ave ((MDHS)

What better choice for one of those possible high capacity, high frequency bus lines (“Quickbus Plus”) than North Avenue, an artery that like no other represents the difficulties that Baltimore has to lift all boats, all neighborhoods and serve all communities? 

More than many other routes, North Avenue is plagued by the notoriously unreliable #13 bus plying North Avenue almost over its entire length.

Transit could be the magic wand that pulls together all those fragmented efforts going on in the various segments and communities of the North Avenue corridor. Transit by its nature is continuous over the entire five mile corridor and has the potential to unite everything into a coordinated whole.

Given the congestion and complexity of the corridor, this is not a matter of the MTA alone. To make the buses run faster and more efficiently, those who control the street (the "right of way") and those who own the parcels along the way need to collaborate!

Once again, what better example to demonstrate successful land-use and transit coordination than North Avenue? What better place to demonstrate successful public private partnership than North Avenue? 
North Ave at McCulloh Street

What better place to showcase what "complete street" is supposed to mean than taking the streetscape projects and overlay them with the desire to improve transit and the "active modes" of biking and walking? 

What better corridor to show intermodal connectivity combined with "place-making" than North Avenue where a possible enhanced bus service meets other bus lines and the LRT and Metro lines?

Like pearls on a string those transit hubs could line North Avenue from Hilton Parkway, Fulton venue, Pennsylvania Avenue, Charles Street, Greenmount, Broadway to Belair Road. The hubs need to be recognizable places where people like to be and can easily find their connections. These hubs should be the focal points of retail and services. Penn and North are is such a place already at least to some extent with the library and a number of shops and the Arch Social Club all clustered here. 

A high frequency and capacity top-of-the-line transit service on North Avenue needs the support from all who currently push for better communities, reinvestment, better job access, better transit as a tangible and immediate response to the spring uprising. Transit advocates should think about the full set of desired outcomes before they advocate for a certain mode or technology. 
Arch Social Club and the metro transit hub at North Ave
and Pennsylvania Ave

North Avenue was once a proud and bustling well functioning lifeline with great architecture in Baltimore. There is no reason why it couldn't be again. In fact, it must be, if Baltimore should truly recover. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

North Ave is Baltimore’s Most Important Street

Thursday, September 24, 2015

The DOT Secretary's tangled argument: Red Line tunnel cost too low or too high?

Ironically Secretary Rahn had to explain the administration's take on the Red Line Rail tunnel as the deciding factor to kill the project once again on the morning after a party in which he had celebrated the idea of  a high speed Maglev train between Baltimore and DC envisioned to run almost entirely in a tunnel! Cost for the glitzy train is estimated to be $12 billion at this time.

Initially Rahn and Governor Hogan had declared the Red Line tunnel under downtown and Fells Point a "boondoggle" and with a billion dollars way too expensive to make sense. That, though, didn't stop either one to be full of enthusiasm for the Maglev tunnel project for the 30 mile rail segment that connects to nothing since it is incompatible with current passenger rail of any kind.
From B&P study

But another detail was interesting on Rahn's Tuesday morning explanations in Annapolis at a briefing of the General Assembly's Joint Committee on Federal Relations. Secretary Rahn changed the tunnel cost argument and stated that the Red Line upon their "analysis" was not too expensive but that "the cost was too low", presumably meaning it was low-balled and would have cost in reality more than what was in the project estimate. "The build this tunnel...under the city of Baltimore was too it didn't take it much to analyze, this became the fatal flaw."

Of course, the  analysis to underpin such an argument was a scant as their analysis of the entire Red Line project. Apparently the cost of the Red Line tunnel was compared to cost estimates for the rail tunnels currently under study along the Amtrak alignment. (B&P and the earlier "Great Circle" tunnels studied for Amtrak, MARC and freight)

The comparison to those tunnel projects is like apples and oranges for many reasons:

  • The 1.4 miles B&P and Great Circle tunnel studies are in the NEPA phase and are nothing but general alternatives that are analyzed and compared in very general terms as is typical for the initial stage before an alternative or project is clearly defined
  • Freight tunnels suitable for double stacking require larger diameters than LRT, 
  • Those freight and Amtrak tunnels were studied as four bores with one track each not two single bores as the Red Line. 
    From B&P study: Four single bores
  • The B&P and Great Circle tunnels have no stations
  • They are deeper and go under buildings, the Red Line stayed for the most part under streets
  • The heavy rail tunnels were ballpark cost estimates based on nothing but lines on maps without any engineering, while the Red Line cost estimate was based on a fully engineered project that included geo-tech samples over the entire length of the tunnel, accurate assessments of neighboring structures and utilities to a point that there would have been only very limited possibilities for real surprises for which the cost allowed a 23% contingency.
  • The Red Line tunnel cost had followed a very stringent FTA risk management procedure out of which followed that the tunnel represented a risk standard for similar projects
  • Red Line tunnel: Two single track bores
In fact, most of the cost increases on the Red Line which brought the budget to nearly $3 billion had come from those very intense tunnel investigations. 

One could argue that it is really time to move beyond the Red Line discussion and look at what could be done as short-term transit improvements while the current administration is in office. That means improvements that don't require NEPA, a EIS and federal funding, all long- lead issues that would require another six or so years to even get going.

Agreed. But how can a constructive and trustworthy dialogue even begin when the ground from which to start is so shifty, the arguments so shaky and the line of reasoning so not supported by fact?

The Governor's Chief of staff agreed in a recent meeting that transit should solve problems that are in their nature neither Republican nor Democratic. That should certainly hold true for assessing tunnel engineering and the cost of construction.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

How a glorious future can spring from behind shuttered doors

The heart of the Westside is located between Lexington and Fayette and between Park Avenue and Howard Street and has taken a firm hold  in the collective idea about Baltimore as a failure named Superblock. That failure could probably be best described as the confluence of urban decline, government failure, recession, litigious envy and environmental racism.
Developers, architects and other consultants touring
the Reid Drugstore building at Howard and Lexington
Streets (photo ArchPlan Inc.)

But that is the past. The present and the future may be best represented by Darron Cooper, the new project manager of the Baltimore Development Corporation.  Coming from Atlanta, Georgia, he is one of the millennials coming to Baltimore.  Darron is full of enthusiasm and, given his short amount of time on the job, an astounding amount of knowledge about the site and its history. His knowledge and enthusiastic assessment as the Bromo Arts District as a "up and coming neighborhood" were on display as he guided a group of potential developers, consultants and architects through what was billed as a "Pre-Proposal Conference and Site Visit"  for the new BDC RFP currently underway. Kimberly Clark (Executive Vice President of BDC) and Brian Greenan (Economic Development Director) were also at hand to answer questions, so was Staycie Montgomery of the City's historic preservation oversight group CHAP and Priya Bhayana, Director of the Bromo Tower Arts and Entertainment District.

Those about 30 participants (not counting city staff) showing interest in the RFP and a two hour tour through boarded buildings in various states of decay were a good sign for a brighter future. This heart of Baltimore's once glorious downtown retail teamed with then well-known brands such as Reid's Drugstore, Woolworth, Brager Gutmann, and McCrory.

The most substantial building in terms of volume and condition is the former Brager Gutman department store has eight respectable floors constructed from wood joists filled with slag. It would make a great apartment conversion and its floor plate is large enough for a midsize retail operation and could even interest current national brands such as Old Navy.
Brager Gutman building (photo ArchPlan Inc.)

Floor plate of the Brager Gutman building (photo ArchPlan Inc.)

The Reid Drugstore is less remarkable for its historic architecture (much of it lost, both inside and out due to fire and decay and demolition) than for its history as the place of equal rights sit ins at the lunch counter that led to the integration of all area Reid's drugstore. Already cleared of its floors and interior rubble with only stairs and mezzanine walkways remaining, its soaring volume presented a great promise as an urban micro-brew or cutting edge urban retail outlet such as Urban Outfitters who have a raw kind of demolition look in many of their urban locations.

Then there is the large vacant lot that was once the Trailways and Greyhound bus station, a place the previous development team had suggested for a residential high rise.

One of the most historically significant architecture can be found in the great cast iron building facing Howard Street that used to be the McCrory store. The entire bottom of its facade is currently gunked up with cheap sheet-metal storefront materials. How wonderfully those rare cast iron buildings can be restored can be visited also on the Westside on Fayette and on Baltimore Streets.
Cast iron facade on Howard Street
(photo ArchPlan Inc.)

Unlike in the initial 2004 "Superblock" RFP, this offering is not any longer conceived as a milestone catalytic project all to be done by one master developer. Instead potentially interested parties can select whatever parcel or building they like to re-use. While the original approach brought large capacity developers who wanted to re-introduce large scale retail to the area which required large level floor-plates and made preservation very difficult, the new approach allows smaller investors a shot at potentially smaller, local retail with housing above.

Is there a future for a Baltimore Westside without chain restaurants, big boxes and corporate offices? Is there enough mom and pop smaller retail and restaurant business to go around and fill gigantic floor area that all the first floors represent? As one who has had an architectural practice on the Westside for near 25 years with several projects of various uses in the area, I certainly think there is.

This will be unlikely to happen just by itself, it requires a clear branding of the Westside as a place for historic buildings, small stores, local restaurants, the market and music, theater and entertainment. That such a thing is not impossible has been proven in Over the Rhine in Cleveland, or much closer by, in our own commercial districts of Federal Hill, Fells Point and recently Highlandtown.
Brian Greenan, Economic Development Officer  at BMC 

explains the former Trailways site to tour
participants (photo ArchPlan Inc.)

The creation of the Bromo Arts and Entertainment District is a good start. The full overhaul of Lexington Market currently in design another, so is the full block new development under design for the 300 block of North Howard Street.  There are many reasons for Darron Cooper to be bullish about Baltimore's Westside.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

BBJ article about the "Superblock" tour yesterday

The BDC RFP can be obtained here

Site Plan from the RFP

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

VW Dieselgate: Crime and Punishment

I am not one who "loves" his car or has any particular brand allegiance. I can show a good amount of car promiscuity to any doubter, a list from Renault, to Citroen, Toyota, Honda, Chrysler, Subaru and Volkswagen may attest to to that.
This chart shows that European standards allow Diesel to emit more NOx
and particles than gasoline. The Euro 6 standard is not yet in effect

My criterion was always frugality in consumption, a good cost to value ratio and, once I had family, safety. That is how I wound up with a 2010 Volkswagen Jetta Diesel, a car that seemed to be even more environmentally friendly than the Prius (no battery of batteries). This is how hundreds of thousands came to buy a VW "clean Diesel TDI", vehicles that constituted eventually 60% of the car Diesel market in the U.S. (Which, unlike in Europe, is only 1% of all cars here).
Hypermiling with "green TDI" cars became a US sport. In the US all
vehicles in a "fleet" are held to uniform standards even for NOx.

In 2009 VW passed the California emission standards with their new Jetta and Golf models. Those standards had prevented VW to sell their previous Diesel models there and later, when Maryland and others adopted those same standards, ended the older Diesels here as well.  2009 was supposed to be a technological break-through that combined "clean" and Diesel, it was also the time when the U.S. made low sulphur Diesel mandatory at the pump, so the clean prose seemed plausible. 

This vehicle got me actual 50mpg on highway trips and at least 36-40 mpg in the city, even in winter. So I felt good about myself and my car, taking some of the guilt of driving a car altogether. There were, indeed, no black plumes at the tailpipe, ever.
VW Diesel Jetta Wagon. 

Now this: Volkswagen is accused of grave and criminal "defeat devices" that set the on-board engine management computer to kick in some emission control devices only while it is checked for emissions (they are read from the on board computer these days, not from the tailpipe) and then turn them off again, supposedly for a smoother or more powerful ride, (the actual motives for turning the control devices off are not exactly clear yet). Volkswagen pretty much admitted of having done exactly what they are accused of since 2009 up to even their 2016 models. So much chutzpah, so much stupidity!

That huge misuse of the trust of their customers became a suspicion and certain aspects came first to light as early as May 2014. VW responded with a bogus "patch" through a recall action but did not confess until yesterday as a result of new July 2015 findings that even after the patch street tests did not replicate the lab tests. I recall that patch in which I participated as a very oblique affair. It was VE's opportunity to revert the program, but apparently the results would be so unsatisfactory for the car owners, that VW did not rectify the situation then but just extended the cheat. 

This is why I feel betrayed, even though I did never really "love" my car. But I thought I had something that it wasn't in real life! For some who drive around with 350hp muscle cars or 8 cylinder trucks that get 12 mpg, this feeling of betrayal may seem foreign. After all, I got my 50mpg, didn't I? But I got it by blowing up to 40 times as much NOx into the air than the standard would allow, NOx being precisely the Achilles heel of Diesel cars anywhere, that and fine particles. Will VW tell me next that the particle filter also works only in test conditions? (Diesel has more energy than gasoline and is burnt at much higher temperatures than gasoline. This is why it has lower CO2 emissions than gasoline, less fule consumption but much more nitrogen oxides which form smog).
This chart shows the NOx emission standards in Europe on the left and the actual measurements in field tests. It shows
that the field tests did not follow the reductions expected from tighter standards even in Europe where the NOx are laxer
than here. This was known for years. However, nobody checked what was really going on in the US until now.

Larger Diesels from Mercedes and other brands use uric acid injection from a small separate tank to bind NOx. But VW had told us that this wasn't necessary for the smaller four cylinder engines they sold in the Jetta, Golf and Beetles. Ha!
NOx pollution contributes to nitrogen dioxide, ground-level ozone, and fine particulate matter. Exposure to these pollutants has been linked with a range of serious health effects, including increased asthma attacks and other respiratory illnesses that can be serious enough to send people to the hospital. Exposure to ozone and particulate matter have also been associated with premature death due to respiratory-related or cardiovascular-related effects. Children, the elderly, and people with pre-existing respiratory disease are particularly at risk for health effects of these pollutants. (EPA)
I hope there will be a class action suit to force them to buy back these cars which most certainly will be recalled and which just lost resale value. Once a fix is applied that brings them into NOx compliance, the car either will use more fuel, or have less performance unless VW agrees to spend a lot of money installing the urea injection retrofit on each of the 485,000 affected cars.

I am mad with Volkswagen. If they have to pay billions of dollars in fines, as EPA said they may have to, its fine with me. Their stock plunged 10% in one day today. Friday Martin Winterkorn, the CEO of VW and known to be man who is interested in all the details, is up for  reelection as top manager. There is now talk of 11 million cars affected, if  true, that would make Wintercorn toast and the now world's largest car company possibly as well. The story has moved to the top in Germany, pushing aside even the refugee crisis. Volkswagen has 600,000 employees worldwide.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
The article was updated several times. Thanks to Jeff Kunce for valuable input.

Update: CEO Martin Winterkorn resigned Wednesday  9/23.

VW Dieselgate
NYT about the VW Diesel cheat

Monday, September 21, 2015

Boondoggle Maglev

If one can justifiably apply the term boondoggle to any form of public transportation, Maglev is it.

Contrary to the media hype about it, it is not a disruptive innovation or brand new technology. Instead it is an old hat that has been around since the 1970's. An aphrodisiac of sorts for politicians that continue to get starry eyed when they ride one of the test trains.

 A Maglev tunnel from DC to Baltimore? And then on to New York? DC to Baltimore in 15 minutes for 11 billion dollars? That is the kind of stuff that gets attention because it is so much more sexy than adding another track along the Amtrak route so that the Azela and the MARC train can run independent of each other and more reliable MARC service can be added.
Governor Hogan and his Secretary of Transportation, Rahn
ride a Maglev test train in Japan

You can get to DC from Penn station in 40 minutes today when you take Azela (top speed 156 mph) but it sets you back $65 or more compared to under $10 for MARC. A Maglev would cost even more, especially if it were run by a private consortium as proposed. And the 15 minutes and 300mph would only be achieved if the train never stops anywhere in between where the jobs or people are (maybe at BWI, not in Odenton, Bowie, New Carrolton). 
Of course Maglev would disrupt Amtrak and it would render our Penn Station obsolete.

Maglev is a beautiful technology, on paper and on test trains. But it's cost has  proven to be unfeasible in any scenario to date in which government would not provide subsidies that make support to Amtrak look like a pittance.

That is why no country in the world has chosen Maglev as their technology of choice for high speed train service over long distance. Not even Germany (which long had a strong Maglev interest) or China which built a system from scratch. The only Maglev train in actual revenue service is an underutilized airport shuttle in Shanghai. 

Welcome to Baltimore, Japanese Maglev consortium, we welcome you restoring a historic fire house for your new office in town. But don't keep distracting our Governor and our Mayor!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

see my more detailed Maglev articles here and here.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

"Do as I say not as I do" Hogan and his love for Baltimore

Below is what I would say if Hogan would confess his love for Baltimore in person. Several interjections have been suggested by my friends in discussions about Hogan's op-ed piece online and I do owe many insights to those discussions. 
I copied Hogan's op-ed and inserted my comments in italics 

News   Opinion Baltimore SUN 9/18/15

The economic engine of Maryland

Once every three weeks, I spend several days in the heart of Baltimore at the University of Maryland Medical Center for my chemotherapy. On each trip, I pass two magnificent stadiums, a vibrant downtown that includes my own office at the William Donald Schaefer Tower, and thousands of busy workers in a bustling, amazing, beautiful city.

During the riots in April and during my campaign for governor last year, I toured every corner of Baltimore, from Sandtown-Winchesterto Fells Point. Everywhere I went, I met people who talked with me about their optimism for a better future for the great city they love.

When you feel better again which we all hope will be very soon, you should venture outside the stadium and downtown area even when you don't campaign or we don't have riots. It is much easier to find optimism and real dialogue then. 
Urban policies are a very difficult matter and anybody who has tried from Governor McKeldin to any number of HUD secretaries, some presidents and countless mayors, knows that even though cities get the brunt of society's ills, they are largely left to their own devices when it comes to dealing with them. Certain State transfer funds and federal grants notwithstanding. So, your venture into the matter is appreciated! By the way, I wrote a piece about what it takes to govern a city on my main blog yesterday.

Over the next several months, my administration will announce a series of innovative ideas that have the potential to deliver real change. First and foremost, Baltimore must be a livable city — a place that people want to move to and not from. 

Sorry to interrupt again, but don't you think that thought occurred to us in Baltimore before? Or to your predecessors who had been mayors before like McKeldin, Schaefer, and yes, O'Malley?  But hey, we are open to innovative ideas. In fact, some of us really think we need new ideas. So let's hear what they are. 

Recently, the population has stabilized and the tax base is showing improvement. But there is more to be done, and my administration is prepared to take action where the state can make a difference over the long-term.

Fixing what's broken in Baltimore starts with the sea of abandoned, dilapidated buildings that infect entire neighborhoods. These empty, decaying structures are a breeding ground for crime and an impediment to private sector investment. Blight is a symbol of what's wrong with the city, and taking steps to fix the problem can be an equally powerful symbol of Charm City's rejuvenation. Therefore, my administration will advance a plan to knock down blocks of derelict buildings that tarnish communities across Baltimore, replacing them with parks and other open spaces.

Oh vey! That idea of demolition isn't innovative. In fact the city has been doing this since Dan Henson was Comissioner for Housing, which is really very long ago, because the current Commissioner, Graziano, has been Commissioner like, forever. Philly has been doing large scale demolition. "Parks and open spaces" instead of vacant rowhouses? In North Philly you can see whole sections of town abandoned, also in Detroit, weeds as far as the eye can see. To call that "parks" is a real euphemism. Besides, in Baltimore, people still live everywhere. In between vacants. Do you think of forced resettlement? If you do, study the EBDI story. It may make you reconsider. If you look at Boston and DC, they largely rehabbed and refilled their neighborhoods, in my humble opinion a much better option. 

Don't forget, all neighborhoods are places that residents call home. I don't know one single community that can just be bulldozed as simply as many suburbanites imagine that. Sorry, for this lengthy interruption again, but especially after Freddie Grey we need a Governor who "gets" that particular item. 

But addressing blight is just one part of a long process. Another part is jobs. 

I hope you read the Opportunity Collaborative's 2015 report. You seem to agree with it. Not exactly innovative but a very good point, indeed! And let me say, government jobs are jobs, too! Cutting 2% of department budgets across the board does kill jobs with a very uncertain prospect of creating any new ones. 

Without sustainable jobs and competitive industry, no large city can survive. Fortunately, Baltimore has a terrific economic base. The Port of Baltimore sees more than $50 billion in cargo a year, handling more cars, farm and construction machinery than any other port in America. 

Talking about the port: How about money for improved rail connections that allow double stacking containers? How about a temporary truck to rail transfer yard since Morrell Park was botched?  Innovative ideas are really needed to solve this problem!

Meanwhile, world class companies like Under Armour and Amazon are investing in the city and creating jobs alongside Baltimore's great hospitals and world-class universities, which continue to attract the best and the brightest from around the world.

Creating sustainable jobs means doubling down on Baltimore's formidable strengths. Projects like Under Armour's new campus at Port Covington, the expansion of CSX rail capacity at the port, and the redevelopment of Sparrow's Point nearby in Baltimore County have the potential to be transformative — creating thousands of new jobs for decades. My team will be putting our full support behind these projects, and many others, to maximize the impact of essential private sector investments.

Ok, I suppose you are still thinking about how this support would look like? Under Armour is where it is, because a guy named Bill Struever thought to turn a vacant soap factory into an innovation hub. Look up his vision of a "digital harbor". Not really a politician's idea is what I am saying. 

The current job creator Kevin Plank is on record complaining that bad transit is an impediment to finding qualified employees. We'll get back to transit, I suppose. 

The nation's largest industrial redevelopment at Sparrows Point could certainly use a State sponsored masterplan that includes public interest elements. This is an area too big not to have a regional plan behind it or to be left to the private entity to approach only one piece at a time. I know, you think government should get out of they way, but here would be a great place for you to cooperate with Kamenetz and SRB! 

Supporting iconic, growth-oriented industries, combined with tax policies that encourage small business growth and investment, represents a potent combination and is the basis of our entire administration. On the day I was inaugurated, I proclaimed that "Maryland is open for business." Since then, my administration has worked to improve customer service and eliminate burdensome taxes, fees and regulations. The early indications are that it's working: Jobs are coming back to Maryland. I urge Baltimore to follow the state's successful lead.

Lower taxes for the city would certainly be good, if not entirely an innovative idea. But large scale reduction would require the State to secure  the losses, should business and population influx not instantly make up for the difference. California did that for San Francisco once and it worked out beautifully for both. Are you up for that? If you did that for Baltimore and it would allow a, say, one time 20% tax reduction, you would be really a hero for this city! It would likely bring the population influx we need which in turn would fix almost automatically all the other issues you mention!

Improving transportation in Baltimore is critical and is the next part of my vision. The city somehow manages to function on a mish-mash of disconnected rail lines and nonsensical bus routes that don't connect people with jobs. Soon, my Transportation Secretary Pete Rahn will unveil a new approach to transit that includes ideas to better move people around Baltimore, including dedicated corridors to rapidly move people East-West and North-South. While Baltimore's broken transit system cannot be fixed overnight, if the city is willing to consider new ways to utilize buses, trains and other transportation options, we can successfully partner to build a modern system that works for the people of the city.

I am glad you are mentioning transportation an area where many feel you poked your finger in Baltimore's eyes to put this mildly. Regarding the current transit: You surely know that you now "own" the MTA and that it owns the "non sensical" bus lines? Just making sure! 

We can't wait to hear those new ideas, they have been announced so often and then not been spelled out! 

I hope you have visited other cities with bus corridors and you have studied Howard Street which once was a bus corridor. I hope you also have toured Baltimore Street and its recent Westside recovery, in good part led by Howard S. Brown, possibly a supporter of yours. Make sure you talk with him about the bus corridor. 

It will be very interesting to see how the MTA can upgrade its operations with a smaller operations budget and without any capital $ for new projects. If you want to copy Houston's bus reform, don't forget to look how their new light rail lines provided them with the slack in the bus system that is needed to rearrange things. There is no free lunch, not even in transportation, even though hardly anybody wouldn't admit that you and Paul Comfort could, indeed, unlock at lot of efficiency at MTA. 

Finally, and most importantly, is a commitment to improving education. We have invested $6.1 billion statewide into public education — more dollars than under any other governor in Maryland history. Our commitment to good schools in Baltimore City is equally strong, surpassing $950 million annually, or more than three times the average local contribution elsewhere in the state.

Ahem, you just cut school money to the city, your overall expenditure doesn't do the city much good. Just make sure the MSA and BCPS stay on track with their improvement plans and don't cut funds. 

But we all know that funding alone does not produce the results our children need. New, innovative solutions are necessary to ensure that every child has the opportunity to get a world class education. That's why I will continue to advocate for creative new approaches, like Bard High School Early College, and the amazing work in our terrific public charter schools and parochial schools that serve disadvantaged students. My administration will vigorously pursue and support approaches to education that reject the status quo in order to make a real difference for students.

Please study the stats for charter and contract schools. That not so innovative idea has long lost a lot of its luster. Besides, all of that is already going on here. The biggest boost for schools would be new well educated residents who send their kids to public schools. So filling houses more than demoing them. 

Of course, these ideas are just a preview of what I hope to accomplish over the next eight years, and these principles are consistent with the positive changes we are already delivering across Maryland. We can't do it alone, which is why we are eager to work with the mayor, city elected officials, community and faith leaders, legislators, neighbors, parents and anyone willing to put aside partisanship to embrace the possibility of a better future. The traditional approach of just throwing new money at old ideas won't deliver solutions, but I believe that hard work and innovative new concepts can change Baltimore's destiny.

Not throwing any money at anything and still hoping for success is really innovative, downright magic, actually. If that works, we should make you Governor for life! But if you don't give money back to Baltimore and your innovations don't achieve what you say they should, you may just have to settle for four years. 

I love Baltimore and the people who call it home, and I sincerely believe that Maryland's biggest city must serve as the economic and cultural heart of our state. Baltimore residents deserve a commitment from leaders to deliver meaningful changes and the possibility of a better future, and so does every Marylander who loves our great state.

Amen. And speedy recovery to you and to Baltimore that prior to the unrest had been on a pretty promising path. 

Larry Hogan is the governor of Maryland. He can be reached at

Klaus Philipsen is a Baltimore architect who spent much of his 30 years in Baltimore on consulting for MTA transit improvements such as the CRL, the Quickbus, the Kirk bus facility and the Langley Park bus transit center. And, yes, the Red Line. He can be reached at 

Please excuse formatting and spelling. This piece was entirely done on a smart phone.