|Rite Aid Ribbon Cutting event (Sun photo)|
The day the Rite Aid re-opened was also the day when the ULI Pennsylvania Avenue Technical Advisory Panel (TAP) members had to learn that the CVS that famously burned at Penn and North will be rebuilt as an almost identical replica of what stood there at the subway station entrance before. This will leave only the fate of the also burnt CVS on West Franklin Street in question, which still stands shuttered.
As much as bouncing back from the unrest may be cause for celebration, all three of these stores also show serious urban design defects and wrong headed thinking about how to bring services to service- starved populations. In plain English: These stores should never have been built like they were in the first place? Why? There are at least three reasons:
- Leaving the provision to vital urban services to convenience store type chains is dubious economic development
- The suburban type stores are destructive to the urban fabric
- Allowing the invasion of those providers is an experssion of low expectations and a beggar's mentality ultimately a step towards selling out the assets of our city.
Baltimore tended (and sometimes still does) to take what it can get often without a bigger ambition. As a result, we likely get more of the same in one location after another and alert citizens have to keep fighting the same fight over and over, the latest example is a big Royal Farms gas station/Convenience store Harford Road, the last thing the community needs and that last thing that makes the arterial road more like a Main Street.
The biggest impediment to better development in many communities is a fear of saying “no” to anything. In my experience, communities that will not say no to anything will get the worst of everything. (Ed McMahon, Senior Resident Fellow at ULI)
|View of the Rite Aid from MLK Boulevard as one enters the cultural|
district. What a gateway! (Google Streetview)
As co-chair of the AIA Urban Design Committee I made just that specific point 20 years ago in a letter to then Mayor Schmoke, at a time when the store was first considered for this location.
The current site where the store is proposed would be better suited for a larger, signature building, which would create a strong urban edge to the Mount Royal Cultural District. A one story building here will look very insignificant relative to the various three or more story buildings around it. Surface parking around a building acts to disconnect it from neighbors. This location is in need of substantial buildings that give an urban identity, not a one story building surrounded by parking as you would find on a suburban commercial strip. (See full 1995 letter below)Our position was then supported by the Meyerhoff and the then Maryland General Hospital representatives. But it took more than a decade until Toby Bozzutto truly set a higher standard in the area with the Fitzgerald mixed use complex at Mt Royal Avenue.
The CVS at the Penn-North subway station sits right next to the entrance of the most frequented station in the system and is likewise a standard edition one story blank wall to the street suburban contraption where one would expect high density mixed use transit oriented development. The sad truth: All efforts by city agencies to entice the owner, an out-of town real estate investment company, to build a multi-story mixed use real TOD at this site were rebuffed by the owner. He can rebuild by right and can't be stopped from doing so because the new zoning code that would require at least three floors at this location is still not in effect.
|This is a type CVS that would be appropriate at Penn and North|
(Minneapolis, photo provided by Ed McMahon)
The Rite Aid on Franklin Street, finally, disrupts a continuous line of old rowhouses that stretch from the West Baltimore MARC station to Rosemont. It sits back from the street, has blank walls and parking in front, a decidedly not contextual and non-urban response to offering services in an area that badly needs them. I am not informed about what the status of this store is, but fully expect another happy ribbon cutting and re-opening here, another potential TOD site as well.
|Typical "grocery store" in distressed communities"|
Upton, Baltimore (photo: ArchPlan)
Ah, yes, the services. True, for many these pharmacy/convenience stores are the only convenient place to get meds or supplies. But that in itself is a sad testimony to the state of distribution of retail services. Nobody should have to rely on the overpriced poor selection of goods available in these "drugstore" chain stores that sell as much candy, chips, sodas and snacks as they are a pharmacy. These chains just like the gas station convenience stores, are an invention of a car centered economy that settled like vultures on every major suburban intersection in America, sometimes with a Walgreens, a CVS, a Rite Aid and Royal Farm each occupying a corner (I witnessed several such situations in Florida). Cities should know better than receiving these predatory models with open arms in their neighborhoods and downtowns, unless the chains conform at least to an urban model like the Rite Aid at Howard and Lexington Streets does.
There is some dishonesty in complaining about the unhealthy minimal selection of small mom and pop corner "groceries" that dot poor neighborhoods but receive those chains and their unhealthy choices with open arms.
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
Ed McMahon: The Secrets of Successful Communities
Urban Design Committee
A Committee of AIA Baltimore
Peter Fillat, Co-Chair
Klaus Philipsen, Co-Chair
December 8, 1995
Dear Mayor Schmoke,
We are writing to you today in regard to the proposed Rite-Aid store location at the corner of Howard Street and Martin Luther King Boulevard.
As part of our Downtown Renaissance Town Meetings and the later District Round Tables, we have been working to reinforce this area with high quality urban design, and we feel that retail shops of this nature would be better sited in an adjacent commercial space or part of a larger development on this site. Housing for the University of Baltimore with retail on the first floor, for example. We agree that retail development like this vital to the community. The current site where the store is proposed would be better suited for a larger, signature building, which would create a strong urban edge to the Mount Royal Cultural District. A one story building here will look very insignificant relative to the various three or more story buildings around it. Surface parking around a building acts to disconnect it from neighbors. This location is in need of substantial buildings that give an urban identity, not a one story building surrounded by parking as you would find on a suburban commercial strip.
On November 30th, the Mount Royal Round Table met and discussed development plans for the District. John Gidwitz, representing the Meyerhoff Symphony Hall, said “for a performing arts area, the Mount Royal District is an ‘underperforming’ area that needs other features including restaurants and related enterprises that add to the vitality of the district.” It was also a generally held opinion that there is a marked lack of focus in the development of this area. Representing Maryland General Hospital, Tim Fagan stated that the remaining development opportunities need to be utilized in such a manner that a strong connection is made between the Mount Royal Cultural District and other parts of the city, and the suburbs beyond. Neither the use, nor the form of the proposed Rite Aid responds to the above objectives.
As a result of these considerations, we would strongly urge you to request that Rite Aid to reconsider the current site selection. Certainly, city owned land should not become part of a development that undermines the city’s objectives.
Klaus Philipsen (Co-Chair)
cc: Councilman Anthony Ambridge
cc: David Benn
cc: AIA Board