Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Why the County not wanting their $257,000 back is a big deal

Is there love developing between Baltimore City and County? 

Generations who fled from one place (the City) to the other (the County) with a recent trickle of frustrated suburbanites moving in the other direction have ensured a competitive hostility that is unproductive, silly and should end. 

There should also be others doing some courting when we talk about the City of Baltimore and its relation to the region. 

After all, there are five regional partners bound together into the Baltimore Metroplolitan Council and its Metropolitan Planning Organization: Baltimore County, Anne Arundel County, Harford County and Howard County,  and the City of Annapolis. Only the first two in the list share a border with the City of Baltimore and only Baltimore County shares a really long border. Some call it a choke-hold, an apt description if one looks at a map. 

Gone are the days when Baltimore City could annex new land as it did when it expanded from North Avenue to north of Northern Parkway.
Baltimore Region

The sentiment of love comes in the holiday season and in the spirit of "It's a Wonderful Life" or the "Christmas Carol". 

Baltimore County Executive Kamenetz forgave the City $257,000 of riot response reimbursement. This is really very suave.  Kamenetz, whose jurisdiction has now far more residents than Baltimore, just sent out new tax assessments which are on average 10% higher,  so he will surely see increased revenue.  A quarter million is only a tiny fraction of what the County had reluctantly vowed to contribute to the Red Line. But for a fiscal hawk whom some would rather describe as Scrooge than as an angel, this gesture is a big deal.

His move may be more psychological or political than fiscally meaningful, he may try to paint himself as more generous than Hogan (who has his own package of State funds that are meant to help the city) but it follows various other friendly moves of the County which  can be traced back to when, after years of wrangling, City and County came to terms, not only on the future of Robert E. Lee Park, but even on renaming it. The city also forwent a 12 acre piece of land in Catonsville which residents of Catonsville had discovered as being held by Baltimore City.
Size comparison County and  City. Depicting
the City as a void is not the most recent way
of seeing this in the County

Lately, Kevin Kamenetz also came verbally to the aid of the City when he bashed the State's decision to can the Red Line. The Exec also abstained from criticizing the City for their furtive dispersal of low income households in the name of opportunity housing policies. Not only that, he announced baby steps the County would take to strengthen its own affordable housing strategies. Their almost complete absence has heavily contributed to the concentration of poverty in the City without keeping Baltimore County immune from its own pockets of poverty.

So is there a a thawing of relations, courtship even? Every relation has to start somewhere and the recent signs of a collaborative stand are encouraging. Clearly, City and County will both be stronger together than divided. 

Metro regions around the world are  not only statistical entities, they have become economic power-houses. City and County share parts of the Port of Baltimore and with the demise of Bethlehem Steel a huge new opportunity sits right in front of Baltimore's own port facilities. Amazon's distribution center is located inside the City limits but its influence area is certainly reaching deep into the County. Transportation, housing, economic development, watersheds, streams and parks, there is no area where the fate of the City is not intertwined with the region. The City's cultural institutions have long been supported by the region which reluctantly sees that its fate is tied to the City for better or worse.
The 2000 regional rail plan

Indianapolis, Minneapolis, Portland OR and Lexington, KY have shown in various forms how successful regional collaboration can look. Our region's HUD Opportunity Grant fused the region closer together by crunching a lot of maps and data that proved how dependent each member is from all others. 

It will take some time before even Carroll County will agree to a more urban oriented agenda, but more regional collaboration between the City and its five partners is absolutely one of the most important agenda items for 2016.
Once the Baltimore region is more consolidated it also needs to intensify its cooperation with the Washington region because the regional ties really far exceed what the Baltimore Metropolitan Council represents.

The proposed reform of the metro bus system run my MTA can be a great test. So far little could be heard from any of the counties about this, as if buses wouldn't touch the entire region. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Creating opportunity in greater Baltimore’s next economy (2012 Brookings Report)
Why Many Cities are seen as the Deadbeat Uncle in their Regions (Community Architect)
Baltimore Regional Plan for Sustainable Development (RPSD)

Baltimore's murder rate

All year I have avoided the topic, because it isn't part of my expertise and it isn't urban design. Yet, can one write about Baltimore without its murder rate?

The original function of police is to protect the citizen from those who don't follow the rules and make fellow citizens their prey. (An older German word for police is Schutzmann or "protection man"). Anyone, rich or poor needs police once in a while, without police there is no safe and secure living and many Baltimore citizens have called on the police to give them protection, especially in the poorest communities. Police cannot be effective without the community and few communities never need police.
Police as a friend of the community

But if police becomes something like an occupying force, if there is too much police or they wield too much power or have too little oversight, the protection function turns into one of oppression in which upstanding citizens become the objects of police action just as much as criminals. (Especially Germans have rich experience with that).

We know that the tendency of police to abuse their power is most severely felt by minorities and those who are most are most disadvantaged since it makes them most vulnerable. We know that police abuse has been common in disinvested African American communities across America for a while but now nobody can deny it any longer with new video evidence pouring in every week.

But we also know abuse doesn't stop at vulnerable minorities. Just as Oskar Niemöller observed during the beginning of the Nazi oppression, unchecked abuse has the tendency to spread. I know firsthand from small comparably insignificant experiences. For example when I honked at a police officer who with his vehicle had cut into my lane when turning. I got stopped and because I insisted initially on being right, additional squad cars were called in, and hadn't it been for my then highschool daughter who implored me to be docile and obedient, so she would get to BSA on time, I may have been arrested right there on MLK. The officer had the power and I had almost none. (I did get a citation). Another time when a police car with sirens blaring had gunned it in front of my office against the signal and subsequently t-boned a car travelling with the green light and injuring and pinning its occupants, upset eye witnessed hollered at arriving police about what had happened. The officers threatened the eye witnesses with arrest and obstruction of police work. When I interfered and called it witness intimidation the officers got even more belligerent. What saved me then was a supervisor who arrived just in time to call the rogue officers to order and apologize to those who were witnesses. In other words: No segment of the population, not even the comparably privileged would want a police force that violates the rights of others, is arrest and trigger happy or poorly educated.
Police as adversary

The matter of protection versus oppression, the death of Freddie Gray and the spiking murder rate are all sadly interrelated. A police as an occupying force may depress crime rates for a while but it will loose community support and with it effectiveness. A police that has become insecure and is in the process of relearning to become a protection and service force again is initially even less effective. This seems to be where we are this year, apparently a sad price to pay towards a path towards police truly protecting law abiding citizens without killing innocent bystanders, children, grandmothers or small time drug dealers in the process.

All that is playing out in Baltimore and across the country. In the level of violence the US is far behind most other advanced civilizations, a well known fact for which only a few have good explanations, the so-called gun culture being one. The violence has gotten us deep into a vicious cycle.

Not only do we have the highest incarceration rates worldwide, we also have a history of police being violent beyond measure. US murder rates are higher than most other countries by far (the per capita murder rate of the US is five times that of Germany) and the rates of police killings are also higher than in any comparable country. No doubt, the two statistics are related and cause and effect may go back and forth.
Fact: In the first 24 days of 2015, police in the US (316 million) fatally shot more people than police did in England and Wales, combined (57 million), over the past 24 years.
Fact: There has been just one fatal shooting by Icelandic police in the country’s 71-year history. The city of Stockton, California – with 25,000 fewer residents than all of Iceland combined – had three fatal encounters in the first five months of 2015. 
Fact: Police in the US have shot and killed more people – in every week this year – than are reportedly shot and killed by German police in an entire year. (population of Germany: 87.7 million) 
Fact: Police in Canada average 25 fatal shooting a year. In California, a state just 10% more populous than Canada, police in 2015 have fatally shot nearly three times as many people in just five months. (Guardian)
 Another aspect of the current (Baltimore) conundrum is much less talked about: With 2015 exceeding the per capita murder rate of 1995 (one of Baltimore's highest) we are not dealing with the same people as we did in 1995, instead we are dealing with the children of those who were gunned down back then, who grew up their fathers dead or in prison and are now 20 years old. Today's perpetrators and often also their victims are the next generation, a generation that were failed by their families and society for their entire lifetime. Children that often grew up without guidance and without opportunity, typically stuck in a neighborhood that hardly improved in the last 20 years and that they found impossible to escape. They also saw police mostly as an occupying force and not as protection.
Young William Stewart, a friend of Mr. Gray’s, says the police 
are disrespectful. 
CreditTodd Heisler/The New York Times 

If one wants to truly understand where the callous disregard for life and rules of any kind comes from which seems to be so ubiquitous in Baltimore, one has to understand the influence of popular culture with its adoration of violence, the power of the gun industry but especially one needs to see how hopeless the conditions of these young men (and women) who kill each other was and is.

These realizations are not supposed to be excuses to enable further violence and crime and reciting them is not a new insight.

Wes Moore, D Watkins or Ta Nahesi Coates have described the oppression, the hopelessness and ensuing culture of violence much better than I ever could. The realizations must be the starting point for drastic reform, whether it is reform of police, the reform of housing or the revitalization of whole communities. No city can succeed if whole segments of the community are entirely left out. As such, the current dire situation is also one of urban planning and design. Chicago, Detroit, St Louis, Oakland and Baltimore have begun the soul searching, 2016 must be the year when the old practices of neglect, oppression and abuse are finally thrown on the trash heap of history.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

Is Baltimore one of the trashiest cities in America?

1657 New Amsterdam (now Manhattan) passes a law against casting waste in the streets. 
1944The Dow Chemical Company invents an insulation material called Styrofoam.

There are many who see Baltimore as especially trashy city measured by the amounts of litter floating through streets, the bags hanging the trees and the rubbish lining the alleys.

It is is easy to see how that impression comes about, because one doesn't have to go far to confirm it. My own grandchildren (age 4 and 7) growing up in Ellicott City were outraged the other day when they walked the sidewalks of Hampden, and the street didn't even look bad to me.
Where Baltimore's street trash winds up: Inner Harbor
The Baltimore Election Facebook page idled sleepily in the holiday daze until the question of trash came up and set the site on fire. Comment after comment about how dirty Baltimore is and pondering whether the issue has gotten worse and should be a campaign issue.

The next question, then, is whether the city Department of Public Works is especially inept in trash removal or if Baltimore residents are especially messy and prone to just tossing things wherever they go or whether we deal with a combination of both. (The Daily Mail in 2011 put Baltimore on place 6 of the ten dirtiest US cities, a newer Readers Digest survey still puts Baltimore's sanitation near the bottom).
New standardized trash cans for Baltimore: Hydraulic lift on truck (SUN)

On the DPW incompetence, I am not so sure. Mayor after Mayor had set their eyes on the matter of sanitation and better ways to collect trash, increase recycling and have safer containers. Trash removal seems pretty reliable. The other day I was truly stunned when on the street sweeping day the sweeper actually showed up right at 8am. SRB's latest initiative is tp provide standardized cans to households so to avoid the messy bags and keep the rats out. (see photo).

On the messiness of locals: No doubt about it. People opening their car windows and tossing their happy-meal leftovers into the street without hesitation, pedestrians unwrapping and dropping the wrappers all in one motion an all too common occurrence. People putting trash out in bags instead of cans or doing it on the wrong days is common, too. So is stuffing street-cans with household bags of garbage right after they have been emptied. Not to mention bus stops where MTA doesn't allow people to board the bus with food and people just drop everything before stepping on the bus. MTA doesn't want to deal with cans and DPW doesn't want to deal with MTA riders' trash.
Community clean-up Waverly

Clear is, the trashier the streets look, the laxer the behavior of those who think that they deserve that somebody picks up behind them. So what are the solutions? The bag ban didn't go anywhere, and the once-a-week pick-up (instead of two) saved money but probably didn't help cleanliness either. There isn't much new to say since I wrote a longer essay about trash in 2014.
Effectiveness of dealing with the origins of trash, then, is not only related to the success a city has in creating prosperity and a civic sense of pride by incorporating and including as many of its citizens as possible, (a feat in which the suburbs have an unfair advantage since most residents are there by choice while disadvantaged residents in cities often live there for lack of other choices).
In other words: One could say that Baltimore's trash is just a symptom of its other dysfunction and pathology. That the trash problem cannot be solved in isolation, just as the crime problem can't.

However, one can also see that increased sanitation services such as the sweepers of the Downtown Partnership really work, if one puts the extra effort and money into it. That is the irony of dysfunction, it sometimes not only produces a scarcity of resources it also creates an extra need for them.
Baltimore sanitation workers are City employees.
The City has its own trash collection. The County
outsources it to private companies.
The deeper truth, though: We simply produce too much trash just as we consume too much energy, a truly unholy alliance, in each case about 25% of what the entire world produces/consumes with just 5% of the world's population. A sad world record that inherently makes for trashy cities.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Top Ten Dirtiest US Cities 2011
The 50 cleanest cities (Readers Digest 2015)
Baltimore City Solid Waste Management Website

Video of a TED talk about New York trash and sanitation services

2014 Rat eradication "heat map" which is a good proxy for the trash problem as well (Baltimore SUN Nov 2014)

Sunday, December 27, 2015

The Year in Review: Baltimore's Architecture

The many cranes and construction sites in many neighborhoods deftly defy the image of a dying city. Investors from near and far still put their money into Baltimore. Some as part of the general urban renaissance that lifts most cities, including Detroit. Some for more location specific reasons such as Baltimore's proximity to DC, its strong universities and colleges, its quirky arts scene or socially conscious foundations, developers and architects.
Cranes over Baltimore: View of Harbor East and HarborPoint from
Key Highway (photo ArchPlan)

With new stuff being built and old stuff being converted and re-used, does Baltimore register on the international architecture vanity scale? Hardly. Few if any buildings find their way onto the cover of architecture magazines or even into the also ran pages.

No piece of architecture has gained the same notoriety and fame as say Ta Nahesi Coate's "Between the World and Me. (ok, fair enough, Ta Nahesi doesn't live in Baltimore anymore) or Tate Kobang's "Bank Rolls", no architecture firm has recently gained the same national status as Baltimore's Under Armour, Order Up or Parking Panda. It was restaurants and excellent cuisine that landed Baltimore on the national #2 spot, not architecture.
The fabric of Baltimore (photo ArchPlan)

But maybe that is the wrong way of looking at architecture anyway. Baltimore architecture is more like comfort food than nouvelle cuisine, more fabric than individual landmarks, a grand tapestry with very few buildings screaming "look at me". Isn't that what makes Baltimore good, or at least its architecture so agreeable?

A city where even the palace of a B&O executive was more like a rowhouse than a mansion? A place where the ensemble of the whole is more important than one individual building? As a whole Baltimore's architectural history lifts the city and is not a burden while the city bravely builds new quarters from whole cloth which we can't foresee now to ever become the topic of rave reviews. Because Baltimore's architectural history is so important for the city's essence, the 2015 demise of the Mechanic Theater has to bemoaned, a structure that, in fact, had made it on the front cover of an architectural magazine. The demolition of the McKeldin fountain, another brutalist structure, is scheduled.

So, in looking for the notable architecture of 2015 we should keep all this in mind. Looking for local relevance, quality and impact on the larger context instead of national glossy notoriety.

What should be registered? The following projects are a rather random selection and by no means a complete list. Comments or suggestions for additional projects are most welcome.


Certainly there are new apartments being built all over the place. The biggest adaptive re-use apartment project is no doubt the conversion of the former Nationsbank building on Light Street with over 440 units.
Converted downtown bank building
(photo: BBJ)
The biggest new construction apartment building may be the Rotunda with 379 apartments (architect: Design Collective). Towson Row began construction of  two apartment towers totaling 350 apartments (masterplanner: Design Collective) but all of these mega projects are architecturally predictable (a good thing when it comes to historic preservation in the case of 10 Light Street but not as convincing on a new project).

The Rotunda apartments tower over
the Hampden rowhouses
(photo: ArchPlan)
An exception of this predicatble sandstone-brick melange of red and beige tones will be the 275 luxury Bozzutto apartments dubbed Anthem house on Fort Avenue in Locust Point. (Architect: KTGY).

Another exception: The Four Seasons condominiums under construction on top of the Four Seasons Hotel in Harbor East which are interesting because they are the first condos going up in a while and they have a full glass skin (Architects: Beatty Harvey Coco), novel for Baltimore residential towers with the one exception of the earlier Zenith building at Camden Yards and Paca Street.

Large residential projects that promise to be architecturally more interesting are promised for 2016: The 16 story slab planned to be erected on the Della Notte site near Harbor East (HCM architects), the 255 unit double tower on the site of the Mechanic Theater (Shalom Baranes Architects), the residential tower on the McCormick site at 414 Light Street (372 apartments, Buenz, Devon Patterson  Architects), the 400 dwelling units at 300 East Pratt (HKS Architects) and the smaller proposed Nelson Kohl apartments on Lanvale Street behind Penn Station. ( LSC Design of York, PA).

Proposed Nelson Kohl apartments on Lanvale Street
The trouble is that those buildings that would break new ground architecturally are also the ones that have not actually broken ground but stayed on paper, some of them in spite of full UDARP approval.

The good news of all this residential construction is that it should help keep Baltimore's population stable if not growing. It is also noteworthy that projects are not all clustered in one spot (Harbor East or the waterfront) but that they spread from there to Remington, Charles Village (157 student apartments on St Paul Street with Design Collective as the architect), Butchers Hill, Sharp Leadenhall (Stadium Square, 293 units) and if La Cite ever gets their act together even to Poppleton.


The mother of all new office projects would be State Center, but the project remains in limbo. Instead, the Exelon Building at Harbor Point is under construction. Depending on the angle from which one sees it, it looks quite squat in spite of its height. That building will hardly be a new Baltimore landmark, in spite of its careful and extensive UDARP review or its substantial size. The most notable fact here again is less the architecture and more that it is being built at all, even though Exelon is not headquartered here and even though the former Allied Signal site is an extremely difficult and expensive brown-field to build because of the cap that had to be placed atop the chromium contamination.
the Exelon complex as seen from Caroline Street
(Photo: ArchPlan November 2015)

Like other academic institutions the University of Maryland continues to build at a rapid clip but its architecture continues to be less than remarkable, background architecture at best. That this could be different has been proven with Hopkins' new children hospital and its new emergency area on Orleans and Wolfe Streets completed a couple of years back.

Office construction has long languished in Baltimore with Harbor East as the only exception. In 2016 there could be competition: an approved new masterplan for Canton Crossing  includes rights for massive office development. Whether any of those new buildings will be able to give the development a better landmark than that awful First Mariner Tower will remain to be seen.


The biggest attempt of architecture with a capital A probably comes from KPF Architects and their Morgan School of Business. Big, impressive and bold but ultimately failing as a big gesture it still will readjust the scale for Baltimore campus buildings but not in the paradigm shifting way as, say, the MICA Brown Center or the UB Law School did before. For that the KPF project, which began very promisingly when it was just a steel skeleton, has too many issues with proportion, materials and colors, especially on its main exposure side. A similar large campus building at Coppin University, the new Science Building is also unconvincing in its jumble of architectural languages. Both, ultimately may be most remarkable for the questionable attempt of the Maryland University System to build its way out of the still pending lawsuit alleging continued discrimination against the historically black colleges (HCBU).
The KPF School of Business at Morgan University
(Photo: ArchPlan)

The truly interesting architecture may not be large and all that visible. It is hidden in smaller projects, often as part  of interior design. The new Poets restaurant of the Hotel Indigo on Franklin Street, for example (Architect: Randy Sovich), the elaborate new school libraries funded through an initiative of the Weinberg Foundation (Architect: John Srygley, Anna Castro), or Gensler's incubator FastForward East offices on Wolfe Street. Jubilee's renovated Center Theater Architect: Ziger Snead) comes to mind, the new coffee shop Ceremony and the new small market named after Mount Vernon, both located in the 520 Park Avenue complex. 2016 will reveal more such hidden architecture when Open Works opens on Greenmount Avenue and Center Stage will receive a major renovation (both projects Cho, Benn, Holback).

 We are coming back to architecture as a service that is not aiming for magazine covers but for solutions which allow human decency in difficult circumstances. In that sense the best news may be that residential construction has inched into areas that were previously utterly disinvested, such as Greenmount West and Barclay, represented by projects there are less notable for their architecture but their sheer presence at all.
The Mary Harvin Transformation Building in East
Baltimore. Burnt down and rebuilt in 2015

The most remarkable projects for investment in areas with no "market" and for resilience and progress in spite of a very difficult year for Baltimore are two residential structures designed by Marks Thomas Architects and developed by the Woda Group: The Fulton-Gethsemane Village on 2614 Pennsylvania Avenue, just a stone-throw away from the CVS that burnt down during the uprising and the Mary Harvin Center Senior Apartments on 1600 N. Chester Street that themselves burnt down on the night of rioting in one gigantic spectacular fire. It has been already rebuilt beyond the state it was in when it was reduced to ashes and will open in the spring of 2016. The projects have 61 apartments each.

These projects continue what began with Wodas earlier Gateway project on North Avenue, with the the French Company's Lillian Jones Apartments on Greenmount Avenue (both designed by CBH) and Charlie Duff's City Arts building on Oliver Street (HCM): Well designed catalytic projects that are affordable, blend into the community and don't look like projects. These endeavors may be the best proof we have that not only Baltimore's architecture is thriving but its neighborhoods are on a path towards mending.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
The Fulton Gethsemane project on Penn Ave
(photo: ArchPlan)

Baltimore SUN overview of construction by Jacques Kelly Dec 25,15
The Baltimore Chop, an overview of Baltimore Construction spring 2015

The new Science Center at Coppin (Photo: Sun)

Morgan State University: Business Center (Photo: ArchPlan)
the new mixed use building on 33th and St Paul Street (Rendering Design Collective)

The Anthem luxury apartments in Locust Point (Rendering KTGY)

Library at the Moravia Park ES (Photo: John Srygley Architects)
FastForward East incubator at Hopkins (Photo BBJ)
Mount Vernon Marketplace (Photo: ArchPlan. Inc.)

Center redevelopment North Avenue-Station North (Photo: SUN)
Cafe Ceremony Park Avenue

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Who is Baltimore's Santa?

Right in time for Christmas, House Speaker Michael Busch spoke up on behalf of Baltimore and a well stuffed bill package about to take shape in Annapolis which would bring various types of financial assistance to the poor biggest city of the State. 

Then there is Kevin Plank, but we can't quite tell if he is a Santa or a megalomaniac. His Fells Point hotel project on the Recreation Pier was like a great gift after a decade of failed attempts to administer life support to the sinking pier.  The distillery project in Port Covington  seemed to include much less community benefit, if any. Then again, City Garage, Plank's much touted maker space, is definitely a good thing for Baltimore. We certainly love Under Armour, one of the few local companies that really rocks. But now we hear about Plank's $6.6 million 35,000sf mansion under construction, defiling Baltimore County's most restricted land conservation zone. Ouch.  Less Santa, more a businessmen who is intoxicated by his own success. 

Mayor SRB not only doesn't look like Santa at all, she also removed herself from the list and so did Senator Mikulski, a reliable Santa for years, red jacket and all. O'Malley wants to be Santa for the whole country but the country doesn't seem to even notice. 

Maybe the biggest gift are the much recognized words of of Ta Nahesi Coates and his book "Between the World and me".

Of course, all the mayoral candidates are want-to-be Santas. So far necessarily mostly hat and no cattle, the pack incongruously led by the Grinch who stole Christ gift cards. 

But wait, if we don't know who really is Baltimore's Santa, we do know the the real Baltimore Grinch of 2015: He is the one who made off with $2.9 billion! And now the NAACP is after him. Ta Nahesi Coates would be a good expert witness. 

Happy Holidays! 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Baltimore's newest park at West Covington

Baltimore has a great set of parks, some designed by the Olmsted brothers. So, with a shrinking population, do we really need more green spaces or open spaces?
West Covington Park and Hanover Street Bridge
(Photo Jake Smith)

The question comes up most frequently in the context of abandoned properties, disinterested neighborhoods and demolition. Many suggest to bulldoze it all and turn it into a beautiful park.

But the matter of Baltimore's parks is not simply one of quantity (enough green space per household), it is also a matter of quality and specifically one of meeting needs and demands that didn't exist in the same way when Baltimore's park system was initially created.

Just think of the dog parks, the trail systems for runners or the bike masterplan, all open space activities that no comprehensive plan ever included until the most recent decade. Especially the reconsideration of the waterfront as a recreational amenity has brought us innovation and new ideas about parks and open space.
Waterfront promenade at Ritz Carlton development
(photo: Bikemore)

The nearly 5 miles Inner Harbor Waterfront promenade was first and idea and then a patchwork until now it is an almost complete network of trails and spaces for walkers, runners and (in places) bicyclists that is on par with Chicago's Lake Shore trails. The Jones Falls trail took the great parks of Cylburn and Druid Hill and linked them together with access all the way to downtown with connections to the Middle Branch and the other great stream trail system named after the Gwynns Falls.

The new West Covington Park at the foot of the Hanover Street bridge and across from Under Armour's new maker space at "City Garage" is designed by Baltimore architecture firm Ayers Saint Gross. It is an example of the beginning of a second waterfront trail and park system that just recently began to emerge and includes Port Covington and Under Armour's large campus plans as well as the currently still unplanned Westport site with linage to the already existing trails coming down to Westport and Cherry Hill from the Gwynns Falls and the Middle Branch Park.
Promenade at Union Wharf Fells Point (Photo: Union Wharf)

The park was funded by a mix of state and federal moneys as an environmental demonstration project, to show how other brownfield sites could be cleaned up and become assets for public use. It offers residents of South Baltimore an new perspective of the Hanover Street Bridge, the Middle Branch waterfront and the Cherry Hill shoreline across the water. The 19 acre park offers a new place to run, walk the dog or just sit and contemplate. The park is quite "architectural" in its design (playing a lot with hard geometric forms) but with plenty of landscaping it will soften as soon as some of the plant materials grows a bit more. The Brew reported the price tag of the park to be $10.3 million. The land is owned by the Aquarium after a sale from the city under former Mayor Dixon. However it presents  itself as open as any public park.
In the consideration what makes Baltimore great and what it offers to old timers and new millennials choosing this city as their new home Baltimore, its splendid historic parks, its trails and its public access to a cleaned up and rediscovered waterfront are invaluable assets.
View of the Hanover Bridge from West Covington Park at night (photo ArchPlan)

 These open spaces add value even without anybody paying taxes on the land itself, without commercial vendors on the spaces and even though the creation of them took taxpayer funds.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Middle Branch Park near Cherry Hill

Baltimore Brew article about the problems of the park's creation
Brew article about the quite opening of the park

Jones Falls Trail Map

Tuesday, December 22, 2015

What the Baltimore Red Line has to do with Civil Rights

It had been expected that transit advocates would invoke Title VI in the context of the Governor's cancellation of the Baltimore Red Line project. (SUN article). This week the NAACP informed the public it had filed a complaint to the Department of Justice. Title VI is part of the federal civil rights legislation of 1964.
"No person in the United States shall, on the ground of race, color, or national origin, be excluded from participation' in, be denied the benefits of, or be subjected to discrimination under any program or activity receiving Federal financial assistance."  U.S. Department of Justice Civil Rights Division Washington, D.C. 20530 
What discrimination is prohibited by Title VI? There are many forms of illegal discrimination based on race, color, or national origin that can limit the opportunity of minorities to gain equal access to services and programs. Among other things, in operating a federally assisted program, a recipient cannot, on the . basis ofrace, color, or national origin, either directly or through contractual means: •. Deny program services, aids, or benefits; • Provide a different service, aid, or benefit, or provide them in a manner different than they are provided to others; or • Segregate or separately treat individuals in any matter related to the receipt of any service, aid, or benefit.  (source: US Justice Department) 
How does the complaint create a link between the Baltimore project and the issue of civil rights? The below text from the complaint filed by the NAACP Legal Defense and Educational Fund, Inc.; the Civil Rights Education and Enforcement Center; Covington & Burling LLP; and the ACLU of Maryland explains:
The Baltimore City Branch of the NAACP, Baltimore Regional Initiative Developing Genuine Equality, Inc. (BRIDGE), and Earl Andrews (collectively, “Complainants”) bring this Complaint on behalf of themselves and African-American residents of the City of Baltimore and the State of Maryland. Complainants allege that the State of Maryland and the Maryland Department of Transportation and its sub-agencies (“MDOT”) (collectively, “Respondents”) violated Title VI through the cancellation of the Baltimore Red Line and subsequent transfer of state funds to the Governor’s Highways, Bridges, and Roads Initiative. The redirection of funds away from the east-west corridor of the Baltimore region has had and will continue to have a disparate impact on African Americans in Maryland. Respondents cannot demonstrate a substantial legitimate justification for the cancellation of the Red Line, and there are less discriminatory alternatives that would have served any purported budgetary concerns. 
The Red Line is seen by many as a project that connected the "two Baltimores" by connecting the impoverished communities of West Baltimore with the thriving communities on the east, namely Harbor East, Fells Point and Canton. This argument received traction when the Baltimore Metro Council had completed its report regarding "opportunity areas" in the region, job access and disparities of commute time between the poor and the rich areas of the region.

The original Red Line documents justifying the project allued to these issues as well, although in a less explicit manner. The Federal Process for federally funded "New Starts" projects such as the Red Line require the preparation of a "Purpose and Need Statement". The Red Line Purpose and Need paper includes these statements about the purpose :
The purpose of the Red Line is to:
- More easily move people from one location to another
in the corridor,
- Enhance transit connections,
- Support community revitalization and economic
development opportunities, and
- Help the region address congestion and traffic-related
air quality issues.....
Map of car ownership rates for various communities in the Red Line corridor (Source: Purpose and Need Statement)

Encourage commercial and residential growth around new transit stations. It  would help revitalize existing communities and stimulate economic developmentwithin walking distance of new transit stations. 
Although market forces, and other variables that are not directly related to transit strongly influence development patterns, there are currently unrealized opportunities for growth and redevelopment within existing communities along the corridor that improved transportation could enhance. Specific communities within the Red Line corridor that would benefit from revitalization include Rosemont; the communities surrounding the West Baltimore MARCstation; the communities in the vicinity of Carey and Calhoun Streets near US 40; Central Avenue; Patterson Park; and Highlandtown. Areas within the Red Line corridor that would benefit from stimulus which would encourage redevelopment or support increased planned development include the Security Square Mall area, Edmondson Village, Downtown, Canton, and Bayview. 
The Purpose and Need document points out that 44% of households in the corridor do not own a car compared to a 35% city and a 9% Baltimore County average. It refers to the Regional Rail Plan with these goals:
The Baltimore Regional Rail System Plan has three main objectives for all planned and proposed transit lines within the region, including the Red Line. Those objectives are:
- To establish, over the next 40 years, a true system of rail lines that provides fast and reliable rail service between major activity centers in the region.
- To serve areas with the greatest concentration of population and employment.
- To make the most of [Baltimore’s] prior transportation investments.
The Title VI complaint includes these reasons for the complaint:
The Red Line would also have served as the necessary link connecting West Baltimore’s predominantly African-American neighborhoods to job centers. The Red Line corridor is sixty percent African-American and contains forty-three separate Environmental Justice (EJ) areas.43 Unemployment rates in the neighborhoods along Edmondson Avenue are extremely high: 17.5 percent in Poppleton; 17.9 percent in Allendale; 22.7 percent in Edmondson Village and in Harlem Park/Sandtown-Winchester; and 24.1 percent in Greater Rosemont—compared to the city’s overall unemployment rate of 14.2 percent.44 Travel poses a barrier for jobseekers in these neighborhoods; less than two percent of jobs within the city of Baltimore, let alone the metropolitan region, are located in these communities.
 The complaint alludes to the uneven history of transportation projects in the region in terms of whom those projects benefited over time including the "East West Expressway" that ultimately led to the short section of freeway between West Baltimore MARC and Martin Luther King Boulevard. ("The highway to nowhere"). 

The infamous "highway to nowhere" was part of a extensive freeway system planned for the region that was largely defeated except for this segment through West Baltimore minority communities which displaced thousands of households and forever separated communities that used to have close ties. The existence of this freeway and the fact that the Red Line intended to use its median for its alignment played a mayor role in the public debate about the project in the area. Some saw the Red Line as a kind of restitution, some others feared additional impacts to their communities. At one point the affluent communities along the Boston Street in Canton tried to form a coalition with communities along the Edmondson Avenue claiming that the project was a detriment to the community. However, that attempt of such a coalition did not succeed even though support for the Red Line along the surface section of the project in and around Edmondson Village was less solid than in the Rosemont and West Baltimore areas.

The complaint is directed at the Maryland Department of Transportation (MDOT) and its various components. The complaint contends that "complainants can readily demonstrate that the cancellation of the Red Line and the reallocation of its funding have a disparate impact on African Americans in Maryland."
In order to establish a prima facie case of disparate impact in the Title VI context, a complainant must first show that the proposed federally-funded action results in “some definite, measurable disparate impact” on a group protected by Title VI.127. The complaint states that:
Comparing the results of the user benefit analysis for the Red Line with those for the Highways, Bridges, and Roads Initiative, ECONW [a consultant] found that the cancellation of the Red Line and the subsequent transfer of funds for the Line to the Highways Initiative has had and will continue to have a substantial, disparate impact on African Americans.139 This is the case regardless of whether DOT and FHWA: 1) compare the percent of African-American trips harmed to the percent of trips they will take; 2) apply MTA’s disparate impact policy; or 3) compare the effect of the cancellation of the Red Line and funding of the Highways Initiative on African-Americans and whites.
Naturally the Hogan Administration does not agree.
"Ultimately, this so-called complaint has absolutely zero credibility or legal standing, and is essentially nothing more than a press release," spokesman Doug Mayer said. (Source: Baltimore SUN).
The Governor has stated multiple times that he considered the Red Line  badly designed and "simply not affordable" with a $1 billion tunnel "straight through the heart of downtown".

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The full complaint can be found here 

Monday, December 21, 2015

Why a new or wider Bay Bridge would be the wrong answer

The Maryland Transportation Authority (MDTA) gave us the oh so useful $1.1 billion I-95 express toll lanes north of the Harbor Tunnels and the equally underperforming  $2.5 billion Intercounty Connector.

So we naturally couldn't wait until we heard about  the next big billion dollar boondoggle the MDTA wants to sell to politicians and constituents. (I really like how the Governor enriched the discourse of the transportation debate with this technical term, for indeed, the transport industry is right up there with the military and Hollywood when it comes to the production of boondoggles.)

The two spans of the Chesapeake Bay Bridge built in 1952 and 1973

Just in time for Christmas we received the latest multi billion dollar MDTA wish wrapped nicely in a "life cycle cost analysts". That sounds pretty scientific, and loaded with options, statistics and tables  the report looks the part even if any sane person would find projections 50 years forward a very daring exercise. But aside from that, as the saying goes, "garbage in, garbage out".

This isn't to say that the report in itself is unprofessional, faulty or flawed, far from me to even judge that! What I am saying is that the report asks the wrong questions and therefore gives the wrong answers, just like that scientific analysis some 120 years ago that tried to gauge the depth of horse manure on London's streets by extrapolating the conditions of 1894 into the year 1944. We all know how that went.

The existing Bay Bridge structures are currently in satisfactory condition. The structural analysisshows that with programmed and anticipated rehabilitation and maintenance the existing structures can be maintained in fair or better condition through 2065, at which point the eastbound structure will be 113 years old and the westbound structure will be 92 years old. Beyond 2065, it is difficult to project whatrehabilitation and maintenance would be required to keep the bridgesin fair or better condition, but it is likely that major rehabilitation projects would be required that would necessitate extensive short‐term and/or long‐term lane closures. These future projects could have a major, detrimental impact on available bridge capacity and operations. Therefore, 2065 wasidentified asthe horizon year for when Bay Bridge improvements would have to be implemented. (Report)

The Bay Bridge study is a bit like the horse manure crisis of 1894 when it tries to paint a picture of horrible congestion by 2040 at a time in transportation history which could turn out to be just as transformative as the shift from horses to cars 100 years ago. Instead of increasing from today's 70,000 vehicles to 92,000 a day by 2040 (with 125,000 in the summer peak), the traffic counts could actually go down even if population increase and attractiveness of the Eastern Shore as a place to live should continue.


Just assume that the technological advance of the autonomous vehicle (AV) will make more people realize that the transportation model of the self-owned single occupant car that sits around unused for about 95% of the time is obsolete. Just assume more people would prefer the car sharing "Uber model", just without a driver, and imagine further how self driving cars could act like huge trains, especially when it comes to traversing the Bay Bridge. With those assumptions congestion would certainly go down and possibly even the number of trips because of pooled vehicles. AVs could potentially increase capacity by 50%. 

In addition to this, the trend to urban living could continue and break or weaken the attraction of the Eastern Shore as a giant bedroom community with the jobs on the other side of the Bay. This consideration is important even before we talk about climate change, rising sea levels and environmental protection as variables that could reduce travel and especially commuting demand as well, namely because large parts of the developable areas on the Eastern Shore lie within the threat zones. 
Chester /Stephensville, the first communities on the Eastern
Shore side of the Bay Bridge have seen significant growth.
The ongoing car centric efforts of rapid travel to the beach
has all but ruined the character of the Eastern Shore along
the first several miles after the bridge

None of this is certain at this point and nobody knows how trends will unfold by 2040 or 2065 a full 25 or 50 years years from now. (Just think 25 years back: In 1990 the Internet had just begun, there was no Amazon, no hybrid cars and cities were roiling from abandonment across the country).

Lastly, and maybe most importantly, even if everything would just continue to be as it is today (as the study assumes), we know that adding capacity does not solve congestion! It simply creates new (induced) demand inviting more people to live on the Eastern Shore and pave over the landscapes and shorelines that need to remain pristine or should be restored to be pristine again so they can help bring back the waters of the Bay to healthy conditions. Doing that would be a crime against the lands and the waters we all love. 

Therefore, considerations about the future mobility in the larger region should begin with acceptable outcomes and work out how those outcomes can be achieved instead of open ended extrapolations of current utterly unsustainable trends. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The author participated in a 2004 growth management masterplan for the Stevensville/Chester area of Queen Anne's County on the Eastern Shore. The matter was too controversial to be adopted. It died in the local Citizen Advisory Committee which was split over the issue.