Thursday, January 7, 2016

What Can $4 Million Buy at Rash Field?

That question lured more than 180 people into the IMAX auditorium of the Science Center at the Inner Harbor, a large contingent evidently mobilized by the Baltimore Beach Volley Ball community.
A well filled IMAX at the Science Center (photo: ArchPlan)

Anyone who expected the presentation of big ideas of the kind that Ayers Saint Gross presented as part of their Harbor 2.0 masterplan would have been disappointed. (ASG had suggested Rash Field as the landing point for a sweeoing pedestrian bridge crossing over to Pier Five).

The designer selected by the Waterfront Partnership, Mahan Rykiel Associates (MRA) Landscape Architects in Baltimore declared categorically that there were "no concept designs, whatsoever" and that the evening's only purpose was to hear ideas and comments from the public.

This could be a welcome new approach given past discussions and designs about Rash Field that started with foregone conclusions such as a parking deck with the replacement park built on top. The same strategy of listening first should be employed for the McKeldin Plaza, also located at the Inner Harbor, also with MRA as the lead designer.

In line with the current listening strategy, Design Director Isaac Hametz limited his introduction to explaining the schedule and the procedures and an associate presented the results of the interactive online polling that everyone had been invited to complete when entering the auditorium. (See www.rashfield.org)

The poll revealed that most (78%) attendees were frequent users (10 or more times last year) of Rash Field and often participate in organized events there (58%) with 65% doing "active recreation" there, about the same percentage that also thought that being an "active recreation park" should be "the primary function of Rash Field".
Rash Field as seen from Federal Hill Park: More hard surface than
activities  (Photo: Creative Commons)

When the groups reported back from their discussions they had to awkardly organize among the steeply rising fixed seating of the IMAX, one group put the prevailing sentiment among attendees most succinctly:
"Don't change it, enhance it". 
Greener spaces, improved bathrooms. Better use of currently wasted space, added activities, everything but no reduction of the current volley ball field!
An architecture student who took Rash Field as his study thesis reported from his group that Rash Field should be
A place where locals and tourists meet. 
Better connection to Federal Hill for locals and tourists was requested several times, after all "Federal Hill Park provides one of the most captivating views of Baltimore". Bike lanes , more bike parking, better vendors that cater to active recreationists rather than "ice cream seeking tourists" were on many wish lists, along with more activities for families with children, better lighting, better bathrooms and safer ways to cross Key Highway. One group wanted to see a better reflection of Baltimore's water oriented history and suggested replacing the yacht docks in front of Rah Field with boats selling seafood. ("Food boats instead of food trucks"). others wanted to see more art, kayaking, a water garden, an outdoor restaurant, a permeable running track and climbing walls. Everyone seemed to want the ice rink back on Rash Field which landed on the McKeldin Plaza last year and is crammed into the corner of HarborPlace this year and everyone wanted flexibility for year round activties and the ability to have events concurrent with the regular activities.
There was little disagreement among those attending, even if there was no clear consensus if the berms along the promenade and Key Highway should go or stay.

Few questioned the narrow confines of the project boundaries that don't seem to allow thinking about that vast space allotted to cars on Key Highway or the relation of Rash Field to Federal Hill Park or the rest of the Inner Harbor. It can be assumed that additional meetings and the work of the Advisory panel will get to those relationships and allow the design team to distill some guiding principles from the many suggestions that were made.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
Next steps (photo: ArchPlan)

The beach volley ball field that was once suggested to be eliminated
(Photo: Creative Commons)

Rash Field, volley ball and books: Book Fair 2015
(Photo: Creative Commons)

The Pride of Baltimore Memorial, green but no "Ecosystem Services"
(Photo: Creative Commons)

Rash Field and Federal Hill Park should be better connected
(Photo: Creative Commons)

No consensus on the berms: Separation of promenade and Rash Field (to the right)
photo: ArchPlan