Thursday, March 31, 2016

Baltimore needs a global perspective

When Neal Peirce, historian, journalist and chronicler of cities wrote his seminal book Citistates in 1993 he predicted that nations would become less important and cities in their metropolitan areas more so.

The tall ship Stad Amsterdam (City of Amsterdam) docking at Baltimore's west-shore and its Dutch trade delegation trying to enhance business with the Baltimore region is a good example of this. Trading between Baltimore and Amsterdam goes back hundreds of years, after all, 150 years ago it was all about tobacco.
Clipper Stad Amsterdam at the Westshore

Baltimore, recently even more than usual mired in navel gazing thanks to the mayoral campaign, the upcoming anniversary of the unrest and a debate about revisions to the City Charter suggested by council president Jack Young, needs the occasional jolt that like a bolt of lightning illuminates the extent to which this port city is connected to the big wide world out there.

A pseudo historic sailing clipper is a curious place to discuss the future, but flying in a trade delegation of Dutch business people and public officials to then moor them on the little piece of Holland that the ship presents, is a very effective method of gaining some equal footing in a host city. For example, the Dutch "traders" can invite to a reception and dinner on their fleck of Dutch territory ("passport or ID required") and be the hosts sprinkling the Dutch trade representatives around at the festive dinner tables for chat and advertising while the ship is their own hotel.

The Stad Amsterdam is a replica of recent vintage, funded by the Randstad Corporation (a placement company). It is the result of the insight that the Dutch didn't have one of those stately government owned Navy training skippers like most other nations do and when tall ships convened at Amsterdam or Baltimore, the Dutch couldn't compete. So they built themselves their own tall ship, an idea not too different from the concept of the Pride of Baltimore.

On the ship there was a real Dutch Mayor on hand, Mirjam van t' Veld, not the Mayor of Amsterdam but of Amstelveen, a town close by. She had met our own Mayor and was gushing about "how much is going on in Baltimore". She was the first to admonish her Baltimore guests not to dwell on Baltimore's problems when there was also so much good about the city. (She had toured Under Armour, met with BDC officials and squeezed in a brief visit at the BMA).
The beauty of a tall ship

Fueled by ample free drink, Dutch business people at dinner tables continued the thread, dishing out opinions about Baltimore with the usual European directness. It turned out, some of these business people know Baltimore really well, one of them was even married to a former Baltimore resident. (Of course, the Stad Amsterdam had called in Baltimore before). Who would know that Baltimore's port is not only a port of call for international shipping lines like Maersk (Denmark), Wallenius (Norway) and Hapag Lloyd (German) but there is also a 700,000 square foot warehouse by the Dutch Company Steinweg in which mostly base metals are stored?The CEO of Steinweg certainly knows a thing or too about transportation, let alone his worldwide travels. It didn't take long until he arrived at the topic of Baltimore's transit and its deficiencies. His fellow countryman, an investment adviser, chimed in with his experiences in Atlanta. As a logistics man he kept on emphasizing the importance of infrastructure investment, something he considered lacking in the US in general.

Hank Jansson, the CEO of the small Dutch lighting company Lightwell ("de intelligente lichtmast") wants to produce and assemble his LED streetlights in Baltimore. He is still looking for the right contacts. He could also sell his color adjustable specialty fixture to be installed in high end changing rooms so that cloth buying would become a better experience by seeing the garment in the same light it would have in the intended setting.)
Peter De Kruijk Deputy Managing Director of 
Amsterdam in Business addresses his guests on the ship

Those trade trips are a popular topic of derision, especially when seen in the Baltimore fishbowl when undertaken by a delegation of Baltimore or the State of Maryland. They are usually considered a frivolous waste of taxpayer's money.  On some level they are, but then nothing opens the mind to what others do and think better than sharing food and drink during a 2 hour five course meal.

No clicking on Google maps and streetview can replace that. in the global competition between metro areas, Baltimore better get a good idea where it stands. The clipper will sail next to Philadelphia and Boston. Same mission, other global port cities.
Steinweg Stevedoring at US ports

Oh, and yes: Baltimore better elect a mayor who can comfortably present our global city, not only at home and in the neighborhood but also abroad.  And America better elect a president who doesn't think that global trade is of the devil.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Port of Baltimore 2015 statistics

Wednesday, March 30, 2016

What are the light innovations in Baltimore?

Baltimore wants to use the new Light City Baltimore festival to illuminate the City's new economy and its stature as an innovation hub.
Is street light conversion innovation?

The Lantern Parade of the Creative Alliance that kicked things off, indeed, showed more creative use of LED lights than romantic candles one would initially associate with a lantern. But the artist's sculptures and creative light projections need a sound underpinning in the City's daily operations for an image of innovation to truly take hold. So is there lighting innovation in Baltimore beyond bathing prominent buildings in the colors of the Orioles and Ravens or accompany the Fourth of July fireworks with lasers that move in the rhythm of music?

The most extensive field for lighting innovation is, no doubt, the streetlight. Baltimore City alone has 70,000 of those, Baltimore County another 45,000. Across the world operators of street lights are in a race to convert those from the traditional high pressure sodium (yellow) or metal halide (white) heads to light emitting diodes (LED). The race is led by the lighting industry who can sell millions of new fixtures and lamps with the promise of savings of 40-50% over the old solutions, in part from energy conservation and in part from reduced maintenance due to longer lamp life.

Safety experts maintain that the white LED light is safer because of better color rendition; dark sky activists who fight light pollution welcome LED lighting because it has less spill and a more controlled field of lighting. But that same feature had Councilman Curran question if the new lights are really safer when one is near the edge of the field of lighting.  Doctors warn that the more bluish LED light could further mess up people's circadian cycle, especially when the shine into bedrooms. In other words, the best street lighting is still evolving.
1817 Baltimore gas light innovation

Baltimore City has been no slouch when it comes to the simple "plug-out plug-in" conversion and has already changed out over 11,000 street lights and 37,000 bulbs in traffic signal heads. The pace of conversions seems to have slowed recently. In Baltimore only 10,000 of those street lights are owned by the City and the rest is owned by BGE which made for some bickering back in 2011 when the conversion first began. Baltimore City pays BGE for maintenance and wanted to take changing bulbs over to reap in the savings. BGE maintained that additional shut-off provisions would be needed to do this safely. The quarrel has been settled but sheds light less on innovation and more on bureaucracy.

The lighting industry has ramped up the promises with new ideas what the street lights could do: As we well know in Baltimore, street light poles can hold security cameras. They also could hold WiFi routers for free neighborhood internet and charging stations for electric vehicles (EV). Lights could be programmed to do more than come on and switch off. They could sense the presence of pedestrians, they could become brighter at times of unsavory activity, they could change light color (technical speak: light temperature) to influence the mood and, if hooked up with local solar panels, they could come off the grid as well. (Like Baltimore's parking kiosks who have their own solar panel on the slanted tops).
what is our image as an innovation hub?

Given that this simple street light conversion happens everywhere. it hardly counts as innovation, even if it had a few EV chargers.

The changes that come from LED lighting can also be seen in corporate signs, in retail, on automobiles or on bicycles that become equipped with ever more powerful lighting not only for added visibility but also for an increasing cacophony of flashing lights on city streets and interstates. (As a study just proved, many of the new technology car headlights are really lousy).

As I said in my first blog about Light City Baltimore, information today is light, and light is information, considering fiber-optics, LED and laser as the leading technologies of both, lighting and information. And just as we are submerged by a ever larger flood of information, the revolution in lighting has already resulted in lights being everywhere and this is just the beginning.
CEO Henk Janssen, CEO Lightwell BV
at Gensler's Baltimore office yesterday

Now is the time to put the thinking-cap on to find out what true innovation in lighting would mean, so we are ready for next year's Light City Baltimore with a firmer grip on what the event should convey as its main message.

A good start would be the creation of some local jobs around LED fixture manufacturing. Conveniently, the CEO of Lightwell BV, a Dutch manufacturer came to Baltimore on board of the Clipper Stad Amsterdam which is currently docking at the West-Shore as part of a delegation from the Netherlands trying to promote Dutch industries. He is telling the Mayor today that he is looking for a manufacturing partner here in Baltimore.

Another step would be to further explore the connection between information and lighting for cities as part of the Smart Cities development. West Baltimore has recently been declared an Innovation Village. Let's see how lighting innovation can be harnessed there.

And while we are at it: the enhancement of the McKeldin Fountaun with light projections makes it really look good. How about an innovative permanent light solution for this fountain instead of demolition. Like the Exhale Plaza in Chapel Hill by Mikyoung Kim.

.Klaus Philipsen, FAIA


Brew article about street lighting conversion
Philips Lighting company LED lighting video
My Community Architect blog article How Technology Can Provide Access for Distressed Communities

LED lighting and place-making: 140 West Plaza: Exhale, Chapel Hill, NC
(photo Mikyoung Kim)

Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Lights, cameras, action

Light is the driver of the digital age. LED is the technology that creates the virtual realities on our electronic devices that our eyes follow all day long. What is more obvious than making the city the canvas to show we arrived in a new age?
Luminous Intervention, McKeldin Fountain
(photo: ArchPlan Inc.)

That is precisely what Light City Baltimore does which opened yesterday at the Inner Harbor on a blustery early spring evening. Fiber-optics, light-emitting-diodes and laser are all ways to see light in a new light. With those technologies precision is possible in the previously rather undirected light of the old light bulb (laser), fiberoptics allow light to be channeled through thin pipes and LED allows low energy, high intensity light in so many new ways that the explorations have just begun.

Projecting images on walls has existed since the days of the first silent movies but with the new technologies astonishing effects are possible.

Baltimore is eager to position itself as an innovation leader instead of an ailing rustbelt city that has lost its old industries. Light in spring can do this. Especially right around the anniversary of the widespread unrest just a year ago.

Well, the anniversary idea appeared to be also on the minds of masses of city teens that congregated at the Inner Harbor right before the festivities were to begin with equally large amounts of police eyeing them suspiciously. Were these teens here to see lights and innovation, listen to music or even participate in an interactive presentation that made police brutality and black on black murder the theme of their display showing young African American males who had become victims? That was the tough question that anybody not wanting to immediately jump to biased conclusions had to ask. Some groups of teenagers swarming the Gallery mall and a candy store seem to give the wrong answer.
waiting for drinks: Light City Baltimore (photo: ArchPlan Inc.)

But then it all went down smoothly anyway, the Dutch clipper Stad Amsterdam sat majestically at the West Shore with large French and Belgian flags billowing as a reminder that there are other issues out there in the world than Baltimore's internal wounds.

The Creative Alliance Lantern Parade with the drummer band snaked down the promenade from the Science Center to President Street, the concert by Brooks Long & Mad Dog No Good, the various light installations, the private reception in the Visitor's Center (shouldn't this be the evening where it is open to the public?), the interactive stepping stones and the "panel discussion" at the McKeldin Plza themed Luminous Interventions. (Grab yourself a chair, we couldn't set them up, they would fly away").

As a strong proponent of keeping the McKeldin Fountain preserved and integrated into a new plaza design, I was delighted to see that the Downtown Partnership had relinquished its earlier idea of fencing the fountain off as a demolition site and not allowing any display there. The display that showed faces and messages on the many concrete surface areas of the fountain was the most sophisticated of the first evening and very powerful for its message and for the place where it was held. After all, not only is the fountain McKeldin Plaza  basically on death row, the plaza had also become known as the free speech area in Baltimore after the Occupy movement had pitched its tent there. Good start, Light City Baltimore!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

 The trash wheel (Photo Andrew Ratner)

Pixel Promenade (Photo Andrew Ratner)

Luminous Intervention (photo: ArchPlan)

Luminous Intervention (photo: ArchPlan)

Add caption

Lantern Parade (photo: Bill Reuter)

Monday, March 28, 2016

Historic Dams: Juggling history, energy, ecology and liability

It is with mixed feelings that I see the Bloede Dam in Patapsco State Park removed as early as next month.

For sure, there have been public hearings and an environmental impact analysis. Signs were posted long enough. I never registered an objection, probably because whatever objection I have is more emotional and doesn't withstand rational argument.
Bloede dam as seen from the Howard County side of the Patapsco River

I like to hear the water crashing down the 26.5' drop audible from some distance and then watch the raw power of it close-up from the adjacent trail. The fluctuating levels of energy in the different seasons, water volume varying from an impressive waterfall to just a measly trickle, the drastic shift from the complacent almost still water above the dam to the rush of a rocky mountain stream below it.

Then there is my own history: I grew up in a factory town in which the dominant employer was a water turbine manufacturer, my dad worked there and so did I for a summer job. I learned about the various turbine types and was told that hydro-electric energy is clean energy. Bloede Dam is named after a German born engineer who was president of the nearby Avalon waterworks. In 1904 a new type turbine was installed submerged inside the spillway inside the dam, reinforced concrete structure, all very innovative at the time. However, the experiment failed when the silty Patapsco gummed the the turbines up according to some sources. Others say the power plant, which had been constructed to provide energy to outlying areas not served by the main power company, fell victim to the corporate buy-out by Consolidated Gas Electric Light and Power (later BGE, now Constellation) which bought the facility in 1912 and closed in 1924 because other bigger plants provided enough energy elsewhere.

Either way, the dam has not produced any electricity since 1924. In 1972 hurricane Agnes ransacked the Patapsco Valley and in its wake also gave the final blow to the installations still present when it damaged the head-houses beyond repair and the dam interior had to be gutted as well.  In 1992 a fish ladder had been constructed to allow fish to go upstream for spawning, but experts say that the ladder mostly doesn't work as intended.
Overview Plan

Certainly, there is nothing left to turn back on. Yet, anybody watching the water drop can see that a lot of energy goes to waste right now that may be quite in the same range as what a wind turbine may produce. But the question whether the power of Maryland's streams could once again be part of clean energy production has not even been asked, possibly because hydro-electric energy obtained from dams is not considered all that green anymore.

Environmentalists across the country have overseen the removal of those types of dams to return rivers to a more natural state. (62 dams were removed in 2015 alone). Two damns have been already removed at the Patapsco River in other locations (Union Dam and Simkins Dam).

The massive amounts of sediment (312,000 cubic yards or 26,000 dump trucks full) behind the Bloede dam are expected to naturally deposit downstream in what is called "passive sediment management". DNR expects up to 7' sediment below the damn, certainly a drastic change of the current riverbed characterized by rocks and granite blocks between which water rushes like in a mountain stream. A lot of this sediment will, no doubt also wind up at the already silted Middle Branch, maybe a matter in which the Port Covington planners should be interested.
The Patapsco downtstream from the dam, earlier this year
(photo: ArchPlan Inc.)

As part of the dam removal an exposed 42" sewer line conveniently following gravity at the edge of the riverbed will be relocated underneath the Grist Mill trail, still directly next to the river and once again under threat should another Agnes hit the area. The overall impacts on the river valley that come from all this construction will be massive and include among other things the removal of about 4 acres of forest, the extended closure of the popular river trail and about a about 10 year recovery period. In the words of DNR's own presentation:
Areas below the dam will become covered with sediment, some areas immediately downstream of the dam could be as high as 7 feet deep for short periods of time.
Sediment will bury favorable fish and benthic organism habitats for several months to several years. The areas closest to the dam will be hit the hardest, but will also recover the quickest.
-Impacts will change as sediment moves through the river. Not all impacts will occur simultaneously, and some areas will have a chance to recover while new areas are temporarily impacted. Areas behind the dam will begin evacuating sediment immediately following the removal of the dam. The evacuation of the impounded sediment is expected to take 1 to 7 months depending on how much and how frequently we get rain events following the removal. This area will also be the first area to recover and to be recolonized by fish and benthic organisms. Areas that were previously deep water habitats with sand and mud bottoms will return to swift water habitats with more favorable cobble and boulder substrate.
-Impacts to areas downstream following dam removal may disrupt spring trout stocking, especially for the first year following removal.
It is difficult for lay people to determine if the cost benefit analysis warrants the significant intervention. Certainly, the balance of the pros and cons depends on what set of issues gets the highest priority. Since the matter is handled by DNR, the arguments are largely environmental, even though DNR has closely collaborated with with historic preservationists and the Patapsco Valley Heritage Greenway non-profit.
Bloede Dam 1907 with headhouses

Turbine unit of Bloede Dam
As a result a small portion of the dam is considered for preservation on the Howard County side and some observation platforms and explanatory panels are supposed to be installed.

The three main arguments for the dam removal are a mix of environmental and human centric:
1. the fish
2. the river
3. swimmer safety (several people drowned when swimming in the pool below the current dam)

The somewhat unhappy mix of ecology, history, economy and liability issues is quite visible in an article of American Rivers, the group that also had prepared the initial "Alternatives Analysis" in 2012:
While the primary driver for this restoration effort is the opening of more than 65 miles of spawning habitat for migratory fish, safety and the need for ongoing maintenance are just as critical at this site.Removal of the Bloede Dam is an investment in Maryland’s future. It solves a critical infrastructure issue that has plagued the state since at least the 1980’s— costing Maryland millions of dollars in repairs, studies, and staffing over time. If the dam remains in place, the cost of repairs needed to comply with Maryland Dam Safety requirements could exceed $1 million. Removing the Bloede Dam enables the restoration of a natural, resilient river system and eliminates any future financial obligations by the State for repairs and long-term maintenance.Located within the Patapsco Valley State Park, one of the most popular state parks in Maryland, the dam is also an attractive nuisance that has played a significant role in more than nine deaths and untold injuries since the 1980s, including two in the last two years. (full article)
Careless people like these have caused many rescue actions and unfortunately
also have become victims of drowning in the whirl below the dam
The benefits as described by DNR
When removing a dam, there are many long-term positive benefits that you can expect to see, they include:
• Healthier populations of native fish species.
• Increase in the diversity of aquatic insects.
• Cooler, oxygen rich waters that fish thrive in.
• Safer recreational opportunities.
• A more scenic, natural setting.
One thing is sure: For contemplative weekend hikes I will have to see out other areas for a good while.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

DNR website about the dam
2012 Alternatives Analysis (American Rivers)
DNR Open House posters
DNR Responses to public concerns
DNR biochemicals report
DNR sediment memo
American Rivers article about Bloede Dam

Thursday, March 24, 2016

Ben Stone leaving Station North to bring art and smart growth to all of America

Ben Stone has been Executive Director of the Station North Art and Entertainment District since 2011 and helped moving it to where it is today, a district that developed from being a forlorn place with a few insular pioneers trying to give the area a new identity to a string of continuous action hubs with a full assortment of programs. Or in Ben Stone's own words:
The Station North Arts & Entertainment District, one of the nation’s first state-designated arts districts, encompasses parts of three central Baltimore neighborhoods. Station North’s designation provides some local and state tax incentives for artists, and the Station North nonprofit produces award-winning public art projects and provides thought-provoking programming. This work helps us forge strong supportive relationships with local artists, designers, residents, businesses, and institutions to guide development in a section of Baltimore that had formerly been characterized by vacant buildings, blight, unemployment, and a weak real estate market, in addition to a nascent arts scene. 
Ben, a MIT graduate doesn't match the cliche of the artsy type. Calm, deliberate and methodical are the terms likely coming to mind when one thinks about Ben, a MIT graduate in City Planning who had previously worked with the noted urban design and architecture firm Goody Clancy in Boston and as planner with the Baltimore Development Corporation.

Ben helped found the Baltimore D center while still at BDC and is also on the Board of the Central Baltimore Partnership. Listeners of WYPR know Ben from telling Baltimore about the events in Station North many Friday mornings.

Ben's is leaving for a director position with Smart Growth America (SGA), a national growth management and transportation advocacy group.

In a recent conversation with SGA Ben elaborated on the relationship between smart growth, place-making and the arts this way:
Always energetic: Ben Stone in  Valentine, Texas
I’ve always found that using projects to highlight the distinctiveness of a place makes both local stakeholders and visitors more excited about and connected to the final outcome. I’ve also always been skeptical of codified approaches to planning and transportation projects that tend to homogenize public spaces across the country. The arts are a perfect antidote to this phenomenon. Investing time and money into the arts and culture has an economic payoff, but it also has an important civic function: it builds resilience in communities. Research shows that demographically diverse neighborhoods are more civically healthy than homogenous neighborhoods. The arts and culture help build bridges between diverse neighbors, increasing participation in everything from voting and volunteering to work on community projects. To put it simply, the arts and culture help neighbors get to know and trust one another.
Ribbon cutting at the temporary quarters of SNAED at the
"Chicken Box". The office are now in the Motor House
He added:
[...] artists are some of the most (appropriately) skeptical people I know. The skepticism of business leaders, elected officials, and artists might come from different places, but these groups could learn so much from each other about asking difficult questions.
 Ben stated to me that he is "really looking forward to the new position and testing out some ideas outside of Baltimore, while trying to figure out how to stay involved here as well."  Ben knows America well and close up, he has traveled across the country - by bike!
Ben Stone riding off to America at large
(even though this photo is taken in the Canadian Rockies)

As Director of Arts and Culture in SGA's DC office he will  "help incorporate arts and culture into all of SGA's programs, especially Transportation for America, while also working on pilot projects in San Diego, Nashville, and Portland, OR, with other cities added to the list in the future".

Ben will leave his current position on April 9. No interim director has been appointed yet, the board of SNEAD indicated that they will conduct a national search for Ben's successor. It won't be easy to somebody of Ben's caliber and commitment.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

There will be no article tomorrow, Good Friday. Happy Easter!

Sun article about Ben Stone leaving SNAED
BBJ article about Stone leaving

What strong Mayors can do for their cities

Being mayor of a larger city is a hard job but it can also immensely satisfying. Provided the city charter is framed the right way, a mayor can have pretty concentrated power, the mayor's zone of influence can reach across a wide range of departments, but is geographically limited so that results remain visible even if the problems are complex. What a mayor does is often immediate and direct, even physical interaction with constituents is possible and frequent.
Mayors on the national stage: Rawlings Blake and Emmanuel

Thus cities have become the favorite laboratories of innovators and strong leaders who often move on to a larger sandbox, not always with success. We have seen it in our own city with McKeldin, Schaefer and O'Malley who all ascended to become Governor,  often looking ruefully back at their time as mayor as their real glory days.

Bernie Sanders was a hugely popular Mayor of Burlington, VT, being a Senator must be a let-down in many ways, the presidency  maybe the only thing left that is truly more powerful. Charleston's mayor Foxx became Secretary of the US Department of Transportation, Newark's mayor Booker went on to become Senator, Denver's popular Hickenlooper became a successful governor.

But  this isn't about whether people who flourish as mayors can be successful in other offices. This article is about showing examples of strong leadership that has moved cities forward, often from dire starting points. But it is also supposed to provide a framework from which we should judge our candidates. Are they of a caliber where one can imagine them becoming Governor or being called by the President to become a cabinet member?

Baltimore politics typically doesn't look much beyond the edge of the local horizon, maybe not the best perspective for governing a city that still deserves to be one of the leaders in the competitive field of US cities. Sure, we could look to New York's strong Mayors, at San Francisco, Austin or any of those other cities growing and flourishing, but wouldn't that be unfair? So let's start with places that like Baltimore had attained a flair of being on the rocks.

New Orleans: Hardly any other city has such a history of dysfunction, corruption and ineffective government as New Orleans. Until Mitch Landrieu. That is surprising because he didn't swoop in as an outsider but comes from a politically connected family which didn't always stayed above the fray of Louisiana's colorful political landscape. Yet, he moved New Orleans from a faltering, shrinking city, reeling in the wake of Katrina to a city that is rapidly regaining its population, has sound plans in most areas and especially gained a lot of traction in education. Last winter Landrieu made headlines by planning to double parking rates in some popular districts, an approach not necessarily popular but favored by most urban planners.

Newark: Another American urban disaster story is Newark, New Jersey. Once again, the reputation changed in short order once Cory Booker had become mayor. The magazine Governing describes it this way:
Cory Booker chased down an armed robber in front of city hall? How about when he ran into a burning building to save a woman’s life? Or when he shoveled snow from residents’ driveways after a blizzard? All true. He also rode with cops on night patrol, answered citizen complaints over Twitter and lived for eight years in a high-rise apartment where many low-income tenants rely on federal housing assistance. The story of Booker’s two terms running Newark reads like a tall tale or even a comic book: Cory Booker, Supermayor.
Booker can speak about his successes in an enthusiastic and colorful way. He brought grocery stores, corporations and a teachers village to Newark, but most of all he turned its image around by being a relentless cheerleader. (For more details read here).

Pittsburgh: I know, in Baltimore it is difficult to suggest that Pittsburgh has anything going for itself, but this isn't about the Steelers. Former Mayor Tom Murphy certainly moved the city from a place reeling from industrial pollution and departure of industry at the same time to a place where the global G7 conference was held, where an architecturally interesting and green conference center attracts a steady string of high profile conferences and transit was steadily expanded to name just a some of the progress that has put Pittsburgh on the map.

Kansas City isn't necessarily known as a basket case but neither does it have a reputation as an innovation leader. That changed with mayor Sly James who came up with the idea of "Silicon Prairie". He started with ultra-fast broadband internet access and attracted start-ups and corporations alike. His downtown began to thrive, a new streetcar began operation late last year. Visiting the Mayors's agenda on the web is pleasant just for the clarity of its presentation. just compare this to Baltimore's mayoral webpage.

Moving away from the issue of comeback strategies and challenged cities, there is also the aspect of the male chauvinism with which being Mayor is often associated. Mayors like Chicago's Daly or Rahm Emmanuel or also New York's Bloomberg nurtured that concept further.
It is notable, then, that several big cities in Texas of all places have female Mayors, even if the position isn't as strong in Texas as it is here because cities are part of their county and they also have city administrators leaving the office of Mayor as a more ceremonial post.

Houston, San Antonio, Fort Worth. Listing these three in a row is not meant as a put-down against Texas but to show one thing these three rapidly growing successful cities have in common: Women mayors. All three are engaged in building better transit, two in connecting via high speed rail and Houston just received fame from being the first city in the US to revamp their bus system in one big re-set. The mayors are Annise Parker (Houston), Ivy Taylor in San Antonio and Betsy Price in Forth Worth.

For some it may be a surprise, but Salt Lake City is a place of progressive policies on many fronts. Here a woman followed a very strong Mayor and all indications are, she will continue a strong course and be a real leader.

Salt Lake City: A blue island in a red state, Salt Lake has become a beacon of progressive urban policies first under Mayor Ralph Becker and now under with Jackie Biskupski, Utah's first openly gay mayor. Becker aggressively expanded light rail, created an innovative "bike turn box" and brought innovation conferences to his city

Clearly, this blog cannot do justice to the many innovative mayors across the country. I would be really amiss, though, if I didn't mention former Charleston Joe Riley. In the words of Ed McMahon, a Fellow at ULI:
Joe Riley believed that the Mayor was the chief designer of the city. He was willing to say “no” to bad development and as a result Charleston has become one of the nation’s best small cities. 
Hopefully this little tour across the country allows folks to look at our candidates for mayor with the question in mind who of the candidates would have the potential to rise to become on of those nationally recognized leaders that can put Baltimore back into the mix of places with new and creative ideas and high quality of life for all.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Most innovative mayors in the US (Newsweek, 2012)
In a Time of Shutdown, the Age of the Mayor (Esquire 2013)

Wednesday, March 23, 2016

Warnock's 50% Red Line

Mayoral candidate David Warnock presents his own version of the Baltimore Red Line at each of the many mayoral forums.
I have a plan for a modified Red Line to end it at Lexington Market
This is what he said, for example, at the mayoral Transportation Forum on 2/25 before a room full of folks interested in better Baltimore transit. Obviously, a line that would only cover half the distance of the originally envisioned 14.4 mile Red Line would be cheaper. He must think that especially avoiding the pesky downtown tunnel would save a bunch of cost and that connecting to the existing Metro at the Lexington Market should be  a winner, even if it requires a transfer and even though the Metro, while going east, does not serve the same corridor the Red Line would have served.
Lexington Market Subway Station: A Hub for the Red Line?

Luke Broadwater of the Baltimore SUN provided a fact-check this morning in the wake of a SUN organized candidate forum yesterday. He writes about Warnock's transit plan:
Warnock did not provide details on how he would resurrect a modified version of the nearly $3 billion Red Line that Gov. Larry Hogan rejected last year. Since the line relied mainly on state and federal funds, it is outside the power of a mayor to unilaterally create. Warnock says on his website he would develop relationships with lawmakers in Annapolis and neighboring jurisdictions to build the line. (article)
The biggest obstacle to the Warnock 50% resurrection isn't even the governor, or that as a Mayor he can't build it himself. The biggest problem it is the the fact that this would be a significant change to the Red Line that would set it back to square one. How so? will folks say who find Warnock's Red Line idea attractive. Isn't that the same line for which the engineering was done, the Environmental Impact Statement and all the other stuff? Just less?

Not the same. For one thing, the "Purpose and Need" and the cost benefit of the Red Line would change significantly if it wouldn't connect the same places as the line that had been reviewed and approved previously. Certainly it would affect ridership and utility. New Starts projects certainly allow phasing and the construction of "minimum operating segments" (such as from Social Security to the Howard Street/Arena Station), but such a segment would eventually must be at least able to be completed as the original plan required. A line that ends at Lexington Market would do so forever (Light Rail trains cannot run in a Metro tunnel without huge modifications).
Baltimore Metro subway station

And then there is this: In order to get to the Lexington Market Metro Station, the revised Red Line would have to enter an entirely a new alignment beginning at Fremount Avenue. Anything in that new alignment has not been studied or engineered before. The connection would presumably be underground, so that a seamless connection at Lexington Market would be possible. The feat of an underground connection to the existing Metro station isn't a small matter, even if the Metro has the much discussed knock-out panels for earlier versions of the Baltimore Rail Plan which had envisioned Metro in the median of what is now the highway to nowhere. It would require a full underground light rail station perpendicular to or below the current subway. It would require "tail tracks" and "crossovers" to trains could get in and back out on the right track.

To get to Lexington Market the line would have to go into a tunnel west of MLK Boulevard in order to avoid an at grade crossing of the busy roadway. Would it stay on the surface it would have to turn right on MLK, go to Saratoga Street, cross MLK and then run into a tunnel between MLK and Paca Streets, placing a portal there.

Although MTA had engineers look at such a connection in November 2014 so they could ascertain the fundamental possibilities, this new alignment would require all stages of assessment, including an Enironmental Impact Study. It would make the suggested project all new from an engineering and design point of view.

It is pretty clear where mayoral candidate Warnock got the idea: Running the Red Line to Lexington Market and then using the existing Metro has been an old standby of the "Right Rail Coalition", folks that put a lot of emphasis on avoiding the Red Line Canton alignment and using tracks along the Amtrak rails instead.

Aside from the fact that a Mayor has limited power over what the MTA will build, all politicians interested in adding more rail to the skimpy current Baltimore system would do better by preserving the possibility that the Red Line could come at a later day as engineered for hundreds of millions of taxpayer's money, than dreaming about their own alternatives.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Why State Center is a good idea

Not the Hogan Administration all of a sudden deciding to move forward with the State Center project but the developer signing a Community Benefits Agreement last week (of which Hogan's spokesman said he knew nothing) brought the big project back into the headlines.
State Center Diagram included in the initial
strategy report by PB-Placemaking

State Center goes almost as far back as the Red Line, but the wait for the Governor to decide on the fate of this project conceived by his Republican predecessor Bob Ehrlich in 2005 has been much longer.

In early 2005 the State, the City, and communities collaborated on initiatives of bringing development to existing rail stations.

Then Secretary of Transportation, Bob Flanigan (a Republican), was very fond of transit oriented development as a way of making better use of the transportation assets already on the ground (or underground, in is the case at the State Center Metro stop).

State Center seemed like a low hanging fruit: The State owned lots of land there, State departments occupied big buildings which were rapidly becoming functionally obsolete  and the entire about 110 acre area had long been recognized as one of those urban renewal failures where the urban grid had been disturbed, barriers created and the flow between neighborhoods disrupted.
1896 map of the area before urban renewal

The State hired PB-Placemaking to conduct a design workshop (charrette) which included many evenings of gatherings with community representatives and stakeholders .The discussions were not free of tension but ultimately everybody reached agreement, that there was a lot of potential lying fallow and united around a preferred concept. The strategy report states:
State agencies recognized the potential of redeveloping the State Center complex site as a TOD for two primary reasons:
1. Strengthening the quality of the overall community would
increase the value of the State’s assets; and
2. Creating a more community-friendly design throughout would
increase the desirability of transit use in the area.
Both the State of Maryland and City of Baltimore seized the
opportunity to understand how the redevelopment of State Center
might strengthen the community, increase transit access and use, and
increase the land value of their assets by sponsoring the State Center
Transit-Oriented Development Strategy. (
State Center Transit Oriented Development Strategy)
Original State Center planning area and context
After the completion of the development strategy the area was substantially reduced by eliminating the public housing area between Madison and Pennsylvania Avenues because the residents feared gentrification and di not want to be part of the redevelopment. 

A Request for Qualifications (RFQ) for interested development partners was issued in November 2005.  The State and State Center Neighborhoods Alliance  selected the SBER/MBS/Doracon team in March 2006 after a public interview process.  In November 2006 the Democrat Martin O'Malley succeeded his Republican predecessor in the Governor's Mansion. 

Since then a lot has happened but little actual progress has been made. Struever Brothers, a lead team member, withdrew from the project when the company dissolved in the wake of the financial crisis. Team member Caroline Moore and her newly formed company Ekistics took over the project. The site for which the master-developer had been selected was now 28 acres.  The State Center developer was authorized to build 2,000 residential units, 250,000 square feet of retail and 2 million square feet of offices, including 1 million square feet for the state.
Original preferred development concept

Peter Angelos sued the State over various aspects of the project based on his fear that his downtown real estate holdings would suffer from the new development. (The suit was  dismissed after lengthy appeals and delays). He and other parties opposed to the development questioned the subsidies that the State provided by leasing the buildings back for the uses they currently have out there for rents that some alleged to be inflated. Details were still negotiated when Hogan won the elections. In spite of the Governor's assertions of trying to create a business-friendly climate in Maryland, the development team, ready to go on State Center, remained in the dark about what was going on. 
This is still the situation. On January 12 of this year, when Mike Gill, the energetic Secretary of Commerce and Hogan point-man for business development, stood face to face with Caroline Moore of Ekistics, he said only that there would be a decision "this year". Moore says the project is "as shovel-ready a project as one that has ever used that term."

Whatever was right in 2005 is still right. Transit oriented development would still increase transit ridership and make the existing Metro line more useful. State owned surface parking lots surrounding the State offices are still crying out for development. Martin Luther King Boulevard is still a dividing bypass instead of  an urban boulevard, The existing State offices still sit on an island instead of being a bridge between communities and they are still functionally obsolete. 
Ekistics proposed development

Harbor East and HarborPoint developments have shown that development is not a "zero sum game" where office and retail space is simply traded from one area to another. Instead the new areas attracted the type of tenants that old downtown could never get. Downtown saw a lot of class B office space conversions and new tenants looking for more affordable office space. 

The waterfront developments also showed that the City needs to negotiate better deals and that surrounding communities should also benefit. That is why it is so important, that the developer signed a Community Development Agreement last week and that the State Center project is not only a developer's initiative but one that started as a State, City and community partnership. 

Mayor Rawlings Blake and mayoral candidates Mosby and Pugh are on record for supporting the project, so is Council President Jack Young. If the State comes back on board, the originally conceived partnership will remain.  The time is now. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Development rendering looking west across Howard Street

Monday, March 21, 2016

Mayoral Election - Time to become more ambitious!

So many candidates, so many ideas and still so much confusion! In Sunday's column Dan Rodricks rightly praises how earnestly the candidates cataloged their programs and position papers, of which we have only seen the beginning. Detailed discussions about the problems and the possible solutions are impressive, from workforce development to community land trusts, from enforcing inclusionary zoning to better managed public housing, better transportation, more audits and certainly a more effective but responsible police force. But it is easy to get the positions confused, they are so similar.

Who has the compelling story, the convincing narrative arc, the long view, the big picture and an idea about Baltimore's future? Who has the ability for putting the puzzle pieces together so that competence, imagination, trust, integrity and energy flow together in the one person that should lead the city to the heights it deserves and needs?
So much promise (photo: ArchPlan)

Who tells us that it is Baltimore's destiny to become a successful example of a prosperous and flourishing post-industrial American city? Or that the current state of low expectations should be considered a major screw-up instead of a state of normal?

Certainly Baltimore has a first class location, deep port, DC as a neighbor, growing region and all; there is nothing wrong with the devotion that most area residents have for their city, there is nothing wrong with the quality of our major universities, with the beauty of our architecture, the diversity of our people. In short, there is nothing that condemns Baltimore to be in a bad place. To the contrary, we have the natural, men-made and social assets and we have tons of hard working people, organizations and individual success stories.

What is lacking is the creative assembly of those pieces into a larger Baltimore story. "Bright Future Baltimore". What is lacking is the self-confidence and the certainty that Baltimore can set examples for others instead of eternally being late in copying others.


As I have said many times, to attract the 25,000 or so additional households that are needed to fill this city back up and eliminate systemic vacancy in its entirety is not as overwhelming a task as it seems. Consider that this city is the center of a region that grows by hundreds of thousands people in the next decade or two. We need the aspiration to speak about rehabilitation, revitalization and rebuilding instead of demolition. Growth instead of shrinkage! Filled and restored houses instead of weedy lots. We need to work as a region to curb the disastrous sprawl to grow the core again. Subsidizing sprawl development with new infrastructure at the periphery and at the same time subsidizing demolition of Baltimore houses at the core (where infrastructure is in in place) is sheer foolishness.  New Yprk constructs new micro-apartments. Our micro-units are the 12' alley houses!
As I described in a previous article, the Central Baltimore Partnership created and filled nearly a thousand new units in its ten 20,000 resident neighborhoods in three years. They filled vacants at a rapid clip even in distressed areas thanks to carefully calibrated strategies and qualified partners such as TRF, Telesis, Seawall and, yes, the Vacants to Value program of Baltimore Housing. A new Mayor doesn't have to start from scratch, just expand what already works to new areas such as Park Heights where the groundwork is already prepared and a funding stream secured (Casino money).
New and old: Greenmount West (photo: ArchPlan)

Work and Innovation:

Mayors don't really create jobs except in the municipal workforce. But still, they need an idea about where residents should find work.  It is currently popular to talk about how people from the city can or can't reach those low-paying jobs sprawling at the periphery of urban centers. Too much talent and creativity is sitting idle in this city, a huge reservoir that must be tapped. Community development organizations and community trusts training re-entry residents to rehab houses or do deconstruction for recycling of materials is an example. Liabilities turned into opportunities:Connecting the underground economy with the above ground economy: decriminalization on a broad front, drugs, music, performance, dirt bikes, hacks, shadow home and car repairs, clothing sales from the back of trucks, the whole bit. No candidate talks about how to give the newly-minted "Innovation Village" in West Baltimore some real meaning or what a "Smart City Baltimore" could look like.  Or sustainability: The Planning Department has some real good sustainability strategies and policies ranging from stomwater to urban farms and food insecurity: How would these policies get carried forth?
Those low-paying suburban jobs on the periphery won't be around much longer, they will be replaced by robots. What will work look like in the future and what future industries could allocate in Baltimore? How could mayoral policies assist in creating certain industry clusters, of say, robotics, genomics, 3-D maker spaces and so forth? Only non-profits like the Deutsch Foundation or some researchers at Johns Hopkins seem to care about this, while Mayors always talk about jobs as if the term would mean the same forever.


Reaching out instead of withdrawing, realizing that the City is a source of more than just "high culture"; The assurance that engaging everyone is better than segregation, separation and hostility; Adopting the best from all the different cultures and run with it; Taking arts and culture and fuse them in the manner the Baltimore School for the Arts and MICA are demonstrating it; Bridging the cultural divide between black and white in Baltimore, learning from each other, instead of avoiding each other; Emphasizing African American arts and entertainment in the Bromo district and connecting Pennsylvania Avenue into it; Accepting popular expressions by turning the "no cruising signs" into parades on "the Avenue", making the Highway to Nowhere into a dirtbike parcours one night a month. All those should be must do principles. Who knows, we may have the most creative people in America, so much talent uncovered!


As Detroit can teach us, being bottom often harbors opportunity. Schools are not only failing in Baltimore but across the US and the world because learning happens increasingly lifelong and beyond the walls of schools. learning can't any longer be cloistered in those buildings for 12 long years and then end. "Open schools" needs to be more than a buzzword. Which city could be better positioned to show what 21st century communities of learning look like than Baltimore where so many traditional schools are obsolete and many traditional learning environments defunct? Putting learning and the school into the community and the community into the school. Baltimore has established many new innovative experiments already which are way more interesting than the question who appoints the school board. Plus Baltimore has the high performing institutions to support new learning concepts with research and networks.
(photo: ArchPlan)


A local bike share with innovative e-assisted bikes and a company that will headquarter in Baltimore to organize it is a good start. But why not extend this approach and invent new forms of car sharing as well? Have a local community based version of Uber replacing the widespread system of illegal "hacks"? A pool of non-profit or muni-cars, similar to the corporate model GM is considering to do with Lyft but community and not corporate based?
Can Baltimore outperform Houston when it comes to a radical reform of how buses are deployed in this city?  Can riders, neighborhoods, employers, the City, the County and non-profits engage with MTA to make this a success? Can the additional operators needed to drive the buses come from within the communities in need, can non-profits provide the training needed to overcome gaps? Can Baltimore become a city in which an experimental innovation district bans any cars that are not self-driven to see what it takes to make this work and how cities could profit from the revolution of autonomous cars, buses and trucks? The City's application for the federal challenge grant did not get shortlisted. What will the next mayor do to make the applications more competitive? And which mayor will promise to work on getting the Red Line back when the time is right?
Mural on the side of the Arch Social Club
(photo: ArchPlan)                       

It isn't my intent to pretend I could provide any cohesive program here, I am just asking questions. This is simply an attempt of providing examples for how much bigger the ideas could be and on how a hopeful story could emerge. Our aspiration for Baltimore should exceed those of Nashville, Chattanooga, Charlotte or Buffalo, We should be aspiring for nothing less than being not only a come-back but a future-city that shows America and the world the outline of a post-industrial but even a "post work" city and how to overcome entrenched poverty so that the zip code no longer defines someone's future. Baltimore must become a city that won't settle with just muddling through, recycling old ideas of the past. Low expectations have been Baltimore's largest enemy for way too long!

I dream that one of the candidates would connect all these dots, and all their own good program ideas to a bigger and louder message, one that resonates not only with those that are already here but with people across the country or around the world. A message that makes one candidate stand out. The yearning for that message is certainly there. For this City to find itself it also needs to find a new place in the nation.

It took me decades to grasp this all-American idealistic concept and not dismiss it as naive. The concept that strong will, a clearly defined goal, and conviction can move mountains. But I have been here long enough now to have seen it work, not necessarily always in good ways.

This concept has worked from Station North to Highlandtown, from the School for the Arts to the Design School, from the Sylvan Learning Center to Under Armour, from Thibault Mannekin's Seawall to Toby Bozzutto, from Christian Siriano to Jada Pinkett and from Ta-Nahesi Coates to D Watkins. It has worked for my own children. It has worked for the many more who remained less famed and often succeeded against all odds. They all set their eyes on the mountaintop, never quit and eventually did what seemed impossible.

In spite of the prevailing political discourse and all the talk about decline, the time to big big and aim high has never been better.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA