Friday, March 4, 2016

Revelations of a morning walk

An 8am walk from my Westside office to the building of the Baltimore Community Foundation in Mount Vernon on a morning when everything is crisply coated in fresh snow is a good way to tell a few stories in captions that pertain to what is currently cooking in the area. So I invite you to follow my little stroll via photos:

This tiny lounge called Place is a huge draw for an African community of jazz lovers and is an apt
harbinger of what could become an attractive African American Arts and Entertainment District
growing form the Westside into Pennsylvania Avenue, the former black cultural district with
the Royal Theater as the main venue, a Easter Parade, the Sphinx Club and many other venues 

The 400 block of Howard Street is still waiting for the prince that kisses it awake.
But that may not be too far off: A design concept was prepared and the block has been offered to a master
developer by BDC. Meanwhile, almost the entire block is vacant except for the Current Gallery

Houses on Cathedral Street are huge, the resident's could
have a late work-day, hope for a snow day, or they belong to the increasing number of
residents who walk, bike or use transit

After the Monument restoration has been completed, Washington Square, one of the best
urban spaces in the world gets a breather. The battle about the re-do of the parks, the future
of the trees and accessible routes takes a break, but it is no more than a cease-fire. The
Conservancy"s plan envisions a complete reconstruction in which all trees will be removed and new plantings will be done
after underground irrigation has been installed in strict accordance of original planting plans

This sculpture is not in dispute

Especially the large trees of the east park are considered as too dense, too dark
and obsolete by the Conservancy

This sculpture of former Supreme Court Judge Tawney is much in dispute lately since it has been
made a matter of public debate that he ruled slavery as lawful. Now a debate somewhere between the
"original sin", case law, natural rights, art and historic facts has emerged around this statue that most
probably never thought twice about. All sides seem to have really good arguments.

A lion is a safer sculpture even though the lion looks even sillier than Tawney with his snow cap

Even here at the edge of Mount Vernon surface parking remains as a unsatisfactory urban use, exposing
firewalls and requiring artistic intervention

Leasing signs everywhere show how much adpative re-use has taken a hold in the area. 520 Park Avenue
and the Mt Vernon Marketplace on the first floor have been a vital addition to the area. Now the BBJ began writing about fear of an apartment bubble 

As part of  520 Park Cafe Ceremony has created a new level of coffeeshop experience in the area. The space
is so attractive that bicyclists apparently stay overnight. By far not enough retail in Baltimore boats a bike
rack like this.

The Mayfair Theater and the building south remain ruins. But the corner building with the fire damaged
roof received demolition approval from CHAP in 2015. It remains to be seen if that simply opened the door to another surface parking lot or is the first step towards redevelopment of the eyesore between The redeveloped Congress hotel (background) and 520 Park Avenue.

Another exposed firewall decorated with a mural in the Bromo Arts district on Howard Street. Some people say that the frequency of murals is proportional to the problems an area has.

With 30 years and counting signal priority for Light Rail on Howard Street is one of the longer debates raging between MTA, City DOT, those who care about fluid car traffic and those who want to speed up the poky train. As of now, trains still often have to wait before they can cross busy Franklin and Howard Streets as in this photo

It is hard to see, but the banner on the building at Eutaw and Franklin promotes "flipping" of houses and promises
"hard money" doing so. Sadly, for all the good investors who have the community interest in mind,
there are many more for whom real estate, the City and the community  is just another money machine.
Only a walk with open eyes reveals the city around us. I can only recommend it. It sorts out the mind, allows serendipity and decompresses after a meeting. It is worth the extra time. Be an urban flaneur.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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