Friday, April 29, 2016

Demolition and Rebirth at The Parkway in Station North

Demolition begin, the chicken mural still in place
(Photo: K Philipsen)
Yesterday the spectacle of dusty demolition unfolded at the corner of Charles and North Avenue in spite of rain and several water hoses trained on a structure that had been known for grease and sogginess in its latest incarnation as the provisional quarters of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District (SNAED) offices. When people started wondering about the wisdom of the demolition on Facebook, Ben Stone, formerly director of SNEAD, wrote:
 I was the last tenant of 1 w north avenue. I wish people would stop waxing nostalgic about it. It was a disaster. NYFC used to dump their grease in the basement. The walls were collapsing. The basement flooded every winter. I look forward to seeing the new building go up!

and then it was gone (Photo: K Philipsen)
As has been widely reported, the demolition of 1 West North Avenue is part of the rebirth of the former Parkway Theatre which, as a vacant ruin had attracted interested from as far as Paris, from where photographers Marchant and Meffre flew in to take pictures of the ruins (an encounter I had helped facilitate).

The renovated Theatre will be the home of Jed Dietz' Maryland Film festival. A new structure at the corner is part of the rebirth and used as a screening space. The new facility will feature three screens in those two buildings with 600 seats compared to the Parkway’s once 1,100 which had already once been reduced to 420 in favor of more comfortable seats. There will be also a live performance space. Southway is the contractor for the work.

The project was first submitted in 2012 as part of a response to a Request for Proposals by BDC. Earlier BDC requests for proposals had not succeeded in a viable project.

It had been held up several times for lack of money, in one case because of uncertainty about New Market Tax Credits. The project t received a big boost from a $5 million donation of the Stavros Niarchos Foundation.

The latest rendering of Ziger Snead depicting the corner screening facility
and the renovated Parkway Theatre, home of the MD Film Festival.
As any modern design does in Baltimore, Ziger Snead's replacement of the "Chicken Coop" has provoked snarky comments by those who don't care for stark reductionist modernism. Asked if the blank surface will be used for projections as early renderings suggested, Steve Ziger explained for this article:
The intent is that the corner building, through it's simplicity and minimalism, intentionally contrasts with its context, declaring a new energy at this important intersection. You'll be able to see through the corner lounge to the rough brick wall of the Parkway. We could imagine projected images onto the exterior, but the technology isn't currently part of the project.
The Parkway will be another strong anchor on the Station North segment of North Avenue which has already seen the adaptive re-use of a warehouse which became MICA's Fred Lazarus Center and its School for Social Design, the opening of the Motor House, a much splashier version of what had been the "Load of Fun" before, a larger and much more visited Red Emma's cafe and bookstore, Liam Flynn's Irish bar and music venue and recently the new Impact Hub in the renovation of the Centre Theatre building. Joe Square Pizza upgraded from the corner at Howard Street to the corner of Maryland Avenue. In all, these three blocks of North Avenue can barely be recognized and are a sign that philanthropy, entrepreneurship, and arts and culture are alive and well in Baltimore.

North Avenue in its entire length is in desperate need of attention. City and MTA recently submitted an application for a TIGER grant to the federal government which envisions streetscape improvements and transit acceleration. The City also has money in the budget for improvements at the intersection of Penn and North. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The Parkway as photographed by Marchand and Meffre

An earlier rendering by Ziger Snead shows a different base and the concept
of projections on the new addition
The theater has retained much of its ornate 1915 interior
(Photo: K Philipsen)

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Taking the "Highway to Nowhere" back, one step at a time

A year after the second Baltimore uprising and after the injustices of  urban highways have now been officially recognized on the federal level it is time in Baltimore to fix the most egregious transportation scar in West Baltimore: The Highway to Nowhere.

The whole monstrosity is only a bit longer than a mile. Filling the entire trench was briefly on the table as part of a concept plan that came up when the post-Murphy Home plans were made. But it was deemed unfeasible for its high cost. Instead, nothing was done until  Obama created the ARRA funds which were used to bring down the freeway walls and ramps at its western end.

Thus the highway was made shorter when MTA leveled the abutments and ramps at Pulaski Street in West Baltimore to create additional MARC rider parking. In the course of that Payson Street was opened up again to cross the US 40 territory like a normal city street.
A concept on how development at MLK and
Franklin/Mulberry could turn the current freeway environment
 into a regular city intersection (ArchPlan Inc.)

The next chance comes when Social Security West gets redeveloped. In collaboration with the Harlem Park and Poppleton communities my office prepared sketches when the Red Line was planned. They show how the eastern end of the freeway could be truncated.

The sketches show the overpasses at Martin Luther King Boulevard demolished. Franklin and Mulberry Streets would instead intersect at grade, where currently the slip ramps already require a signal anyway. Lots of space could be gained here, either for development at each of the corners of the intersecting streets just as it is supposed to be in a real city. There could also be a much more accessible and useful green space than all the current leftover spaces used by the homeless for tent cities.

The former Social Security Complex is currently being reviewed for options by Caves Valley Development. This may be an opportunity to address the freeway as well. The buildings are overwhelmingly big as it is, so additional development lots may seem counter-intuitive. Yet, finding uses and users for the behemoth will most likely require drastic interventions to the way the complex is situated and accessed anyway.
The "gateway to downtown" under the abandoned
Social Security West complex.
(Photo: ArchPlan Inc.)

An immediate step, one that may be even more important in knitting the community north and south of the US 40 gash back together and it would be much easier to achieve.

The idea is to re-connect and re-open Fremont Avenue. This important diagonal was once a major route before MLK was built as a downtown by-pass. Freemont Avenue would cross the Highway to Nowhere where both roads are on the same level. Opening Fremont wouldn't require any re-grading or major work, just the removal of Jersey Barriers and paving the median. Cheap and effective! Opening this connection would still allow the later construction of the Red Line in the median of the freeway since it would dive into a tunnel before Fremont.

How important that particular connection is, even with the huge barrier in place, is visible when one follows the foot path that many feet keep tamp every day even in deep snow. People are so intent on connectivity, that they jump across four sets of barriers and cross six lanes of high speed traffic, just to get across.
The US 40 overpass at MLK (Photo: ArchPlan Inc.)
What would all that mean to traffic? Not that much!

Additional delays would be minimal considering that the capacity of the US 40 corridor is entirely determined by the signals at  each end, i.e at Warwick, Pulaski and Greene Streets. An additional signal at Freemont and MLK would hardly make a big difference, especially if it were properly timed.

Just remember when the ditch was closed for the work on the west end: All traffic had to cross MLK at grade at the signals and had to pass all the signals along Franklin and Mulberry as well. It hardly made a big travel time difference and showed how superfluous the trench really is from the perspective of moving cars.
Besides, the whole point of the interventions wouold be to benefit the communities of West Baltimore instead of the commuters coming in from Howard County.

After those two improvements, all the bridges should be improved or widened to a point where two bridges together could create a larger lid at least for an entire block. That would be the topic of another article. A start on bridge improvements will be made this year at the Fulton Avenue bridge with the help of a federal grant announced today.

After those interventions the trench would still be there waiting for the big solution, but it would be much less damaging to the historic communities to the north and south and connectivity would have been drastically increased.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

the east end of the "Highway to Nowhere"> Fremount Avenue is the diagonal on the left, the MLK flyover is on the right

the full extent of the gash through the middle of a once vital community is visible here

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Mayor Catherine Pugh and the prospects for a better Baltimore

Now that the votes are tallied, Baltimore saw a record primary turn-out, and the best candidate was nominated as the Democratic candidate for Mayor, many are looking around wondering what can change and what will change?

Pugh, in her acceptance speech last night, rattled off the varies ailments that beset this city, high unemployment, lack of education, high poverty, high school drop-out rates, high addiction and high incarceration rates. High in all the wrong places.
Acceptance speech: (Photo: K Philipsen)

Pugh said she will govern with inclusion in mind  and that she will use the triple A bond rating, which the City has attained under Rawlings Blake, to build good neighborhoods all across the City.

Dan Rodricks opines this morning in his SUN column that Baltimore's solutions have to come from within. Contrary to that urban researcher David Rusk had determined in his 1995 book "Baltimore Unbound" that Baltimore had passed a "point of no return" and was doomed unless it would break out of its confines. Rusk proposed the merger of City and County with tax base sharing and a metro government. This is politically unattainable here, even though County Executive Kevin Kamenetz showed up on the stage last night to celebrate with Pugh, and even though city-county mergeres have been done successfully in cities as diverse as Lexington, Kentucky, Portland, Oregon, Indianapolis, Indiana and yes, Philadelphia, PA.

Although I wished Baltimore had proven Rusk wrong in the last 11 years after he wrote his doomsday book by having achieved a flourishing Baltimore, the uprising last year showed that Rusk's focus on race was actually quite accurate and our still stagnating population numbers are a reminder how hard it is to break the cycles. But I think neither Rodricks nor Rusk have it quite right. Maybe there is a mixture of the two. Let me explain.

Breaking out of the negative feedback loops does require more than can be had within. Rusk compares the solutions from within (community development corporations, grants and non-profit assists) to the challenge to running up a down elevator. The fact that very many efforts did not succeed in turning Sandtown Winchester around illustrates Rusk's point.
To break new ground, though, we don't need to expand the city at the perimeter as Rusk proclaims ("inelastic cities").

The City can expand within and achieve a better tax base, additional jobs and economic development by better using the space it has. To make use of those fallow spaces and buildings will require additional residents and additional companies to come to Baltimore. Growth and people coming in from the outside are the only way to obtain the necessary resources. If existing companies grow, if existing families stay, the better. But to do this requires fixing a lot of things for which we don't have the money and resources.Simply focusing on those who are already here, as understandable as this notion is, won't do, simply because the needs and the available resources to meet the needs are so out of whack.

It is this simple truth that needs to be kept in mind when we consider how Catherine Pugh can "move this city forward". She has proven that she is the one who can act credibly in board rooms and in the streets of the neighborhoods (which was Mosby's slogan), and that is what is necessary so the two Baltimores won't drift further apart.
 (Photo: K Philipsen)

From the insight that Baltimore needs to grow within its boundaries follow a few very simple strategies, namely

  • Rehabilitation over demolition. Most empty buildings need to be refilled and not be demolished and the sites be turned into weedy meadows which do not generate taxes.
  • Support of companies and organizations that grow and create jobs and social capital (such as innovation small start-ups, social impact developers, large anchor institutions such as UM and Hopkins but also Under Armour, a company Rusk had not foreseen)
  • Better transportation to account for increased mobility needs from higher density

Local and national policy in the 21st century doesn't have to be a zero-sum game where it is all about how to move the chairs around on the deck of a sinking ship.

Instead, a dynamic city can, indeed, create growth and wealth from within, once a proper balance of resources and needs is achieved. For this to happen, though, the entrenched traditional tribes have to join forces and unleash the creative potential that Baltimore has. And the State has to be part of the journey. Catherine Pugh is well positioned to make this happen.The diverse group of people, black, Latino, white, standing with her at her celebration were a good indicator.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

SUN Opinion piece about five priorities for the designated mayoral candidate NOW

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

How Seawall changes Remington

Rarely has one community seen so much change coming from one single developer as in the case of Remington. "Seawall has become the byword for new and change", says Ryan Flanigan, president of the Greater Remington Improvement Assciation (GRIA).
Warehouse with bay-windows, Remington Row:
Design HCM (photo: K. Philipsen)

Not that Remington had been an unseen, dormant frog waiting for the kiss from a prince. Investors and the community itself could long see how being located east of flourishing Hampden, South of the Hopkins University campus, west of the ambitious Charles Village and Old Goucher Districts and north of the upstart Station North had all the right seeds for a revival. Remington was thus already the stage for epic battles, most notably the battle against Walmart that split the community and resulted in the the retail giant  withdrawing its suburban style shopping center, desired by some for convenient affordable shopping and hated by others for its corporate image as main street retail killer. It is not entirely clear which neighborhood fertilizes which, but Remington had always had been the most diverse and probably also the poorest of the cluster of communities comprise of Medfield, Woodberry, Hampden and Remington.

But one thing is beyond doubt: Seawall Development headed by the boyish energy bundle Thibault Mannekin and his father Donald, both offspring of a well known Baltimore real estate family, has taken the locational advantages to the next level. It is possible that after Walmart Seawall looked like a savior around which a divided community could rally. Whatever psychology may have played a role, Seawall today has had only a few detractors in spite of its massive investments in the area that clearly bring to mind the unhelpful term of gentrification.
View of Remington

Thibault Manekin is so charming, so energetic and so in tune with best practices from green development to capacity building in the community, that it is hard for anybody to take issue with his approach, especially since Seawall is supporting the community when it comes to modifying the zoning code to allow corner stores or to founding a Community Land Trust (CLT) to ensure affordable housing is not a thing of the past with Seawall pushing the market up. Donald Manekin says: “My father ran a business based on relationships and not transactions, and I think that filtered down between me, Thibault, and those who are part of Seawall.”

The way Thibault tells the story, it goes like this: Seawalls investments in Remington began with the renovation of Millers Court, an eyesore of a vacant commercial building that had sat unused for years except for the occasional squatters. Seawall met with the community with an idea in mind that hadn't been done anywhere else before. It was based on combining housing with education.  The Manekins had the insight that Baltimore City cycled north of 800 new teachers through their system annually, that qualified teachers where a key requisite for quality education, keeping them in town even more so and, most importantly, that teachers were highly stressed when they came to a new city and had to deal with a new job, a new system and curriculum and a new city all at once. Thibault figured that people make poor choices in such situations and may pick homes either too far away from where their school and students were or blindly moving into communities where they were at risk because of high crime. So he wanted to provide Baltimore City teachers with an affordable home and resource center. His concepts was initially much smaller than Millers Court, but once that building had been brought to his attention, he adjusted the size of his dream, took the risk and jumped into the opportunity.
Thibault Mannekin

 The community wanted a coffee shop, so it was added to the program. Charmingtons in short order advanced to being the only coffee shop in Baltimore where no other than the President of the United States of America barged in one morning last year.

The teachers considered Millers Court a wonderful space, where they not only found their colleagues, copy machines, resources and a coffee shop, they also liked Remington. The shops on 25th Street, nearby Hopkins, hopping Station North, the direct access to I-83, all what made Remington a good location in the first place.

“The ambiance in this neighborhood has changed from [people] fearful of walking their dogs around the block, to this real sense of community. It’s exceeded any of our expectations,” (Doanld Manekin)
Millers Court with Cafe Charmington

But once teachers liked Baltimore and settled, they aspired to more than a rented affordable apartment. They wanted to own a house. Seawall heard the request. They had never done a rowhouse rehab but went ahead and bought all 30 vacant rowhouses that someone had put on a list for them, all in Remington. They fixed one up as a model and conducted an open house, just on word of mouth to see if these houses would really be in demand. Well, they didn't have to worry for too long, 300 people showed up for the open house and all 30 houses had signed up buyers within a couple of hours. Seawall doubled down in Remington with Parts and Labor, a combo of a theater, a butcher shop and a restaurant all derived from an abandoned car repair shop. That was cutting edge stuff of the kind one could maybe find in Denver or Austin. It provided the Single Carrot Theatre troop with a affordable digs but otherwise is way above the pay-scale of teachers or most working stiffs, a true gentrification symbol. Next Seawall did Remington Row, 100 market rate apartments in a newly constructed fake warehouse, a project that will have an open house at the end of this month.
Social Investments: Thibault Manekin explains his company
strategy to law stduents at UB (photo K Philipsen)

After this there will be a food hall dubbed R-House. Once again a cutting edge concept of the sharing economy, an incubator startup or maker space for chefs where aspiring restaurateurs can find a shell ready for the final touches allowing an easier path to preparing delicious foods.

Do these latest steps by Seawall mean that the company has fallen off the wagon of doing well by doing good? That they should have stayed with affordable housing projects for teachers marching from Remington to Woodberry (where they did Union Mill) and from there to Park Heights and eventually to Sandtown?  Does it mean that Remington will be sacrificed on the altar of yuppification?

From the perspective of the divided Baltimore the answer isn't an easy one and many may ask how it helps to have more upscale facilities. 

From the perspective of a development company it is logical what Seawall does.  Seawall is building the value of its cheaply bought assets and then fueling the proceeds into new projects. It follows such an investment strategy that later investments in the same geographic area would start on a higher plateau and ergo would need to achieve higher yields, precisely what Seawall has been doing. It looks like Seawall isn't done yet with Remington. The large Anderson auto complex once planned for Walmart is now owned by Seawall, plans need to still be made.  They also bought a warehouse on Sisson Street and still appear to be looking for more. Clearly, a safe and stable Remington that is attracting new residents while keeping the old is better for Baltimore than one one that could have fallen off the cliff.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA   updated 4-26 with correction of the concept of R-House

SUN about Remington Row

The below show various views of Remington as seen form the apartments in Remington Row. All photos ArchPlan Inc., K. Philipsen)

"Now or Never", what can a Mayor do?

Former Deputy Chief for Operations at Office of the Mayor Dan Sparaco left his job as a political insider behind and took to writing a stunning four part series about Baltimore's power structure titled "Now or Never". He had initially aimed for the final part to be done for today's primary, so people would fully understand how pivotal those mayoral elections can be. But he now feels that "there will be a certain anticlimax to the election [and the last segment] wouldn't be a good end-point".

But even without the missing segment bringing the story back to the current day, Dan's narrative is full of interesting analogies, conclusions and connections that I haven't heard being told like this before. For example the parallel between Mayor "Little Tommy" D'Alessandro not again running for Mayor being demoralized by the 1968 riots, and Stephanie Rawlings Blake not running after the recent riots.
Uprising in the neighborhoods

According to Sparaco the 1971 replacement of Thommy D'Alessandro with Donald Schaefer was a pivotal moment in Baltimore's history, and Dan's view of Schaefer is much dimmer than the usual glorification. It is interesting to read that even though Schaefer did channel 75% of all federal funds not to downtown but to poor neighborhoods, almost all those projects are considered failures today: The Highway to Nowhere, Old Town Mall, Upton public Housing, Rosemont urban renewal and the recently re-clad tower on part of the old North Avenue market.
For a lot of us it feels like a city that’s had “potential” for decades is further now than ever from realizing it, and our uncertainty stems from this fact: last April blew apart the political consensus that has governed Baltimore for the past five decades. That consensus emerged after the city last rioted in 1968, and was the second stage of the city’s now century-long effort to manage and contain the consequences of its original sin: the destruction of its own black middle class. [...] the difference between April 1968 and April 2015 is the difference between water in a kettle put to boil and the smoldering embers left behind from a fire not quite put out.
The mayoral debate leading to the primary election tomorrow did not allow those broad sweeping views afforded by a historic retrospective. Instead, the local debate in part mirrored the national debate of insiders versus outsiders, where  "outsiders" are trying to channel the cynicism, anger and frustration that many people have directed against their political representatives  in their favor by defining themselves as non-politicians.
City Hall, a place of power?
The other part of the local debate was myopic with a narrow local focus as if Baltimore was the only city in America with a crime problem, with a shrinking middle class and with bad schools. The myopic view wants the mayor to be as home-grown as possible and have all the solutions come from within. People coming to the city from the outside are seen as interlopers and carpet beggars, their less locally flavored views are unwelcome. Police officers, teachers, mayors, department heads, best they were all born and raised in Baltimore. That view wants also wants all money spent "in the neighborhoods" and their mayor must be one connected to the hood as well. No chance for a David Warnock coming to town "in this old truck", no chance for a DeRay McKesson who had taken the liberty of sniffing some air outside of the narrow confines of the city limits.

Even a person that has the hood credentials is seen with suspicion if perceived as too cozy with  the so called power elite, for example BGE's new CEO, a young and dynamic African American who worked his way up inside the corporation.

The suspicions and the cynicism are understandable. As Sparaco puts it:
...many people of good will, in power and out, in public and in the quiet, have made their own valiant efforts against the disparities of our city. But there is only one lesson to be drawn from April and its dysfunctional aftermath: we have failed.
Yet, there is little doubt in my mind, that as much as Baltimore's solutions must come from within, they also need the boost from the outside. Without a growing tax base, population, educational attainment, and an educated workforce, there is no way any part of this city can prosper in the long run. Addressing neighborhoods, schools and crime & grime is not antithetical to attracting investment, businesses and millennials to town. As President Obama put it, we have to be able to walk and chew gum at the same time or in a line from his energy policy "all of the above". And, here we get back to the election, our new Mayor has to be able to do all of it. There is one candidate in particular, who is exceptionally well positioned to bridge the many divides. In and of the community and yet born and raised in outside, trusted in the neighborhood but also able to speak forcefully with executives.
Baltimore's black Mayors (Not showing DuBurns)

Once the voters have spoken the real work will begin: to set an agenda for the next four years that is bold, ambitious and inclusive and find the right team to move it without  everybody tripping over everybody else, a mode of operation that has prevailed for too long.

Wednesday it will be time to roll up the sleeves and bring together the many good strands of what we have going. Strands that somehow never seemed to add up and fizzled in oblivion.

Imagine how powerful Baltimore could be with a Mayor that can articulate where the journey is going, assembles a great team,  pays attention to actual progress and bring in all those folks muttering on the sidelines to help pulling?

The task in Dan Sparaco's words is this:
Five decades after the city last rioted, in the midst of another transitional period of uncertainty, it is now or never for Baltimore to get right with its past and reclaim the alternate future it left behind a century ago, an alternate future that remained buried under the political consensus that just disintegrated. This is the moment to transform the riots, not into the euphemism of “the unrest,” or the romanticism of “the uprising,” but into a new and durable consensus that can found meaningful political action. And this is the necessary agenda of whomever should win the mayoral election.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Friday, April 22, 2016

Good News Baltimore asks What is Progress?

News about Baltimore on local TV is frequently limited to shootings and fires; on the national scale the city is known for the Wire and, lately, the riots.  There is one organization which was created to broadcast a different kind of news: Good News Baltimore.
GNB is an organization that produces progressive programming in an effort to educate, entertain, and most of all inspire the residents of Baltimore. Our vision is to highlight leadership in the areas of local business, education, and civic responsibility. We accomplish this by filming docu-news and video style packages that examine newly formed and ongoing community initiatives. (website)
Sharayna Ashanti
Yesterday the news people went outside their studios near City Hall and organized together with OSI and the Walters Art Museum one of the many events on the anniversary of the uprising. This one was titled What is progress?  - Reflections one year later.

Walters Director Julia Marciari-Alexander opened the evening by saying "Museums are a place of safe haven for difficult conversations; public discourse"

OSI Baltimore director Diana Morris spoke of systemic racism in Baltimore and the problem of providing sufficient mobility and access to the resources. But then she rattled off some of the significant changes she attributes to the uprising, a fairly good list which clearly shows that things are not the same:

  • Grassroot groups like the No Boundaries Coalition 
  • New Police accountability legislation
  • Dept of Justice investigation 
  • New Mayor
  • New council
  • New police chief

Martha Gay, the person responsible for Community Benefits at Kaiser Permanente,  the health care provider. She described how the unrest had brought her company to see that they needed to address health issues "upstream" not by admonishing to eat better or move more but by fighting poverty, the root cause for poor health outcomes. She promised that much will be seen coming from Kaiser Permanente. Regardless of what the actual delivery will be, the insight that poverty causes more bad health outcomes than anything else is certainly worth noting. One can hope that her corporation stands as an example for more Baltimore businesses to understand that business cannot flourish in the long run if large parts of the population are left behind.

The messengers of the good news sat on the stage of the lower level Walters auditorium. They were:
The panel

Photographer Devin Allen, Aaron Bryant of Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Sharayna Ashanti of Muse 360 Arts, Kathleen Starghill Sherrill of AIA Maryland, and Joseph Jones of Center for Urban Families (CFUF), each telling their own personal stories of engagement for a better Baltimore.

Devin Allen's story I reported yesterday, his sudden rise to fame thanks to his photo on the cover of TIME. He said what mattered to him was his work with youth, his distributing free cameras to the youth of Sandtown so they can learn photography as a from of self expression or a tool to document their surroundings. Devin holds a job with Under Armour. The uprising was "the end of people sitting on their asses"

Aaron Bryant is the chair of the Mayor's Commission that advises about the future of Confederate Statues in Baltimore. He kept coming back to the phrase that you can't be what you can't see with which he meant that folks in impoverished communities need role models. "If you create structures of violence you create cultures of violence."  He observed from his perspective as a historian he is seeing something similar to the sixties when the pot started boiling the last time.  "The lid is off" he said.
Devin Allen

Sharayna Ashanti did not grow up in Baltimore but choose it as her home. She teaches young people dancing and she takes them outside Baltimore for experiences. She spoke about being a one person operation and the permanent lack of funds, nevertheless she is said to serve over 1000 youth annually through her 360 arts non profit.
"Bridge the gap and really find out what people need."
Kathleen Sherrill

Kathleen Sherril spoke about how her parents wanted her to be something different than the common expectation of the time (nurse, teacher) and she picked architecture, something that many can't even pronounce let alone understand what it is. She said she was only one under 400 licensed female black architects in the entire country. She engages with schools and teaches adjunct at Morgan to show young people how architecture is an expression of culture and history. She pointed to Upton where much of the African American history has been wiped out "on purpose", as she observed. "If you don't know your history what do you have pride in?"

Joseph Jones recounted the support his organization gave to an ex offender to get licensed as an exterminator, clean up his credit, by a house and run his own business.  The exterminator told him that when he sweeps in front of his house the kids coming by call him "mister". His organization has worked on workforce development and family service since 1999. He stressed how important work is for dignity. (An WP article quoting Joe Jones about the specific disadvantages boys in poverty face found can be found here).

Students from the Baltimore Debate Club offered comments from the floor. Young people have no voice, one of them said, the uprising gave them one.
Art and culture at the Walters

Most Baltimoreans have probably never heard of any of these individuals. There are hundreds more like them. In spite of OSI and the resolve of so many organizations to fund grass roots initiatives in Baltimore, the ones on stage felt that they were largely left to their own devices. It is this patchwork of initiatives from within that gives Baltimore a chance to not only move on but forward and upward.

This week's countless events recounting the injustices and the problems also bear in themselves the solutions. It looks like people begin to listen and engage. The Walter's auditorium was filled to capacity and not only by the usual suspects.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Black activists interrogate Police Commissioner Davis

The official title of the event at the Baltimore Impact Hub was  Devin Allen + Kwame Rose : One Year Later, but to a good extent Kwame Rose interrogated Police Commissioner Keven Davis. That this could take place in Baltimore is testament to the fact that Baltimore isn't exactly the same place that it was a year ago.
Commissioner Davis, Devin Allen and Kwame Rose (photo: Philipsen)

Devin Allen is the young West Baltimore man who as a photographer was out and about on the streets during the time of unrest snapping pictures while his mother called him repeatedly ordering him to come home. One of his pictures would wind up on the cover of Time Magazine.

Kwame Rose is the young man who during the unrest  accosted the Fox reporter Geraldo Rivera on North Avenue for the way the media reported about the riots. That episode was filmed life and became a symbol for the gulf between young black men and the white mass media.

It wasn't entirely clear if Kevin Davis took the two young men with whom he sat down for a "panel discussion" as representatives of the class of young black men of disenfranchised communities or as spokes-people and stand-ins who through their fame bestowed on them by white media gave him an opportunity to polish his own image. That may not matter, Davis certainly new the men and their story and the two activists knew him and had no intention of giving him any slack. The encounter posed a risk for both sides. Davis knew he would be in for rough questions by Kwame, a gifted debater. he began that it is his goal of making the job of cop "go out of business" because others would be stepping up, Kwame was unimpressed and asked cooly "How do you deal with the anti blackness that is naturally in you and to which he attributed the fact that Freddie Gray was killed.
Davis' answer wasn't as pronounced as the question. He talked about growing up in a diverse community and such and then summarized that as a professionals we are looking into the mirror thanks to Ferguson, New York and Freddie Gray. 
Kwame trying to "debate" Rivera last year (screenshot)

Kwame soon arrived at his nuclear question: Cases of brutality that had been brought against Davis himself many years back. Davis responded by listing five terminations and legal cases he had opened against officers as a testament that he isn't taking police brutality easy. Since January I have terminated 5 officers for misconduct. I learned from experiences I'd rather not have had. He pointed out that he had responded to his own brutality cases already during his confirmation hearings and that we eventually all have some episodes in our lives we would prefer not have had this wayI learned from experiences I'd rather not have had, he said.

Devin, when getting a turn in asking Davis in what never amounted to a real panel discussion, tried a more emotional tact: You are there to protect us. But some police officers don't understand us and the culture of Baltimore. Even if one is friendly, one day we are shaking hands the next day we get the cold shoulder. 
Devin Allen's most famous picture

Davis disarmingly offered "If any of you ever had a bad experience with cops, I am sorry about that. Not only for the BPD but the entire profession of 900,000 officers nationwide". 
He went on to explain that hiring more local and more African American cops was made difficult by hiring rules: What prevents us from hiring diverse is the outdated marijuana hiring standard. What a swift debater Kwame is became obvious when Davis declared I am a liberal. Kwame shot back:  "watch out for white liberals" quoting Macolm X.
Davis emphasized that the BPD has been around for 232 years and that he can't be responsible for everything that happened before him. He finished his comments with the same theme he had started: if other elements of society are failing often the only one left standing is the police. That must be changed.

After the commissioner left, Kwame and Devin interviewed each other. Their stories always getting back to the days of the uprising where they both found fame. There were many introspective, funny but also moving moments. Devin who grew up in West Baltimore said that he has lost around 25 friends to violence ("I stopped counting", he said). Kwame clarified that he doesn't want to pretend being a kid from the hood, that he grew up "privileged in Hunting Ridge" but that he is comfortable in the hood, feels like he belongs there and feels safest "in the community". He recalled how in school he had been diagnosed with "oppositional defiance disorder", an affliction, if it is one, that has brought him fame but seems to soften: "There is something we can learn from anybody we encounter", he mused. About negative energy: "Some the energy is so negative because all they do is take away."
Photos taken by youth trained by Devin on display at the Impact Hub
(photo: Philipsen)

It seemed that things have worked out better for Devin who among other things is working with kids in West Baltimore teaching them photography, something that Ericka Alston of the Kids Safe Zone near Pennsylvania Avenue praised with several of the youth in tow.

Kwame, by contrast, stated   "I am so broke as I have never been before in my life".  He blamed the famous Geraldo video for having lost his job with Marriott. But being broke could also come from his casino visits to which he admitted when asked for whom he would vote for mayor by telling the story how Catherine Pugh had called him numerous times at two a clock at night to admonish him to get his butt out of the casino and finally instructed the guards to escort him out.

"I am voting for Catherine Pugh because I know she won't give up on you" 
Catherine Pugh could hardly ask for a better endorsement.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The Impact Hub at the renovated Centre Theatre
seen from he sidewalk (photo: Philipsen)
From the event announcement:

Devin Allen rose to fame when his image of a protestor went viral. The image was shared by major celebrities like Beyonce and Rihanna on their social media accounts which led Devin to gain thousands of followers on his Instagram account, which acts as a diary.Today Allen's posts garner hundreds of likes. He covers topica varying from everything to violent protests, to local happenings in the Sation North Arts district
Devin went on to have his image be the cover of Time Magazine. And, has since had exhibitions at The Reginald F. Lewis Museum in Baltimore, and in Philadelphia's Slought gallery. Devin has been featured as one of BET's 29 People You Should Know, won a Russell Simmons RushCard Keep the Peace grant for a photography workshop, been named as on of 2016's Ford Men Of Courage, and has been called "the eyes of Baltimore" by CNN.  Devin is now a Photographer & Media Designer for Baltimore's own Under Armour.
Devin Allen (photo: Philipsen)
Kwame Rose, a social activist, and artist who gained notoriety during the Baltimore Uprising for his heroic confrontation with Fox News' Geraldo Rivera, challenging the media's inaccurate representation of protestors during the peaceful protests. Since then Kwame has become one of the more visible protesters in Baltimore, which has prompted Law Enforcement to continue to target his efforts. Kwame is a contributing writer for Abernathy Magazine,, and City Paper. Kwame’s passion for public speaking once earned him a full scholarship to the University of Texas at San Antonio as a member of the Debate team. As a student, he advocated for hip-hop infused education as a means to educate the youth and give a voice to the voiceless. After the completion of his freshman year, deteriorating social conditions in his hometown of Baltimore prompted the permanent return of the young activist with a firm commitment to improve and serve his community. In 2013, Kwame helped form the organization Brothers In Action, Inc., a mentoring group for young Black males in Baltimore City. He served on the Executive Board, until recently stepping to launch Black EXCELLence, as well as the BE Foundation, in an effort to not only highlight Black youth but also, help them excel in pursuing their dreams and aspirations. Kwame has been featured on countless national and international media outlets and is emerging as a sought out public speaker whose dialogue focuses on justice issues and youth advocacy in the Black Community. At just 21 years old, the concerned citizen of Baltimore has emerged as a servant of the people, and a motivator for youth advocacy.
Ericka Allston of the Children Safe Zone (photo: Philipsen)

Centre Theatre, home of the Impact Hub on North Avenue
(photo: Philipsen)

Davin and Kwame with Commissioner Davis (Twitter photo)

Davin with donated cameras for the work with Sandtown kids (Twitter photo)

Wednesday, April 20, 2016

On the anniversary of Freddie Gray's death: Three perspectives

 Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time as come. Victor Hugo

It is the first anniversary of the day on which Freddie Gray died. Baltimore is the topic of many national news casts trying to find out if anything has changed since in the divided city. The day begins with Reverend Jamal Bryant being interviewed on NPR's "Morning Edition" about his hometown and what is different this year. Things are changing at a "snail's pace", says the Reverend. He adds:
In under a year, the city and state are poised to develop Port Covington, a development with Under Armour who is looking for a tax abatement that would be the largest in the history of the state.
So in that same time, we need to see something about the 16,000 abandoned homes, the 70,000 heroin addicts, the 43 percent high school dropout rate. So Baltimore knows how to make progress. I think that we're just selective in where and how we do it.
The squatter occupied house dubbed the Tubman House on the block
where Gray was arrested (photo: SUN)
In the afternoon on the lower level of the University of Baltimore Law School citizen advocates and organizers meet in the "Moot Court" room of the school. One of Baltimore's oldest citizen advocacy groups, the 75 year old Citizen Planning and Housing  Association, better known as CPHA, has convened citizens and community organizers "to discuss the ways the City incentivizes economic development such as Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) and who benefits from it" The panel discussion takes place on the eve of a vote of the Board of Estimates on the record half billion dollar TIF request from Under Armour's Sagamore Port Covington development company. The SUN had just posted that a deal was struck about community hiring and that the company would be exempt from the inclusionary housing rules that require 20% affordable units. Sagamore would do only 10% but without getting the reimbursement per unit from the city that the current inclusionary zoning code includes. The BBJ reported the possibility of the State selling the bonds and not the City.
Sagamore rendering of the public spaces proposed as part of the
development. "We build it together"
50% of the estimated cost  for public infrastructure
is supposed to be financed trough TIFs (image: Sagamore)

After the panel discussion and under the conversation management of Jayne Miller of WBAL and with the help of direct polling via smart phone consensus emerges that there isn't enough transparency about TIFs. The discussion about economic development ranged from straight subsidies to Community Benefits Agreements to enforcing the laws that are on the books (for example the Inclusionary Zoning) to TIFs. A sizable 35% percent of attendees was against the TIF for Sagamore, the rest needed more information. Not sure the lines between these different ways of promoting economic development and community equity became totally clear, but the desire to leverage money spent on development for the benefit of disenfranchised communities was palatable.

On the top floor of the building law students meanwhile snacked on pizza squares and had free beer and wine before listening to a panel speaking about "Building Social Impact" as part of a symposium of the Journal of Land & Development held for the law students.
Poll result at the CPHA meeting. 35% against a TIF (photo: Klaus Philipsen)

Thibault Mannekin, CEO of Seawall Development spoke first.

Wound up and energetic as always, he began with the Victor Hugo quote on top of this article. Then he told the young audience the Seawall story by starting out with the observation that "the City is on fire right now" and he didn't mean riots but what he sees as Baltimore's march towards to becoming "one of the best cities in the world" thanks to creativity and talent. And he isn't talking from the perspective of penthouses with waterview at the Inner Harbor but from his experiences with building affordable housing for teachers in Remington, a mostly white community that is now described as emerging and on the path to success, in large part due to Seawalls investments into a whole slew of community based projects there. Bill Struever who revived many communities before Seawall existed admitted, that all those community revivals happened in white communities while Sandtown failed. No Red Line he complained, adding that after 15 years of planning he has lost patience with these forever projects. But then, always the optimist and on the go, Struever presented his latest idea dubbed ReBuild Baltimore that includes not only one but four innovation districts, each anchored by an institution tasked to pull up one of the dis-invested adjacent communities.
Thibault Manekin speaks about his community based projects
in Remington: "from the inside out"
(photo: Klaus Philipsen)

These three very different perspectives, while not comprehensive, illuminate how many ways there are to see the same Baltimore.

They also show that a year later, Baltimore's future can't be thought anymore without addressing social justice and equity. That in itself is progress.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Port Covington local hiring and diversity agreements approved by BoE (BBJ)

An excellent analysis of where Baltimore stands comes from Dan Sparaco who until recently was part of Mayor Rawlings staff. His three part series is titled "Now or never Baltimore"