Tuesday, April 5, 2016

Druid Hill Park isolated by traffic

This is the second in a series of explorations of urban spaces which were  ruined by traffic engineering and need to be saved by better urban design.

With 746 acres, Druid Park is a national treasure and the third largest urban park in the country. It is large enough to have its own internal streets. Sadly, the automobile is also the best way to get there. In fact, one can say that it is traffic engineering's fault that neither the park nor the surrounding communities are in good shape, let alone live up to their potential.
Southeast corner of  the park with JFX Interchange
The way traffic isolates the park is truly remarkable (west side)

Manhattan's Central Park has become the poster child for the value of open space and how not building on valuable land can bestow added value to the surrounding areas that more than make up for the loss of developable land. That once was true for Druid Park as well, when Auchentoroly Terrace and Reservoir Hill were premier addresses with the park as the essence of their being and an excellent backdrop.

Then the traffic engineers came and put a noose all around the park with the Jones Falls Expressway the worst offender. The elevated Interstate ruined the beautiful river valley entirely.  It had been a fabulous eastern edge of the park when Mount Royal Avenue connected Mount Vernon with the park. Today six lanes of roaring traffic isolate the park and prevent almost all access from the east.

The on and off-ramps from I-83 turned Druid Park Lake Avenue into a traffic sewer as well, making access from Reservoir Hill dangerous and living on the previously wonderful southern edge of the park a noisy and dirty affair.
Northeast corner at Park Heights Avenue

The traffic orgy continues on the western edge of the park with between six and ten lanes of various roadways all much bigger than today's traffic would require, and certainly too big to cross comfortably on foot. Subsequently Auchentoroly Terrace faded into a forlorn strip of decaying houses that only lately have been rediscovered and renovated.

Ok, the wooded north side of the park did not really take as much a beating, except that it had never been designed as a major access point. Today, the redeveloped Clipper Mill community of ecclectic uses and buildings certainly benefits from its edge condition at the park.

There has been a lot of hand-wringing about the disinvestment in the surrounding areas and the ratty appearance of the park itself. A masterplan prepared over 20 years ago gave guidance to a steady pace of improvements including the splendid restoration of the historic Palm House, a Conservatory that dates back to 1888 with George Frederick, who also designed Baltimore's City Hall, as the architect.

But the excessive roadways remain and it is high time that they go on a diet so that finally, the synergy between the park and the surrounding communities can do its magic again and both can rise to their potential. That a park can be an engine of rehabilitation has been amply demonstrated, with Baltimore's own Patterson Park, for example. 

For those interested in making better connections, attend the 4/23 event specifically dedicated to this goal,  at the Parks and People Foundation which recently opened their headquarters west of Druid Park. The event is  organized by the Baltimore Greenway Trails Coalition, a partnership of Bikemore, Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, and the American Planning Association.
Overview aerial (current): Isolated on three sides


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

National Register District (document)
Baltimore Brew article, 2010
Jeff LaNoue article about Druid Park
Historic map (east on top)