Wednesday, June 1, 2016

Forgotten in Baltimore

The geography of Baltimore is simple. The north is affluent, the west was affluent and is now very poor, the east was always poor but now subject of a number of heroic lifts that promise a better future. That leaves the south: Federal Hill, the success story of the Dollar House program and the developing new identity of Port Covington.
The coordinates are Charles Street as the north-south axis and officially Baltimore Street as the east-west one, although North Avenue would be a more telling coordinate.
Curtis Bay residents for a healthy neighborhood

Of course such simplified geography leaves out the vast communities of the north-west (Park Heights), the Northeast (Belair Edison), the prosperous southeast of Fells Point and Canton and the eternally on the cusp communities of the southwest (Poppleton).

But hardly any other area is terra incognita as much as Brooklyn, Curtis Bay, Fairfield and Wagner's Point. All are places that beyond those who call them home, few can identify or visualize. 

Those areas are for the city what architects call "back of house" when they talk about buildings. The place where the services happen, where the garbage goes out and where the deliveries are made. Every city has those areas, usually downwind from the "good" areas in place with good access but out of view. 

As for city houses where the alleys are where the trash goes and in the past the sewage, too, the Baltimore service neighborhoods are so far from view that most don't even know they exist.
the forgotten communities of Fairfield, Wagners Point and Curtis Bay

Everybody sees the incinerator plant at the edge of I-95 and the BW Parkway but hardly anybody knows there is another one planned at Fairfield near Curtis Bay. Much of the shoreline of the Middle Branch is removed from the daily experience of the daily commuter, allowing only quick glances from I-95 or the Harbor Tunnel Thruway. That wasn't always the case in the days when Brooklyn was a main gateway into town and Ritchie Highway the connection to the State's Capital and even earlier when the shoreline had beaches and was a recreation area with an amusement park.

In 2015 no neighborhood should be "back of house" and the old hierarchical order should give way to a geography of the city in which all communities follow basic certain health and environmental standards and each community allows a child to grow safely and without being poisoned.

The geography of cities can experience drastic shifts, even though in reality nothing moved. The addition of new transportation arteries and the shift of transport mode from streetcar to the automobile is enough to rearrange things in the heads of the people. 

Cities never completed the separation of uses to the level of perfection to which the suburbs did so. As a result the houses in the early picturesque communities were joined by factories, coal loading docks, freight lines,  power plants and plans incinerators which are being heavily fought by the community. 

The noise and the pollution made those homes more affordable (Curtis Bay: average value around $55,000) but certainly not healthy.  Baltimore's worst air is found in Curtis Bay. In neighboring Fairfield, lofty ideas developed under Mayor Schmoke envisioned a new production place in which the waste of one plant would become the fuel of the other. This never materialized but the remaining residents were relocated and  rows of houses leveled. Fairfield is also a special case in that it had once been a designated "negro project area" in 1954 (along with Cherry Hill and others. Source: ACLU)
The City of Baltimore is in the process of developing an Ecological Industrial Park (EIP). It will be among the first, if not the first operating EIP in the United States. The park is located in the Fairfield area of Baltimore and is being developed as part of an Empowerment Zone initiative, designed for segments of the city's commercial and residential districts.
The overall goal of an EIP is to improve the economic performance of businesses locating in the park, while reducing their adverse environmental impact. As defined by the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), an EIP is:
a community of manufacturing and service businesses seeking enhanced environmental and economic performance through collaboration in managing environment and resources issues including energy, water and materials. By working together, the community of businesses seeks a collective benefit that is greater than the sum of the individual benefits each company would realize if it optimized its individual performance only. (1996 BDC document)

The community of Curtis Bay wants a different approach. They want that the concentration of polluters here comes to an end and that the remaining industries clean up their act. 
Coal mountains behind the playground


In 2016 "back of house" no longer means dumping the sewage into the alley, and it shouldn't mean dumping the city's waste into forgotten communities. In 2016 technologies exist to allow mixed use and the coexistence of production and living. In 2016 the solution is not the exodus of established historic communities but the insertion of green spaces, modern technology and the exodus of environmentally questionable practices such as trash incineration.

The design approach for the new Port Covington across the waters shows that full integration of uses is possible especially when doing it occurs on a clean slate, if one can call a polluted brownfields a clean slate. Retrofit in a gritty industrial area like Curtis Bay is harder, but not impossible. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA  (updated)

Fairfield Community Profile
The SUN article that triggered this story
1998 Fairfield, Wagner's Point Environmental History, Law Clinic
2004 Fairfield Urban Renewal Plan

From the 1998 Law Clinic text.
Throughout its history, Fairfield blended qualities of both urban and rural space. The residential neighborhood developed in the 1880s with houses built by mostly European immigrants who labored in the area’s rich soil and later worked in the burgeoning industries on the peninsula.
In the early twentieth century, African Americans from the South migrated to Fairfield. Fairfield functioned as a racially integrated neighborhood in the “almost southern” city of Baltimore into the 1960s.[i] Fairfield’s racial dynamics are similar to the neighborhood’s complex overlap of urban and rural qualities. Residents in Fairfield raised animals and had impressive gardens but were surrounded by the industrial plants that provided work as well as pollution and the potential for danger.
With the rise of the Fairfield-Bethlehem shipyards during World War II, the neighborhood experienced its most extensive boom in employment. These jobs would begin to dwindle in the late-1960s as a postindustrial era began and the neighborhood was plagued by disinvestment. In 1971, Fairfield was designated an Urban Renewal Area by the city and the Neighborhood Design Center, a non-profit group of designers offering assistance to disadvantaged areas, began to work with the residents of Fairfield to change the M-3 heavy industry zoning (to residential) but were unsuccessful in their endeavors. The NDC blamed the deterioration of Fairfield on “the contradictory and indecisive actions of the city during the period since the war.”[ii]
The 1990 US Census shows only 613 residents on the peninsula (split between Fairfield and neighboring Wagner’s Point), 273 (44 percent) living below the poverty line. By this time, most of the residents no longer worked in the shrinking number of industrial jobs available on the point. Chemical and oil storage companies, a sewage plant, and salvage yards dominated the landscape. With the rise of the suburbs and American car culture, workers did not need to live in close proximity to their places of employment—it was wise not to live by work when your employer dealt in hazardous chemicals.
There was hope in 1995 when, following an application submitted by Governor William Donald Schaefer and Mayor Kurt Schmoke, the Fairfield peninsula was designated one of three Baltimore neighborhoods that formed an Empowerment Zone (EZ), a President Clinton-era urban renewal program that invested millions of dollars in an attempt to revive floundering urban areas. An “ecological industrial park” was planned for the peninsula but never materialized. From the start, the EZ was not really concerned with the residents on the point, only the development potential of the land. The EZ did provide residents with one essential service—legal representation.[iii] 
In 1996 residents of Fairfield and Wagner’s Point formed the Fairfield/Wagner’s Point Neighborhood Coalition and signed a retainer with the University of Maryland School of Law. In the words of Brenda Blom, University of Maryland law professor and member of the legal counsel for residents, the neighborhoods were “engulfed” by industry.[iv]Working with their lawyers, a majority of residents decided that relocation was their best option to achieve some sense of justice. Blom succinctly describes the success of the relocation effort as based in the residents “unwillingness to remain invisible,” which shows that a new way to see urban industrial space is essential to achieving justice.[v]However, Many Fairfield residents, like Jennie Fischer, the President of the Fairfield Improvement Association, did not want to leave.[vi]
By the end of 1998, the Neighborhood Coalition finally received a commitment from the city for relocation, and, in early 1999, the deal was struck for Wagner’s Point residents and then Condea Vista and FMC (chemical companies) put together a proposal to match a city offer for relocation in Fairfield. The hard-won relocation package provided residents of the industrial peninsula with the hope of living free of industrial pollution and the fear of a cataclysmic accident. However, the moment was bittersweet because residents had formed a tight sense of community out on the peninsula and it was the only life many people knew.
Some holdouts clung to their territory on the peninsula well into the 21st century. Baltimore City moved out the last two residents in March of 2011, and the last Fairfield home was demolished a month later.
By Prof. Nicole King