Friday, October 28, 2016

Stealth transformation

While all eyes are fixed on the big developments at HarborPoint and Port Covington another transformation is well underway and it is flying largely under the radar. There isn't even a name to pinpoint where it happens: Carroll Camden South? Sharp Leadenhall West? Spring Garden Industrial? South Baltimore? Casino City?
the view from the BARCS shoreline (photo: Philipsen)

The area in question is hard to burn into the mental map of anybody who doesn't live in the communities of Ridgely's Delight and Sharp Leadenhall and knows the terrain as an adjacent home turf. Bisected by an elevated interstate (I-395), elevated light rail, elevated Russel Street, MLK ramps, Ostend and Hanover Street viaducts, Camden Line train tracks, stadium lots, the Middle Branch and the South Baltimore incinerator it is in many parts a no-mans land that is temporarily usurped by tail-gaters, casino visitors, inter-city bus riders or folks that look for illegal parking spots during stadium events.  Of course, it is terrain in which Baltimore industries used to make stuff, and in spite of many vacancies, adaptive re-use and demolition, the feel of the area is still industrial. CSX Diesel engines are humming, trucks are lurching over potholes, abandoned or still active rail tracks poke through the asphalt. Warehouse, loading docks and chain-link fences dominate and then there is the City's animal shelter BARCS, long in play for some type of redevelopment.

So what is the stealth transformation? The biggest one has lately become highly visible from I-395 when entering the City. What are these huge structures sticking out of a sea of smaller buildings? It is Towson based Cave Valley's $275 million entry into South Baltimore. It has shot up to full height on two parcels in recent months, a third block tower is still getting taller. The new infill is truly big in small Sharp Leadenhall, a historic African American community squeezed between Otterbein, Federal Hill and the Casino which the Sun characterized so:
Established by freed slaves and German immigrants in about 1790, Sharp-Leadenhall was home to important institutions: large churches, the Baltimore Abolitionist Society and the first school for African-Americans south of the Mason-Dixon line. In 1890, more than 4,400 people lived in the area, which included what is now Otterbein. (article)
Parking on the waterfront: Casino garage (photo: Philipsen)
Other elements of transformation include the new Greyhound Bus Station and the attempt of the City to get back to the idea of an entertainment and recreation hub that was included in an older BDC masterplan before the Casino took over. Two lots right at the Middle Branch shoreline where BARCS currently operates an animal shelter and a surface lot sits idling are City property and apparently up for sale.

Ideas for how to transform "Baltimore's second waterfront" go at least 25 years back, when the AIA Urban Design Committee issued a Middle Branch masterplan concept promoting the shallow marshy waters as a biodiversity habitat for family friendly recreation. The idea then was to tether stadium money to the transformation of the disjointed lands and somehow cross over the CSX tracks in the process. Alas, the Stadium Authority didn't want to expand the Oriol Park masterplanning success south and rather built the football stadium expeditiously on the footprint the baseball stadium plan had already carved out for it.

The Baltimore Development Corporation meanwhile came up with another masterplan for the Warner Street area oscillating between its industrial obligations from the Carroll Camden industrial area west of Russell Street and bigger ideas of additional sports facilities where the Casino now sits. Of course, the Horseshoe gambling empire trumped everything and is the most visible transformer of the area. Dominating or almost preempting future waterfront ideas is the Casino's giant garage right at the shore, highly visible face to I-395 and I-95 especially at night.

The City had embarked on a larger Middle Branch masterplan incorporating Pat Turners gigantic Westport redevelopment plans but spending little thought on Port Covington. In the ongoing saga of most things coming out differently than originally planned, Sagamore has since taken over on a scale and ambition that dwarfs even Turner's big plans and lifted the Middle Branch masterplan to an entirely new level.
Big stuff: Caves Valley in Sharp Leadenhall. Historic preservation
affordable housing and protection of cultural heritage are issues
that need to be addressed (photo: Philipsen)

Casino proceeds paid for a very timid "Gateway Masterplan" that presumably dresses up the southern gateway into Baltimore coming in on the B-W Parkway. Alas the plan feel short of stirring any attention and is too weak and limited to really guide the future of the hole in the doughnut in which BARCS sits.

It is now time to expand to come up with a bunch of strong ideas for those no-mans lands. It is important to tie it all together in a way that could make the former industrial area as important as Portland's Pearl District. Access, connections and circulation are problematic and need improvements for pedestrians and bikes that are as sweeping as those freeway bridges.

The BARCS parcel and the parking lot next to the casino complex could be very attractive access points to this body of water most even don't know exists. These are key parcels that could make the future of the area a smashing hit or a dud. A golf driving range that has been mentioned would probably fall into the dud category.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

tracks, fences, industry and murals (photo: Philipsen)

BARCS, important but hardly the best shoreline use (photo: Philipsen)

surface parking behind BARCS right at the water's edge (photo: Philipsen)

A large surface lot for which Horseshoe apparently has options (photo: Philipsen)

Sharp Leadenhall West: The third Caves Valley block. View from Ostend Street (photo: Philipsen)
Caves Valley rendering of the third block as shown to UDARP in 2015 (Design Collective)

Re-purposed industrial building (photo: Philipsen)

More change will be coming for sure (photo: Philipsen)

Caves Valley apartments as seen from Cross Street in Sharp Leadenhall (photo: Philipsen)

the same corner in a rendering by Design Collective

South Gateway masterplan: Plan area 

Thursday, October 27, 2016

Remember CitiStat?

Martin O'Malley's political currency is on an all time low right now. There is his barely measurable standing in the primaries and then, more damning, the Department of Justice report decrying police practices that track back to his time as Baltimore Mayor and his Commissioner Ed Norris who had to leave office in disgrace.
CitiStat session with O'Malley at the podium

But there is a bright and somewhat geeky star on O'Malley's chest and that is CitiStat, a method of data based governance that he had copied from New York police department's CompStat in 1999 but advanced in Baltimore to a point that O'Malley was even invited by the Mayor of London to show off his magic. CitiStat was one of the rare Baltimore articles that could be exported like Fadley's crab-cakes or Berger Cookies.
The Office of CitiStat is a small performance-based management group responsible for continually improving the quality of services provided to the citizens of Baltimore City. CitiStat evaluates policies and procedures practiced by City departments for delivering all manners of urban services from criminal investigation to pothole repair. Staff analysts examine data and perform investigations in order to identify areas in need of improvement. City agencies are required to participate in a highly particularized presentation format designed to maximize accountability. Agencies must be prepared to answer any question raised by the Mayor or her Cabinet at CitiStat sessions which are held every four weeks.
As a result of its success, the CitiStat model has been adopted by local governments across the U.S. and around the world. (City website)
O'Malley protege and former Secretary of Planning Rich Hall put CitiStat up as a topic in the CPHA series of discussions that will provide a portfolio of agenda items for the incoming Baltimore Mayor. Big Data has taken a popularity hit as well, ever since Snowden had revealed how BIG Big Data really is. Under the Title "CitiStat 2.0" Hall, now Executive Director of CPHA, had invited as a panelist Stat experts of various places: someone who ran StateStat for O'Malley (Matt Power), the one who runs CitiStat now for SRB (Sameer Sidh) and someone who adopted CitiStat for Prince George's County as CountyStat (Ben Birge). Seema Iyer who runs the Baltimore Neighborhoods Indicator Alliance at UB rounded the group out as the only non government person.

Add caption
For those who wondered why Ms Iyer was added to the panel, she explained that BNIA was conceived at the same time as CitiStat and that the academic data research base was supposed to be the yin for the yang of CitiStat. An eminently plausible idea, and, as Iyer emphasized, City and BNIA,indeed, collaborate on data sets.

Data based governance was and is touted as a tool to create transparency, a rational base for the deployment of resources, and as such an efficiency tool and, maybe most of all, as a tool that forces the siloed departments to collaborate. The panelists agreed that "data based problem discovery" is the biggest benefit of efforts like CitiStat in which data are collected, compared and spread via GIS over geographic spaces.

Under O'Malley CitiStat was a tool to kick butt and hold departments accountable.    He was so enamored with the approach that he cleaned out the mezzanine level at City Hall and installed the CitiStat operations center there, right in the executive area and not in the Benton Building where most departments have their spaces. Department heads had to show up in the mezzanine where O'Malleys CityStat operatives quizzed them at least monthly about progress and performance often under the eyes of the boss, who often acted as the Great Inquisitor himself. The more department directors hated CitiStat, the more O'Malley liked it, and the citizens of Baltimore gave him credit for making government accountable and more effective from the infamous potholes to trash collection and crime.

Under subsequent Mayors and also in PG County "stating" has become much more benign, or "collaborative" as the panelists called it. The efforts went beyond "baseline stating" (how much of this and that did you do?) to process mapping, problem discovery and "OutcomeStat". The latter in response to a frequent objection that someone in the audience stated this way: "I don't care how many potholes you filled, I care in what state the streets are". The questioner asked: "What should be measured? I care about effective production of services and about outcomes."

Turns out, what should be measured is a complicated matter. Matt Powers says "there are a million possible questions that a government can use as potential metrics. By contrast, the private business can reduce everything to one simple question: is it profitable?"

SRB's new initiative: So far just a website banner
Seema Iyer and audience member Izzy Patoka brought up community participation and the question to what extent community is involved in establishing the criteria, the metrics, the oversight and assists in drawing conclusions. Patoka asked about inclusion of external factors. "We got to have shared governance", Iyer exclaimed and mused about how community can bring resources to the table through "capacity building". She suggested community based data collection such as the evaluation of 311 and 911 calls and shared a surprising tidbit of her own analysis: The frequency of 311 calls in a community and the voter turnout are not a direct correlation as one would expect, but inverse proportional. The more 311 calls, the lower the voter turnout in that community. Naturally, there doesn't have to be causation. One can speculate that the cause for the many 311 calls are poor services and that poor services are most frequent in poor neighborhoods where turnout is also often low.

Sam Singh responded that he had, indeed, just recently studied 311 calls and that calls about trash pick-up take the cake as the most frequent topic, confirming a likely cause for calls. If that pick-up would work like it does in the County neighborhoods with private haulers, those calls would likely subside entirely.
Panelists: Seema Iyer, Matt Power, Ben Birge, Sameer Sidh, Rich Hall
(photo: Philipsen)

Data-based governance is still far from reality and some would doubt that it should ever be realized.
But data can bring unexpected insights and open the door for a multi departmental view of the same problem, making it a lot less intractable.

SRB let CityStat languish for quite some time until Sameer Sidh was brought in from CityDOT a year ago. Asked what he would tell the Mayor the day after the election in the famous "elevator speech", he said he would sit in an airplane on the way to his honeymoon at that time. Good for him!

Ben Birge from PG County said he would tell his Executive that CountyStat "is the best myth busting tool in County government". Seema Iyer said she would tell the new Mayor she "wants to see NeighborhoodStat".

Rich Hall will convey those results to the new Mayor.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Related more in depth articles about data based planning on my blog Community Architect:
Can there be science in city planning? 
What has architecture to do with quantum physics

Data and Decisions in Government, 2009 article about CitiStat
Business Insider about Big Data Candidate O'Malley

Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Knowledge Capitals of The World

Sometimes the folks at Brookings that study the world every which way come up with new ways of looking at things and instead of the same old lists of world leading cities, they shook things up a bit and created 7 new categories. This was their thought:
This report redefines global cities. It introduces a new typology that builds from a first-of-its-kind database of dozens of indicators, standardized across the world’s 123 largest metro economies, to examine what really defines a global city—its economic characteristics, industrial structure, and key competitiveness factors.
Larry Gourdine, National Human Genome Center Howard University, 
Sinclair P. Ceasar III, Loyola University assistant director of student life; 
Scott Robertson, Year Up director of corporate partnerships; 
and AndrĂ© Robinson, Mt. Royal CDC executive director 
Photo: Start-up Soiree)

The typology reveals that there is no one way to be a global city. Grouped into seven metropolitan clusters, the distinct competitive positions of the world’s largest metro economies become sharper, as do the peers metropolitan areas can look to for common solutions and investments to enhance economic growth.
List of 123 cities and 7 metrics (Brookings)

The new metrics are good news for Baltimore: The metro area does well in one of those seven categories, that of Knowledge Capital which happens to be also the most attractive metric anyway. (the others are Global Giant, Asian Anchors, Emerging Gateways, Factory China, American Middleweights, International Middleweights,)

Baltimore received high ranking for growth in worker productivity, important published research, internet connectivity and the percentage of the population with a college or higher degree.

Of course, it is nice if Baltimore can find its name in an illustruous list that includes cities such as Boston, San Francisco, Washington DC, Zurich and Stockholm, no matter that the list seems awfully random.

Assuming that "Middleweight" isn't as good as "capital" the gloating can grow when one looks at "American Middleweights" and finds Pittsburgh together with Detroit and Indianapolis or International "Middleweights" that include global leaders such as Copenhagen, Rome, Rotterdam and Barcelona.

I am sure that Brookings has good reasons for their list and that Copenhagen and Barcelona won't shed too many tears about the list. But Houston, Dallas, Seattle and San Jose have been celebrating!

The matter isn't entirely trivial as Greater Baltimore Committee CEO Don Fry correctly observes in an op-ed letter to the Daily Record. The new world is a knowledge economy, even though certain presidentail contenders and their followers don't see it that way and parochial nationalism has a global renaissance. Fry mentions Alec Ross, a Baltimore resident who is currently a Fellow at Hopkins, used to be Secretary Clinton's Innovation Advisor and recently became a bestseller writer with his book "Future Industries". Ross agreed to writing a preface to my book about Baltimore that will go to the publisher next week for editing. Fry writes:
Alec Ross, author of The New York Times bestseller “The Industries of the Future” ...believes this economy will be driven primarily by data and information, as much as iron drove the industrial age and land the agricultural age.
Those who develop, own, analyze and deliver valuable information – whether it’s computer code for corporate security or research breakthroughs for new medical treatments – will most likely see their economies thrive and expand, Ross predicts.
Parilla, one of the authors of the Brookings study emphasizes that a lynchpin for success for knowledge capitals will be that there is a workforce of well-educated workers living in the area to compete for jobs in the successful domain sectors.
“Human capital — the stock of knowledge, skills, expertise, and capacities embedded in the labor force — is of critical importance” the study says.

It will be Baltimore's particular role to unlock the vast potential of the many energetic young people locked into disinvested neighborhoods that offer no opportunity. Baltimore's Innovation Village has set out to doing just that.
In my draft book I say: "Decline can be final, but it can become a precursor for a comeback. Nations, corporations and cities have demonstrated that there is a dialectic in decline in which what seemed like a liability can be turned into an asset". This year's book “From Rustbelt to Brainbelt” suggests such a dialectic reversal. 

If sufficiently many forces are engaged in halting downward spirals, real progress is possible. For example Baltimore’s infant mortality rate: In African American neighborhoods it was slashed in half in seven years. 

Embedded in a nationwide economic recovery, Baltimore is at a tipping point. The new Mayor will will have the opportunity to tip the scale in the right direction through subtle but strategic intervention. In housing, revitalization, transportation, production and innovation the people of Baltimore can create virtuous cycles that pull other metrics up as well. The national and global trends of work and production, knowledge and creativity and the importance of good quality of life can support Baltimore’s come back.

But the city cannot solve its problems alone. A city that is attracting young people from around the nation because of its opportunities will force the region to take another look at reinstating a social compact on a regional level. Neither suburbs nor the City can thrive on their own. The unrest has brought these interdependencies into bright focus.

Whether Baltimore will tip towards progress or regression will decide if Baltimore will ever again will show up on Brookings list of Knowledge Capitals.

 Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Baltimore SUN article
Brookings Report

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

How tall in Fells Point?

The new zoning code passed a critical council vote last night but it doesn't answered how high one should be able to build in the middle of a historic district with buildings not over 30' tall.

Fells Point historic core  facing Thames Street
(photo: Philipsen)
The question how high one should be able to build in Fells Point has moved the community for decades. Even in a historic district that has protections for existing structures, a non-contributing building may get razed or a vacant lot may get built up. Then only the zoning code applies and not the historic district rules. Unless there is an urban renewal plan, an overlay district, a PUD or a variance. Confusing? You bet, negotiating the thicket of land use rules is a challenge for communities and developers alike.

The new zoning code was supposed to be the knight on the white horse that would simplify matters. It could have made historic preservation an integral part of zoning instead of a parallel set of rules. It is supposed to do away with urban renewal plans and would greatly reduce the planned unit developments, the open barn-door if one wants to leave the thicket and reduce the hearings about variances.

Now after the City Council nodded the code through, everybody has to find out what is really in it. That is because the last time there was a firm bill was when the Planning Department introduced it in the form they had written the code. Since then, hundreds of amendments have muddied the waters and the bill was never been consolidated into one again.

It looks like that the question of how high one should be allowed to build in the (local) Fells Point Historic District (or any other historic district) will remain a matter that the underlying code will not decidedly resolve, because it is written for areas that are not historic districts. For properties not under the protection of the preservation law it will still need another piece of legislation, such as an "Overlay District" that limits heights in a certain area and suspends the underlying height limits.
Reservoir Hill: the tall Emerson next to the low rowhouses

There are many examples around the world or in Baltimore where a historic low building sits comfortably next to a tall new one. There are even historic tall buildings sitting comfortably next to historic low ones as, for example, the Belvedere in Mount Vernon, the Marlborough on Eutaw Place or the Emerson in Reservoir Hill. The modern high- rise apartment towers on Charles Street just north of Northern Parkway are probably still a matter of dispute for some. Although they fit neither in scale nor style, they have nevertheless become a valuable attribute of the area. This is to say, historic buildings or even historic districts should not automatically mean low or matching height. But regulators can't dodge the issue and at one point need to say yea or nay.
Overlay Districts that were proposed but not enacted for height
limits in Fells Point (Baltimore Brew)

As for Fells Point: Beyond the large and tall warehouse structures that have been there forever (like Henderson Wharf), it would probably be a good idea to protect the fabric of old Fells Point and keep the height limit to the prevailing height of 30'-45', just as the communities said they wanted it (the Fell’s Point Residents Association, Fell’s Point and Fell’s Prospect Community Association, Upper Fell’s Point Improvement Association and the Preservation Society). There is plenty of opportunity all around to have tall buildings, anybody who has been out there lately can see that those opportunities are, indeed, being realized. No need to have them sprout at the heart of this lovely community.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

For details about Councilman Kraft's maneuvering in this matter see Baltimore Brew.
For details about yesterday's debate read Luke Braodwaters report in the SUN

Monday, October 24, 2016

The future of Baltimore's Circulator

“Sometimes we need to shift boundaries and upset the way things have always been done to become more efficient, but these changes can disturb people.” (Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo)
Stephany Rawlings Blake leaves the systemic Circulator deficit for her successor to resolve. (Baltimore SUN). That is good news, since the City-run local bus transit is popular and liked by folks of all walks of life, quite a feat for a bus system! It shouldn't be cut.
Circulator on the new bus only lane on Pratt Street
(photo: Philipsen)

What to do with the six year old bus system in the future should be pretty easy to answer: Go back to its original principles, which were never spelled out in sufficient clarity but which I would summarize this way:

  • keep it free
  • run it frequently (10 minutes)
  • make the online app work that shows real time bus arrivals for each stop
  • don't compete with MTA
  • connect parking peripheral to downtown and the edges of inner neighborhoods with downtown jobs, institutions and shopping
  • have it paid by parking taxes, business support and grants
  • integrate it with other transit and the water taxi (Harbor Connector)
It is the money part where the trouble arises. Especially the Banner Line which was only instituted because of the festivities around the war of 1812 and the difficulty of getting to Fort McHenry is bleeding red after the one time federal grant ran out. Should the line be cancelled? Probably not, because Locust Point is a public transit diaspora even though it is growing rapidly. But there are big beneficiaries like McHenry Row, Under Armour and Bozzutto (currently constructing the Anthem Building), to just name a few, all should chip in for the service.

The same is true for the recently extended Purple Line going north on Charles Street which now doesn't end at Penn Station but goes all the way to Hopkins. Since Midtown is also growing, this makes sense. But again, the businesses and institutions who benefit from the service should pay, especially Hopkins which, instead, is running its own bus shuttle up Charles Street. This duplication makes no sense. Besides, Hopkins which runs the 21st Century Cities Initiative operates the oldest, noisiest jalopy buses it can find. It would be much better off with DOT's modern Charm bus.

Even less sense makes it that the Waterfront Partnership and Beatty Development run their own by reservation-only shuttle bus service from the Horseshoe Casino to HarborPoint. It would be so much more sensible to make this financial commitment to the Circulator and adjust the Circulator service so it can benefit from the abundant Horseshoe and Stadium Parking and at the same time serve Baltimore's interurban bus station just recently completed south of the casino. 

The entire ball of wax how the City can run a complimentary and a complementary bus service that demonstrates best practice and complements the MTA CityLink system is a great case for the new Director of Transportation the new Mayor has to appoint. 
Paris Mayor Hidalgo (photo: Ed Alcock)

With MTA's CityLink, the Charm City Circulator, the new bike-share  system and the new much more robust water taxi soon to be run by Sagamore, Baltimore can truly shine as a city with progressive transportation solutions.

The future Mayor can take a page from Paris' Mayor Anne Hidalgo, a women that has taking on the automobile that is choking Paris. Her mayoral vehicle: An electric Renault, not America's standard edition black tinted glass GM Suburban that passes in an astounding uniformity equally as a gangster, a secret service and a politician vehicle; either way a monstrous gas guzzler, that embodies a lot with what is currently wrong with America. 
Hidalgo is clear that housing and pollution are the twin prongs of her mayoral mandate – and the keys to achieving greater social equality in Paris. Following the success of last September’s first car-free day, this summer a large stretch of highway along the Seine will be closed to vehicles, and eventually transformed into a pedestrian walkway from the Bastille to the Eiffel Tower. The most polluting cars are to be progressively banned from the city [...and making] public transport electric by 2030. (the Guardian 15, April 2016).
There is much more in Hidalgo's agenda that could and should be applied in Baltimore. She tells the Guardian that “After the attacks, there was suddenly a sense of community, of closeness; a need to stand up and be together. I felt that change in people and I can still feel it. It fills me with hope.”

Baltimore after the unrest of 2015 is at a similar juncture in its history. The new Mayor has a unique chance to be equally decisive. Baltimore deserves nothing less. The Charm City Circulator is as good a start as any. make it beneficial to many and be paid by the few who can.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Friday, October 21, 2016

Will there even be schools in the future?

The future of schools was the topic of AIA's Education Committee convening at the new Westowne Elementary School in Catonsville.

The brandnew school looks quite familiar (and I don't mean because it has an almost identical twin in Owings Mills in the Lyons Mill ES there): hallways of painted concrete block, steel lockers, cafeteria and gym side by side and somewhat interchangeable, an intercom blaring instructions to the little students when to line up for their buses. "Melbrook bus riders please prepare for dismissal"

"Ingleside bus riders this is your last call".

Westowne ES,  Catonsville

On second glance and with the help of tour guide from GWOO architects innovations came into focus: Soft seating sofas, beanbags, wiggle balls to sit on, neighborhoods ordered according to age groups and "pods". There is a roofdeck for outdoor activities and a green roof as well. Daylight and brightness are clearly emphasized.

In the panel discussion experts from the State Department of Education, the County School system, the school and from Towson State were on hand to discuss the relationships between pedagogies, curriculum, technology and space. Issues, opinions and predictions galore. In today's eduction  world even an elementary school has a vision and a mission.

Westowne Elementary Vision

Westowne Elementary School envisions a safe, nurturing, and personalized learning environment that is student-centered, collaborative, and enhanced by digital resources which engages and empowers all students to become lifelong learners and achieve within a globally competitive society.

Westowne Elementary Mission

Westowne Elementary School is committed to educating the whole child, while providing a safe and nurturing environment that promotes a passion for lifelong learning, respect for self, others, the learning environment and an appreciation for individual differences.

In County schools each student will get one of those touch screen tablets. Will technology take over? Will it enable the students to work according to her own pace, style and methods or will those devices force students that don't do well with them into something that doesn't help them to learn? Will the tablet be the Trojan horse of private learning industry in the classroom allowing them to glean tons of data to assess not only the student but her family?  Professor Morna McDermott of Towson University was very vocal in her concern that schools will slip from the public sector into privatization in the name of cost saving and societal needs. Academic brokers often online entrepreneurs could take over. She explained how the industrial style assembly line school is being replaced by the service industry style school with its openness, collaboration and interdisciplinary mingling. But she is concerned that the next step will be the end of the public school.

Media Center and library

Jim Determan of HCM Architects mentioned the famous mantra of learning center environments instead of teacher centered ones and the four C's of 21st century learning: critical thinking, communication, collaboration, and creativity.

Plenty of terms flew around the room: "The Every Students Succeeds Act (ESSA)", digital conversion, learner centered classroom, universal design of learning, project-based learning, compentency based teaching and the teacher as a facilitator. It sounded as if all those elementary kids would have to enter a college tomorrow and a job the day after.

For my own taste, the issue of "developmental appropriateness" mentioned by McDermott once in passing got short thrift. From my experience in designing schools in Germany, learning from my own children and grandchildren and influence from a cousin who is an architect for Waldorf Schools overseas, from that perspective one would begin the entire pedagogy and space question with the emotional needs and well being of the child.

If one did this, concrete block walls and steel lockers, teachers talking over a microphone to their students in the classroom so they sound like robots and spaces that are so flexible that everything is on wheels would be out of the question just as much as those airport style stress inducing bus boarding instructions. At least for elementary school students, especially in a time where the family and unstructured activity have become an ever smaller part in the day of a child. But as

Concrete block, steel lockers in long hallways 

Westowne wound up with an extreme example of this desire to build flexible shells that can be Elementary Schools today and a Middle School tomorrow. According to Principal Scott Palmer, the new school wound up with expensively furnished science rooms that are not usable for small children who experiment with cardboard and play dough. The science rooms are equipped with real science tables, storage for chemicals and exhaust hoods. They will be changed in favor of what schools now call "Maker Spaces". Schools certainly pick up on fashionable language.

Raising a child, though, should follow far less ephemeral values and those, reflected in architecture, are supposed to stand the test in time.

I left encouraged that schools are trying to adjust to new realities but not sure that current trends don't loose sight of the forest for all the trees.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Correction: The name of the school Principal is John Palmer. Mike Archbald is a member of the Design Office of Engineering and Construction at Baltimore County Public Schools. He moderated the discussion.

Classroom: teacher speaks through a mike

color tiles as "neighborhood" identifiers

soft seating: Popular hangouts in the pod

Neighborhood pod

Big gym for small people

The cafeteria looks like the gym: Huge for a six year old

group notes

hallway art as an attempt of taking possession of the space

Group notes

First Floor

Second Floor

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Gameplan for Revitalization

Rarely have a bunch of agency leaders spoken more cogently about the revitalization of Baltimore neighborhoods than at CPHA's event at the University of Baltimore on Wednesday. But rarely was the lack of an actual community representative on the panel more obvious, given the C in the organization's name.
Rehabilitated Houses In Barclay

So in the end, the observation that revitalization of neighborhoods needs to be about people and not just "value" of buildings (as in "Vacants to Value") had to come from the audience. The event was well attended by young and older folks, students and some prominent figures such as Barbara Samuels of the ACLU and Bob Embry of the Abell Foundation.

The forum was part of CPHA's great idea of conducting a series of discussions in which various topics get illuminated and evaluated to then summarize them as a transition document for the new Mayor. Revitalization this week, Inclusionary Housing and Tax Increment Financing were past forums, CitiStat and LinkBus are still to come (See below this article). Jayne Miller from WBAL is usually the moderator, and she, too is great in doing that, well informed and firm in her discussion management.

In Wednesday's forum Tom Stosur explained the Green Network Plan, Julia Day Vacants to Values (V2V) and Carol Gilbert from the State Department of Housing and Community Development explained Project CORE. Council district 9 candidate John Bullock and Delegate Antonio Haynes from the 40th were also panelists, maybe they were the community stand-ins.
Concentration of vacants in the "butterfly wings" with the "white L" in the

Stosur showed on the maps the by now familar patterns of the "white L" with the affluent communities in the center of the city along a north south axis and the "black butterfly" in the shape of wings that represent east and west Baltimore's disenfranchised communities. (He did not use those terms, though). He overlaid that map with one showing where the green spaces and parks are and explained that the goal of the green plan is to connect the inner neighborhoods "up to the green infrastructure".

He observed that "most abandoned properties are clustered where there is the least green infrastructure". The hypothesis of the green plan is that strategic green spaces can serve environmental purposes and spur revitalization. Biohabitat is one of the expert consultants. The goal is a "single blueprint as a framework to bring a whole array of partners together." At this point the team is looking at three focus areas, Shipley Hill, Broadway East/ Gay Street Corridor, and Sandtown/Harlem Park. Apparently those areas showed the most potential to deliver on the noted goals. A draft of the plan will be done in March, a complete document in May 2017. That, too is admirable for its speed. Of course, nobody knows who the new Planning Director will be under the new Mayor and if those dates will hold.

Julia Day as a deputy director at City Housing may sit less on a hot seat than her boss Paul Graziano whom all mayoral candidates vowed to replace. She strikes me as very knowledgeable and a good candidate to carry the institutional memory of those things forward that work reasonably well at Housing, such as the by now pretty well calibrated V2V program.

"We are looking for whole block solutions", Day said. "Our preference is preservation". She explained that the department has the right of eminent domain and the power to relocate people but that clearing and relocation cost massive amounts of money and time.
She pointed to the successful neighborhoods that were considered hopeless only a decade back.
Oliver is a positive example, a community that came together under then Mayor O'Malley and after the horrific fire bombing of the Dawson family in Oliver where mother and children perished in the heinous crime. Oliver is a case that shows that community and people must come first along with the goal of rebuilding, not relocation and not demolition. Day also pointed to Broadway. "I bet you" she said, "In two years there won't be a vacant building on Broadway". She added that she is very optimistic about revitalization in Baltimore. She and Stosur agreed that Baltimore is in "a sweet spot" between New York and Washington with a booming Philly to the north.
Demolition on Stricker Street: The preservationists opposed it
(photo: Philipsen)

Carol Gilbert, Assistant Secretary of the State's HCDC who survived the transition from O'Malley to Hogan pointed to the "unprecedented amount of State money" now set aside for neighborhood revitalization. "State and City have a terrific budget to do good things, not just demolition.", Gilbert said. The project is called CORE and had just received 77 applications for use of the funds, many for demolition in favor of future development. Gilbert noted that the State is committed to the highest standards of hazard mitigation when it comes to demolition. Neighbors will get one month notice prior to demolition. Stabilization can also be funded by CORE funds and has also received a good number applications. Gilbert said that at least 10% of the $76 million will be used fro stabilization. The Baltimore Regional Neighborhoods Initiative has a funding commitment of $65 million in five years. The Community Legacy program gets $6 Million.

John Bullock was the only one who spoke about race and class and also noted how important transportation is.. But he also identified as the largest obstacle for revitalization "the market", or better its absence. 
Cost played a big role in the discussion. Who can afford rehabilitation, what about people already in the community? In the current economic system the high cost for rehabilitation of vacant and dilapidated rowhouses (somewhere between $120,000 to $250,000, depending on size) is a big obstacle for homeowners and developers alike. Either a subsidy is needed or the value that a building gains after it is fixed up has riesen enough to justify the expense.

As Bob Embry (who was Housing Commissioner when the Dollar House Program was active) pointed out, even if someone gets a house for $1, that person won't get around the cost of renovation. Capital that is hard to come by.
Community celebration in Oliver's Bernard Harris ES
(photo: Kaitlin Newman / Baltimore Sun)

Clearly, neither the City nor the State have the funds to subsidize the renovation of more than 16,000 vacant houses. This leaves only the option to achieve a market in which the cost of renovation and the resulting building value will come into balance, i.e. a market gets created. As Bob Embry remarked, "you cannot invest $200,000 in a house when its neighbor is only worth $10,000."

The Barclay neighborhood with TRF and Telesis as developers have demonstrated how capital can be brought to the table when there is a real strategy. Vacants even in a distressed neighborhood can be drastically reduced and property values be brought up with a plan.

Sean Closkey, President of TRF Redevelopment Partners was not on the panel, but he can explain revitalization better than anybody.  In a workshop at the V2V conference last year he outlined the strategies in very clear language: “People may see [the vacant houses] as a vacancy problem but it is an economic problem. The only way it can be reversed it is to get the private sector engaged. There must be a scale and a sequence to intervention.” He speaks of “catalytic investments” that were made with investment funds and by the non profits in the partnership (TRF raised and invested $65 million in Baltimore), “after which non-profits need to fade out and for-profits need to come in.” He said then: “Don't chase the price. Offer something you don't get elsewhere in the city.” 

But some community members in the audience observed, price matters. Value increase brings affordability issues with it, especially for renters that must be addressed through affordable housing programs, co-ops and community land trusts, solutions that were not presented by the panelists.

Southway Builders' CEO Willy Moore wrapped the discussion up: "success is where there is a plan. The scattershot approach isn't effective".

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

CPHA'snext forum will be on improving Baltimore’s nationally recognized CitiStat system. This forum will be held on Wednesday, October 26 from 4pm-6pm. 

Click here to register

The final forum will be on the redesign of Baltimore’s bus system known asBaltimoreLink. We’ll talk about its strengths, weaknesses, and how it can be improved. This forum will be on Wednesday, November 2 from 4pm-6pm.

Click here to register

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Designed in Baltimore

An all Texan jury under the leadership of former UT Austin architecture Dean Larry Speck gave Baltimore's architectural community high praise last week when he announced the winner of year's design awards. Ten honorable mentions and ten design awards, that's a lot of awards. Speck said that the jury just had to do it, there were so many good entries across so many firms. "That is unusual", he says, "most places where I am juror a small number of firms gets all the awards"
Reopened: Front entrance of the BMA
(photo: Philipsen)

Non architects and some architects as well would find it hard to believe. Baltimore isn't exactly known for new and bold architecture. Yes, architecture is often brought up as one of the bright spots of Baltimore, but usually people refer to the many historic jewels the City has, from the Peabody Library to the Basilica of the Assumption and from the First National Bank Tower on Light Street to the former B&O headquarters on Charles.

Given the rich panoply of historic architecture it isn't surprising then, that Baltimore's claim to fame in architecture is rehabilitation and adaptive re-use, the ability to renovate old spaces in fabulous ways that are authentic and particular to Baltimore.

In that vein, the grand design award winner is Ziger Snead Architects for their BMA renovation. The jury praised the design approach profusely:
"This was a difficult project to accomplish and the design team did an amazing job. It is clear that the experience of the visitor is central to the project’s design goals. The transformation of the entry and reopening of the original entrance is outstanding. It is very hard to insert new elements, systems, and materials in a way that doesn’t detract from the art. The new interventions are very sensitive. It takes strength to look back and unravel past decisions and reset the institution."
Front Lobby of the BMA (photo: Karl Connolly)
The grand award and its reasoning is a long way from the standard expectation that many people have about architects as people who only care about glossy pictures of their designs in esoteric magazines.

Architecture that doesn't care about people or function and is obsessed with style is on the decline. Design thinking is on the rise. In the new approach architecture is achieved not so much by lone artists but by interdisciplinary teams who obtain high levels of knowledge about what happens in a building, who uses it and how it fits in its setting.

Ziger-Snead received the most awards in the 2016 season, closely followed by Ayers Saint Gross. The Ziger-Snead team also received an award for the Parks and People headquarters near Druid Park for precisely how well they hid the large new construction program so the historic building can shine. Another award went to the Friends School addition of a performing arts center and to the renovation of the Center Theater on North Avenue, now the Impact Hub.
Parks and People Headquarters
(photo: Karl Connolly)

Ziger Snead's probably most recognizable building in Baltimore is the Brown Center on MICA's campus that the firm did in collaboration with Charles Brickbauer a building that some may think fits the description of the crazy solitaire until they hear the very careful orchestration that the colors, shape and placement of the building received.

Congratulations to Ziger Snead for their sensitive and people centered approach to architectural design!

For a full list of all awards go to the AIA website 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Frriends School, Baltimore Performing Arts Center
(photo: Karl Connolly)