Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Mayor Pugh's agenda

Last Friday the Mayor held a press conference on the occasion of receiving a 68-page transition report from 10 topic teams who had labored over their report elements since before Christmas. As always, the folks on the subcommittees hoped that their product won't "sit on a shelf and gather dust"; but exactly that is what usually happens with transition papers.

Some of those reports become precedents for others. Members of Pugh's transition team were to look at Philadelphia's transition report, Oakland's transportation report as good examples. Mayor Pugh likes to look at best practices elsewhere and learn from other cities and has the Bloomberg Philanthropies people help her do that. The group recently awarded Baltimore a three year $1.5 million grant to implement innovation.

That Pugh doesn't let transition reports be just paper weights became already apparent while the reports were still being compiled. In one instance, she herself had brought Janette Sadik Khan from Bloomberg Associates to Baltimore to report to the transportation team about complete streets and the tactical urbanism that Sadik Khan had employed as Transportation Commissioner in NYC, most famously at Times Square. Pugh sat in the room, and literally turned the table by telling them from the front of the room what she expected.  At the press conference the Mayor talked about the key recommendations of the report as if they were her own government agenda all along, while the team leaders stood behind her more like decoration, In her remarks Pugh was dusting off O'Malley's slogan of making Baltimore the "the greatest city in America".
Mayor Pugh speaking about the recommendations of the Transition Report

The previous Mayor had installed an online transition tracker that can still be accessed and shows a few items as completed and many others "in progress". Mayor Pugh installed an online portal for citizen ideas, there is no word on updating the "tracker". Whatever ideas anybody submitted so far, they aren't visible online, nor is there any collation or summary or even a count of how many ideas were received in what area. If crowd-sourcing is intended as an innovation, the website needs a lot of help. Meanwhile, Housing, BDC and Transportation emerge as key areas for recommendations. The "jobs available" tab still lists the directors for Housing, Transportation and Parks as open, the application deadlines were originally provided as January 20 and then extended to February 17. After the previous Commissioner Graziano resigned under considerable pressure by Pugh, there only an acting Commissioner, but the still combined agency is in pretty good hands with Michael Braverman. Pugh told the BBJ that she is close to naming a new housing commissioner and that there are three finalists whom she will interview over the next few weeks. She expects to make a final decision in the next 30 to 45 days.

The press conference wasn't exactly mobbed but the relevant local media aren't all that numerous either. Only the BBJ did an actual article with what the take-aways of the report  are. Ken Burns reported on WYPR, now admitted again to the Mayor's circle after SRB banned him briefly for what appeared to be entirely bogus reasons. Burns pointed out that "there has been no transportation director since William Johnson left at the end of April 2016. The department has been under an interim leader since that time." Pugh  emphasized the collaboration between the state, feds and local government in her remarks without which transportation can't be done. Of course, even transportation is highly political as Hogan proved when he came into office and Baltimore briefly disappeared from his transportation map altogether. Maryland's largest transportation project ever, Baltimore's Red Line disappeared for good, at least under this Governor. It didn't matter then, that the region, and the feds had been in a perfect alignment and that the State under O'Malley had been, too. Elections have consequences as Baltimore can now see on the State and the federal level, even if Pugh feels she can get along well with Hogan and maybe even the new President.
Transition team members standing with the Mayor for the photo opp
Additional advice comes from CPHA, the Baltimore Citizen, Planning and Housing Association which last fall had conducted a series of topic oriented sessions at the University of Baltimore.  They distilled ideas and recommendations for the Mayor under the title A Bigger, Better, and Bolder Baltimore: The key recommendations are:
  • Develop One Overarching Plan for Baltimore’s Future and better coordinate the scattering of single issue plans across City Government.
  • Emphasize transparency and accountability across City Government with CitiStat 2.0.
  • Develop a City Transportation Strategy.
  • Improve transparency and community engagement in approving Tax Increment Financing packages and other public incentives for community and economic development.
  • Build on the City’s Vacants to Value program to provide housing to more Baltimoreans, repurpose land where appropriate, and generally revitalize our neighborhoods and environment. 
  • Improve the City’s Inclusionary Housing Ordinance so that is actually products affordable units.
  • Word Cloud for transportation as part of CPHA workshops
"Baltimore is at a crossroads. It is hard to think of a time in recent history where our challenges and opportunities are so clear, and right at a major turnover in city government,... To date little has been outlined by the new Baltimore city administration in terms of a new path forward for community and economic development, transit, housing, and planning...bold strategies are needed to move our city forward for everyone. They need broad input, implementation, and then relentless follow-up." (CPHA report).
One of CPHA recommendations is to plan projects and initiatives across departments instead of the traditional department-based approach. The real world doesn't conform to those bureaucratic boundaries and a project-based approach would yield better results in many cases. This is an idea Mayor Pugh has already implemented in her new crime fighting strategy in which all departments, not just police, were asked by her about how they can contribute to crime fighting.

CPHA's forums did not reach a clear conclusion regarding TIF's reflecting the divided Baltimore citizenship. CPHA recommends this for tax increment financing:
While some organizations and citizens will always take a stance of opposition, CPHA’s forum highlights that many potentially supportive citizens don’t feel adequately briefed on Tax Increment Financing, a complicated development financing tool. However, they might be more supportive of development projects if individual incentives like TIFs or Payments in Lieu of Taxes (PILOTs) were fully explained and linked to the City’s goals. 
● Action: the City should establish a formalized, objective and open process for the public to assess the merit of future incentive projects over a certain capital threshold, increase transparency, and document the success and status of previous incentive projects
In his Monday column Dan Rodricks quoted a reader who expressed impatience with the new Mayor. 
"It has been nearly three months since she was sworn in and I have yet to hear any articulation of her plans for the city. What issues motivate her? What initiatives does she have planned?" (SUN)
If we look to Washington one can certainly see a whole lot of action in just a few weeks. However, given the fragile state of Baltimore, action aimed simply at destabilizing the current order is hardly what this city needs. A prudent, careful and informed approach is probably more productive. Catherine Pugh has shown some innovative actions, including when she packed her entire cabinet into a bus and drove them to Sandtown. This creative high energy level needs to continue. While City government doesn't need to be destabilized, keeping the pressure up on departments is necessary. Hopefully these transition reports can provide the Mayor with ammunition.

Right now the Mayor is under pressure to resolve the school funding crisis. The education chapter of the transition report stresses the importance of the schools and has many recommendations what the schools should provide but no recommendation how to pay for it. CPHA's slogan of Bigger, better and bolder holds the answer. Bigger means, more students, and that means more money for schools.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The author was a member of the Transportation Subcommittee of the Transition team.

Video of the Press Conference
Complete Transition Report


Sunday, February 26, 2017

The case for speed and red light cameras

Mayor Pugh indicated that she wants to have the Baltimore red-light and speed cameras up and running again by the end of the year,“We want our children to feel safe crossing our streets. We want you to feel safe crossing the street,, as she told WBFF, the local Fox channel.
Baltimore City Red Light cameras: Out of use for years
Following the interview with the Mayor, Fox 45 had the comments of a "highway engineer" who is the head of Simmers Highway Associates (SHA), a cute take on the State Highway Adminsitration, also abbreviated SHA. He predicted that "these cameras won't be anymore reliable than the previous ones and that they never will", a commentary in line with the stand that this TV station held for a long time, namely that government is greedy and too incompetent to run anything correctly. In line with that thinking is also the "Maryland Drivers Alliance (Motto: Defending Motorist Rights in the "Free" State) which supports Maryland House-Bill 536 to repeal speed cameras altogether. The Drivers Alliance explains:
Speed cameras have been particularly criticized since 2012 when it was discovered that Baltimore City has erroneously cited thousands of innocent motorists for speeding.   The city's own audit found that as many as 10% of all citations were due to errors, meaning 1 in 10 motorists cited were actually innocent of what they were accused of.  Cases included documented examples of "speeding" vehicles that were not even moving, and large trucks falsely cited for traveling twice their actual speed.  Local governments and speed camera contractors had previously lied, telling the public that their equipment could not be wrong because it was "tested and calibrated", and that "if you don't speed you won't get a ticket", even though speed camera vendor Xerox later needed to acknowledge that even properly calibrated equipment could be subject to what they called "radar effects".   Similar errors have been reported elsewhere in the state, including in College ParkBrentwoodNew Carrollton, Forest HeightsCheverly, and Montgomery County.
Speed cameras and red light cameras were permitted in Maryland by enabling bills that had been passed in 2006 (for Montgomery County) and 2009 (for all of Maryland). Currently 46 jurisdictions have cameras installed or operating, including the inactive system in Baltimore City). Total revenues in 2015 were $57 million.
Speed cameras: Common in Maryalnd

A  bill to repeal the cameras was first introduced in 2016 never got out of House and Senate committees and didn't reach "the floor" for a vote. The State's "Fiscal Note" attached to the bill explains the impact that the bill would have on State revenues (the State operates speed cameras in work zones):
A reliable estimate of the decrease in TTF and special fund revenues and related enforcement costs cannot be made due to uncertainty regarding the number of paid future work zone speed control system citations. In fiscal 2016, about $9.1 million was collected from the payment of citations generated by work zone speed control systems. Revenues have generally decreased as compliance has increased. For instance, in fiscal 2015, about $13.3 million was collected from citations generated by work zone speed control systems, compared to $14.9 million in fiscal 2014 and $16.4 million in fiscal 2013.(Fiscal Note)
Cameras in work zones especially on freeways and Interstates were set up after several crashes caused by speeding drivers plowing into work zones and killing work crew members.
The fiscal notes continues to discuss local revenues:
Red Light cameras in Maryland
In fiscal 2015 (the most recent year for which complete data is available), 46 local jurisdictions generated speed monitoring system fine revenues of about $57.0 million, of which just under half ($28.2 million) was retained by local jurisdictions for public safety programs after recovery of the costs of implementing the systems. This does not include revenues or expenditures for several counties that operate both speed monitoring and red light camera programs. For example, Montgomery County estimates that red light citation revenues decline by $4.1 million in fiscal 2018, in addition to a $17.2 million decline in speed camera citation payments. 
Those who want to repeal the right of speed and red light enforcement via automated cameras tend to talk a lot about "big brother" and that the cameras only serve the purpose of creating extra revenue. While the revenues from fines are really high,  the amount of violations is really what people should be talking about. In Maryland the individual fines are limited to $40 a pop for speeding and $100 for running a light, because camera tickets are treated as minor civil infractions (like parking tickets, meaning the fine is issued to the vehicle holder rather than the actual driver). To consider the violations criminal infractions the actual vehicle operator would have to be photographed along with the license plate. Many other countries photograph the driver and can assign fines based on moving violations just like an officer could that would actually stop a vehicle and identify the driver.
Speed enforcement Switzerland

To collect $57 million out of those fines a whopping 840,000 motorists ran red lights or sped in excess of 12 mph above the speed limit assuming an average fine of $70. Given that these cameras are mostly installed at high crash intersections, in school-zones and at construction zones and that in the latter two they are only allowed to operate when schools are in session or work is being performed, we really have a violation problem and not an enforcement problem.

Anybody who has set foot into Baltimore during the last two years when all cameras where set to the "off" position can attest to ruthless driving, running red lights and excessive speeding. Hoping that somebody would stop at a crosswalk that has no signal is like waiting for snow in August. Drivers are texting and telephoning while driving with impunity, the turn cutting off pedestrians legally in the crosswalk and having the right of way, they pass bicyclists within inches instead of feet and pass school buses that have red flashers on. The police is understaffed and overworked, the green vest DOT traffic controllers have no enforcement powers.

Baltimore's and the State's traffic safety record has suffered in recent years with an increase in fatalities after years of decrease. Between 2014 and 2015 Baltimore traffic fatalities increased from 29 to 39, a 34% increase! Statewide fatalities increased by 15%. The causes are not entirely clear but are suspected to be related to increased speed limits on freeways, an increase in driving from the drop in fuel prices and distracted driving from smart phones.
Speed enforcement England

International studies show clearly that speed and safety are directly related and that exceeding the mean driving speed in any given situation is especially dangerous.
The research literature makes it clear that illegal speed increases both crash risk and crash severity. There is also substantial evidence that speed cameras reduce speeding. Consequently, research finds that speed cameras reduce crashes and crash severity. (Center for Transportation Safety Texas Transportation Institute 2006).
So why wouldn't automatic cameras be an appropriate solution to at least a small part of the problem? The discussion about privacy and accuracy is mostly a red herring to avert from the underlying issue. Law abiding citizens that drive reasonably within the speed limits and don't run red lights are not affected at all. Pedestrians or bicyclists are not affected either In fact, they and their safety are the main beneficiaries especially of cameras installed in school zones or signalized intersections. Montgomery County was subject of a seven year study with these findings:
Cameras have reduced by 59 percent the likelihood of a driver exceeding the speed limit by more than 10 mph, compared with similar roads in two nearby Virginia counties that don't have speed cameras, the latest study found.
The researchers also looked at crashes on camera-eligible roads in Montgomery County, relative to comparison roads in Virginia. They found that the camera program resulted in a 19 percent reduction in the likelihood that a crash would involve a fatality or an incapacitating injury, as reported by a police officer on the scene.
"Speed cameras get drivers to ease off the accelerator, and crashes are less likely to be deadly at lower speeds," Lund says. "This study connects the dots to show that speed cameras save lives." (Study)
Radar based speed and red light cameras have been in use in Europe since the 70s. They are so common in England and Germany, that speeding in speed restricted zones or red line running is quite uncommon. The fines are hundreds of dollars and include points.

The technology has certainly been refined to a point where proper calibration is possible and achievable. All the Mayor has to do is decouple the fees for the private companies running the systems from the total amount collected, i.e. provide no incentive to increase the number of violations through any type of manipulation. It is curious why precisely those who always spout off about law and order would be the ones trying to take down effective enforcement.

Baltimore urgently needs the cameras back in use and the statewide bill should once again be defeated in the interest of safety.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Insurance study report

Friday, February 24, 2017

The Hutzler Palace standing its Ground

SUN reporter Tim Smith has it right: Seen from today's perspective the first floor of the Hutzler "Palace" doesn't look as impressive anymore. And that isn't just because it lost its luster during the 28 years it has sat unused but also because the expectations of what impressive retail looks like have risen far beyond their modest levels during the 50s when Howard and Lexington represented the height of glitz.
That space looks modest-sized now, and far from fancy. A few of the original white columns remain, but little else to recall its golden age. "The Ground" makes an impressive contrast to the plain surroundings. (Tim Smith in the SUN)
Hutzler Palace entrance today (photo: ArchPlan)
That is helpful to remember when one enters to see the pop-up use that the Contemporary has installed on the first floor of the "Palace". It is also useful to remember when one considers the future of Howard Street altogether or when one waxes poetic about how glorious the past was. Retail then wasn't any more glorious than a 1956 Packard or a Zenith TV from that time. Not to mention that black people weren't allowed to use the changing rooms.

Change, shifting perspectives, transformation, birth and rebirth; its all in the bright white installation that bisects the former department store floor, the work of New York artist Michael Jones McKean and set up by the Contemporary with a $10k grant from the Downtown Partnership.

It was quite exciting to see the "Palace" doors open again on Saturday night and hundreds of folks that would usually not set foot on Howard Street mill about and explore what the clever installation had to offer.
Exhibit visitors viewing the art displays
(photo: ArchPlan)

In spite of the somewhat disappointing smallness of the palatial  space, it is clear that the building from 1888 architecturally is a bigger star than Hutzler's adjacent building erected almost a hundred years later in a last ditch effort to save the downtown location shortly before the department store closed its doors for good. (There are additional bigger old Hutzler structures north of the Palace, also vacant.

The "Palace" has good bones; it would be extremely unlikely to see a rebirth as a department store, but it could be a lot of other things, at least that is what its owner Deepak Jain thinks who is also the CEO of AiNET and was among the exhibit opening crowd.

AiNET was originally after the unimaginative new Hutzler building at the corner of Lexington Street because it hasn't stood vacant since 1988 but had found a new lease on life as a place that houses switchgear for data lines, the stuff Deepak Jain cares about in his main job. I toured the new Hutzler building once more than ten years back when I investigated the possibility of connecting the Lexington Market metro station with Light Rail on Howard Street through the lower level of the 80s addition. An amazing site, entire floors filled with humming electrical gear that directs and powers low voltage data streams running along Howard Street, reportedly a quarter of the world's Internet data streams. In spite of such prominence in the data flow, Baltimore doesn't offer fiber optic (FIOS) data service. Some recent downtown digging may change the fiber optic diaspora of  Baltimore. Jain's interest in the old Palace may bring it back to life for good. Apparently he has set aside $5 million to do that. Ideas will be discussed in the event noted at the bottom.
the display structure inside the "palace"(photo: ArchPlan)

Kirby Fowler, never tiring downtown booster was among the guests at the Hutzler show and he was beaming: All the people, the Hippodrome had a show and the Everyman as well. And the AiNET founder which he pointed him out to me alluding to his great ideas what do with the building. Ed Gunts wrote a comprehensive report about the evening and program ideas for future use in the Fishbowl. The SUN wrote a glowing review of the art exhibit itself, so did the Baltimore Magazine. Art fulfilled its role as a pioneer once again.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA


AiNET and The Contemporary will hold a community forum to discuss ideas for the building and the arts district on March 15, from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m., in the street-level exhibit space.
Participants will include Richard Barth, Dean of the University of Maryland’s School of Social Work; Anita Kassoff, executive director of the Baltimore Museum of Industry; Will Holman, the general manager of Open Works, a maker space on Greenmount Avenue; Deepak Jain, AiNET’s founder and president; and representatives from The Contemporary and the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore.

SUN article
Fishbowl Article

A bit of glitz in the gritty Westside: The Hippdrome as seen from restaurant Forno
(photo: Klaus Philipsen)

Thursday, February 23, 2017

Baltimore's new gateway signs

New BALTIMORE signs are popping up at a total of 18 locations around the city and have caused WBFF to report about this in a sensational manner at the top of their local news under the rubrum "Wastewatch". The reporters yak about the overall price tag of $275,000 and interview unsuspecting folks who guess what such a sign should cost ("$250?) and then get excited once they are told $12,000 (the cost per sign varies depending on which type it is). Cornered by the local Fox affiliate, Mayor Pugh, who is generally a friend of the arts simply said she wouldn't comment on stuff she had nothing to do with and which came down from a previous administration.
New sign pylons 2017 (Photo:Kevin Lynch)

The new signs are a result of a two tier selection process from which the well known Baltimore graphic design firm of David Ashton emerged as the winner in 2015. Ashton described their design approach as based on existing monumental BALTIMORE signs which will remain:
Built by Bethlehem Steel in the 1970s Baltimore's iconic 295 pylon sign provided us with the foundation for creating the city's new “gateway” signage family. That sign along with the 2 “slice” signs on the east and west side of the city are currently being restored. 
Back in 2015 Baltimore City issued a request for qualifications for a sign designer that would custom design new signs to be placed at the major entry points into the city.
The City of Baltimore, and the Baltimore Office of Promotion & The Arts (BOPA) in collaboration with the Baltimore City Department of Transportation (DOT) are seeking a qualified designer or team to lead the process of creating a new design and style guide for the City’s gateway signage. The goal of this project is to develop a set of design solutions and improvements that will ensure Baltimore’s gateways reflect the diversity and creativity that can be found throughout the City. 
Existing monumental sign on MD 295
The language is a bit flowery, but given that SHA does not post regulation type signs at jurisdictional boundaries that identify municipalities or counties, a helpful aid for orientation that is standard practice throughout Europe, each jurisdiction is left to its own devices.

Recognizing that the were already various of signs placed from previous administrations the RFQ anticipated that some of these signs would remain, be refreshed and some replaced.
The Iconic “BALTIMORE” signs will not be replaced and will remain in their current locations, but may be repainted as part of new style guide specifications. The Box signs will be removed and replaced. This may mean a similar sign format that utilizes new, more sustainable materials and new graphics, or a new sign style all together. The replacement signage solution does not need to be a uniform design.  “Outlier” signs will either be removed or replaced with the same signs used to replace the Box signs or re-designed as part of a contemporary Gateway Sign style guide developed by the artist and DOT. 
Regulation type signs for the County
Conceptual proposals that would make it in the second round received a stipend of $1500. The initial deadline for submissions was August 21, 2015, finalists were announced in September with the final designs due in October. The five finalist designers were:
  • Ashton Design (Baltimore) – a Baltimore based, multidisciplinary graphic design firm 
  • Krivanek +Breaux/ Art + Design (Chicago) - a team comprised of public artists and designers 
  • Jillian + M Design Design (Baltimore) - a team of two Baltimore-based designers Jillian Erhardt and Emily Goldstein with backgrounds in typography, signage and environmental design. 
  • Post Typography (Baltimore) - a Baltimore-based creative studio that specializes in graphic design, illustration, custom lettering and conceptual typography 
  • R& R Studios (Miami) - the collaborative office of Roberto Behar and Rosario Marquardt, a self-described “multidisciplinary practice of visual art, exhibition, architectural, and urban design.” 
    The sign family Ashton Design developed with a map of the locations   
The budget was provided as maximal $250,000. Ashton design was eventually selected late 2015 and the new signs are now being installed in early 2017. They nicely add to the existing older signs and give those an idea where the City limits are without entirely relying on the condition of the pavement as the sole indicator.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

RFQ for the gateway signs
South Baltimore News 


Ashton rendering


At the selection announcement: The Ashton team in front of one of the existing
monumental signs

Wednesday, February 22, 2017

Subtle and not so subtle housing discrimination

It doesn't take the infamous redlining maps of old any longer to keep certain renters concentrated in certain areas. Simply not accepting the vouchers commonly known as "section 8 vouchers" is another way.

Of the 6,261 families and individuals have housing vouchers in Baltimore County 90% are section 8 vouchers, the remaining 10% are shared between elderly, veterans and AIDS vouchers.
62% of those vouchers are concentrated in a few areas on the east and west of Baltimore County which include Woodlawn, Gwynn Oak, Windsor Mill, Randallstown and Pikesville on the west and Dundalk, Middle River, Essex, Rosedale and Sparrows Point on the east. Dundalk has the most vouchers of any community in the county, with 751 vouchers or 12% in one single ZIP code.
The darker, the better the opportunity index. Low opportunity areas easily expand  from
Baltimore City into Baltimore County 

So this year Baltimore County Delegate Steve Lafferty is repeating his heroic battle against discrimination which  failed in the 2016 early on in legislative session when the 2016 Home Act did not move forward after the first reader. 
"There's a lot of fear-mongering, and it's been going on for a long, long time"
Baltimore County Executive Kevin Kamenetz said last year. He wasn't commenting on Lafferty's statewide bill but on his own bill which he had introduced to the County Council barring voucher based discrimination for his county. His own bill failed in the Council with only one of the Council members voting for it, even though several other counties such as Howard, Montgomery and Frederick counties have similar laws in effect. Even the councilman who represents Dundalk, the district with the highest concentration of vouchers, voted against the bill which would have ensured a better distribution across the county. Some suspected at the time was that the Executive had just done some window dressing for the benefit of the settlement of a housing discrimination complaint negotiated between the county government and the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development.

This year's statewide bill, the Home Act, HB 172 sponsored by Delegates Lafferty and Macintosh, is still en route on its long way through the process in Annapolis. On 2/7 the bill was voted to move forward to another committee hearing. The bill specifically addresses discrimination based on source of income, i.e. nobody can reject a tenant application simply based on the fact that the tenant intends to use vouchers to pay (parts of) the rent. As before, housing and real estate agent associations are against the bill which would require landlords to consider section 8 voucher applications. Their arguments: It places additional administrative burdens on landlords because of additional inspections and paperwork and that there are limits on rent and security deposits and rent increases which need government approval, as do evictions. One of the objections which is frequently listed, rent insecurity is the opposite of the reality of vouchers. The public portion of the rent covered by the voucher is actually guaranteed.
National statistics of voucher recipients

There is solid evidence that tenants that have the ability to settle in "opportunity areas" with better schools, more jobs and a better housing stocks have a better chance of advancing and breaking out of poverty than those that are clusters in concentrations of poverty. Baltimore County that surrounds Baltimore City on three sides must be seen in the core city's context. Escaping high concentrations of poverty in the City often requires a move to the County. As long as the concentrations are replicated, although on a less extreme level, several of the ill effects of low opportunity areas will repeat themselves as well. The regional Opportunity Collaborative which has mapped the regional areas of high and low opportunity gave an inkling of that.
Vouchers sharply reduce homelessness and other hardships, lift more than a million people out of poverty, and give families an opportunity to move to safer, less poor neighborhoods. These effects, in turn, are closely linked to educational, developmental, and health benefits that can improve children’s long-term prospects and reduce costs in other public programs.

In addition, most voucher households that can reasonably be expected to work, do work. In 2014, 66 percent of non-elderly, non-disabled households using vouchers were working or had worked recently, while an additional 7 percent were likely subject to a work requirement under the Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF) program. Center on Budget and Policy Priorities
It remains to be seen whether the new winds from Washington will forge new majorities in Annapolis, whether policies that are oriented on protecting the socially disadvantaged will get more traction. Dundalk provided a good number of the so-called "Trump Democrats" in the last election. Democrats should learn from that.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

HB 172 Fiscal and Policy Notes
Capital News Service 
How to become a Section 8 Landlord

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

Poppleton's long journey

The Baltimore SUN headlined on April 14, 2014 "Poppleton Redevelopment Moves Forward". The article was premature by three years. "It's been a long time, I'm looking forward to it," commented Dorothy Page, a member of the Southwest Partnership, an umbrella group for local community organizations back then. Her words are relevant now.
After 11 years of starts and stops earth is being moved in Poppleton
(Photo: Philipsen)
The deal is now real. It "closed" on January 18 of this year and construction is presently underway. Multi Housing News reported in January what cut it lose: Bank Real Estate Capital has provided a $56.1 million financing for the construction of the first phase  dubbed Park Square Homes. The local office of the multinational architecture firm Gensler is the architect. The project has been long in the making.

The City provided La Cite a the master developer agreement for vast parts of Poppleton as far back as 2006. Six years later La Cite sued the City in 2012 when Housing tried to terminate the agreement for non-action on the side of the developer. But the two sides smoothed it over and after a second run the City approved another three years later a $58.3 million TIF in 2015. Poppleton has been sitting with acres and acres of fallow sites ever since. 

The first tranche of the TIF bonds were sold late last year and provided La Cite access to 12.25 million. The Sun reported in that context that the developer would put $15 million toward the project and that La Cite was seeking $45.8 million in state bonds and roughly $4.2 million in low-income housing tax credits. About $8.5 million of the city bonds would pay for public improvements, such as sidewalks, curbs and street paving, and a small park. At the time councilman Carl Stokes identified this TIF as one that follows the intended purpose of tax increment financing: Investment in distressed communities. Developer Larry Silverstein who sits on the Finance Board, which had to approve the TIF,  was less sure about the deal at the time and abstained. "It's half baked at this point", he told the SUN. An area stakeholder who doesn't want to go on record still shares this view.


An early massing model showing the scale of the redevelopment (Gensler)
The first phase of La Cite's multi-phase development is a six story 262 unit mixed use development with a $80 million price tag with 20% affordable housing for below 50% of AMI (Area Median Income).

According to the architect's website the overall project known as Center\West will build 3.2 million square feet creating approximately between 1,700 and 1,800 units of housing through four phases of construction. This includes approximately 293 units of rental housing and 1,200 units of residential homeownership, of which 321 will be town homes. Additionally, about 100,000-200,000 square feet of commercial space are planned to be located on the block between N. Schroeder and N. Amity Streets, extending from W. Baltimore to W. Lexington Street. Further elements of the overall plan are the creation of parking, municipal services, green space, hotels, a large shopping center, and office space. The full build-out is expected to take between 15 and 20 years". Bythewood said his firm is exploring speeding up that timeline.

Based on press releases Mayor Pugh offered cautious optimism “The development of the Poppleton neighborhood will provide much needed access to quality affordable housing and is an important part of the revitalization of our city” and so did La Cite chief Dan Bythewood. “At La Cité, we are motivated by opportunities to improve neighborhoods. We’re really excited to be part of that rebirth and contributing a significant amount of investment capital into west Baltimore.” the co-founder and president of the development firm' is reported to have said. More opportunity for comments on the importance of this development will come at the groundbreaking ceremony scheduled for this Thursday.

Earlier renderings of the planned development (Gensler)
A large mixed use development in a distressed community is, indeed, worth close observation. The only other time Baltimore could witness investment on that scale among a sea of abandonment was on the east-side near Hopkins as part of EBDI. There and here Baltimore's signature hospitals are the anchors, here and there a biotech park is the closest neighbor to new mixed use and housing. But unlike Hopkins at EBDI, the University of Maryland hospital is not a partner in the La Cite development.

Cecil Clarke, an area businessman who owns a number of properties south of the La Cite development area is happy to see the progress. He is fixing up a dozen rowhouses on Baltimore Street and is ready for more construction on Schroeder Street where he oversaw the demolition of one of his buildings which, as he said, had been a threat due to its poor condition. Now all that is left is a pile of rubble as in much of Poppleton.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

At the ground breaking Mayor Pugh, Council President Young, Housing Commissioner Breverman and Councilman Barnett had only nice things to say about La Cite and the project that took so long to commence. Below a few images.

Dan Bythewood jr., CEO of La Cite
(Photo: Philipsen)

Father and son Bythewood: Friendly with the Mayor
(Photo: Philipsen)

For the groundbreaking the fences received renderings
of the project (Photo: Philipsen)

Mayor Pugh: Investment in the neighborhoods
(Photo: Philipsen)

Preparing to "turn dirt": High heels and ties (Photo: Philipsen)
Previous article in this space: Held together by TIFs and bonds

Gensler project website


Monday, February 20, 2017

Maryland's forests are threatened - again!

"Forests have four major roles in climate change: they currently contribute about one-sixth of global carbon emissions when cleared, overused or degraded; they react sensitively to a changing climate; when managed sustainably, they produce wood-fuels as a benign alternative to fossil fuels; and finally, they have the potential to absorb about one-tenth of global carbon emissions projected for the first half of this century into their biomass, soils and products and store them - in principle in perpetuity." (Forestry and Climate Change) 
Landscapes in the American Northeast: Forests and Meadows
(photo: Philipsen)
"Europeans and their descendants modified forests for their benefit.[..] Paramount was the near-universal perspective that forests were either a threat that hid enemies, an obstacle to settlement, a resource to be converted to profit or all the above.
By 1850, the lowland forests of the Atlantic seaboard, New England and much of the Midwest had largely been cleared. By 1920, more than two-thirds of American forests had been leveled at least once, including the vast majority of eastern forests. Timber companies simply harvested the forest and moved on, from the Great Lakes to the South and across the West, leaving behind stumps, fire prone slash and dead or dying lumber towns.[...] Although deforestation continued apace, the overall decline in forest cover finally plateaued around 1920 [...] 
Now, in the 48 contiguous states, logging mainly takes place on lands that have been previously harvested, and agricultural land use has generally stabilized. Although a relatively small fraction of forest is currently being lost to urbanization, the amount is increasing, and none of it will be returned to forest anytime soon."  (American Forests)
Destruction of forest for development in Baltimore County (Photo: Phikipsen)
"We owe it to the next generation of Marylanders to continue to find innovative and cost effective ways to protect Maryland's environment" (Governor Hogan, 2017)

One would think that with an environmental agenda the protection of forests and mature trees would be a natural place to begin and the goal of "No net loss of forest" a common goal among all Marylanders. Especially if one considers the cumulative beneficial effects forests have as:
  • carbon sinks that absorb the harmful carbon dioxide before it can act as a greenhouse gas
  • stabilizers of soil absorbing moisture and preventing run off to wash soil away
  • water filters that take out pollutants such as nitrogen before it reaches waterways and the Bay
  • air coolers that lower temperatures through evaporation
  • dust filters that clean particles out of dirty air
  • economic benefit (Cecil County found that the County’s forests provide an economic benefit of approximately $12,000 per acre per year according to CBF).
  • recreational spaces that give people calm and spiritual reprieve 
House Bill 599, (Senate bill 365, sponsored by Senator Ron Young) is just doing that. But the Forest Conservation Act, which:
Destruction of Forest in Catonsville for the development of
the "Patapsco Preserve" (Photo: Philipsen)
  • Limits the exemption for energy generating facilities and utility lines that currently can clear forests with no replacement;
  • Requires an acre of reforestation for an acre of forest cleared for new, large-scale development; and
  • Provides additional flexibility for local governments to craft fee-in-lieu programs that reflect the forest lost to any particular project.
is by no means universally supported. For example, the Maryland Municipal League and MACO, the Association of Counties both oppose it. So did predictably, the realtors and developers (the Maryland Building Industry Association).
"Replanting acre for acre, there's not enough land in the state, really, to do that, we're not looking to cut down more trees than we have to. In many cases, development can improve the drainage and ecology of a site and actually create a better environment." Lori Graf, CEO of the Maryland Building Industry Association as reported by the SUN.
Homebuilders routinely use green space as the easiest path towards new development. They can't imagine a growing Maryland that isn't cutting down forests for homes and shopping centers, replicating a pattern that seems ingrained in the frontier mentality. As if the metropolitan landcsape wasn't marred by hundreds and thousands of acres of abandonment and decay of mostly failed commercial and industrial development. High time to be more frugal with our lands. No need to go into green spaces at all, and certainly not into forested ones.
Destruction of forest for development in Howard County (photo: Philipsen)

The argument that subdivisions create somehow a better environment than a forest is so ludicrous that one has to assign it to the fairyland of alternative facts that become ever more popular in Annapolis and Washington.

Anyone can see with their own eyes that forests are cut down for gas stations, McMansions and schools. Anyone can see the increased runoff resulting from development and the eroded streams that result from sudden runoff that forests can prevent. Ellicott City showed most dramatically the consequence of unfettered development in a watershed that had been historically largely forested.

An analysis of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation finds that more than 14,450 acres of Maryland's forests have disappeared to development in the past eight years, and that was a recession based low compared to the 7,000 acres of Maryland's tree canopy that vanished every year before the recession hit, according to the MD Department of Natural Resources. It doesn't take a rocket scientist to figure out that anything that causes annual net losses in forest cover is not sustainable, even before one accounts for the value of a mature forest that is lost compared to the skinny new trees that the reforestation act requires as a replacement.

Trees, and lots of them, the bigger the better, is one of the simplest way to combat climate change. Easier and by far more practical than carbon sequestration in the ground as discussed for coal power plants, simpler that wind-farms in the ocean and even simpler than solar panels on roof tops. Trees not cut do not only not release CO2 in the atmosphere, they absorb it and deliver clean oxygen instead.

If the folks that make money of cutting down mature forests can't even agree to a full replacement in terms of area (they can't replace size anyway), then any hope that we will ever save the planet from irreparable devastation from climate change will have to be buried. The industry quotes a cost of $302,000 per 100 acres, a minimal cost of only $1500 per house if one assume large half acre lots, less for higher densities. The benefits of saved forests are not only in the public interest, they actually accrue directly to the homes near forest through higher appreciation and value.

reforestation and restoration: Decades to grow (Photo EQR)
Interestingly, one of the most conservative jurisdictions in Maryland, has shown for decades how the matter can be handled responsibly: Carroll County requires developers to plant an acre of forest for each acre cleared during development. In the same eight years when the State lost 14,500 acres of forest Carroll has gained 64 acres of forestland according to the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. By contrast, according to CBF, Anne Arundel County allowed builders to clear an average of about 45 percent of all forests on their properties prior to construction, or 682 acres. The county required builders to replant only 61 acres in those years.

According to the SUN, Jonathan Bowman, Carroll County's forest conservation manager, said the mostly rural county set a high bar decades ago and didn't set up a fee system for developers but, instead, set up a forest bank where property owners can voluntarily reforest property, then sell the credits to developers who can't or won't replant on the one to one base the county requires.

16% of Marylanders place environmental protection at the top of the
challenges facing Maryland, 38% above average. (2015 poll)
Of course, some say that the state hasn't lost any forest-cover and base their assertion on some inconsistencies in how forest-cover is determined and calculated. This is a similar line of argument as the one that disputes man-made climate change, a distraction from what is needs to be done since the benefits of more forest cover are self evident.

The bill will be up for a hearing this Wednesday in Annapolis in the Committee for Environment and Transportation with
Delegate Kumar P. Barve as chair. 

Blue Water Baltimore, the Chesapeake Bay Foundation, the Thousand Friends of Maryalnd, the Choose Clean Water Coalition, the Maryland Chapter of the Sierra Club, the Maryland Forestry Association, the Maryland League of Conservation Voters, and the South River Federation support the bill. Individual testimony can be sent to legislators or the supporting organizations.
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Sponsor Senator Ronald Young e-mail: ronald.young@senate.state.md.us
Committee Chair Kumar Barve:e-mail: kumar.barve@house.state.md.us



Capital Gazette Guest Column about the Reforestation Act

Friday, February 17, 2017

Why manufacturing in Maryland matters

The Business Journal held an event title the Future of Manufacturing in the Museum of Industry, a contradiction that was probably intended, after all the new economy unfolds right in front of the museum's picture windows. The other irony, an entrepreneur of the future talking about the making of candles (Chesapeake Candles) was probably founded on the fact that the owner, Mei Xu, a Chinese immigrant illuminated vividly the reverse transfer of jobs from low wage countries back to the shores of the Bay.
Slogan or a useful strategy?

But manufacturing doesn't play a big role in Maryland's economy and many of the folks milling the reception at the museum were related to the financial industry or services, insurances etc which, combined, have long surpassed manufacturing in employment and contribution to the GDP.

Maryland's manufacturing share on the State's GDP is only 5.5% (2015) and its share of MD employment is only 3.8%. So why care about manufacturing? Is it really important to Baltimore or the State? Or the Country? Here some attempts to find an answer:

First, as I pointed out in my detailed piece about the future of work, manufacturing hasn't lost much of its importance in terms of its share in the GDP: A Brookings graph shows that between 1960 and 2010 manufacturing maintained a pretty stable share of about 12% of GDP. That is not high compared to Japan (18%) or Germany (23%) or South Korea, which has the highest rate of manufacturing among industrialized nations with 30%, but it is stable and significant, even if now only 8-10% work in manufacturing nationally.
Makerspace Baltimore: Open Works (Photo: Philipsen)

The precipitously diminished share of manufacturing in employment,  in other words, a lot fewer people making about the same amount of stuff that was always "made in America" should not make us believe that manufacturing in 2017 is less important than in 1960.

Constant share of GDP but lower share in employment (Brookings)
There are economical, technological and security reasons that make us pay attention to manufacturing. To touch on each very briefly:

Economy: As a country we need to balance our trade deficit as a means to reduce our national debt. A restructuring of our economy with less dependence on the financial market, less financing from other countries and more export of  manufactured goods is a good way to do that, as Germany and South Korea demonstrate.

Technology: Future industries need a foundation of sound basic manufacturing capability for anything that involves any physicality at all, from autonomous cars, robots, satellites, power plants to batteries, wind turbines and solar cells. Full dependence on software won't work  if there is no corresponding hardware capability.
Baltimore Company Blueprint Robotics: Machines from
Germany (Photo: Philipsen)

Security: One can make the same argument that has been made about farming: The ability of a country or region to grow food is important for resilience in crisis, whether it is a climate crisis or a security crisis. The ability to make essential stuff is equally important. There won't be a time soon in which we are not dependent on physical things to be at our disposal, trains, refrigerators, bricks, chainsaws or computer chips. I would go even as far as to say that each individual should be able to grow, make or repair something on a basic level.  Trade and specialization have driven progress for some time, that is good and well. But it also has made the entire complex networked system eminently vulnerable to attack, failure or malfunction for any number of reasons during peace, war or violent weather. While the vulnerability may have a peace-saving function, it should scare anybody how easy it is to bring down a fully networked society increasingly dependent on cloud-based data and satellite data transfer.
The new water taxi: Made in Baltimore (photo: Philipsen)

Finally, why Maryland? Aside from the region's strong manufacturing past which is still present in form of a lot of infrastructure suited for manufacturing (rail, a deep-water port, plenty of vacant warehouses, a culture tuned to making), the State has an unhealthy dependency on military and other federal spending. The high level of knowledge industry in Maryland should have an underpinning of high technology manufacturing that give the non physical products of bio-tech,and software development legs.

A resurgence of Made in Maryland that is more than most of the current gimmickry and is seriously promoted by Democrats and Republicans alike, would not be a pivot back to some smoke-stack past nor would it focus on simple consumer products like bath soap and candles, but a pivot forward to sophisticated goods can unite a divided country, mine the remnants of a skilled workforce still around, tap into highly educated Maryland graduates that tend to leave the State, and, not the last of it, can re-use a lot of the vacant hulls marring our landscapes. Fostering the ability of building stuff right here in the State has really no downside at all.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

CityLab article on manufacturing (the article appeared after this one)

Thursday, February 16, 2017

Mulberry at Park: Affordable Housing in the Westside

Mulberry Street from Greene Street to Cathedral Street is a difficult place to build, maybe even harder than West North Avenue (The Gateway Homes), Greenmount Avenue (The Lillian Jones Homes) or Howard Street (The M building at Howard and Madison) where other recent affordable housing projects were successfully completed. This section of the Westside is impacted by abandoned structures and vacancy on the entire block to the north of the project which has has not a single occupied building in it except for the Current Gallery which is open two days a week. Mulberry Street is also a narrow canyon of relentless traffic where curbs have been cut back close to the houses to make room for three lanes of traffic trying to get as fast as possible from the highway to nowhere ending at Greene Street to the Orleans Street Viaduct beginning after the St Paul Street signal. Another housing project planned a bit further west between Paca and Eutaw Street has been stalled for years over an impasse on cost and design.
Mulberry at Park: 68 affordable apartments now complete
(Photo: Philipsen)

It was therefore quite a surprise when Enterprise set out to knock out several vacant buildings on the south-side of Mulberry across the long since shuttered once famous Marticks restaurant and a condemned dilapidated one story parking garage. The project broke ground in July 2015, a few months after the unrest. It is now complete.

Marks Thomas architects selected a conventional brick facade design with paired vertical double hung windows that matching design elements found on still intact and active buildings on the south side of Mulberry east and west of the project. As a result the now finished building looks largely as if it had always been there.

The opening the building was marred by the relentless din of a bank of compressors pumping sewage from the various temporary surface pipes crisscrossing the area back into the pipes under Mulberry.
Barrels, sewage pipe and traffic: The public roam could use an upgrade
(Photo: Philipsen)

The 68 units, 34 one-bedroom, 27 two-bedroom and 7 three-bedroom apartments. which cost $22.3 million to build are limited to residents earning 60% of AMI (Average Median Income) or less. Per an earlier Enterprise press release Bank of America provided $15.8 million in construction financing, tax credit equity and permanent financing. Additional financing sources include the State of Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development with $1.5 million and Baltimore City with $870,000.
The rear is the southside
The units are arranged in a u-shape with the open side of the U in the back facing south with a deck sitting on the plinth of a service and parking garage. The rear of the building is clad in vinyl.
Habitat America provides on-site resident services.

Maybe the new apartment residents won't have to look very long across a scene of abandonment. BDC has undertaken several attempts of bringing the 400 block of Howard Street back to life. Negotiations with a few developers that would bring a bakery, a beer garden and more apartments and shops are still underway at the Development Corporation.

Meanwhile, 153 market rate apartments just north of the decrepit block are rapidly moving towards completion, another undertaking by the Time Group which also did 520 Park, apartments and the now popular Mount Vernon Market.  Time to look at the streets on the Westside as "complete streets" that support the investments in housing and provide a friendlier, more walkable environment.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Today, Feb 16 is Housing Advocacy Day in Annapolis
Enterprise project sheet


Rendering of the project at groundbreaking
(Marks Thomas Architects)