Friday, May 19, 2017

New construction: Hidden in plain view

Generally, even the most ardent architects, urban planners and construction geeks realize that the well-being of a city can't be soley measured by the number of cranes in the sky or by how much brick and mortar is laid down. Yet, biking around the central core of the city an architect can't avoid noticing construction in many places where a drive-by may not even reveal much. Hidden construction going on in plain view.

222. N Calvert Street. A canyon behind Mercy Hospital,
346 units, 430 parking spaces
Architect HCM, Baltimore

Hard to know which of these projects will make the City better. The more residents, the merrier, at least in a city that has shrunk so much. Of course, while the folks moving into these buildings may be genuinely new to Baltimore, they are balanced or even outnumbered by those moving out of neighborhoods that haven't seen enough TLC for some time, which points to the core of Baltimore's problem. While some investment and construction is reaching far beyond downtown and the waterfront, many neighborhoods are still losing residents because quality of life there is deteriorating.

How much construction is underway or planned with general info about a type project can be checked on the City's EconView map where projects can be filtered by type. The map clearly shows a strong concentration of activity in the center, but that would probably be true for any city these days. The conversion of obsolete vacant office spaces and temporary surface parking lots into apartments, hotels and condos slowly turns the mono-cultures of  the typical downtown of the 70's into what the real estate people never tire to call 24/7 neighborhoods, not a bad thing for a city.

The investment boom in downtown happens in many cities in the US and abroad. Change in assessed real estate values is highest in downtown, a reversal of fate from times when downtowns were the hole in the doughnut. Baltimore's fastest growing "neighborhood" is also downtown.

The fairly large number of apartment projects even in still shrinking Baltimore ensures competition and, to some degree, that those new unit rents won't go through the roof and be too expensive for regular folks. In that Baltimore isn't like San Francisco or neighboring DC and probably won't be for a while.

Still, a recent article in CityLab about Cleveland shows that even shrinking legacy cities should be taking all steps to ensure that new development does not result in economic displacement.

[preventive safeguards can be put in place] before the markets get hot [and transform] economically successful cities into wealth-sorting, bifurcating enclaves as capital reenters.
How to fix this bifurcation is up for debate. But lessening a crisis is different than preparing for the absence of one. It’s akin to preventive medicine versus the treatment of disease. Cities need to start getting much better at preventing a crisis in the first place.
There’s arguably no better place to test this notion than in the cities of the Rust Belt. The issues of the new urban crisis are still nascent in places like Cleveland, where the problems associated with the old one—poverty, disinvestment, and crime—are not exactly in the rearview. But this also means the market hasn’t yet dictated the terms of these cities’ reemergence. Those cities with the best foresight will have the greatest ability to put equity-based policies in place. (CityLab)
The article is short on specific measures that would maintain affordability. CityLab is influenced by Richard Florida  and his late awakening to the fact that cities are bifurcated and divided. The Cleveland article isn't written by him but one can see how CityLab has recently pivoted from singing the praise of  the "creative class" to illuminating  "the new urban crisis", Florida's latest book.

A more detailed critique of Florida and his way of looking at cities will be published on my bi-weekly blog shortly.

Below a glance of Baltimore's construction project distribution and a few pictures that show where some of Baltimore's more hidden downtown projects are. (all photos by me except for the renderings).

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Interactive map on Econview (stillshot showing all projects under construction or planned)
the 225 N Calvert St project as seen from Mercy

A rendering of the $75 million completed project

Franklin Lofts and Flats, $15 million, 20 apartments, Osprey Development, Cho Benn Holback Architects

the Osprey development   in a rendering by CBH

New $14 million Rutland Homes at EBDI (13 homes)

$30 million, New apartments on West Franklin Street developed by the Time Group
Architect: Alexander Design Studio

View of the courtyard of the Franklin Street apartments on a former surface parking lot

Mulberry at Park: $22.3 million, 68 new affordable units, Enterprise, Architect: Marks Thomas  

The most visible and the most luxury condo tower rises at the former McCormick lot at the Inner Harbor
404 S Light Street

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