Thursday, June 8, 2017

The Upton lesson

How wrong simplistic wholesale rush judgements of distant suburbanites often are regarding inner city neighborhoods, was on vivid display last Friday at the regular monthly meeting of the Upton Planning Committee .
Upton: History and activism

No question, Upton, named after the Upton Mansion, is a difficult community in which to live. With a median household income of $17,000 (2015), under 1/3 homeownership, 300 vacant properties, 60% of the children living in poverty, 25% unemployment and a 73% population loss since 1940  the residents of Upton and a few immediately surrounding communities the neighborhood is one of the most disinvested communities in Baltimore. But the Upton Improvement Council highlights a neighborhood of pride, of historic buildings including the historic Marble Hill neighborhood, a community which includes 7% of households with an income above 75,000 and a neighborhood that some 10,000 adults and children call home. considered to "just bulldoze the whole place".

Instead the Upton Planning Committee secured funds from Wells Fargo to prepare a realistic 2026 masterplan and crunches data together with Wells Fargo.
We are striving to make the Upton of tomorrow a different place. The first step is to inspire ownership and pride in the community by renovating places of historical value. (website)
Jules Dunham Howie of the Upton Planning Committee ran the Upton Community Developer Meeting in a very upbeat manner. First she provided an update on the status of the masterplan. Shortterm goals include reduction of the number of absentee landlords and the increase of homeownership. Howie mentioned the 30 churches in the community and how after 2pm on Sunday all the congregation members vacate Upton for the suburban communities they now call home. Wouldn't it be a good place to start to find additional homeowners for the community?
Bethel AME Church
Introducing the update on developments in Upton she explained that the community seeks to screen developers as a condition before supporting them vis a vis Baltimore Housing for example if they want to rehab houses as part of Vacants to Value. "We just don't want to hear ideas" she said, "we want to know how you fund your project". If a project is not funded, "guess what?", she continued, "the lots or buildings are just sitting there doing nothing for the community".

A community hub proposed on Pennsylvania Avenue by Intersection of Change, a West Baltimore Group headed by Sandtown resident C.W. Harris who is often called "the mayor of Sandtown" is an unfunded projected. However, a feasibility analysis was paid by the Abell Foundation and the architect Davin Hong of LDL was allowed to present a schematic design to hear a response from the assembled community members about the proposed program of community spaces, offices, small retail and workforce training and a workforce center to connect jobseekers with
Upton map

Other developers who want to rehab vacant houses were at the meeting to see how the community project screening process works. They were allowed to introduce themselves but will present their project next month once they have more detail.

In the current year $600,000 of project Core money went to 17 projects in Upton based on a slew of applications, some related to "main street" (Pennsylvania Avenue). Another funding round for State money is due June 8 this year with four additional applications form Upton. Upton's Main Street coordinator is Marion Blackwell. The area around the Avenue Market and its Upton Metro Stop is lively with many small shops open, people running errands and some, no doubt, selling illegal items. The Avenue Market is part of an ongoing development RFP that potentially opens the market to a private developer. Any proposals are not yet public and under review.
Crowds at the Royal theater in the old days

Being in the community on a regular base (ArchPlan is a participant on the LDL team and also on the nearby Sphinx Club renovation) and speaking with the leaders of the organizations and with the community members who live or work in the area, it becomes abundantly clear that even disinvested communities in Baltimore are still full of people who care, full of culture, heritage and people making a living, students going to school, residents who practice or learn art or aspire to getting new skills, in short, everything that characterizes every neighborhood in Baltimore. The the idea one often hears from people outside the City that "those" neighborhoods should be simply abandoned, services cut off and be bulldozed as a park or future community is patently absurd.
Wanda Best, President Upton Planning Committee 

Working with the pride and talent in the community on a systematic rebuild is an honor. Improvement, while very difficult, is also very possible if the forces and resources align around a consensus strategy.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Masterplan goals
From the Upton Planning Committee Website
due to travel articles will be less regular inthe coming days

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