Thursday, August 31, 2017

No Teddy Bears for Houston!

Sinclair's WBFF was very proud of its "Standing Strong for Texas" action and the assistance WBFF provided in getting two large trucks to drive piles and piles of donations from an area fire house to Texas; The TV station showed clothes, wheelchairs, bottled water and teddy bears filling several fire-house bays being stacked on pallets, sealed and loaded on tractor trailers. The anchor celebrated the logistics company, the fire volunteers and the folks providing the donations as symbols of what is right with humanity.

The problem: Emergency experts warn that these goods and the trucks which carry them are not only useless in the current situation near the Gulf coast, they can easily make things worse. There is no road space for the trucks to travel, no space to unload, no space to store the goods and no capacity to sort them or get them to victims. Not today and probably not for at least a week.

It is a laudable American instinct to be positive and come together in the face of adversity. Thus President Bush told the world that FEMA did a "heck of a job"  in the aftermath of Katrina  and the current office holder gushes about first responders and the resilience of Texans in general. A very understandable reflex. Indeed, there wouldn't be much wrong with this tendency of congratulating each other about what fine fellows we all really are, if it wasn't also a method of systematically smothering the larger truth which is much less benign: On almost all levels of government we are not only unprepared to deal with calamity but like lemmings we continue to rush along a path that makes disaster almost inevitable. The more colossal the failure of responsible agencies to truly face the possibility of catastrophic events and the failure of the American public in general of snapping out of a collective attitude of "it won't happen here", the higher the desire to avert our gaze from facing reality. This attitude sets in time and again, even after major catastrophes that have proven that calamity is not only possible but certain in some locations.
This is not to say that officials in Texas didn't act swiftly or prudently or that first responders didn't work selflessly and heroically day and night in spite of high risks for their own lives. The comment about the larger truth isn't about the disaster itself and the acts of human solidarity it triggers (except for those teddy bears) but about our societal failure of assessing risk in a rational manner and drawing consistent, long-term and sustainable consequences. For example preparing for the much more likely and devastating floods instead of the much less likely terrorist attacks. The country needs a smartly resilient Gulf Coast much more than a giant wall along the Rio Grande.

It is part of a healthy human instinct and part of self preserving human psychology to forget the bad stuff and focus on the good.
To respond urgently to an outsize risk before it has morphed into real-life threat is what’s odd. It requires hurdling over the dismaying normalcies of human psychology. (CityLab)
But it isn't part of good leadership to do so. It isn't good leadership to deny science and keep telling people that risks of extreme weather aren't increasing. It isn't good leadership to deny that as a people we don't have a supreme responsibility for treating nature with respect and prudence instead of relying entirely on technology or higher powers as the salvation. For the most part, technology has been disabled by hurricane Harvey. Technology alone won't rescue us from torrential rains, floods, earthquakes, forest fires and droughts. "We cannot pump our way to safety" writes Pulitzer Prize winner Jed Horne in a memorable piece in the Lens; just as we can't build our way out of congestion with more roadways.
A hundred years ago, when the New Orleans pumping system was considered an engineering marvel, it was the Dutch who came to us in search of guidance. Their version of Katrina was the horrific 1953 inundation that made water management a national purpose of existential urgency. They turned disaster into a much more trenchant learning experience than we have. (Jed Horne)
It isn't good leadership to use the buzzwords of resilience and sustainability and then resort to simply building back what failed in the last disaster.  But that is precisely what has been done after previous Houston floods, that is, in spite of many words to the contrary, what largely has been done in New Orleans after Katrina, along the Jersey Shore after Sandy and it is what happens after each large forest-fire out West. One of the few exceptions to this pattern seems to be the California earthquake code that has made the entire state really more prepared.

To bring this closer to home, in spite of all the resolutions to the contrary, re-build is the prevailing pattern for Ellicott City after last year's devastating flood. It is what we have done in Baltimore after the uprising in 2015, a catastrophe of another kind. It is what the nation has done after the last financial crisis, yet another calamity that was predictable and can still repeat again.

We frequently quote the insight that stupidity is to do the same over and over again and expect a different outcome, yet our actions are exactly that. The closer we are, the more we agree with recreating the status quo ante. Who seriously suggested to not rebuild Ellicott City? But will the County be willing to also do the hard part, de-paving the watershed, starting with their own government center?
“There are some people who had said maybe we shouldn’t rebuild. I don’t agree with that. I think this is such an important part of Howard County that we needed to rebuild, and we needed to help,” Kittleman
The CityLab article points to Holland as an example how a major catastrophe can very well trigger lasting and systemic change when it comes to flooding. Talking about the Dutch (or the Norwegians, the Swedes or the Fins), we can also pick renewable energy, transportation, health-care or land-development and see in each of those examples an entire people having embarked on a set of actions that point in the right direction. In each of those examples, these countries will be better off in a few years because they can reap the benefit of having turned around. By contrast, the US remains on an irresponsible and non sustainable course of practice in energy, transportation, health care and land development, with the new administration in Washington taking back whatever turn-around there may have been. We call this freedom and denounce the other path a socialism; those words won't help when disaster strikes.
Harvey's damage

As kids we all heard the fairy tales where someone gets ten wishes and winds up squandering them all. Parents and grandparent read us bedtime stories which taught us to consider long-term consequences instead of short-term satisfaction. Being one of the most church going nations in the world, many of us hear every Sunday about religious ethics in which the common good ranks higher than the individual interest and in which a higher force punishes those who are on the wrong path. In spite of all that, the "exceptional" US is most exceptional in the extent to which we act contrary to the morale and ethics we never cease to talk about.

Baltimore is in no way safe from hurricanes, floods or tropical downpours. Rising sea-levels will affect large parts of Maryland including this city even if 50" of rain are unlikely to hit here in the foreseeable future. The Atlantic is not (yet) as warm as the Gulf and the jet-stream is stronger here than in Texas. Unlike Houston we have zoning and Maryland has a few smart growth policies which protect  natural wetlands a bit better than regulation adverse Texas. Our governor doesn't outright deny climate change. But still, frequently we go one or two steps forward and then at least one back again. Our governor called an attempt to fund stormwater management a "rain tax" and converted transportation funds intended for transit towards more pavement. Maryland abandoned the term smart growth and has continued to sprawl, build preferably along the water's edge, regardless of who was on top in Annapolis. Really, even in "blue Maryland" we continue to live as if there weren't any consequences.

Sending teddy bears to Houston will not save us or them, just as teddy bears on lamp posts won't stem the murder flood in our city. It is time for a brutally honest reality check.  

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

CityLab: The Disasters we refuse to imagine
Bloomberg: Harvey Wasn’t Just Bad Weather. It Was Bad City Planning

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Rooting for Market Center

I was busy photographing a set of bunched Local Link buses travelling on Eutaw Street when I heard  voice saying greeting me. When I turned around there was the new Market Center Merchant Association Executive Director dragging a big trashcan with one hand and holding a broom in the other.
MCMA Director Kristin Mitchell in clean and sweep

Kristen Forsyth-Mitchell heads an organization with a staff of one, herself. As such she must be an all purpose weapon. I knew that with her Masters in community planning and her background as Economic Development Director at BDC and then Smart Growth Director at the State Department of Planning she knows planning in and out, but I didn't know she also would sweep the streets of Baltimore's Westside. Or of Market Center as she would say, using the older name for the district around Lexington Market which has had an merchant association dating back to the days when the area was still Baltimore's retail hub.

MCMA helps to clean the streets once a week, says Mitchell, adding to the sweep power Downtown Partnerships’ Clean Sweep Ambassadors, the City Department of Public Works, Lexington Market’s operations team, and the ARC of Baltimore, which has a contract with the Maryland Transit Administration (MTA) to clean transit stops.
Market Center map

That's a lot of cleaning and one can't be quite sure if it is indicative of high traffic in the district, a poor sense of civic pride by the users of the area or a sign of too many corners and alleys that don't have the eyes on the street that are needed for self policing. Market Center is characterized by a mix of all of these aspects: There are more people walking the streets than in any other Baltimore area. Many are transit riders from West Baltimore neighborhoods that are part of Baltimore's food and service deserts, residents who comes to Lexington Market as the only reasonable choice to buy fresh food, Baltimoreans well aware of the fact that they inhabit the parts of Baltimore that many others fear to tread. This awareness doesn't instill civic pride.  There are also aspects of Baltimore's alternative economy with legal and illegal street vendors, legal and illegal taxis offering rides for those frustrated by MTA , in the middle of it all those shouting out the gospel. And there is still a lot of abandonment including the burnt out shell of the former Club ...that hasn't been touched ever since the fire.
Parking lot crab fest at Lexington Market

Blond Kristin with her elite professional history dragging a trashcan is quite a surreal appearance here. "Everyone should be able to see beauty every day" she explains with the words of Charlestons previous Mayor Riley which she heard him say at a revitalization conference she attended.  
Market Center possesses characteristics of great beauty, particularly in its architecture, but litter, weeds, graffiti, broken and boarded windows, vacant buildings, and damaged sidewalks and streets often obscure the beauty. MCMA encourages business district maintenance by helping sweep the streets, talking to business owners about proper trash and recycling disposal, and submitting 311 requests for alley and street cleaning. This is a big task and we need to get beyond basic maintenance to proactive beautification. (Mitchell in the MCMA Newsletter)
Market Center, once Baltimore's premier retail district that has lost all its department stores and name brand retail has seen many efforts of revitalization, including a masterplan and a number of non-profits such as the now defunct Westside Renaissance Inc. created by Peter Angelos presumably to foil BDC's "Superblock" redevelopment efforts. BDC redubbed the area Westside ("The Westside has Zest"). Market Center is also a National Register historic district. Once a glorious shopping street, Howard Street has become a label for failure that evokes eye rolling and negative images, whether it is shuttered storefronts, downtown safety or slow light rail. Years of efforts have done little to soften those perceptions. Kristen Mitchell is ready to change that.
The Place Lounge (left) on Franklin Street: Wildly popular (Photo: ArchPlan)

Already the Westside got the new Hippodrome Broadway theater, the new Everyman theater, the mixed use CenterPoint development with hundreds of apartments, the Atrium, the converted Hechts department store now also apartments, a renovated Stewarts building which is Catholic Relief's world headquarters and a fully occupied stretch of Baltimore Street west of Eutaw Street boasting renovated facades and national food retailers such as Panera Bread. But none of this has turned the area around in a decisive manner. A dozen or so additional projects are in the pipeline including several larger and smaller ones devoted to bringing the almost entirely deceased 400 and 500 block of Howard Street back to life.

What really seems to make a difference is what happens on the north end of Market Center, ironically centered around another market: The Mount Vernon Market, a hipster Mecca at the ground floor of the former Hochschild Kahn building is changing the perceptions more than any of those much larger projects further south. The new market has taken hold during the day and the evening. With the sister project to the 501 Park warehouse conversion coming online new people will come to the area without having to fear stepping outside in the same way as the residents of the Atrium and Centerpoint do. The old urban design truth that the healing happens from the edges turns out to be true once again. Building on the strength of Mount Vernon and Seton Hill the north end not only yielded the lively marketplace and the Ceremony coffeeshop but also the wildly successful "The Place", a lounge and music venue in a tiny historic building on Franklin Street just east of Eutaw,  the 405 artist housing with Gallery Four and a whole slew of new small galleries on Franklin Street. All in all a mix that is racially and economically diverse.
Over The Rhine: Findley's Market as revitalization booster
(Photo: Philipsen)

Can Park Avenue with its half defunct Chinatown be revived as an ethnic food enclave that connects the norther edge to the always relatively stable Saratoga Street, bypassing the notorious Howard Street? What can it be that sets the Westside or Market Center apart from Hampden, Pigtown or Remington to name just a few of those other quirky revitalization areas who do a balancing dance somewhere between gentrification, funkiness and abandonment. All attempts of drawing tourists and convention goers north have failed to date. Maybe drawing residents from the north is a much safer bet?

The Market Center merchants finally have somebody who thinks about this every day, in part by reveiwing all the advice that came in over the years. When ULI came to town to advise about the Westside, Pittsburgh's former mayor Murphy led the team. Their biggest piece of advice at the time was that the President of the University of Maryland and the Mayor should meet and collaborate. But they also mentioned a precedent: Over the Rhine in Cincinnatti, an area of historic preservation and restoration that has not only been from a near death state but also succeeded in remaining authentic and protecting low income residents, tenants and services.

Over the Rhine's Findley's Market is a core puzzle piece in the revitalization of the yet to fully occur north area revitalization. It is hard to imagine that the inward looking glass box envisioned as our new Lexington Market can play a similar pivotal role unless somebody wakes up and ditches that doomed design approach. (More about here and here).
Development in the pipeline. (MCMA)

Over the Rhine's approach of living above the store, careful storefront restoration and nurture of the local specialty shop is precisely what could work in Baltimore's Westside.

For that to happen the merchants, the Bromo Arts District, the Downtown Partnership, the University and the major property owners in the area need to agree on a common goal, set specific targets and develop a strategic plan with realistic milestones to achieve them. No plan, though, no matter how well defined the metrics, will work without some infusion of real capital.

Time for the Weinberg Foundation to step up  not only almost everywhere else in the city, but on its original home turf, the Westside where the massive land hording of "Honolulu Harry" Weinberg partly created the vacancy problem in the first place. Putting a good anchor tenant into the first floor of the Stewart's building would be a good first step, even if the rent may be a loss leader.
10 months into her job Kristen Mitchell is still full of enthusiasm. Maybe it will last long enough to finally lift the Westside into a virtuous cycle of revitalization that will make the area once again a destination.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

MCMA summer Newsletter

New businesses in the Market Center Area:
Miss Carter’s Kitchen, 218 N. Liberty Street
Ono Poke, 413 W. Baltimore Street
Zeni Cafe, 316 Park Avenue
Cucina al Volo, Mount Vernon Marketplace, 520 Park Avenue
La Quinta Inn & Suites, 200 W. Saratoga Street
Liberty Pharmacy, 108 N. Eutaw Street
Lucky Star Tobacco & Grocery, 400 W. Saratoga Street
Saison Wafel, Mount Vernon Marketplace, 520 Park Avenue
Tangled Hair Salon, 319 W. Mulberry Street
The Red Boat (coming soon), 3 N. Eutaw Street

Tuesday, August 29, 2017

Good ideas picked up elsewhere: Light projection

Baltimore has Little Italy's traditional film night (Cinema al Fresco) which started when a reel projector was placed on a bedroom window sill and used the firewall across a vacant lot as the projection screen for Italian classics. The idea has spawned similar outdoor film screenings, for example at the Visionary Art Museum. 

But technology has far progressed and many cities mesmerize residents and visitors alike with elaborate presentations that are partly film, partly laser effects and light show. Architectural mapping, three-
dimensional projections designed to transform a building’s facade have become an influential new lighting trend for some time.
The Parliament building in Ottowa with a projected overlay of the pre-fire
building in the same place

Canada celebrates its 150th anniversary this year and put a lot of resources into telling its story. One of the most elaborate undertakings is a $4.5 million light show and narrative of the country's 150 years of history projected daily on to the large walls of the Parliament building in Ottawa. The show has also an exquisite  bi-lingual sound-track and took two years to prepare. Too costly and probably not attainable for Baltimore without a large anniversary as the occasion.

This type of projection cum narrative is popular around the world for commercial and educational purposes and never fails to draw crowds. More info on how it works can be found here. A fairly straight forward film projection with light effects show presented nightly at the German Bundestag building (Reichstag) in Berlin can be found here.
History projected in the Government Quarter across the Spree River
at the Bundestag in Berlin, Germany

However, we have Light City Baltimore and should absolutely consider a shorter and simpler audio-visual laser projection on a building such as the PowerPlant, the Aquarium, City Hall or the Federal Building on Hopkins Plaza or maybe a structure unjustly tucked away and going unnoticed.

Light festivals around the world use laser and projections on large building facades as their signature feature. (In Baltimore's inaugural Light City event the tent of the Columbus Center was used as a projection screen).

Laser and LED technology have opened new horizons for light and the ability to create entirely different night-time realities. The underpass under Orleans Street on St Paul/Light Street provides a small taste of what is possible with creative lighting.  Bill Struever had a sense for those effects when he created a multi-colored illuminated mister in front of Tide Point that could be seen across the harbor (the largest mister outside Disney World Struever boasted). Kevin Plank has turned it off.

Maybe it is time for an authentic, specifically Baltimore show that is sophisticated yet neither funded by government nor commercial in content; designed by light artists and sponsored by a private donor it would be intent on making residents and visitors alike see a building in a new light and discover new things about our city and our past. Baltimore could use a little magic, even if it disappears during the day.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

This article is part of a series that promotes importing good ideas from other cities.
Celebrate city history
Pop-up parks
The sidewalk "terrace"
Celebrating new transit stations
Guggenheim projection, New York

Ralph Lauren commercial projection, Madison Avenue, New York

Opening celebration of a new building: Toronto

London Powerplant projection

A tent magically transformed: Los Angeles art museum

Bridge with a waterfall illusion: Yinchuan City, China 

Baltimore's Orleans Street underpass at St Paul/Light Street

Monday, August 28, 2017

Baltimore is a manufacturing desert

The Baltimore Business Journal's latest list of the area's largest manufacturing employers is quite revealing: For those who still nourish the memory of Baltimore as an industrial city and for those who think that new technologies will bring a resurgence of "Made in Baltimore".
Manufacturing today: A hall full of robots at Blueprint Robotics Baltimore

Ranked by (local) employees the by far largest employer is the Johns Hopkins university and hospital system with nearly 50,000 employees, followed by the University of MD Medical System (22,500). One manufacturer, Northrop Grumman with 10,400 employees sits on a respectable fifth place but what follows is a long maker desert all the way down to rank 16 with Under Armour an its 3,700 local employees. At rank 29 another company that still makes something: The McCormick spice company (2,500 employees). Then it is all services again until rank 48 with Baltimore's foremost baker, H&S 1575 employees). Other companies that make tangible products include Whiting Turner (#61, 1,000 employees), Nestle Dreyer (#72, 735 employees), Domino Sugars (#89, 485 employees) and FritoLay on rank #99. The list doesn't become much more impressive if one expands it to the full state as in this one posted by the State Department of Commerce:
Major Manufacturing Employers in Maryland:
- Northrop Grumman 10,365 Electronic systems Lockheed Martin 3,255 Aerospace and electronics
MedImmune/Astra Zeneca 2,920 Pharmaceuticals
W. L. Gore & Associates 2,405, GORE-TEX® products
McCormick & Company 1,900 Food flavorings
Under Armour 1,855 Sports apparel
BD Diagnostics 1,580 Medical equipment
H&S Bakery 1,575 Commercial food products
Perdue Farms 1,500 Poultry processing
Volvo Powertrain 1,300 Diesel engines and transmissions Note:
Numbers are rounded. Source: Maryland Department of Commerce, July 2017. 
With just 103,000 employees Maryland's  manufacturing sector represents a measly 3.2% of the state's overall employment which is well below the national average of 8%, which in turn pales in comparison to Germany with its 27%. That country's current manufacturing exceeds the US manufacturing levels at the height of manufacturing employment in the 1970s.
Maryland manufacturing in 50 years: From 25% to 3.8%

Among the US States (2015 data) Indiana has the highest percentage of employment in manufacturing (17.1%) followed by Wiscconsin. The taillight is DC with just 0.1% manufacturing employment.

At the height of its manufacturing prowess, around 1950, Maryland employed 25% of the workforce in manufacturing and made that sector the then strongest one.
Bethlehem Steel in its heydays: Hard work, good pay
Maryland's largest employment sector by far is the Government with about 20% of the entire workforce, beyond that it has three employment pillars which combined make up almost half of all employment per the US Bureau of Labor StatisticsTrade, Transportation and UtilitiesProfessional Business Services and Education and Health Services, each employing about 470 million people or around 15%. Leisure, construction and financial services are each stronger than manufacturing.

One can reasonably argue that any country needs to make stuff to remain resilient in crisis and a viable player in the international arena; just as no country should import all energy, all agriculture products or all IT. A certain diversification is desirable for resilience, for influence in politics, self control and even for sustainability. But if the Baltimore area is trying to find a strong sector for its unemployed and impoverished youth, it likely won't be in manufacturing.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Interesting facts about manufacturing published by the National Association of Manufacturers (NAM)
Manufacturing in % of total employment across America: Indiana leads

Friday, August 25, 2017

Westside 7-11 shuttered after only two years

Maybe in times when one could despair about humanity's wisdom it is an encouraging sign that the Mount Vernon Market and the old-time Italian deli Trinacria are thriving, while the recently added mecca of soda and junk sits already shuttered 2 years after it opened in a brandnew building constructed extra for 7-11.
Shuttered after only two years: Seven-11 on Paca Street
(Photo: Philipsen)

An early online shopper review read:
"This is better than your typical downtown 7-11 store, has all the soda and coffee options you could want from a 7-11 and five Slurpee options. The hot food area seems to be kept well stocked, as are the doughnuts and packaged items. .." 
So what could have possibly gone wrong? 

  • Maybe Slurpees are finally not what people want to drink anymore?
  • Maybe having temporary above ground sewage pipes cutting off customer parking for nearly a year was too much?
  • Maybe the yawningly empty Social Security West offices didn't help?
  • Maybe having the storefront smashed during the unrest was a bad omen for an ongoing set of security issues that these stores seem to have?
  • Or maybe a scathing architectural review in the Baltimore Business Journal written by someone with my name deterred customers? 
  • Or maybe more obvious: There are too many similar stores in close proximity? 
    The 7-11 under cosntruction (Photo: Philipsen)

While I have no doubt that the architectural critique had absolutely nothing to do with whatever caused 7-11 to permanently close this month, I venture to believe that the bad architecture of the building will drastically reduce the company's ability of finding a taker.
Door smashed at the unrest in April 15
(Photo: Philipsen)

The building is too much tailored to just one type of user with its emphasis on drive-through parking that results in a skinny impracticable floorplan. The fake second floor (meaning there is no floor, no stair, no elevator and no real window on what looks like an upper level) is there because the City didn't allow a single story structure a turn-off even for those potential buyers who would forgive the fake brick and the faux historicisms of the mis-proportioned facades.

Not that 7-11 has been a great neighbor. Soon after they opened, they locked the front door facing the intersection and installed a sign to use the rear door access from the parking lot side. People were expected to drive up. This may also be why they never shoveled snow or melted ice, or take care of the mandated landscaping along the edge of the sidewalk except to stick those wire signs in there to advertise the special Slurpees. Trash kept piling up. Putting a 7-11 in the Westside was an opportunity development that wasn't driven by a larger vision for this part of Baltimore, a vision that is still sorely lacking.

So now there is a new type of ruin in the Westside, the new- building ruin in an area with too many shuttered buildings already, a monument to greed, attempted profiteering on unhealthy food, the quick buck and poor taste, a monument one could do without.

One artist suggested that the 7-11 building looked like a pirate ship. Maybe some artists can take this line of thinking and create a cool, usable sculpture from this building.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Architecture review: Abominable 7-Eleven disfigures a Baltimore historic district

Thursday, August 24, 2017

Baltimore water: A tangled web and smaller lakes

In 1920 Baltimore was a shining beacon of progressive public works and Baltimore local water engineer and Hopkins professor Abel Wolman a hero. His Baltimore water system lived even longer than he (Wolman died in 1989 at the age of 96) but decay and new rules have forced a multi billion dollar overhaul of Baltimore's water and sewer infrastructure including several open reservoirs located inside the city limits.
Visualization of a possible bandstand at Druid Lake (GWWO Architects)

Water has been a municipal affair since 1854 when the City of Baltimore bought the private Baltimore Water Works which had incorporated in 1808. Slowly but surely water supply from fountains and wells was changed to include water from the Jones Falls and storage and pumping stations were added. Lake Montebello and the 55 acre Druid Lake (then called Lake Chapman) were completed in 1881 and in 1871 respectively. Eventually Lake Ashburton was added and all lakes connected with pumping stations. The matter was further complicated after an additional water supply was created tapping into the Susquehannah during extreme drought conditions. All in all the current water service area encompasses some 560 square miles and serves 1.8 million people via 4,500 miles of pipe.
Under normal operating conditions, water flows by gravity from the Loch Raven Reservoir to the Montebello Filtration Plants through the Gunpowder falls-Montebello tunnel, a concrete lined tunnel, 12 fee in diameter, and approximately seven miles in length, this tunnel was constructed through solid rock.
14 acres less lake: Submerged tanks at the historic Druid Lake Park (DPW)
When the water level of the dam is lowered a few feet below the crest of the dam, the discharge valves at Prettyboy Dam are opened. The water released flows down the bed of the gunpowder Falls into Loch Raven Reservoir, thus maintaining the water level in the latter reservoir at a predetermined elevation. If the level in the Loch Raven Reservoir drops too low for gravity flow, water can be pumped from the Loch Raven reservoir ti the Montebello Filtration Plants by a pumping station located at the plants. The station, called the Montebello Raw Water Distribution Center, was constructed in 1958 in conjunction with the Susquehanna Water Supply Project. The station contains three pumps, each having a capacity of 120 million gallons per day, and appurtenant equipment.
Water from Liberty Reservoir flows through a concrete lined tunnel, 10 feet in diameter, to the Ashburton filtration Plant, a distance of approximately 12.5 miles. This tunnel was constructed through solid rock.
Since the service system is truly regional, it is since 1979 partly managed by a regional Reservoir Watershed Agreement that was renewed on 1984 and again in 2005 under the oversight  of a Watershed Protection Committee at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. Watershed and drinking water sources are one thing, stroage tanks and treatment plants are another.
Rendering of completed project (DPW)

While the downtown sinkholes from sewer main failures and the water main breaks causing fountains and flooding have received widespread media coverage,  the much more visible aspect of Baltimore's open reservoir lakes largely flowed under the radar, stirring little interest except for the immediately surrounding communities.

The beauty of man-made lakes enhanced city neighborhoods and reliably provided healthy drinking water for over 100 years, especially since Wolman had introduced chlorination of drinking water and vastly reduced the risk of contamination. But no longer,  in 2006, bureaucrats concerned in equal parts about clean water and homeland security offered the nation with the not very beautiful acronym monster,  LTE2SWTR, which stands for Long Term 2 Enhanced Surface Water Treatment Rule.
A historic image of the current lake's western edge (Kilduff)

True to its forward looking history, DPW became active well before the new regulations went into effect and commissioned a study with Baltimore's engineering firm RKK which was published in 2004.  For a time it was seriously feared that the terrible name would require equally terrible actions, such as giant covers over the lakes. But by 2013 Baltimore's Department of Public Works (DPW) had developed better ideas and in June 2014 DPW and the Department of Recreation and Parks (DRP) signed an agreement about two underground storage tanks in Druid Lake.

The underground storage tanks submerged in the lakes sounds a lot smarter than covering the lakes, above ground storage or additional treatment of water gained from open surfaces. However, in detail, the tank solution isn't quite as innocent as residents around Druid Lake and the Friends of Druid Lake Park have found out over the years when actual plans were presented. In the version that is currently under construction, two combined 54 million gallon water tanks will be buried at the western end of the lake and actually reduce the lake by at least 6.3 acres (earlier presentations noted 14 acres). DPW touts this as new acres of park that will include a welcome center. "When finished, the New Druid Lake will be better than ever, with increased public amenities and more open green space", DPW's press release states. But funding for amenities is just as murky as the future of the reduced now merely decorative lake itself which would need measures to keep the water fresh that haven't been figured out in full. The Druid Lake project alone is projected to cost $164.1 million and is supposed to be complete in the spring of 2022.
Proposed tank locations for Ashburton Lake (AECOM)

There is no word about funding in the DRP/DPW agreement, but from what the Board of Public Works approved it is understood that DPW will pay for widening the path on the southern part of the lake and constructing the base for a band shell. The Baltimore City Department of Recreation and Parks is expected to find funding to complete the band shell and related park improvements. A video of a GWWO designed bandshell can be seen here.

Construction is complete at Lake Montebello and underway underway at the $75 million Guilford Reservoir project on West Cold Spring Lane where also two large storage tanks are submerged within the footprint of the current lake. Per DPW there are four phases of the project a bypass of the 48 inch water main is complete and work on the reservoir itself, including draining it and installing tanks is underway and will be completed by August 2018. The construction of a pump station and the activation of the tanks will follow in June 2018 and be completed in June 2019 with  site restoration and landscaping planned for June to November 2019. The last in the trio of reservoir-lake projects in the City will be the $120-140 million Ashburton Lake tanks. There a 2013 study shows the tanks to be submerged under Hanlon Park. A status report about compliance with the federal rule can be found here.
Design concept for an overlook option at Ashburton Lake (DPW)

Residents of Baltimore City and County already feel the pinch of DPW's large construction portfolio intended to upgrade the water and sewer for the future, in their water bills.

One has to wonder whether LTE2SWTR really brings better or safer water to the region. One can think of much else in Baltimore's water and sewer system that would need upgrades and would result in a measurable difference in water quality, namely the decrepit state of all the mains. The state of supply lines to many Baltimore schools is so poor, that drinking fountains have been shut off because of lead contamination. Instead, three of Baltimore's neighborhood assets, beautiful lakes, will be construction sites for years to come.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Druid Lake project (DPW)

Friends of Druid Hill Park

Come out to celebrate the Baltimore region’s drinking water reservoirs! The celebration will be Saturday, Aug 26, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. This event takes place at the Cromwell Valley Park (Willow Grove Nature Center) 2175 Cromwell Bridge Road. 

Dam Jam is presented by the Baltimore City Department of Public Works (DPW), in partnership with Baltimore County and the Hamilton Art Collective.

Wednesday, August 23, 2017

Good ideas from elsewhere: Celebrate city history

With all the talk about learning from history, a city with a, by US standards, long and rich history should take a hard look when, where and how history can be used to strengthen the city.
Existing downtown pedestrian wayfinding

The West Baltimore Community of Marble Hill has a
few street pole signs
Strength can come from information, pride, education and from a celebration of diversity. It turns out, Baltimore has a lot of history in the shape of people, culture, artifacts and historic landmarks that are not well known, in need of discovery, or rest in some sort of eternal state of slumber.

Time and again I have heard people exclaim "I had no idea this existed here" when they stumbled over historic buildings, parks, monuments, fountains and the like as part of guided tours, rides or hikes.

Eli Pousson at Baltimore Heritage is writing tirelessly against this forgetfulness. In recent months he blogged about the Orianda House in Leakin Park, the Patterson Park Pagoda, about Jonestown, the Five and Dime historic district.

Who really knows that Baltimore has an entire series of beautiful West Baltimore squares, urban parks surrounded by beautiful buildings that can rival Savanna's famous squares? Check out Union Square (Mencken House), Franklin Square, Harlem Park, Lafayette Square or Perkins Square.
Immigration Museum and many other better and lesser known spaces. Following the usual patterns, especially the history of the poor neighborhoods in East and West Baltimore are often lingering in obscurity in spite of their rich history. In fact, much of West Baltimore is part of the Old West Baltimore designated historic district listed on the National Register of Historic Places. 
Old West Baltimore, a map but few
real life signs

No matter how active groups such as Baltimore Heritage, only a few people will take part in actual guided tours or read the blogs. What could be done to make the rich history more obvious and easy to know for everybody?

This question is especially acute for Baltimore's neighborhoods. Every recent mayor has promised in thee campaign to strengthen neighborhoods and not send all resources downtown. whereas historic treasures in the neighborhoods are hard to find and the designated historic districts are frequently not identifiable except on special maps. There isn't even a basic template for how those districts can display their names.
Baltimore Heritage walk sidewalk marker
Downtown has pretty good sightseeing and historic markers, sign boards and even marked trails (tailored after Boston's better known Freedom Trail

Recently driving through Rochester, NY along the city's extensive Hope cemetery on Mount Hope Avenue, I noticed a long line of banners depicting the numerous famous people buried behind the cemetery wall. This is how I was enticed to turn into the beautiful old cemetery and check out Frederick Douglas and Susan B. Anthony's grave with my wife as the driving force for to see Susan B. Anthony's grave after we had already seen her former residency, one of Rochester's best known historic sites.
Baltimore Greenmount Cemetery

Baltimore certainly has equally beautiful resting places with equally famous historic figures  in them, in many cases probably unknown even to local residents. Among the Baltimore Cemetary, the Old Saint Paul's Cemetery and the Green Mount cemetery the latter is possibly the most historic and architectural. It should be one of the must see local attractions, perhaps more so than the well known Poe grave.
Ybor City, Tampa

Another matter is that Baltimore, presumably the city of neighborhoods, does very little to publicly identify the names of neighborhoods in a uniform, simple to maintain and permanent manner.
London Street sign

London is probably the most well known case of street-signs that give the street name and the name of the borough where the street is located. Many US cities have emulated this, the probably least impressive or informative version is DC's streetnames with the added SW, SE, NW and NE, others have found more telling ways to highlight their local communities. Tampa, for example employs special street signs showing off their Ybor City historic District.

Baltimore didn't shy away from the expense of placing those large green streetname signs overhead at
Austin historic district street sign
intersections that are suburban in nature, catering to fast driving motorists and lacking in esthetics what they offer in functionality. Many cities have customized the standard edition street signs, whether mounted on corner-poles or overhead, for a tasteful locally branded version often with some additional information, such as the name of the neighborhood. Adding the neighborhood name to street signs would be quite useful in Baltimore which calls itself the city of neighborhoods. Historic districts could have brown street name signs.
Existing Baltimore banners

Already in use in many Baltimore neighborhoods are the streetlight pole banners but most of them do only what the streetsigns could do better, provide the name of the community. The banners should do more and boast what is special in the neighborhood,  from the Poe house to the schools Thurgood Marshall visited in Marbel Hill.

The cost of customized street signs and informational banners wouldn't be astronomical and could be deflected in part by sponsorships. The return on investment would be come in the shape of residents that get to know their own city better, area visitors driving to town becoming aware of the extraordinary amount of historic places and landmarks, all assisting in anchoring Baltimore of a place worth living or visiting.

In addition, BOPA should engage with a local IT start-up to created self guided narrative tours available as downloads on mobile devices which would allow getting additional background at each of the historic cultural landmarks.
Not ideal, but still a reference: New York City

The augmentation of physical walking tours outlined with sidewalk markings like in a scavenger hunt by technology that involves GPS, the cloud and the beloved smart phone which already gives us information all day long via calendar, fit-bit apps, transit apps or traffic maps or by simply pointing out nearby restaurants or coffee shops is a cool way to systematically market the City's history.
Montreal historic tours app

The virtual tour in the real city could go beyond history, with the right support any topic of interest could be covered that way This tool would even be better if a city would also offer WiFi and allow users to save Internet fees and roaming charges. Mobile apps as city guides or travel app have been in use for some time but they suffer from lack of local information unless they are fed by really good local sources. Montreal created its own mobile app and a relatively wide reaching WiFi network to boot.

GPSmyCity is already offers some self guided tour options for Baltimore and many other cities but is pretty downtown centered. So does For Baltimore heritage's attempt of online exploration of neighborhood treasures, see here.

A citywide combination of the above physical and online tools would go a long way to stress a positive Baltimore narrative that is based on the strength and cultural diversity of our communities.

It is true that history needs to be preserved and that it is necessary to learn from it. In Baltimore there is plenty of history that can be celebrated without creating new divisions and without using it as a smoke screen for supremacy.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

updated to fix some text line fragments that Blogger created when inserting images and to add Baltimore Heritage virtual tours.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

After the exclusive eclipse US stumbling back to "normalcy"

For a nation sore from division and belligerent discourse this week's rare celestial event exclusively on display in our exceptional nation was a much needed balsam, effective for being far above earthly strive and being truly non-partisan.
BBC collage of eclipse as seen from an observatory

The hype about the sun being obscured by the much smaller moon was such, that no medium could escape it, not even the electronic Interstate sign boards with their warnings that motorists should not to stop on the shoulders during the eclipse. And true to a nation which gains its mobility through its highways, hundreds of thousands took to the roads in search of a spot in the 100% coverage band that crossed the entire US and became an iconic overlay in many online applications such as weather maps. The moon, usually only moving oceans, thus created an unprecedented high tide of traffic long before it blotted out the sun. Everyone was an expert on the universe for a day, no matter how tiny a speck of the universe the trio of sun, moon and earth actually are.

Such a trip into the 70 mile band of total eclipse easily require elicited several hundreds of miles of travel taking many hours, if not days of driving. The return: The pleasure of a minute or two of darkness during midday, Venus in full sight instead of the bright August sun and critters stunned silent for a moment. Creepy, awe inspiring and uniquely defying deeply ingrained experience.
One family, three generations, two states, one spectacle (Photo: Philipsen)

The celestial shadow is, indeed impressive, no matter how simple the explanation. The nation's first online eclipse boosted into a hype beyond any reason, managed to eclipse the President's tweets inauguration crowd.

The spectacle hit hard on this month's US productivity, August already being a weakling in that category, owing to vacations, heat and the tradition of taking it easy in August. In the endless flow of eclipse info, it was also noted that it brought a natural reduction in solar energy during the hour or so of vastly reduced energy output by the obscured sun.

It was probably surprising to most who didn't remember a previous eclipse, how much light the sun can put out even if it is 50-90% obscured. While the emitted heat intensity drops significantly somewhere at the half point, earth gets hardly any dimmer until the 90% point is reached, just that light and shadows take on funny shapes.
Cherokee, NC inside the total eclipse area at 70% period
(Photo: Philipsen)

But then, for that short period of total coverage, it really gets quite a bit darker, like a late dusk with the brightest stars becoming visible.  And there overhead is, what for a short moment looks like a very bright floodlight, being snuffed out and replaced by a beautiful glowing ring around the moon. The minute is short but remarkable. The ring of fire around the perfectly round moon is a sight not normally seen anywhere in the sky, and here it is, so soft that for a moment it is safe even for the naked eye.

Then, when the sun peaks out again with its first ray, it is as if the bright light got switched back on, the brightness grows and the sun reappears as a crescent. The people who had breathlessly followed the moon's journey into the sun's
Cherokee, NC inside the total eclipse area at 100% period
(Photo: Philipsen)
view immediately lose interest in the reverse spectacle in which the moon reveals more and more of the sun. Already it is bright out again, venus is gone and on some level it must be relief that lets the viewers so quickly put normal life back into gear, literally. Cars rev up and the long exodus begins from the total eclipse band. As the sun grows back to its normal intensity, so grows the insight that life goes on and that the the seventy mile eclipse zone is, indeed, far from home.

As stunning as the minutes of midday darkness were, what follows, one of the nation's largest rush hours clogging local and national roadways across the country in an unprecedented
CNN image of total eclipse. The ring looks softer and less flared
the naked eye
Post eclipse: A traffic jam all across America (Chicago Tribune)
scale until deep into the night may well be what eclipses the eclipse for many travelers.

The path back into the daily routine and craziness isn't only unwelcome, it is also really, really crowded.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA