Thursday, November 30, 2017

Equity development without transit

There are plenty of good reasons why to pursue the reinstallation of the sacked Baltimore Red Line. But there are even more good reasons to begin work on the community generated development plans that were prepared for many Red Line stations. While the Red Line had been imagined as the catalyst for redevelopment, redevelopment can also be used as a catalyst for transit. Either way, the need for economic development and services in many areas along what should have been the Red Line is still there and the promises made in the Community Compact remain unfulfilled. The urgency for investment is even higher now after the Red Line investment had been taken off the table.
Rosemont Station area
Baltimore City will develop and fund a Red Line neighborhood investment strategy to enhance the quality of life in Red Line station communities, including:
  • Work with local foundations and other partners to create a public-private entity similar to Atlanta’s “BeltLine Partnership” to raise funds and mobilize resources towards community revitalization on the scale of Baltimore’s commitment to the East Baltimore Development, Inc., Park Heights Development Authority and the Westside Renaissance.
  • Implement non-traditional funding strategies for public/private partnerships to stimulate growth and development for Red Line station communities in order to achieve public amenities which may not normally be considered part and parcel of Red Line project costs.
  • Evolve Station Area Advisory Committees into Community Development Corporations (CDCs), as appropriate. Provide new CDCs and existing community-based development organizations with resources to build capacity and strength to achieve revitalization plans.(From the Red Line Community Compact)
    Vacancy concentrations in Baltimore
An example of possible development near a planned station was recently explored by the BBJ’s Melody Simmons: The East Baltimore Crown and Cork factory campus sitting right on the seam of Highlandtown and Greektown, two neighborhoods highly separated by freight rail and the campus itself. The strategic importance of this area had long been identified by various community working groups including the Station Area Advisory Committee which worked for 18 months on visions for their station area. Connecting Highlandtown and Greektown and creating better walk access between the communities by making it easier to traverse the barriers of the existing freight rail lines remains a necessity. The 30 acre property is currently for sale.
TOD sketch for Highlandtown station with Crown Cork
and Seal area to the right

On the west-side of the former Red Line corridor the needs are even more immediate. Large swaths of dense urban development between Edmondson Village and downtown remain largely without services and retail. They form a large "food desert" where many people live in food insecurity. It is high time to revisit the east-west corridor cutting right through one of the wings of Baltimore's "black butterfly" known as Route 40, which is also famous for the destruction of a good portion of West Baltimore when the "highway to nowhere" was built.

In post-Freddie Gray and post-uprising Baltimore the city is big on good intentions and small on delivery of projects which target the inequities that fueled the unrest. Aside from a few projects such as the renovated Western Police Station, a new playground at the Harlem Park Daycare and the renovated Sarah's Hope women center, West Baltimore has not seen the type of systemic transformation that can only come from strategic stepping-stone investment in targeted areas. There is no need to go out and query the residents what they want. They have already spoken. Their ideas and visions with specific plans and programs for Edmondson Village, Rosemont, West Baltimore and Harlem Park are embedded in the plans now dusting away on some shelf.  Attempts to soften the impact of the sunken freeway need a new spark.
Poverty in station areas: Highest at Park Heights Station (40%)

How hard it is to attract and keep services and retail in disinvested communities can be studies at Mondawmin where Target announced its departure this month, even though the store has a vast and dense catchment area and excellent transit access. There is even significant nearby investment on the Coppin University campus.

The Mondawmin example doesn't prove that it is impossible to keep vibrant service centers in communities with below average income. Instead, it shows that the efforts of stabilizing the surrounding communities have been too tepid. Reinvestment in the residential blocks around Mondawmin has been so slow and halting, even though the area is close to transit and Druid Heights Park that nobody would identify the Mondawmin area as a renaissance area.

The situation around the West Baltimore MARC station is worse. In spite of MTA's investment in rail station upgrades and a new bus transit center, the surrounding commercial, residential and formerly industrial areas remain as blighted as ever, most prominent among them the former "Ice House" which presides as a half fallen ruin over the transit plaza. The sorry sight signals to anybody coming into Baltimore from DC that nobody cares about the area enough to even prop up the facility cosmetically.
Rosemont and West Baltimore vision plans prepared by station area advisory

Just to the west, Rosemont looks even more desperate. It too has strong assets nearby. The community sits only a stone through from the Gwynns Falls valley and park which is one of the best wilderness areas right inside a city near and far.

Mayor Pugh has spoken about community land trusts, social investment funds and similar methods of capitalizing investment in neighborhoods.  Examples of coordinated and orchestrated strategic investments can be found in east Baltimore where efforts are underway of transforming entire swaths of disinvested areas from Oliver to Johnston Square and from Gay Street to EBDI. It is time that similar efforts get underway in Freddy Gray's West Baltimore. The Red Line corridor is the canvas and the SAAC plans the ideas. Let's get it started. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

BBJ article about Crown, Cork and Seal property in Highlandtown
Crown Industrial Park
Planning Department Red Line TOD archive
Equitable Transit Oriented Development in Baltimore. Enterprise Community Partners

I made a similar point on this blog on 9/17/2015:
The reverse approach to transit: TOD first.

Wednesday, November 29, 2017

Beer in Baltimore

Baltimore has a rich history steeped deeply into German heritage and, of course, beer. (It is said to have been Baltimore's first industry). Natty Boh is not the only symbol of Baltimore's history as a beer town. The American Brewery, proudly restored as the Hunanim headquarters is another, just as an entire neighborhood called Brewer's Hill and the conversion of Gunther's into a mixed use complex are just a few other well known monuments to Baltimore's past as a Mecca of breweries, as many as 100 as the Kilduffs website enumerates. What they all have in common, though, they don't make beer here any longer.
Baltimore's beer history (Kilduff)

But in Baltimore's presence beer once again plays an increasingly larger role, even if almost everything, including the beer, is different today. Across America beer is all the rage again, this time not as the drink of the working man but as an expression of  lifestyle and a heavy emphasis on experience, fun, leisure and entertainment. Craft beers now make up over 12% of all beer sales.

It also fits this new role of beer that Union Craft Brewing has hired local star architects Ziger Snead to design their new facility at the former Hedwin Manufacturing facility in Hampden. Ziger Snead's modern architecture is most known in Baltimore for its Brown Center at MICA. The new site will allow for an initial production capacity of 30,000 barrels, with space to grow.
“I’m proud of what we’ve accomplished, but our little brewery on Union Avenue has reached capacity, both on the beer front and as a gathering place. This neighborhood is our home, and I’m thrilled to say that we will be here for a long time to come. Our new space provides us the opportunity to develop a bigger and better Baltimore brewery. It will be a true destination experience for local beer lovers as well as those visiting our city from outside of Maryland.” Jon Zerivitz, UNION’s Co-founder and Director of Marketing (website)
Anticipated Union draft room (Ziger Snead)
Best of all, the new design promises a real beer garden, a feature originating in Munich (at least that's where many famous original beer gardens still are) that had been adopted in the new world in unlikely places like Austin (around since 1866: Scholz) and in the Baltimore area at the now defunct Blob's Park in Jessup. In Baltimore City biergartens have been anemic adaptations such as Leinenkugel's at PowerPlant Live which hardly deserve the name or dreams that haven't yet been realized, such as beer garden on Howard Street near Franklin.

In addition, UNION’s brewing facility will be the anchor tenant of a new commercial project, UNION Collective, which will transform 10.5 acres and 138,000 square feet of warehouse space into an interactive and collaborative assembly of several of Baltimore’s growing independent businesses.(Union press release)

Thus, Ziger Snead's beergarden at Union Crafts new digs are good news, with their hops growing green walls and all.
"One of the big goals with the taproom and the new brewery is beer education," Chris Attenborough, manager of "brand experience" at Union Craft (BBJ)
That a brewery has a "Manager for Brand Experience" says it all. Historic breweries may have been numerous and local, but they were low key compared to what we see today. Historically beer was mostly tailored on the famous but narrow assortment of German beer styles such as Lager or Pils ("head" is desired) or the British variety of Ales and Bitters (flat is desired). The German Reinheitsgebot (purity law) dating back to monks making beer in monasteries, didn't allow much playfulness. Prohibition pushed beer into dark and dank speak-easy type corner bars where, in the end, only the big national brands such as Coors, Miller and Anheuser Busch survived with their watered down version of beer, bereft of flavor, alcohol and calories.
Union Craft beergarden in Hampden: Hops on display  (Ziger Snead)

What the new craft breweries lack in numbers or distribution system, they make up in ever new creative variations of beer which would make the Reinheitsgebot monks rotate in their graves.

Craft breweries have become the symbols of urbanity. Brewpubs have nothing in common with the claustrophobic neighborhood bars of old where one can still get a can of Natty Boh for $2.50. The new places open roll-away windows to the sidewalk in summer and have beer tanks as backdrops for large loud open spaces. They set you back $7 or more for a 16 ounce pint glass, their assortment of specialty beers can be outright confusing.

In spite of all this Baltimore talk about beer, the city didn't make it to the top ten craft beer towns in America, compiled by Business Insider in the spring of this year. Just to spite Monument City, Pittsburgh made the list on rank #10, so did Milwaukee, Seattle, Cincinnati, Denver, San Diego and, of course, Portland which the article claims to have more breweries than any other city in the world. Fortune, in a less scientific approach, even put Tampa, Asheville and Nasville on their top ten list , no mention of Charm City.
Natty Boh: Branding only (photo Philipsen)
According to 2015 Maryland craft beer sales statistics, the state ranks 34th in the United States with 1.4 breweries per capita (100,000 people, age 21+), and ranks 26th in the country, producing 1.8 gallons per adult (age 21 and older). In 2016, The Brewer’s Association named Baltimore/Washington D.C. one of the top five fastest growing markets for craft beer sales.(Union website)
The fact that Maryland and Baltimore isn't tops in their own (historic) game has not been lost on Maryland's Comptroller, Peter Franchot: a man who often pursues matters that seem outside his portfolio. He has made the support of craft brewing his personal mission by advancing legislation that would allow brewers to sell more beer on their own premises and allow larger qualities of production.
Beer statistics

Meanwhile, local brewers offer something for almost any whim and customers don't have to worry about a shortage of bars, pubs and restaurants selling local brews. Increasingly even the large chain hotels have a local flavor in their assortment at those cheese cube receptions that are so  common before Christmas.

Gentrification? Maybe. But I rather drink one Rye 51 from Baltimore's Monument City Brewing Company than two Buds. Actually, I never drink Buds.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

BBJ: Union Craft Brewing sneak preview
BBJ Baltimore area breweries
Is Baltimore a beer town?
Baltimore has always been a beertown (City Paper)
Brewing in Baltimore, by Maureen O’Prey

Related on this blog:

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

Purple Line agreement signed today: The tale of two rail transit lines

The Baltimore Red Line was famously the rejected stepsister when it came to Maryland's new rail transit siblings. The Washington area Purple Line was the one chosen by the "prince". Whether the Red Line will get one day a late redemption still remains to be seen. But one kind of redemption happened already this Tuesday when the Purple Line project celebrated with great fanfare an element pioneered by the Red Line: The Community Compact.
One of the Community Compact goals of the Purple Line
(Photo: Philipsen)

Gathering at the brandnew "University Hotel" on the slowly urbanizing segment of route 1 that figures, both as College Park's "main street", and the university's college-town strip, one dignitary after the other praised the community involvement and equity that the Purple Line project is supposed to bring to the areas between Bethesda and Silver Spring, the two Metro spokes to be connected through the new 16 mile light rail line.

The $2.4 billion Purple Line, under construction since August under a public-private -partnership agreement (P3) that will cost the State ultimately $5.6 billion, didn't have smooth sailing all the way. There were times when the project almost derailed, for example when the president of the University of Maryland was against the line traversing his campus, except underground. But when the new President, Dr. Wallace Loh was inaugurated in 2011, he soon understood that transportation and land use are intertwined and that the well-being of the communities around the campus was a precondition to the well being of the university and that both were inextricably tied to functional transportation.
"It is certainly a moral obligation, it is an institutional obligation to make sure that the community and economic benefits of the Purple Line spread throughout the whole region." UM President Dr Wallace Loh)
At the signing ceremony Loh spoke about his insights that he attributed to three specific conversations at the beginning of his time at the helm of the university: With the MDOT Secretary (who told him a tunnel under the campus was too costly), with Prince George's County Executive Rushern Baker and with Gerritt  Knaap who heads up the National Center for Smart Growth. Of course, there is a new MDOT Secretary now (who didn't come to the event). But the other former conversation partners were present and confirmed what Loh had recounted. Baker, then also new in office had told Loh over a "three hour dinner" that “this university is not engaged with the community“. Knapp had told him that the Purple Line was "not just about transportation but also development.” They both praised Loh for having listened and become an ardent promoter of the rail project, a pivotal turning point for the project.
The brand-new University Hotel on Baltimore Avenue
in College Park  (Photo: Philipsen)

The four objectives of the Compact include protecting small businesses in the corridor as well as workforce development and jobs as well as housing opportunities and vibrant communities. David Bowers of Enterprise Community Partners made the housing point with much passion:
"There are 10,000 low income households in the corridor... there will be billions of dollars been invested in this shiny new thing that is the new transit line. This is good. But the question is, who will be living in the corridor when the project is done?“ he asked. “There is plenty of money in the area. Do we have the heart to ensure that everyone who wants to stay has the opportunity to do so?...We need a comprehensive housing action plan”. 
In a short conversation Bowers explained that only 1960 of those existing low income units are currently "protected" (i.e. can't be converted to market rate units) and that the first step of the Compact efforts has been a mapping of those units. The goal, he said, must be to have "no net losses of affordable units". How exactly this can be achieved will have to be worked out as of yet. "We are talking with owners and landlords", he said. Montgomery County masterplans mandate affordable units, in the case of downtown Bethesday 15% of each project that is larger than 20 units.

Gustavo Torres of  Casa Maryland addressed "the longstanding inequalities in transportation and workforce development” and stated that the Purple Line is expected to create 425 permanent jobs. One of the stations will serve Langley Park, a predoinantetly low income Latino community.
The late transit advocate Harry Sanders 

Executive Baker also spoke about equity when he mentioned the U-Street corridor in DC and its transformation through the Green Line and that "a lot was lost", even though U Street is an economic success and the Green line had also set out with the goal of protecting the vulnerable populations. Montgomery County Executive Isiah Leggitt spoke about lessons learned from the revitalization of Silver Spring and how he now sees how more should have been done to protect the existing small merchants and businesses.
"Keep in mind this is not a legally binding agreement. It rests upon the will, it rests upon the motivations and attitudes of the people who want to see this happen. ...Even if you were against the Purple Line you should be for this [benefits] agreement. (Isiah Leggitt)
Everybody praised the National Center for Smart Growth that in the words of PG County Councilwoman Danielle Glaros "anchored us all together“.
The Community Development Agreement for the Purple Line Corridor was created through an open, transparent stakeholder engagement process, led by PLCC over several years, that engaged more than 300 residents, business owners, property owners, nonprofit leaders, public officials, and others to identify specific goals, strategies and actions to support communities across the corridor. (website)
Communities around the 16 stations along the transit line have worked since 2014 on visions for their communities. Purple Line Now chair emphasized that the Purple Line was in many ways the result of one activist: Harry Sanders. "This is Harry Sanders Day", Bennett explained in reference to the late transit advocate who had founded action committees to promote a trolley between Silver Spring and Bethesda as early as 1986.
David Bowers, Enterprise Community Partners
(Photo: Philipsen)

For a visiting Red Line "survivor" the Purple Line event mostly meant one thing: Solid citizen activism combined with leadership from politicians such as the Executives of Princes George's and Montgomery counties, the mayor of College Park, plus the congressional delegation and the support from stakeholders like UM president Loh cannot be killed easily.

But the most important lesson applies to both projects: Building transit is less than half the story, the other half is investment in communities, equity and the creation of access to opportunity.

When it comes to construction, the tale of the two transit lines is only the tale of one. It will remain to be seen if that will stay like that.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Purple Line Corridor Coalition
Purple Line Community Development Fact sheet

Purple Line Corridor map and station areas

Monday, November 27, 2017

Why a $50,000 SUV for neighborhood patrol is a poor use of impact funds

The use of $50,000 of community impact funds for a privately owned Chevy Tahoe "command" SUV decorated to look like a Baltimore police vehicle used to patrol a neighborhood by a religious organization raises so many questions that it is hard to know where to begin.

There is the obvious question how useful a gas-guzzling, pollution spewing monster SUV is a suitable tool in creating safety in an urban neighborhood. If those drive around patrols must happen at all, they should be made in friendly looking clear windows electric vehicles. Then there are the more obscure questions of who made the decision, how do Casino or lottery impact funds get allocated and why did this particular safety group get the vehicle and not another. Finally there are the more general issues such as what role citizen pretend-cop safety patrols like Shomrim (Hebrew for guards) play or should play and if they should or can play a role in regaining safety in this city.
Shomrim "police" command vehicle: A good use of $50,000?

Here is what happened:

The online publication Baltimore Jewish Life reported about a successful banquet during which the Mayor handed a symbolic key to the Tahoe.
Shining on the outside wall of Congregation Shomrei Emunah was a ten-foot-high illumination of the Baltimore Shomrim Safety Patrol’s emblem. It was clear from the very start that this was not just another community gathering but a special, not to be missed, event.  
Mayor and Councilman with Tahoe "key" (Yehudis Kruk Photography)
the emcee of the Shomrim Anniversary Banquet, I had the unique vantage point of looking out over the completely filled hall. It was impressive and overwhelming all at the same time. To see the broad range of elected officials, the multitude of the various law enforcement agency uniforms and community members from all walks of life, really brought home the message that Shomrim is a critical communal organization that the community relies on every day. It is such a fantastic feeling to be part of an organization that wants nothing more than to be there for their neighbors when they are in a time of need. We are so grateful for the community’s strong and unwavering support. ...We also want to thank Councilman Schleifer for being the driving force behind obtaining the command vehicle and Mayor Catherine Pugh for presenting the vehicle that will definitely make a difference for the entire community. “ 
Nathan D. Willner, Esq., Shomrim’s General Counsel and Director of Government Relations, Baltimore Jewish Life
The Tahoe with all the menacing attributes of police car branding,
including a "cow-catcher" ramming bumper
The banquet took place on November 11, the Baltimore Brew picked up the Jewish Life story on November 22 which created an uproar in online forums such as Baltimore City Voters.. The SUN also reported about the Tahoe gift on 11/22 but added the story on on 11/26 in the print edition. After a lot of back and forth it also seems pretty clear that the money is not from the Horsehoe Casino funds but from Video Lottery Terminals funds allocated for Northwest Baltimore which come from the Pimlico Race Track and are allocated with 75% for Park Heights and 25% for communities north of Northern Parkway. According to Councilman Schleifer, the vehicle purchase was covered by the 25% north-of-Northern portion of the funds.

What is effective crime prevention?

One would assume public funds should be concentrated where crime is the highest. Most of the crime in the Park Heights community occurs south of Northern Parkway, not in the are north of Northern Parkway where the command vehicle will chiefly cruise. Police have long been criticized for replacing foot patrols in favor of driving in powerful vehicles, a practice that removes officers from the community and provides no interaction except when the officers swarm out of the vehicle in reaction to something they observe. The ineffectiveness of this type of policing has long been established and one can safely assume that it applies to private citizen patrols in the same way.
Shomrim patrol members carry what looks like uniform jackets

Shomrim, just like the police, has been drawn into accusations of having a race bias fueled by one incident where a Shomrim member was alleged to have beaten an African American. The group closely works with police. In New York Shomrim provides policing and emergency medical services in certain neighborhoods and uses ambulances, patrol vehicles and command centers. Shomrim was first established in the Brooklyn neighborhoods of Boro Park, Crown Heights, Flatbush, and Williamsburg in the United States, in the late 1970s and early 1980s. Similar patrols were later established in US Haredi neighborhoods in Baltimore, Miami, Waterbury, Connecticut, and London, England.
In response to increasing crime trends in our local community, a group of concerned citizens founded Shomrim of Baltimore, Inc. in October-2005, as a 501(c)3 non-profit community organization whose overall mission is to improve public safety and security. We respond to calls received on our hotline, (410) 358-9999, 24 hours a day/365 days a year, and our personnel are normally on-site within minutes.
Currently, we have over 30 volunteer incident responders who provide security and safety assistance in the Northwest Baltimore Neighborhood which encompasses parts of Baltimore City and Baltimore County. We work very closely with both police departments by assisting them in deterring crime, being additional ‘eyes and ears’ in our neighborhoods; thereby helping them make more arrests and improve the overall quality of life in our neighborhood. In fact, in some cases the police request our assistance in cases such as missing persons, community events and other matters. (Website)
Even setting aside a debate about privatization of government security services and the issues of possible misuse of power by self appointed citizen patrol members, it is a questionable crime fighting strategy to expand on the reactive policing technique that has proven to be ineffective in the first place in a city that already has an above average police density. Most analysts have concluded that a city with a high crime rate cannot arrest itself out of crime without addressing the root causes of crime, namely pervasive poverty and the resulting dysfunctions arising from it.
2018 funding plan:
Hatzalah or Shomrim? Ambulance or Command vehicle?

How to best use the gambling funds?

Lottery and casino gambling have presented the State and Baltimore City with what many consider considerable windfalls. As has been pointed out many times, those profits are a disproportionate burden on poor under-educated residents and negatively affect poor communities. Additionally,  the idea of extra public money creates new dependencies and reduces transparency of the use of public funds in political behavior not unlike the  "The Gambler's Fallacy." The Video Lottery Funds, Casino Funds and whatever other slush funds are out there are poorly supervised and tempting sources to feed whatever popular requests are out there without a truly strategic approach.
“The public system should be designed so that it leads people to do the right thing. When you set up a system in which the gambling industry and state government have interests in common, you do the opposite. You create a system that encourages back-room deals.” Earl Grinols, an economics professor at Baylor University. (CityLab)
Pimlico Local Impact Aid eligible areas
The Pimlico funds distribution is suggested by a local development authority and reviewed by the Mayor. For the 2018 budget, Mayor Pugh sent a response letter to the citizen committee. In it there is mention of an ambulance to be included for the 2018 budget but no mention of Shomrim or a patrol vehicle.
Pimlico impact fund spending rules

In a cost benefit analysis a command vehicle would probably fare pretty poorly when compared to other possible use of $50,000 in addressing the crime, safety and quality of life issues in Park Heights. But neither the Casino funds nor for the Pimlico funds are guided by a good long-term strategy. The various masterplans that have been created to guide the future of the "impact" communities are simply not specific enough to manage considerable funds year after year. The Pimlico funds for 2018 amount to a stately $7.8 million, an amount of annual money that could turn an area around if it would be spent strategically, but only perpetuates misery if spent poorly.

Of course, the casino and the lottery enabling bills that brought gambling to Maryland, were all wrapped around school funding and education. To date there is no outcome based evidence that the availability of these funds has achieved what was promised. (See SUN article of January this year). Talking about education is not a digression from the question of the "command" Tahoe since lack of education is the strongest predictor for poverty and poverty the strongest predictor for the lack of public safety.
Hatzalah Baltimore EMS vehicle
"While gambling was sold as a way to bring in more money for education, it really hasn't been putting more money in schools. We've essentially invested the same amount of money in our schools that we would have with or without legalized gambling." (Benjamin Orr, director of the Maryland Center on Economic Policy.). That's most pronounced in Baltimore, where the Horseshoe Casino has generated more than $200 million for the Education Trust Fund since it opened in 2014. Baltimore public schools have received less state money — not more — than they did before the casino opened. The system is dealing with a $129 million budget gap this year, and stands to lose $42 million in aid next year under the state budget proposed last week by Gov. Larry Hogan. (Baltimore SUN)

With crime sky high in Baltimore many may think, any additional eyes on the street, what could be wrong with it? After some more deliberation, though, it becomes clear  that amidst the heated debates about Baltimore police which find themselves under federal oversight from the Justice Department due to inequitable policing and institutional social injustice, in the midst of the Black  Lives Matter movement, it is not prudent to give an obviously religiously and ethnically motivated para-police group a vehicle that is a total look- alike of a Baltimore City police car.
The Shomrim demonstrate that when the government funds inherently religious providers of social services, a constitutional gray area is created in the attempts to reconcile state action with the Establishment Clause. (Emory Law Journal)
That should be obvious, even before one gets into the questions swirling around how this particular donation came about and how it was vetted. It is high time that the use of those gaming impact funds gets screened and reviewed in public and with a much bigger emphasis on solving the root causes of the pathologies of the communities in which the funds can be be used by law.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Park Heights related articles on this blog:
Who Cares About Pimlico?
Park Heights: 64 Vacant Acres Still Waiting
Park Heights: Time to Learn from Failure
The Long Path to Park Heights Renaissance 

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Owings Mills Mall: Doubling down on mono-culture

Life in the fast lane of American retail can be short. 30 years short to be exact. 1986 a celebrated shining star on the sky of consumerism with 155 stores and anchors such as Macy's, Boscov'sLord & TaylorSaks Fifth Avenue, and Sears  Owings Mills Mall spreading over 45 acres commanding 5,300 parking spaces was nothing but a pile of rubble at the end of 2016.
46 acres of mall reduced to rubble (Photo: Philipsen)

What went wrong?

America is over-retailed with retail space per resident many times higher than Canada or Europe while online sales squeeze brick and mortar further. Isolated single-use fortifications such as Owings Mills Mall surrounded by ring roads and seas of parking were the first to fail as soon as one of their anchor department stores went out of business.

But the Owings Mills mall site is located near a Metro station which now sprouts its own New-Urbanist town-center ("MetroCenter)", has fabulous interstate access and is surrounded by a still growing "new-town". One would think that the site would be a priced piece of real estate ready to become a benchmark for the reinvention of the sprawl suburb with a dense walkable mixed-use "downtown" that would expand on MetroCenter and finally give the new-town of Owings Mills a true heart  in form of a traditional urban center similar to what Columbia tries to retrofit around its still functioning mall. Good examples of mall redevelopment can be found in many places, especially out West (Scottsdale, Kierland Commons).
Mall replacement: A Lifeless open air shopping center (BCT Architects)

But that is not what property owner Kimco thinks. Instead, the owners doubles down on single-use and isolation by replacing a 1 million square foot mall with a 575,000 sf open air shopping center with a measly 30 stores scattered among a sea of surface parking. Cost $108 million. The AMC multiplex movie theater and the ring-road of the old mall are kept in place.

The proposed redevelopment is like replacing the doomed hydrogen filled Zeppelin Hindenburg with the same model but half the size and hope for a better future. The new center's main anchor will be a 148,000 Costco store, the type of big-box store, a retail concept that is nationwide in nearly as much trouble as the mall.
County Executive Kamenetz with Kimco representative Simmons (right) and
Councilman Jones and councilwoman Almond (left).  (Photo: Philipsen)

The open air shopping center dubbed Mill Station is shockingly unimaginative judging from the renderings prepared by BCT Architects, Baltimore which were on display during the press conference held on site on Tuesday. The proposed shops don't even pretend to form a main street or Avenue as in the case of White Marsh, the regional grand-daddy of the so-called lifestyle centers dating back to 1996, a model that was replicated from Laurel to Hunt Valley ever since. In fact, compared to the Owings Mills plan, the old White Marsh Avenue looks outright innovative.

It is as if Mill Station is out to prove that nothing can be learned from the demise of the mall. All principles of good urban-design, such as transit orientation, placemaking, walkability, mixed-use, and integration of surrounding developments continue to be ignored. Even the suggested green-spaces are not used to create a memorable place or to anchor the development. Instead green decorates the edges like parsley on a plate of Wiener schnitzel. One can only hope that reality will outshine the renderings.
"Lifetstyle center" rendering (BCT Architects)

Councilman Julian Jones spoke enthusiastically about the "triple crown" when he referred to the explosion of shopping opportunities in Owings Mills, the trifecta of MetroCenter, Foundry Row and now Mill Station. County Executive Kamenetz  expressed hope that these three centers are not out to compete but to provide synergy when he emphasized that these three developments represent a combined $750 million of investment in the area. Asked how these three centers are connected, Kamenetz admitted "this is difficult". In reality, the three centers are not really connected and in no way the result of a bigger masterplan but are what one gets when large retail developers fight their turf battles and two different council districts are trying to each catch the bigger fish. The result is not what the people of Owings Mills truly need, nor is it any more sustainable than the mall of the past, destined to an equally short life span by its very DNA.
ULI brochure about mall redevelopment

Not all retail has to die after only 30 years. Wanamakers in Philadelphia dates back to 1877 and still is a beautiful department store. Les Galleries Lafayette in Paris fall in the same period and still represent a tourist attraction, so is Macy's in New York (1902).
The "triple crown" of Owings Mills: Foundry Row (right), Metro Center,
(center and the mall (bottom left)

New towns across America from Reston to Columbia and even Tysons Corner are working hard on building true urban mixed-use downtowns. Owings Mills just missed a 46 acre opportunity to embark on lasting, attractive and sustainable change.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Owings Mall Opening news report (1986 video)
Baltimore SUN: Redevelopment of Owings Mills Mall site starts
ULI, Ten Principles for Rethinking the Mall
Related articles on my blogs:

The Mall is Dead (2012)
A New Town form the Seventies (Owings Mills, 2015)
Revisiting Odenton (2017)

Tuesday, November 21, 2017

Baltimore artist Mina Cheon and international politics

Artists have expanded the traditional enclaves of art to human based design, design thinking and social impact design. Art always had a subversive element, if for no other reason than that artists picked up and visualized vibes that others had not yet detected or identified. In many ways art has become the glue that keeps Baltimore together with the Station North Arts District stitching together North Avenue and Charles Street, the white L and the black butterfly.

Artists veering into foreign policy, smuggling and subversive anti propaganda is going several steps further, though, especially when it includes the nuclear option. Which gets us, of course, to North Korea but also to Baltimore based South Korean artist Mina Cheon which has mastered to get into all of the above and garnered worldwide recognition for it.
Lesson 7 video still, Professor Kim Art History Lessons
being sent to North Korea and displayed in UMMA: MASS GAMES

Cheon is a Korean born Baltimore native and MICA professor with a PhD in Philosophy of Media and Communications practicing media art between Baltimore, New York and Seoul. As a daughter of a South Korean diplomat she grew up with the world as her canvas. She is married to Baltimore architect and Morgan professor Gabriel Kroiz, the couple started various forays into exchanges of American and Korean art and design resulting in a temporary MICA summer abroad program in Seoul and Morgan students visiting Seoul as well. They collaborated on many art and design projects such as Diamonds Light Baltimore for Light City 2016, and together own K-Town Studios building between Station North and Remington to house studios for artists and designers.

Cheon has for a while played with the absorption of socialist realism into her art ("Polipop") and even went as far as developing an alter ego character she dubbed Kim Il Soon. The character is a not so subtle take on the North Korean leader but expands the original to a multi faceted figure which is among other things a woman, a socialist realist painter, a naval commander, farmer, scholar, teacher and mother. The character's narrative stipulates that it was bequest to her by the Dear Leader. The character is  happy because she can fulfill her duties as a devoted citizen of the Work’s Party and paint national propagandas of North KoreaThe character is a subversive attempt to combat the increasing contemptuous attitudes of the ‘demagogue Father figure’ throughout the country. Cheon's projections of the powerful Kim Il Soon are driven by almost as much omnipotence fantasies as those by the Great North Korean Leader himself.  Subversively, though, the projection transposes  power from the Father to the Umma, the North Korean mom figure and, thus, becomes also a testament to women power.
Lil Kim: Father and Umma, social realist painting
 “I work with ‘Polipop’ (short for political pop art) not as a direct propaganda, but as a way to advocate for a cultural message. I use politics and popular culture because these are the two things people are surrounded by in our daily lives." (Mina Cheon quoted in Arts and Aesthetics
Cheon assumes that North and South Koreans should have something to say to each other and that communication can penetrate the strong dictatorial barriers of censorship the regime in North Korea has erected. For example with smuggled memory sticks that contain narratives of western culture (Yves Klein) illustrated in the manner of North Korean socialist realism. The memory sticks contain subjects in video form such as ‘Money & Power’, ‘Abstract Art and Dreams’, ‘Feminism’, ‘Are We Equal?’, ‘Art Lives Matter’, ‘Social Justice’, ‘Remix and Appropriation Art’ and ‘Art & Technology’ in the form of lessons of ‘Kim the Teacher’ which are also her dreams in which socialist realism is overlaid by aspects of consumerism and modern art with reference to Marcel Duchamp, Ai Weiwei or Barbara Kruger. The lessons are not only circulating through North Korea via collaborators but are also on display during New York City’s ‘Asia Contemporary Art Week’  illustrating the cult of maternal love, a solution for global peace and Korean unification.
The curator of the show, Nadim Samman explains:
Through our conversations, Mina and I have come to realize that North Korean art is epic mansplaining. The recent war of words between the North Korean and U.S. leaders makes it obvious that demagogue Father figures, and man-boy posturing, need to be outflanked. With this exhibition, Mina establishes the personality cult of UMMA (‘mommy’ in Korean), whose maternal love is deployed as the only acceptable solution for global peace and Korean unification. In a way, the video lecture aspect of this project explores whether a bit of momsplaining can be a seed for a brighter future.
Happy North Korean Girl, social realist painting
This is no small undertaking. Planting seeds of subversion and cultural infiltration is a subtler and more technological advanced continuation of the well known methods of winning the minds of those behind walls of censorship and mind control such as forbidden books, disallowed radio broadcasts or flyers dropped by airplanes. In a time when the leaders of the US and North Korea have engaged in a dangerous duel of words between  two macho boys, Cheon's fantasies and alter egos could have bigger real life implications than she ever imagined. Her aspiration is humanistic:
“My dedication to sharing art with North Koreans equals my dedication for humanizing North Koreans in the eyes of the world. For most Koreans, whether in the North or the South, we are one: we dream of unification. With this project, we advocate that North Korean lives matter; and we plead, please do not destroy North Korea for the sake of global peace.”
Baltimore has proven many times that it is a fertile ground for art, just take the two recent full feature films Ratfilm and Steps. Rarely, though, has art created here stirred worldwide reactions and immersed itself into an international conflict that keeps the world on edge.
Feminist Umma, Feminist Umma, IKB dream painting

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Images used with permission. Copyright Mina Cheon Studio.

Mina Cheon's UMMA : MASS GAMES - Motherly Love North Korea, curated by Nadim Samman, opened in October is extended till January at Ethan Cohen Gallery in New York. (Gallery hours: Tuesday - Saturday 11am - 6pm)
Artsy: Mina Cheon is sending contemporary art lessons into North Korea
On Art and Aesthetics: "Umma: Mass Games" by Mina Cheon- Motherly Love and Education for North Korea
Light City Baltimore video

Monday, November 20, 2017

Baltimore's HBCUs, a lawsuit and the urban question

The case  "Equity vs Maryland Higher Education Commission" between Maryland’s historically black colleges (HBCUs) and universities and the traditionally white institutions (TWI) has been going back and forth for years with accusations flying and proposed remedies being rejected at a rapid pace. The case argues institutional racism, education, investment and development in a unique brew of arguments and counter arguments. Now there is a verdict. Is it going to be good for Baltimore?
Historically Black Colleges and Universities are institutions of higher education in the United States that were established before 1964 with the intention of serving the African American Community. They were created to give African Americans Citizens equal educational opportunites...Historically Black Colleges and Universities have done wonderful things for the African American Community. For example, more than 50% of the nations African American public school teachers and 70% of African American dentists have earned degrees at HBCU's. (HBCU Connect)
Maryland's HBCUs
The case goes back to 2005, to 2000 and ultimately to the civil rights legislation of 1964. The actual case begins when Towson University and the University of Baltimore applied for a joint MBA program at the Maryland Higher Education Commission (MHEC) which oversees all universities in the state and approved the Towson/UB program.

In 2006 alumni and faculty of the four Maryland HBCU's,  Coppin State and Morgan State University in Baltimore, Bowie State University and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore joint forces and filed a lawsuit arguing that the State of Maryland was violating a 2000 civil rights agreement between the federal Office of Civil Rights and the State.
In late October 1999, the State of Maryland and the United States Department of Education, Office for Civil Rights (OCR), entered into a Partnership for the purposes of improving the educational opportunities for African Americans in Maryland's public institutions of higher education and ensuring compliance with the State’s obligations under federal law.  As part of the Partnership process, the State and OCR agreed to examine and address the status of African Americans regarding access, enrollment, retention, and graduation at the State’s public  institutions of higher education. (OCR plan)
That agreement essentially aimed to make HBCUs comparable to TWIs by, among other things, avoiding unnecessary program duplications.

The 2006 suit maintains that the Towson-UB program is such a duplication depriving Morgan State University of attracting white students to increase MSU's student diversity. Morgan State's share of African American students is 74.6%. In select programs such as Architecture the diversity is better with larger percentages of white students, a decided goal of the equity law suit.  Currently at Coppin State University (CSU) 81.9% of students are African American. At Towson University 18% of all students are black.
Morgan State new Business Center

The suit dragged on until 2013 when District Court Judge Catherine Blake determined, that the Maryland University System de jure continued to discriminate against HBCUs although she also determined at the time that there was no discrimination in the State's capital expenditures.  The court found that 60 percent of the non-core programs at Maryland’s historically black institutions were unnecessarily duplicated at the state’s traditionally white institutions, while TWIs had only 18 percent of their non-core programs replicated at other public schools. The judge ordered the parties to come up with a plan for remediation. State leaders pledged $10 million annually towards joint programs between HBCUs and TWIs but those remedial proposals were ultimately judged insufficient.
“..neither party’s remedy, as currently proposed, is practicable, educationally sound, and sufficient to address the segregative harms of program duplication.” (Judge Blake)
In 2016 Judge Blake rejected a submitted remediation plan and set a trial for 2017. After several hearings and delays the matter was heard this month again. The judge ruled that the State must establish a set of new, unique and high-demand programs at each of the historically black institutions. In an injunction the judge ordered  the State to appoint an independent monitor who oversees the implementation of educational programs and even has the power to provide certain funds over a period of 10 years. At the same time the judge did not require TWIs to transfer duplicative programs to HBCUs. It appears that this ruling ends the court case unless it is appealed.

Since 2006 the State has spent over $2.2. million defending itself in this case.

The roots of the case goes back all the way to the basic civil rights laws of 1964 and history before that. Maryland's HBCU's were founded in 1867 (Morgan) and 1900 (Coppin). While the basic issues remain the same, sociateal conditions and laws have changed. Even during the 11 year duration of this case in the courts the case lived through several shifts of view, including the Black Lives Matter movement and the heightened awareness of continued race discrimination exacerbated by the current administration, with the disputes about confederate monuments as a sidebar. It isn't easy to navigate the racially charged terrain of this particular case.

On the one side the desire to racially diversify both TWI's and HBCUs, on the other the stated purpose of HBCU's to provide safe and supportive places for black students. On the one side the cut-throat competition of private universities and on the other an attempt of public universities to keep up and at the same time keep tuition affordable. All of that in the international context of US slippage in education attainment, especially in STEM and in early childhood and primary education.
New STEM center at Coppin University in North Avenue

One of the defining differences between TWIs and HBCUs isn't part of the lawsuit: Not the racial demographics of the students but the threshold to get in. The admission standards of HBCUs are defined by the goal of providing access to the underprivileged.  In the effort of providing opportunities for students coming from disadvantaged communities, HBCU standards for admission are frequently quite low. The unintended consequences of these lower standards are not discussed in the judges findings but appear to hobble them more than duplicate programs. In a competitive environment low admission standards automatically lead to low application levels of students from areas of higher educational attainment and who a have higher GPAs and can get into a number of universities beyond HBCUs, regardless of ethnicity. Experts seem to agree, that low admission standards are a bad policy:
Tuskegee University founder, Booker T. Washington, internationally renowned sociologist, W. E. B. Dubois, along with leading civil rights activists and founder of Bethune-Cookman College, Mary McLeod Bethune, were among the most vocal proponents regarding the need for black colleges to establish and maintain high academic expectations. Charlie Nelms, Ed.DHigher Education Expert and Consultant.
Coppin University in Baltimore represents a drastic example of the vicious cycle resulting from lowering expectations. Located in West Baltimore, the University prides itself of providing unprecedented access for students and faculty of disadvantaged communities. Three-quarters of those who enroll at Coppin require academic remediation. At the same time the university has been battling with sinking enrollment for years. It has one of the worst graduation and retention rates in the entire nation (15-17% overall, the national average is 69%, 5.4% of first-time/full-time students). Partly as a result of the extremely small student body, with some professors teaching classes of two students. the State funding rate for Coppin per student is comparably high with $11,997 per student, while Towson students received less than half with $5,056 per student. (2010 numbers source). In spite of a lack of students, Coppin University received State funds to expanded its campus massively, including a large athletic facility, a state of the art student center and a brand-new complex of STEM buildings, for which the university has neither faculty nor students.  Morgan State also expanded also on a construction spree, just as most TWIs did.  But unlike Coppin, MSU managed to keep its enrollment relatively steady around 8000 students, whereas CSU's enrollment is only around 3,800 students, down from 4,306 in 2006. CSU ranks a dismal #50 among all HBCU's ranked by US News and World Report, MSU sits on place #16. Morgan appears to be on a path towards excellence under the leadership of its current dynamic president with increased grants and contracts, increased retention and graduation, and improved financial accountability.
Coppin State graduation rates (College Factual)

It remains to be seen how CSU will fare under the new management with a court ordered monitor overseeing program and fund allocations. It is clear that expenditures per student, additional programs or investment in campus construction by themselves do not represent a solution as several presidents of CSU have found out when trying to combat low enrollment and low graduation rates. MSU, by contrast, has combined investment with higher expectations of excellence which begins with the acceptance rate and doesn't end with realistic grades and standards.

The matter of Baltimore's HBCUs is not just something for lawyers and history geeks. Access and education opportunities for Baltimore's youth in disinvested communities is a direct indicator for Baltimore's future. The role of Baltimore's HBCUs in their community is of upmost relevance. A healthy Coppin University is key to the recovery of West Baltimore.

Finding the right balance between high standards and good access is a conundrum that puzzles not only universities but schools in general and is even a problem for employers and City agencies or the police depratment. If history is any guide, it shows that inequity and discrimination cannot simply be undone by opening access wide at the college level if  access isn't combined with early interventions during early childhood, school and potentially community college. Mayor Pugh's of tuition free access to BCCC is a good step, but it too needs to balanced with an expectation of high standards. In this sense, the HBCU case lands right in the middle of all of Baltimore's problems: Low expectations, low accountabibility and unwillingness to embrace change.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

HBCU connect
June 17 SUN
Feb 2017 Afro Timeline
Nov 17 Injunction  
Maryland Historically Black Colleges and Universities Litigation (Lawyers Committee for Civil Rights)