Wednesday, November 28, 2018

Why Baltimore City and County depend on each other

December 3 will be the inauguration of the new Baltimore County Executive John Olszewski Jr. Time to consider how this may affect the City and how the future of the region may look.

For all the talk how inner ring suburbs are destined to take on the urban characteristics of the core city they abut, the election results of the 2018 midterms show significant differences. Looking at the the votes for Governor the results between Baltimore City and Baltimore County are almost opposite, in spite of the close embrace of the two jurisdictions. (Some would say the County sits like a vice around the City).
City County comparison (Data USA)

But this voting pattern did not hold true for the County Executive, where the County Democrat John Olszewski beat his Republican competitor Alan Redmer by more than 15%, nor was it true for the election of the US Senator where the Democrat beat the Republican by 28 points. The seemingly contradictory voting results reflect a checkered history, geography and a complex relation between the two jurisdictions. From being a rural hinterland around a flourishing city, Baltimore County has morphed to becoming a jurisdiction which is larger than the city, offers many jobs and even a few almost urban centers such as Towson, Pikesville and Catonsville. But none of these places are incorporated. Thus they don't have their own zoning authority, mayors or police. All is controlled by County government in Towson all the way around the beltway, a situation that leads to frequent complaints of constituents far away from the County seat.
More money in the County but less than the State average  (Data USA)

Baltimore County owes much of its growth to the deeply racial housing policies of the past, including redlining and blockbusting, two practices which drove whites into the suburbs and contributed to the imbalances we see today. To top it off, in 1948 the State passed a law that forbade Baltimore City to annex any additional land after the last annexation when the city expanded north from North Avenue to its current boundaries. That was around 1918. Much has been discussed about the problems that such "inelasticity" (Rusk) brings, even though history has shown that cities can overcome a geographic choke-hold if proper regional collaboration wins over rivalry and unfair competition. Collaboration is helped by the fact that even further afar counties such as Howard, Harford and Anne Arundel have in turn become competitors for Baltimore County, siphoning off the most educated and upward mobile segments of the population just as the County had done for the City.
City and County: Tight embrace or vice grip?

Just as the City itself is far from homogeneous in terms of prosperity, the County shows stark divisions as well. While older neighborhoods near the city line and inside the beltway begin to look more similar to city neighborhoods in terms of racial mix and income, the County which is has now a population about 30% larger than the City overall has less than half of the City's poverty rate and property values are on average 160% of those in the City. Sometimes those numbers are used to show how superior the County is. However, if Baltimore County is compared to its peers such as Howard, Montgomery or Anne Arundel County, it fares much less well and trails those counties in almost all metrics.

In terms of race the figures between County and City are almost upside down mirror images (around 60% black in the City and 60% white in the County with about 30% white in the City and 30% black in the County). Several County districts such as Woodlawn and Randallstown now have a racial mix very close to that in the City.

It stands to reason that a core city and its immediate surrounding county need to have close relations and plan their future together. Progressive planning a hundred years ago created a common water district and the electric infrastructure is also fully integrated. MTA transit service also knits both jurisdictions together under a united service network. But those examples are the exception. Generally regional collaboration is tepid and frequently limited to what the law requires of mandated the metropolitan planning organization which is established within the Baltimore Metropolitan Council. The late County Executive Kevin Kamenetz became the most ardent City advocate after he had decided to run for Governor. Initially only luke warm about the Red Line, he began to describe the project which Governor Hogan cancelled as a lifeline for the region and its transportation woes. Kamenetz also saw the need for the County to be more accepting of its growing racial diversity. He movingly spoke about this as a mandate and as an opportunity four years ago at his inauguration speech.
Housing values: County values are higher than City but lower than State
average  (Data USA)

From everything that Johnny Olszewki has said on the campaign trail and since his election, one can expect that the newly elected  executive will embrace diversity, be socially conscious and actively work on the fair and affordable housing strategies laid out in the federal consent decree which his opponent in the campaign rejected, even though they are legally binding. Olszewski hasn't been shy about appearing in the City and join events there. He has promised collaboration with Mayor Pugh on numerous occasions. City Council President Jack Young and City Council member Eric Costello appeared on stage at Johhny O' election night victory party, symbols for the understanding that the future of both, City and County depend on each other.

Interim executive Don Mohler had struck the right tone when some County politicians suggested to cut off evening bus transit to a County mall in White Marsh presumably to keep poor City youth out, County interim Executive Don Mohler (68) said, this isn't the 50's and rejected the idea forcefully. Mohler in his short period of governance had to face severe weather, crime and a slew of other issues such as the request from Tradepoint Atlantic for a $150 million TIF. He managed each of this challenges gracefully and in a way that allows the new exec to stand on a good foundation. The favorable starting points include some increased transparency in the Tradepoint Atlantic deal that is ultimately more creatively financed than a straight up TIF and costs the County less but is waiting for final approval under the next administration. Tradepoint Atlantic is an example of the inter-jurisdictional economy in that the Port of Baltimore is using space on the County peninsula for some of its operations.
Race and diversity, inverse relations between City and County  (Data USA)

While the County had steered a course of fiscal austerity with property taxes which are about half of those in the City, creativity and rapid adaptation to innovation were not the official hallmark of County policies, nor was transparency. Just about any advocacy group complained about a lack of openness and too many deals struck behind the curtain. The austerity also led to a conservative posture where proactive initiatives would have been preferable. For example, for the Red Line. Arlington County in Virginia, for example, developed one attractive urban center after the other around the WMATA metro stops. For this zoning, masterplans and leadership in dealing with developers were instrumental. Baltimore County would have had the opportunity to do the same at White Marsh or Security Square Mall, two areas which were initially designated growth areas (the Security Mall area was later dropped as town center) but both remained auto oriented non walkable retail mono cultures defying all principles of modern urban design.

One can generally say that while Baltimore County was a leader in environmental protection when it legislated the Urban Rural Demarcation Line as early as the seventies and thus protected large swaths of rural lands in the "North County" to this day, it had a much less lucky hand in designing and regulating attractive settlements and communities. There is hardly any development of the last 40 or so years one would like to show as a model for how development should be done. The quality of the historic settlements of Stonely, Edmondson Heights or Old Catonsville have never been met again, not through imitation (New Urbanism) nor through innovative concepts such as the City's Coldspring new town or the Village of Cross Keys. Creative adaptive re-use projects such as the American Can or Clipper Mill cannot be found in the County.
Transit Oriented development at Owings Mills

The lack of good place making development includes Owings Mills, the designated growth center with Metro connection in spite of a major project there to create a mixed use center and actual transit oriented development. Too much of that effort is undercut by competing mega developments on the nearby former Solo Cup site and on the even closer former Owings Mills Mall site. The recent promising renaissance of main street areas such as Frederick Road in Catonsville are much more the result of private initiatives, especially of restaurants, than the outcome of government having a good plan.  Even now, the administration was still toying with demolishing one of the largest historic structures on Frederick Road, the 1910 former elementary school, not recognizing how adaptive reuse of such a structure could become a huge magnet for the area.

The Counties center Towson with the biggest potential for being attractive to millenials looking for urban amenities is far from being "cool". One large redevelopment with the potential of turning  Towson around, has stalled for years and was too eagerly green-lighted, without all the necessary vetting. Meanwhile all Towson community groups have been in some type of war over missing green spaces, a mega gas station on York Road (now modified) and almost any other planned development because a convincing, consensus based cohesive overall strategy for Towson is still missing while, for example, Columbia moves steadily towards a much discussed vision plan and even much less attractive Tysons Corner is rapidly transforming into a planned more pedestrian friendly urban setting.
Higher education in City and County  (Data USA)

In his campaign the new executive has stressed education as his main focus. There is still much to do, in spite of a one billion dollar investment program into school buildings and a very controversial program to give every pupil a laptop. The dynamic young school superintendent had to leave among improper dealings with education material vendors and the building program still left an open flank for Hogan-Franchot attacks on missing air conditioners, no matter how inappropriate those were.

It is time for Baltimore County to embrace the new century. Being "not the city" is no longer enough to thrive. It was always a poor way to be defined, but now it has become entirely untenable. There will be much to do for Johnny O., but whatever he will do, there is a good chance it will be done in a spirit of collaboration with the city and not by looking down his nose. Because of recent demographic trends core cities  have the upper hand compared to older inner ring suburbs, the before mentioned indicators and Baltimore's severe struggles not withstanding. It is time that both jurisdictions see that there future lies in working together and not against each other. The boundary is just too arbitrary and odd when it comes to good planning.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

The high stakes for the new Regional Transit Plan

The last regional transit plan was the 2002 Baltimore Rail Plan which suggested a color coded rail network much like the one in DC with priority for an east west line which became the doomed Red Line project.
Chicago 2018-23 regional transit plan

Many think that a flawed plan led to the the failure of the Red Line to pass muster with the current governor and proffer a bunch of deficits ranging from that the plan was limited to rail to that it was promoted by a relatively small group of regional leaders and never had full scale community support.

While this is a bit like blaming the victim for the crime, the purpose of this article isn't to re-litigate the Red Line and its genesis but to discuss what the new regional transit plan should look like which is required by House Bill 372 which passed last year. In the convoluted language of those type bills the following is legislated:

On or before October 1, 2020, the administration shall, in consultation with [a newly to be created Commission]  and the Baltimore metropolitan council, prepare a central Maryland regional transit plan to meet the transit needs of the core service area.
(c) the central Maryland regional transit plan shall:(1) define goals for outcomes to be achieved through the provision of public transportation;(2) in order to best achieve the goals defined in item (1) of this subsection, identify options for:(i) improvements to existing transportation assets;(ii) improvements to leverage non–administration transportation options available to public transportation; and(iii) corridors for new public transportation assets;(3) prioritize corridors for planning of new public transportation assets; (4) Evaluate the plan’s consistency with local land use and transportation plans and the Maryland transportation plan and identify opportunities for achieving greater consistency; (5) be reviewed, revised, and updated at least every 5 years; and (6) address a 30–year 25–year time frame. 
The 2002 Regional rail plan

The bill also mandates the formation of a new Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan Commission and is specific about who will be on the Commission and what its purpose is. Again in the original language of the bill:
(1) there is a Central Maryland Regional Transit Plan Commission.
(2) the commission consists of the following members:
(i) the county executive of Anne Arundel county, or the county executive’s designee;
(ii) the mayor of Baltimore city, or the mayor’s designee;
(iii) the county executive of Baltimore county, or the county executive’s designee; and
(iv) the county executive of Harford county, or the county executive’s designee;
(v) the county executive of Howard county, or the county executive’s designee;
(vi) one representative from a central Maryland business or transportation organization, appointed by the president of the senate;
(vii) one representative from a central Maryland business or transportation organization, appointed by the speaker of the house; and
(iv) (viii) the following individuals appointed by the governor:
1.      Three representatives one representative from a central maryland business organizations organization;
One representative from a citizen advisory committee the citizen advisory council;
3. One representative from a disabled riders group; and
4. One representative from the MARC riders advisory council.
(3) the commission shall participate in the development of:
(i) a strategy for meaningful public involvement in the central Maryland regional transit plan; and
(ii) the goals for outcomes of the central Maryland regional transit plan. 

In spite of all this language, the bill  really leaves it  wide open how the required plan would address the regions transit needs. Transit advocates, legislators and the MTA waited until the end of this summer to gear up for the plan which has a deadline of Oct 1, 2020. Since it is the "administration" which is charged to prepare the plan "in consultation", it will be MTA's plan.
A new way of thinking about transit

This fall the transit agency hired five consulting teams through a request for proposals for an "open end" planning contract which allows any type planning assignment. However, for evaluation the consultants were asked to describe how they would develop a regional plan and that will be the first assignment. The MTA is already engaged in an up-front listening tour and appears to be ahead of transit advocates who have not yet come up with a formal set of ideas for the plan and its approach.

From a supply model to a demand model

For the plan to take shape, many decision have to be made early on. Since 2002 ideas about how transit plans look have developed. Back then a plan mostly consisted in drawing lines on a map and describing in which order the additional routes should be constructed ("supply model"). Today, transit plans aim for much more comprehensive concepts described as mobility and access. Transportation has since emerged as central to economic development, opportunity and equity. In other words, cutting edge plans are about people and social issues as much as about transit operations ("Demand model").
Goals from the New Orleans transit plan 

The 2015 regional Opportunity Collaborative's report made it very clear, that  key to opportunity and equity is the ease of travel between live and work. Unfortunately, the way the region shaped up, poor people live clustered in inner city neighborhoods and entry level jobs are scattered far out in the regional periphery such as the BWI airport, Dundalk, Perryman Island or Sparrows Point (Tradepoint Atlantic).  The result: People without a car and without a college degree have terribly long commutes because the urban job centers in downtown Baltimore and Harbor East have long become bastions of finance, medicine and education with only a scattering of entry level jobs. Beyond this job-housing mismatch modern mobility needs go far beyond work-trips. Just as roads are busy almost all day in all directions, transit can no longer just serve work trips, is no longer directional in the traditional way (to work into the city and out after work) and all purpose trips make up a large share of transit rides.

How equity and opportunity would shape the plan

There are three core take-aways that come from a focus on people, economy, and equity in order to create opportunity. They will have to shape the new transit plan:

  • the plan needs to address how people get from door to door, i.e. the plan has to look not only at transit but at transportation in the broadest sense and include last mile mobility, be it walking, a shuttle, a ride share or even biking or taking a scooter.
  • the plan needs to also address land use. Not even the best transit  can chase all the jobs in the far corners of the region. Instead, good opportunity and good access requires that jobs locate where transit is.
  • the plan needs to optimize existing assets. It cannot simply rely on additional lines to make up for the shortcomings of the existing systems. Instead, what is already on the ground has to be optimized to perform on a top level. This, too includes better land use around existing stations. 

As a recent study by a DW Rowlands published in the greater Greater Washington online publication shows that the problem isn't that poor people always have poor access to transit. In fact, the high frequency lines of MTA's rail and bus service are usually quite accessible to people who live in areas of low property values (the metric the study used). The problem is that the services and jobs people in the dis-invested areas seek are far from where they live and often not accessible with a single transit trip. Once transfers are needed, transit trip times quickly exceed the 45 minutes which are usually considered the longest acceptable commute.
Autonomous last mile shuttle at German rail station

A new transit plan which looks at land use, last mile modes, existing and new transit and effective operations is a far more complicated undertaking than the traditional effort of drawing additional lines on a map.

How future trends should shape the plan

But even this isn't enough. The plan, which by law must have a 30 year horizo,n has to take into account seismic shifts in technology and demographics which will radically alter the transit landscape. The most dramatic shifts will likely come in these areas:

  • The workplace: Robotics will change the workplace  After the industrial revolution replaced farm work with manufacturing which was then largely replaced by the service industry many jobs in the service industry will soon be replaced by robots and artificial intelligence.  \
  • Transportation: Robotics will also change transportation and transit. It isn't clear whether autonomous cars will take away riders from transit or whether autonomous transit vehicles will expand the reach of transit. Much will depend on national, state, regional and local policies which manage how those robot cars, vans, trucks and buses can be dispatched and whether the sharing economy (ride share, car share, bike share etc.) will continue to expand.
    Access, housing and economic development make good livable communities
  • Demographics: Population trends will shift will drastically whom transit serves. An increase in  older population with its specific demands on land use and transportation (such as the increase in demand for the MTA Mobility van service) will support transit usage. Meanwhile the well educated younger population, which is essential for any region to compete, continues to trend towards  mixed-use urban settings which much of our suburban region doesn't offer, also potentially a supporter of transit usage
  • Climate change: Awareness of the perils of carbon emissions will increase exponentially with the increased threats from stronger storms and rising sea-levels. Transportation is a major emitter of carbon and will have to respond. Solving the technology and the demographic challenge embeds an opportunity for making mobility much more sustainable. 
Transportation options
The plan as an opportunity

A 30 year transit plan without consideration of the above factors would be shortsighted and fatal. Indeed, the transit plan is a perfect opportunity for shaping the future in a comprehensive way, instead of simply reacting to what would happen by default.  Any region which doesn't pay attention to the need of providing a high quality of life environment with excellent access and mobility for as many of its residents as possible, is going to be doomed and most certainly a looser in the global competition for talent and prosperity. 

The stakes for the new plan are high. It is almost certain that the Hogan administration and a large part of the population which just re-elected the Governor don't see it that way and much rather treat this transit plan as an imposed chore not of their own making. Hogan's preference for road construction is well established.  It will depend on the community and the transit advocates to ensure that the plan responds to the enormous challenges instead of taking the easy way out.  

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Tuesday, November 20, 2018

Will $1.8 billion for tuition lift Baltimore?

To get an idea of the magnitude of the sheer dollar figure, it helps to not only compare the $1.8 Bloomberg gift to Hopkins to amounts that were previously donated, relate it to known quantities but check out what it means for Baltimore. The number is a bit more than half of the entire Baltimore City budget of 2019 and almost three times its capital budget. Tuition at Johns Hopkins has become so expensive (about $53,000 annually), that the donation would only pay the tuition of all students (about 24,000) for one year and 5 months. Of course, this isn't how the gift will work.
Add caption

If the entire pot would be put into savings with 3.5% interest it would yield $63 million a year, enough to pay the full tuition for 1,190 students each year, or full freight for about 5% of all students.  Of course, that isn't how it will work either. For large sums like this endowments are created which allow higher yields than a simple savings account (Harvard's endowment yielded 10% in FY 18). Besides, financial aid doesn't have to pay the full tuition. With the gift included, John's Hopkins endowment is with $5.6 billion still only a fraction of the endowments of Stanford ($24.8 billion), Yale (27.2 billion) or Harvard ($39.2 billion). So what's big in one context is little in another.
Baltimore attracts graduates: Graphic from Allan Mallach
  "The Divided City",  Poverty and Prosperity in Urban America

But there is little precedent for how effective such a large pot of money would be if solely devoted to financial aid, which is why everyone is speculating about the impact of the donation on the university, on Baltimore and on equity in education.

Some consider it a waste of money, because the the track record of attracting poor kids to elite schools with lots of money is bad, even if they offer lots of financial aid. For the class of 2013, only 4.5 percent of Harvard students and 4 percent of Stanford students came from the bottom fifth of the income distribution. By contrast, 15 percent of Harvard students and 17 percent of Stanford students came from the top 1 percent.
When colleges review applications, all but a few consider a student’s ability to pay. As a result, high-achieving applicants from low- and middle-income families are routinely denied seats that are saved for students whose families have deeper pockets. This hurts the son of a farmer in Nebraska as much as the daughter of a working mother in Detroit. (Michael Bloomberg in an op-ed about his donation in the NYT)
There is also the question, what else $1.8 billion could buy in education. 
“the vast majority of low-income high achievers do not apply to any selective college.  This is despite the fact that selective institutions typically cost them less, owing to generous financial aid, than the two-year and nonselective four-year institutions to which they actually apply” (Caroline Hoxby, Stanford and Christopher Avery, Harvard)
Putting the money into institutions for which lower income actually apply and which still provide good success rates in graduation and upward mobility would mean money should go to Morgan State, the University of Maryland, Towson State or community colleges.
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Additionally, one has to wonder if an effective intervention in education doesn't have to begin long before college. The Bloomberg money won't do all that much for better education if it is limited to only the brightest minds in the nation (based on tests and grades) and only serves the purpose to gather all those bright minds at Bloomberg's alma mater.  As the Bloomberg School of Public Health has studied ad infinitum, educational success does not begin with college. For the best minds to even look for college at the end of highschool, education has to begin early. Headstart is such an effort, free daycare for all would be a step, so would many more. Ultimately, though, educational intervention can only be successful when it works in tandem with housing and jobs, the two elements that will lift not only a bright child but its entire family setting.
College is a great leveler. Multiple studies have shown that students who attend selective colleges — no matter what their family’s background — have similar earnings after graduation. But too many qualified kids from low- and middle-income families are being shut out. (Michael Bloomberg in his op-ed in the NYT)
The large gift to Hopkins coincides with Antero Pietila's book release: " the Ghost of Johns Hopkins", a detailed investigation into the roots of the university, the hospital and the character of its founder. I typical Pietila fashion, the book is not only the story of Johns Hopkins, but also the story of Baltimore and how the fate of both have been closely intertwined. In this combination the equity question looms large.
In his latest book Pietila uses Johns Hopkins as the lens to focus on the high and mighty who pulled the strings and shaped Baltimore. He weaves the dealings of luminaries, power brokers, hustlers, police, and even Russian hackers, into a captivating story about his adopted hometown. Covering 200 years, the book ranges wide and far until a comprehensive picture emerges in which heroes and villains are thoroughly intertwined. Many strands lead to Johns Hopkins, the person, the university and the hospital bearing his name, adding up to what is today a 'global premium brand.'" (Klaus Philipsen,  author of Baltimore: Reinventing an Industrial Legacy City on the rear book cover)
 In this vein an understanding of the impact of the donation needs to take more than the university into account. This large gift to Johns Hopkins university allows some bigger conclusions:
  • Foundations play an ever larger role in public life in the US 
  • More than ever the country's richest men (the richest people are men so far) use their philanthropy to shape the nation
  • Johns Hopkins, Baltimore's and Maryland's largest employer and business will attract even more talent but is still far less rich than other elite private universities
  • Equity has become a central topic not only as a conference topic but also as an investment channel
Graphic from Allan Mallach
  "The Divided City",  Poverty and Prosperity in Urban America
With all the talk about the renaissance of manufacturing, many people overlook the fact that Johns Hopkins now employs more people and is a bigger economic engine for Baltimore than Bethlehem steel has ever been here. Eds and meds has surpassed Baltimore's industrial legacy on almost all counts, except one deciding factor: It leaves out the lower education and income levels leading to the well known aspect of the divided city.

While Hopkins is a big engine, it isn't the most relevant place to educate Baltimore's youth and the large gift will hardly change this.

Focusing on Baltimore in a more general way, there are three transformative elements which are needed to lift those who were neglected in the current economic boom: Education, housing and jobs, probably in this order. In that sense, providing access to education to larger segments of the population is key. But does it make sense to increase that access to one of the most expensive schools in the country if there are vastly cheaper colleges available which truly could accept large numbers of students and benefit far more from additional especially talented students. Past studies show, that access and upward mobility does not reside with elite universities.

Baltimore as a Bloomberg City is likely getting this advice from the philanthropy as well. So far, it doesn't look as if the City's efforts in each area add up to this convincing image which Detroit of all places, has been so successful in projecting lately.  However, instead of bashing the Mayor and public officials for what seems to be daily chaos, we should help to make things add up in the right way. Cynicism and absence from public engagement won't do anything good. In fact, what is needed is the opposite: What is needed is that as many organizations and individuals find a common base of agreement on what the main focus areas should be.  Nothings hurts Baltimore more than its extreme fragmentation and tribalization. 

No Bezos, Bloomberg or Plank can be or should be a savior, no matter how rich they are and how much money they throw at a problem. But that Baltimore and its institutions are on the radar should make it easier for the community to come together and develop an achievable blueprint for real transformation.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

What "Community First" could mean for affordable housing and homeless policies

Government has been so bad at rendering aid so many times that  "I'm from the government and I'm here to help youpresented by Reagan "as the most terrifying nine words in the English language", was already then a recycled cliche. Since then cynicism about government has gone up several notches.
HOPE III housing in Sandtown: Mayor Schmoke in 1993 (Photo Philipsen)

Even people who see government as something positive get drawn into the vortex of examples of well intended public aid going terribly awry. Examples galore, internationally (pigs for Haiti), nationally (farm-aid for using corn for ethanol), or in affordable housing or homelessness policies both on the national, state and local level. Slum and blight removal have been the aim of failed urban renewal (the Baltimore Highway to Nowhere), the aim of large scale rehabilitation for first time home-buyers such as Hope III in Sandtown, and even in seemingly convincing strategies such as building from strength as used at Hopkins and EBDI. Almost anything that has been tried had unintended consequences which often outweighed the benefits.

Not that there hasn't been a learning curve. Baltimore's latest HOPE VI redevelopment (Albemarle Square) was definitely better than its first (the conversion of Lafayette Courts into Pleasant View Gardens); the latest federal grant program of Opportunity Zones is probably substantially improved over the Empowerment Zones of the 1990s which left the neighborhoods pretty much unchanged.
Trust lost: The "highway to nowhere" and its destruction of  viable communities
(Photo: Philipsen)

All told, industrial legacy cities, such as Baltimore, are still grappling with the same issues they have faced ever since manufacturing and industrial production began to decline and sometimes before. Policies to deal with the aftermath meandered form local policies serving those with the highest needs first (Mayor Kurt Schmoke, Sandtown) to policies which advocate building from strength (Mayor O'Malley, EBDI). The fiscal argument  that triage and smaller interventions is a much more resource protective strategy than trying to help the most needy is as convincing as the equally fiscal reasoning that ignored areas of high needs breed crime and dysfunction, costing a city much of its competitive attractiveness. The matter gets even more complicated if one considers not only economic aspects (how can each dollar have the greatest impact?) but also social impacts (how can the most people live in decency?).
A long history of research has shown that people who live in disadvantaged neighborhoods fare poorly on important life outcomes, such as income, education, health, and criminal involvement. (Evaluating the Impact of Moving to Opportunity in the United States) 
The debate how to best administer government programs occurs in almost any field: Education, health, and transportation to name just a few. Housing is just the most prominent aspect. This was correctly recognized as early as 1941, when the Citizens Planning and Housing Association (CPHA) was formed in Baltimore. 77 years later questions abound about what is happening in Baltimore's housing scene. Here a small sampling:
HUD Brochure 2017
  • How can a city such as Baltimore have so many vacant and abandoned homes with hardly any assessed tax value and still have tens of thousands of people on a housing waiting list? 
  • Is map of Market Typology which Baltimore's Department of Planning is using just another version of the infamous redlining maps?
  • Should poor people be relocated to opportunity areas (Moving to Opportunity is a federal policy) as is intended by the suit filed by the ACLU against Baltimore Housing against high concentrations of poverty 
  • Should investment occur in the highly dis-invested areas to make life there better (the impetus of the recent Opportunity Zone tax credits)
  • should urban renewal be driven by market forces or should it be fueled by funds collected outside the market place (such as the new Baltimore affordable housing trust fund).
  • Are vouchers artificially making housing more expensive?
  • Is the conversion of public housing into mixed use communities one reason for the affordable housing crisis?
  • Does the Rental Assistance Demonstration program (RAD) unlock private capital to solve the housing crisis or further diminish actual public assistance for low income residents?
Perkins Homes: Public Housing, more quantity than community
For cynics the answers are easy: Whatever policy is used, successful investment will lead to gentrification, which will lead to displacement and ultimately serves developers and investors much more than the people in need. A recent SUN article illuminates this for the Opportunity Zone program in the article A big new federal tax break: Baltimore developers see hope for projects in Opportunity Zones.

In spite of all cynicism and questionable outcomes, pragmatists will continue to search action to reduce homelessness and poverty and bring relief from high rent burdens and poor housing conditions. Housing is the gateway to a slew of bad outcomes, including social isolation, poor access to services and, most importantly, poor community health. The 20 year life discrepancy between the richest and the poorest neighborhoods in Baltimore leads to the untenable realization that your zip code matters more  than your gene code when it comes to life expectancy. The fact that in some  Baltimore's neighborhoods it hovers around that of North Korea or Rwanda is a scandal and doesn't help Baltimore's standing among the cities struggling to find a decent space in the post industrial world.

The State of Maryland jumped into the fray with its much touted Project Core which funds some rehabilitation but predominantly demolition of vacant houses. The emphasis on demolition is unfortunate but aided by communities which are generally in favor of getting rid of vacant houses for the rodents, drug stashes and criminal activities associated with them. The homeless may accidentally set an abandoned structure on fire when they try to warm themselves in winter. It is easy to forget the bigger question: Will vacant lots be an improvement or an even larger obstacle on the path to recovery? As we will see in a moment, the biggest question is, what does vacancy do social cohesion?
Lillian Jones affordable housing in Greenmount West (Photo: Philipsen)

To address the housing and homeless crisis the City is serving a smorgasbord of  "all of the above" initiatives. Affordable housing complexes are built by non-profits and for-profits in poor neighborhoods, some poor residents are relocated to the suburbs continuous, (even though most suburban jurisdictions try to prevent it) and additional public housing complexes are slated for demolition  in favor of mixed use communities (Perkins and Douglass Homes), vacants to value tries to recycle old rowhouses. The City designated a record of 42 Opportunity Zones. Mayor Pugh trying to live up to the City's promise of ending homelessness seems as elusive as bringing the number of vacant houses down.
“If we are going to get serious about public safety, we’re going to get serious about educating our kids. Then we have to get serious about stable, affordable, safe housing in Baltimore.” (Zeke Cohen, Housing Round-table Nov 8, 2017)
In the confusing array of approaches, contradictions and unintended consequences a few truths and principles are emerging:
  • Income and ethnic diversity are better for any community than homogeneity
  • Moving very low income households in an attempt of dispersing poverty opens up opportunities for children but does not economically advance adults 
  • social trust, cohesion, equity and community are important but severely disturbed by a number of the housing strategies. (Social Trust: Fairness Matters More than Social Homogeneity
Trust is a fundamental element of social capital – a key contributor to sustaining well-being outcomes, including economic development. (Ortis-Ospina, Rosen, 2018).
"Virtually every commercial transaction has within itself an element of trust, certainly any transaction conducted over a period of time." (Arrow, Gifts and Exchanges, 1972)
Interpersonal trust in the US: Falling since 1985
The issue of social trust and social capital could be a potentially excellent screening tool for the many seemingly conflicting housing strategies. Trust and social capital are important metrics in a time when trust  is on a historic low in the US, regardless whether measured as interpersonal trust or trust in institutions or government. Concurrent with increasing isolation of ethnic groups in the famous "echo chambers" which are said to be further stratified by social media we see hostility increase. Lack of trust is now seen as an impediment in many fields, including economic development, mental and physical health. The federal agency of Housing and Urban Development is on the Community First movement and has even developed its own paper on the topic.

Some may see that lack of trust and societal fragmentation as an inevitable result of modern life and therefore assume it would occur worldwide. Yet in the paper about Social Trust in Data, various graphs show other countries, such as Sweden, maintaining a high level of trust in spite of an increasingly diverse population.
Trust in Government: Low in the US and France
According to the latest edition of the Edelman Trust Barometer, the United States has experienced a significant 37 percentage point drop in trust across its institutions while at the opposite end of the scale, China experienced a 27-point gain. When it comes to government, one of the most important trust indicators, China leads the way. Edelman found that 84 percent of people in China trust their government, the highest level worldwide and an eight percentage point increase on 2017. (Forbes)
For Baltimore, a focus on equity and social capital would require a significant retooling of policies especially for the disinvested communities with high needs which continue to languish. A new emphasis on building social capital and networks of social cohesion would have many implications. As the basis of new it would mean housing policies, keeping people in place would be emphasized over moving people around. Bringing services to people would be prioritized over bringing people to services. Ultimately, it wouldn't be the goal to reduce a two hour commute from a disinvested community to a low paying job by half an hour. Instead the goal would be to create a job in the community and make the commute as short as 5 to 10 minutes, possibly without the need to use transit at all.  The reconstruction plans for Perkins Homes are on the right track with the goal of maintaining the number of affordable units as is and adding market rate units through increased density, but a cohesive strategy of integrating places of employment into communities is absent.
Community First: A village for the homeless

The goal of building or maintaining community would be even more important for the most vulnerable, the homeless. But there a concept such as replacing transporting homeless by vans and buses to central shelters by bringing bring food and blankets to people where they are would be even more controversial than placing affordable housing. Possibly it would mean allowing transitional homeless camps since sometimes they provide a sense of community. Providing services would reduce some of the associated risks. A previous article on this blog discussed experiments in other cities here in which the housing first policy is adjusted towards no traditional forms of informal housing. A recent experiment in Austin is even called Community First!
It should be self evident that building community would be the most noble goal of urbanism and should have been it all along. But the fear of the other, fear of change and pure racism have gotten in the way, time and again. Plus, dealing with people is just a lot more complicated than building buildings.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

My book is finally available on paperback for a more reasonable price. Buy from the publisher during the current Routledge sale (see link) and pay only $15.96
Baltimore: Reinventing an Industrial Legacy City is an exploration into the reinvention, self-reflection and boosterism of US legacy cities, taking Baltimore as the case study model to reveal the larger narrative. Author Klaus Philipsen investigates the…

Friday, November 9, 2018

Why Complete Streets isn't really about bicycles

The other day I witnessed the following dialogue in my favorite Italian Deli while waiting for my sandwich to be fixed. Customer: "The police can't protect us and they spend their money on bike-lanes" while gesticulating towards the glass door  behind which a recently resurfaced street was in the process of receiving new white lane markers. Mike behind the counter agreed, adding "the guy across the street is paying $6,000 a month for valet parking and now his space is gone". The back and forth went on with both agreeing that this city has lost its way and has its priorities all wrong.
Complete streets is much more than bikes

Ryan Dorsey, the councilman who sponsored the Complete Streets bill which is close to becoming law in Baltimore, would agree that the city has its priorities backwards. But he sees the matter entirely different. And he isn't talking about bicycles.
“We are milking cars which will destroy our planet and city as cash cows and use nothing of those revenues to invest into a better future. I think that is morally wrong”
Dorsey spoke at an early morning presentation of the Transit advocacy group Transit Choices about his Complete Streets bill and placed it under the larger umbrella of his way of thinking about transportation. He said that the bill is about how we prioritize transportation funding and how "we need to be very deliberate on how we use space". He talked about how employee parking benefits should be portable so employees could use the cash value to use them for other modes of transportation.  He mentioned fire-lanes and how the national code for those had mistakenly been applied to all city streets and how another bill of his took car of this. Actually he hardly mentioned bicycles at all.
33% of Baltimore Residents lack access to a car. They rely on public transit, biking, walking, and ride sharing to move around the city. That number is as high as 80% in historically disenfranchised neighborhoods. But Baltimore spends a disproportionate amount of money on streets designed only to move cars. (website)
Not speaking about bicycles makes sense, because in spite of public sentiment, complete streets bills are not about bicycles (or scooters) and it isn't about spending massive amounts of money, either.
Instead, the question of how we use the public space that makes up about 30% of Baltimore's entire real estate, is a question that isn't only entirely appropriate, it is also about economic development and resource protection. This question doesn't lead straight to bicycles unless one's creativity and historical knowledge is so limited that one can't imagine anything going on inside the public right of way than driving a car or bicycling. And unless one subscribes to the typical zero sum thinking that what needs to be good for one (mode) must be bad for the other. This type of thinking is obsolete.
. (Bill)
Dorsey tends towards hyperbole and maintained that his Complete Streets bill is "the best such bill in the country" which immediately evoked the question, what in his bill is so different than in the hundreds of similar policies across the country? Dorsey's answer: Equity. He pointed out that he heavily learned from one of the earlier and most comprehensive Complete Streets policies in the country, that of Chicago. It was used by many cities as a model to emulate, not least for a very detailed and well thought out design manual. As Dorsey pointed out, though, it missed the social impacts that arise if one uses design as the only lens. He said that the "design framework" needs to be complemented by an "equity framework".
Many hearings, a good bill (City Hall)
Passing Complete Streets is one of the most difficult things I've ever done. Our City's streets and sidewalks are truly the fabric of public space that hold our communities together, and this makes them a crucible of competing interests, and a microcosm of our civic life.This law will touch on virtually every aspect of our transportation environment; how it is designed and built, how we prioritize and steward investments, how we engage with community, design for safety and equity, and report outcomes. (Dorsey)
Equity is a very popular word these days, everyone demands it, but rarely is it achieved. Dorsey gave examples: How the popular "Vision Zero" (the goal to have no traffic fatalities) policies have promoted three E's: Engineering, Education and Enforcement, but how, in the end, it was mostly enforcement that rose to the top. In several cities, with enforcement the only emphasis, it was directed dis-proportionally against poorer, disenfranchises African American communities where police has always used trivial infractions as a pretext to stop and frisk. Or how bike facilities and expenses were concentrated in well to do areas siphoning off funds to fix hardly passable sidewalks in poor neighborhoods. 
Many potshots against a new paradigm

Back at the Italian Deli, a quick view at the freshly paved street shows that the real money went into a new layer of smooth black pavement. The bike lane in question will take some of the excess street width to move parked cars on the east side of the street 5' or so away from the curb so the parking lane would separate the travel lane from the bike lane. Except for a few extra painted lines, there is no extra cost for this, practically no parking is lost and all the excitement of misplaced spending priorities is misplaced. Hardly anyone would disagree with how much City streets need  upkeep to remain passable, benefiting anybody who walks or rides on them, via buses, van, car, bike or scooter.
Traffic emissions and health have a close correlation

Dorsey's bill includes all the right language and sequence of events, including mandating the creation of an Advisory Committee, design guidelines and even the metrics to be used for those standards, performance measures and requirements for project prioritization and implementation and annual progress reports. Equity is written large over all of it. There are even deadlines by when DOT has to produce public participation models and design guidelines (10 months). What could possibly go wrong?

Baltimore has, indeed, an opportunity to become a leader in a comprehensive public discussion which seriously asks how in the next 30 years we want to use 30% of urban real estate for which demand is high, whether people talk about sidewalks, parking, ride share pick up spaces, delivery spots, bus lanes or bike lanes, not to mention automated robotic vehicles, trees, stormwater management, mail boxes, fire hydrants, outdoor vending or cafes or whatever the future may hold.  Aspirations go far beyond the physical, streets affect health, access, and, as discussed, equity. Much to chew off and many reasons for things to not go like planned. Anyone who has lived here long enough knows that Baltimore reality is a tough place for lofty aspirations. Cynicism like the one in the lovely deli is rampant here. But nothing really great will ever be achieved with cynicism. First it takes aspiration and then perseverance and vigilance. If the long journey of bill 17-102 is any indication, there is a majority for those three things in the current City Council.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

How the election results strengthen Baltimore in the region

While Democrats could not shake Maryland's popular Republican Governor out of his current office, in the Baltimore metro area, two counties flipped from republican to Democrat. the results reflect where the Governor has its base and where his suburban and frequently un-urban policies have found much less resonance.
The big winner: Governor Hogan

Hogan lost in Baltimore City, Prince Georges and Montgomery County but won everywhere else.

In Baltimore City Hogan had 54,136 votes and Jealous had 113,142 (without absentee ballots). In Prince Georges County the ratio was 209,485 to 83,595. In Montgomery County Jealous had 193,887 votes relative to Hogan's 158,573. However, in spite of what many observing demographic change predicted, those urbanized areas were not enough to carry a Democrat into the Governor's mansion. In Anne Arundel (69.2% Hogan) and Howard Counties (56.9% Hogan), the incumbent enjoyed solid leads.

Meanwhile the political geography of the Baltimore region changed quite significantly thanks to three new county executives coming into office in the surrounding large jurisdictions, two of those flipping the office from Republican to Democratic. This has the potential of creating a strong block of somewhat shared values in the heart of our region not known for a lot of regional thinking. In a time of ever increasing metropolitan growth and increasing urbanization worldwide, regional collaboration is more important than ever. Additionally, local government is increasingly expected to jump into the breech when national policies fail or dismantle liberties or environmental protections.
"Johnny O", under 40 and full of ideas for Baltimore County

Reinventing the suburbs

Many experts predict that the suburbs will be tomorrow's ghettos unless they are able to re-invent themselves. The suburbs cannot be sustained and won't be picked as a place to live by the younger generations because they don't over the urban amenities people increasingly expect, at least so the thinking goes.  It stands to reason that a core city with great architecture, parks, art and culture institutions and world class universities would be an attractive partner for jurisdictions which lack most of those assets. None of the jurisdictions around Baltimore City have truly urbanized areas with the exception of Annapolis, Towson and Ellicott City.  Except, in the past the smart collaboration hasn't happened except for small gestures such as Baltimore County's support of some cultural institutions. For the most part it was each for himself, no matter that the shrinking city can offer plenty of development space that the growing counties are increasingly missing. It would be real smart growth to stick jobs and some of the population growth into the core city instead of paving over large parts of outlying farm-fields in the counties, such as the embattled Turtle Run development in Anne Arundel which may have been instrumental in Steuart Pittman's surprise win. There are certainly metro areas in the US, where regional collaboration occurs including even some tax revenue sharing in cases where the development transfers result in revenue imbalances.
Calvin Ball (right) wins Howard County Exec race, Kittleman (left) concedes
in person, a rare gesture in partisan politics

While nobody doubts that Annapolis is a lovely small town, Towson still needs to work hard before anybody would call it a real town, no matter that the mall is called Towsontown. In Howard County there is Columbia and Ellicott City. All of those places are in various stages of seriously reinventing themselves for a variety of reasons. Annapolis has Parole as growth area (which actually is outside the city proper), Towson has an array of aborted plans to make the place really urban and walkable, Ellicott City is struggling how to exist in a flood prone valley, Columbia is midway in a comprehensive strategy of creating an urban downtown. None of these peripheral urban spaces are connected to the core city with any kind of robust transit.

While concentrated development can result in true urbanity and be successful in protecting open landscapes from sprawl these reinventions won't replace Baltimore as a cultural and economic hub. Synergy and collaboration would be much more successful for city and counties than cut throat competition.  One can only hope that the new, young and dynamic County executives will pursue regional collaboration with much more conviction and, hopefully, creativity than the previous crop.
An upset in Anne Arundel County for Steuart Pittman

Without that, they won't be able to compete with the much better planned counties around Washington DC such as Montgomery County (Bethesda, Silver Spring or the mall conversion of White Flint or Arlington County with very active urban nodes around Metro such as Pentagon City, Clarendon,  and Crystal City which was named as a potential place for Amazon.

Regional transportation

Of course, transportation is where the popular Governor is not at all on middle ground but is pursuing the policies of the 1950's, consisting in curing car addiction with enticements for more driving. The new Capital Transportation Program (CTP) diminishes transit to a 25% share, far down from the peaks of the O'Malley era when transit nearly reached parity with the other modes and included significant transit expansion projects.

It is in the area of transportation where the election results and the strong block of Democratic Executives may matter the most. Federal transportation law mandates regional planning organizations (MPOs) designed to coordinate local transportation in an efficient manner. This prevents parochialism in a field in which jurisdictional boundaries are quite meaningless, just as in some other larger infrastructure networks such as the power grid.

Mayors like to say that there is no Republican or Democratic trash, just trash that needs to be collected. This should hold true for transportation as well; sadly, the topic has been very politicized in our region with little chance of a rational discussion about the most effective ways to achieve mobility, access and equity. When MDOT Secretary Rahn was recently asked by City Council member Ryan Dorsey if there was any goal towards a higher transit share and fewer single occupant vehicles, he was told "we don't do social engineering". This term comes straight from the playbook of ultra conservatives like the Koch brothers who describe any attempts of reducing auto dependency or sprawl development as social engineering and "telling people where to live" or how to move.
TIP document prepared by BMC

In that situation the mandated influence of local government on regional transportation comes in handy, especially in a State where the operation of public transportation is heavily concentrated in the hands of the State. Even though the confusing and often overlapping array of plans and control mechanisms coming from regional and State agencies confounds citizens and sometimes even transportation officials, the mandated collaboration between the MD Department of Transportation (MDOT) and the Metropolitan Planning Organization at the Baltimore Metropolitan Council (BMC) provides an opportunity for balance between the very divided opinions about effective transportation. BMC is a representation of all local governments in this region. The change in who will head those up will be felt.

While regional planning has fallen out of favor in spite of continued growth and urbanization it should actually be more important than ever. The results of the midterm election  present an opportunity to strengthen Baltimore City's standing in the region and improve access and transportation at the same time. That Mayor Pugh will be the chair of the BMC this period will further help.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA