Monday, December 23, 2019

10 Developments of hope for Baltimore

In a time when the bad news seem to be piling up relentlessly and in breathtaking speed, it is easy to compile a list of 10 embarrassments in Baltimore's development universe.  Its harder, but not impossible, to find 10 encouraging events related to urban design, development, planning and transportation. The following list is subjective, influenced on what I can see, and where my interests are.
10 developments worth celebrating (Monument Lighting 2019)

Here we go:

1. A New BCDOT Director
As soon as Mayor Pugh had to resign it was pretty clear that her handpicked DOT Director Pourciau would not last. Too much trouble and controversy had amassed in her relatively short time in the position. Mayor Young did not wait long and appointed Steve Sharkey to clean house. He is no transportation expert, but in his previous job as Director of the Department of General Services he has learned to bring a house in order. Sharkey is a breath of fresh air and seems energetically resolved to getting a handle on this important department and build it back. He is working on friendly terms with MTA and with the City Council, a marked departure from the past which was characterized by animosity.

2. MDOT has a new Secretary
This wouldn't belong into a list of good city events if it wouldn't be so evident how much the previous MDOT Secretary Rahn damaged this city. Most famously by nixing the Red Line and taking $3 billion out of Baltimore's economy. The new Secretary Slater moves in from running the State Highway Administration. Not that this promises a bright future for Baltimore transit or MTA, the agency that Slater now oversees, but everyone who knows Slater says that he will be much batter than Rahn, no matter that the Governor will still give out the same car centric transportation directives.

3. Woodberry decided it wanted to be a local historic preservation district.
After developers demolished practically over night two historic stone houses, the community experienced first hand how easily and quickly historic assets can disappear, no matter what had been promised. The decision to apply for CHAP designation is encouraging because it will not only protect historic structures in Woodberry, including Clipper Mill where additional development is expected but also set a signal to similar communities wondering if CHAP designation is worth the hassle. CHAP also considers the use of a "middle designation" for the many Baltimore National Register Districts, a "Community Preservation status that is less restrictive than a CHAP District but still regulates demolition, major additions or the compatibility of larger new construction.
Small alley houses worth saving: Madeira Street in East Baltimore

4. Alley houses show what they can be
Cross Street Partners and others began the rehabilitation of some 50 rowhouses in East Baltimore on Madeira Street. Rehabs of rowhouses happen a lot, this wouldn't be so remarkable if  Madeira Street wouldn't be what only can be called an "alley street". It is located in the EBDI area that gained initially a bad reputation from tearing old rowhouses down. Many in Baltimore believe tat small alley houses are obsolete. The Full gut rehab of an entire block of those small houses will prove that even small rowhouses can be viable and that rehabilitation is better than demolition.

5. Return from the dead on Howard Street
People walking on Howard Street? The revival of the 400 block

Howard Street has long been a part of downtown that could easily be used as evidence on how far Baltimore has fallen. Quietly and without much fanfare the former retail corridor is finally clawing itself back into a state of active use from years of abandonment. A major step in one of the previously most desolate blocks is the now almost complete renovation of five long vacant buildings by the DC, Philadelphia and Baltimore based developer Poverni Sheikh. A sixth address was added in May. The first floor retail spaces are offered in a creative RFP free of rent in the first year. There are many more developments in the pipeline (The Mayfair, the 400 block of Park Avenue) in the area that successfully staged two successful Asian themed night markets.

6. The revival of a neighborhood shopping center
Not much urban design but a much needed grocery store
after many years of languishing in Northeast Baltimore, the Northwood shopping center won't be any longer a drag on the newly expanded Morgan University campus that now site cheek to jowl with the strip center. The $50 million project is longer as as ambitious as it once was, but it will be fully rebuilt and include a Lidl grocery store and a Barnes and Noble bookstore. The housing component has been eliminated. The stabilized shopping center will provide important services to a large swath of Northeast neighborhoods which are considered "Middle Neighborhoods" by the City Planning Department, neighborhoods which to support must be a cornerstone of keeping Baltimore together.

7. Lexington Market come back now on firm schedule
the proposed new Lexington Market

2019 is the year in which the future and funding of Lexington Market was finalized. Construction of a new market building on the parking lot south of the existing east market is supposed to be started early in 2020. Merchants will continue to operate in the old building until the new structure is supposed to open in 20121.

8. Big ideas for the Middle Branch (not from Sagamore)
After decades of thinking about the "second Baltimore waterfront", the Middle Branch was subject to an idea competition which was won by an internationally known Dutch landscape architecture firm. The reason why this needs to be
West 8 suggestion for Middle Branch
celebrated is less the set of expensive ideas the renowned firm had submitted and more the fact that Baltimore overcame its locals first complex and even engaged in an idea competition in which firms from far away were invited. Of course, no implementation money is available and so whatever funds will be used to refine the ideas, not to build stuff. Of course, the impetus for doing anything along the Middle Branch will ultimately depend on how many casino proceeds there will be and how much will be left of Sagamore's Port Covington.

9. The Preakness and Park Heights
Rearranged: Preakness compromise

Who would have thought that there would ever be an agreement on Pimlico or that down to earth Mayor Young would sway the Stronach heir? But there it was, a hot potato that had been bounced from one entity to another for years with nobody seriously believing that the Preakness could really be retained in Baltimore,all of a sudden germinating what looked like a solution. While I don't believe that horse racing has much of a future, let alone that it can save Park Heights, the agreement has enough positive and constructive elements that it belongs in the list of hope inspiring 2019 development results.

10. Deutsch in Baltimore
Space for artists, one project at a time

Finally a quirky little fact which represents a symbolic push back against the prevailing current Baltimore narrative. The move of the Deutsch foundation's headquarters from Towson to Baltimore's Old Goucher neighborhood at the former offices of the Afro is a light in the darkness. It came to shine in the same year as founder Robert Deutsch died. The Deutsch Foundation has been an engine for the arts by giving creatives their own places, mostly in Station North (Motor House, Open Werks). The quirky renovation at 2519 N. Charles Street will no doubt add vitality to this section of Baltimore's Main Street.

Happy Holidays, Baltimore!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Wednesday, December 18, 2019

Ten Baltimore embarrassments that should have been fixed a long time ago

Its the time of year-end musings. Local TV likes to present Baltimore as "a city in crisis". Wishing it weren't so doesn't help. In fact, everybody can come with examples of dysfunction and disrepair that wouldn't be acceptable in a well functioning city.

In the domain of development, urban design and transportation I assembled 10 instances of such procrastination and inaction that are staring me straight in they eye on a regular base. It is understood, that examples in the fields of crime and justice and education, to name but two, are vastly more important. It is also understood that for each of these examples of inaction, one could find one of good follow through and improvement. (Maybe another year end list?) Still, tangible physical neglect is contagious. It illustrates well to which extent area residents have become numb to the lack of urgency and follow up that is all too pervasive.

How much of an embarrassment to the city each examples is one can illustrate by the trouble even the most ardent promoter of this city would have to explain to a friend visiting from a more functional place, how it is possible that these examples have been allowed to persist for so many years. Each deficiency is high profile and should have been addressed a long time ago. Readers of by blog will recognize that each topic has been addressed in this space at least once in more detail.

The list isn't complete, of course. Everyone is invited to add to it via comments below. Looking forward, all of these items definitely need to be checked off in 2020.

1. The Mechanic's Theater rubble site
The downtown rubble field where the Mechanic Theater
once stood. (Photo Philipsen)

The once proudly celebrated Baltimore landmark was destroyed with fanfare in 2015. The site has now sat since 2015 as a ruin landscape of destruction without that any work towards redevelopment has been done. This is the heart of downtown, literally its 100% corner. That the developer Howard Brown has been allowed to get by with leaving this eyesore for four full years using a litany of excuses as explanation is an embarrassment for the City and is living proof that the powerful can get away with anything in this city. (On this blog)

2. The Baltimore Street rubble site
Howard Brown's second rubble field on Baltimore Street just three blocks to the west of the former Mechanic must be mentioned as well because the excuses used for the Mechanic site hardly apply here.

3. The McKeldin Plaza
A massive large sculptural and walkable fountain has been
replaced with a bunch of nothingness and grass.
No money and no ideas are around for anything better
(Photo Philipsen)

An elaborate, large and once celebrated walkable fountain was demolished with millions of dollars without replacing it with anything but grass and a few gimmicks. As a result it is less used today than it was before. The promise of making McKeldin Plaza part of HarborPlace by connecting it and rerouting the 5 lane road connection was never fulfilled, nor was the construction of a new fountain. This act of wasting resources led by the private sector is proof that private organizations have gained too much power over the City owned public domain. That McKeldin Plaza is considered the free speech site of the Inner Harbor area is an added irony. (on this blog)

4. Harborplace
HarborPlace has deriliction in the pavilions and in the
Constellation building
The matter is a bit more complicated with  in the rapid decline of HarborPlace, once Baltimore's symbol of its rebirth. For the period of decline which lasted at least six years, the City relegated itself to passive observer status even though it owns the land and Ashekenazy, the owner did not pay ground-rent for years.

It is here instead of at the McKeldin Plaza where a private organization created to promote downtown business and retail should have cut their teeth. Here it was part of their core competency to assist the City and the owner to keep the pavilions attractive as a destination and in line with their original intent which, irony over irony, was very similar to today's trendy food halls. (On this blog)

5. The seasonal water taxi
Baltimore's waterfront, the engine of its tourism and its iconic status in the American line up of cities benefits from an attractive way to get around on the water. When Kevin Plank
Waiting for Godot. This water taxi won't come
before April. (Photo Philipsen)
engaged in the water taxi business, bought the then existing company and launched is own vintage skipjack inspired boats, robust year round water transportation was the promise.

Since then service has shrunk and not expanded. Now water taxi service is entirely shut down from November to March and only runs on weekends in October and April with exception of the City funded Connector commuter service. Not running boats for an entire season is a violation of the contract and the license the private operator has with the city. Probably because of this, the revamped website of the Water Taxi is extremely circumspect in telling visitors about the "schedule". (On this blog)
The Baltimore Water Taxi is a seasonal service. Service may be added throughout the fall/winter months. If you'd like to request private service, contact our Groups Department (
The Harbor Connector is operating on the normal schedule. (website)

6. The Circulator with its black "limo buses"
No buses to run the service (Photo Philipsen)
Another breach of contract is the fact that over six months after the City signed a 3-year contract with RMA, and more than a full year after RMA was selected to follow Transdev as the operator of the free City bus service, the service is still limping. It is only partly run with accessible transit buses, the rest consists of loaner buses or "limo" style "cut-aways" not suitable for transit use. The City explains this with Transdev having run the City owned buses into the ground   to a point when they were in such bad shape that they shouldn't have been on the road at all. Butthe Transdev deal was also mired by the fact that the original City purchased electric buses with small gas turbines for charging did not hold up. Transdev had to provide additional standard buses which seems to be in part at the bottom of the legal dispute with the City that is now in arbitration. It isn't plausibly explained why those not even 10 year old full size Dutch transit buses need to be replaced already. (On this blog)

7. The broken Baltimore traffic signal system
Old and not working reliably (Photo Philipsen)

Everyone out and about on Baltimore's streets, whether as a pedestrian, a bicyclist, a driver or a transit user, can observe that Baltimore's signal system doesn't work as it should. Many pedestrian signals are out, bicyclists riding on bike lanes against the one-way flow have no signals at all. Buses and cars on many routes stumble from one red signal to the next, creating gridlock in the process. The reason is an antiquated and only partly computerized system and likely less than competent management of it. This has been going on for years and continues to steal time from thousands of commuters. It contributes significantly for MTA's struggle with running its fleet of buses on time and represents a failure on a most basic level. (On this blog)

8. The half developed Uplands
The frequent City housing policy of vacating and demolishing entire neighborhoods under the promise of miraculous rebirth with all new construction is on full display in the large area of what used to be called the Uplands. Only partly developed, more than half of the entire cleared area sits fallow for years. A wasteland without any use, not for housing, as an urban farm, not as as a park and not as a temporary village for the homeless. If the last 10 boom years did not yield any market for additional development, it is time for the City to look at how this valuable land could be used otherwise, either temporarily or permanently.  (On this blog)

9. The dereliction around Mondawmin Mall
An inward looking mall surrounded by a sea of asphalt:
An obsolete model (photo: BBJ)

At the latest when Target left the mall, it has become obvious that the locus where the unrest of 2015 originated is in trouble to remain a viable mall. As in the case of HarborPlace, the City hasn't done anything other than wringing hands, attending expensive shows in Las Vegas and occasional talks with the mall owner. While the City can probably not tell them how to run the mall, they could assist in making it less isolated from surrounding areas and suggesting better and higher uses for the vastly overbuilt parking lots all around it. How to reinvent struggling urban malls has been successfully demonstrated in cities around the nation, even in places that were not blessed with a transit hub dropping shoppers right at the doorsteps. Positioning this important retail center a a resilient player in a time of mounting retail challenges should be one of the highest priorities of the City. In the interest of stabilizing and reviving all surrounding communities and in the interest of making best use of the existing subway station. (on this blog)

10. The fire ruin at 320 North Eutaw Street
Burnt out and sitting untouched for 3 years!

To some known under the name of its most recent use as a nightclub (the Tunnel) and to some under its historic name the Gomprecht building, this historic landmark building which covers the land right north of the Lexington Market and extends from Eutaw all the way to Paca Street went up in flames in Jan of 2017.

The ruin has been sitting ever since untouched. No real cleanup, no stabilization. It isn't even boarded up. The elements do their thing through the open roof and vagrants hang out around the chainlink fence which doesn't prevent access or protection from what could fall off the violated building at any moment. In fact, vagrants warming themselves are blamed for the fire.

That the city has not been able to force the owner to secure the building, come up with a viable repair and redevelopment plans or take the property over in receivership is yet another embarrassment, proving a lack of attention and a lack of coordinated action on the stated goal of revitalizing the area. 2020 is supposed to be the start of the rebuild of Lexington Market. It must be also the year when this complex is being repaired and re-used. On this blog.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Thursday, December 12, 2019

Preservation in Baltimore: A new tier between "all or nothing"?

Baltimore has a rich history of architecture and, maybe inevitably, extensive experience with historic landmarks being destroyed. A review whether the right tools are in place is warranted.

Protection under current rules is only granted to "contributing" structures located in one of the 36 locally designated CHAP historic districts or the 200 individually designated historic landmarks. In those cases protection consists in a careful staff review of building, rehabilitation or demolition applications and hearings in front of the historic commission (the specific rules are set forth here).  Any structure not located inside a CHAP district or designated as a landmark has no protection whatsoever, even if the structure has been recognized as historic and may be listed in the National Register District.

Historic district designation doesn't mean no demolition: For example, in the case of Eddies in Mt Vernon, where after full CHAP hearings the majority of commissioners recognized demolition as appropriate to avoid "hardship" on the developer. Or the case of the 32,400-square-foot former St. Vincent's Infant Asylum at 1401-1411 Division Street in historic Upton which was turned into a pile of rubble by a rogue contractor almost two years ago.

What was once the historic infant asylum building on Division Street
As a result of missing or circumvented protections whole sections of the City's "main street" (Baltimore Street) are missing between Calvert and President Streets and west of Martin Luther King Boulevard, the Rochembeau on Charles Street disappeared, so did the Royal Theater, the Southern Hotel, the News American building, the McCormick Spice company building, the Mechanic Theatre and any number of other structures. The historic City Jail, and the Cab Calloway house will be next, to name just a few.  In each case the buildings sit or sat outside the locally designated "CHAP districts" and, therefore, are not afforded the protection of CHAP hearings and review. 

Once in a while CHAP ventures outside its designated districts and landmarks, especially when the Commission is presented with information during public debate which could lead to landmarking a building. This was the case for the Read's Drugstore located in the Westside's Superblock when it came to light that it had been the place of early civil rights activities at the lunch-counter there. It may be once again the case for the Cab Calloway house in Druid Heights after CHAP director Eric Holcomb has brought potential civil rights connections to this address to the attention of CHAP. For the moment CHAP commissioners asked for a 90 day delay in demolition in order to study the matter.

Often decision makers and community leaders agree that demolition is progress and necessary and that a city must allow change to prosper. In most cases CHAP has no say. What is to do?

The seemingly easy solution to protect more areas and buildings through CHAP designation or landmarking is not politically easy. District designation can only become effective after the City Council passes an ordinance and the Mayor signs off.
New life in historic shells: Meadowmill in the Jones Falls Valley

Many owners and developers argue that the requirements that come with a landmark or historic district designation are so onerous and costly that they effectively prevent rehabilitation, repairs or development, certainly an outcome that Baltimore cannot afford since too many valuable buildings already crumble from neglect. Historic district designation also affect different areas in different ways. The restrictions that limit what one can be done in renovations or repairs far beyond standard zoning regulations or building codes can be quite appropriate in pristine settings with high property values; the same restrictions can quickly become prohibitive and unaffordable in places like Druid Heights, Sandtown or Harlem Park, all part of the Historic West Baltimore National Register District which provides tax incentives for investors but no protections of any kind.  Historic tax credits can only offset these impacts when funds are available. Thanks to the large amount of nationally or locally designated areas, the funds do not nearly cover the demand. Even the most preservation friendly governor could not elevate the available tax credit money to the levels needed.
The large eternal downtown rubble field that once was the Mechanic Theater

Sometimes regret changes minds after the fact. So in the case of Woodberry, where historic mill buildings were demolished in spite of promises to keep them (see my article How not to erase history, one building at a time). The trauma from this demolition has shifted opinion of many property owners. Now the Woodberry community is the latest to very likely become a locally designated district after a positive CHAP vote this week.

Once a beloved building is gone and there is either no replacement at all (The Mechanic Theatre, the News American come to mind), or the replacement is mundane, banal and boring (like the many city garages that took the place of historic buildings on Baltimore, Charles and Lombard Streets) the realization sets in that new structures are often no match for the visual quality of the old ones. Even though Baltimore has fared much better with historic preservation than Denver, Hartford or Buffalo, where entire districts were torn down for highways, urban renewal or both, the question is how much better would Baltimore be without the gaping holes left by demolitions that never brought the promised improvements?
Destruction in downtown's Westside:
At Lexington and Liberty in 2010

Contrary to the notion that demolition is a price for progress and economic development, historic districts typically score much better in terms of economic vitality than urban renewal areas ransacked by demolition. This has been shown in detailed studies conducted by the National Trust for Historic Preservation in six major cities in the US.

It surely holds true in Baltimore: The residential preservation districts of Federal Hill, Bolton Hill, Mt Vernon and Fells Point outperform non designated areas in almost every category, from building value to vitality and resident retention. Creative reuse of old buildings for commercial or mixed use is one of Baltimore's strongest traits, almost all have been spectacularly successful from Clipper Mill to the American Can, from Tide Point to Meadow Mill, from Tindeco to Silo Point and from the Everyman to the Hippodrome.

All this points to the conclusion that the current "all or nothing choice" in preservation in a city with tens of thousands of vacant structures is just not prudent, even buildings in disinvested areas are no less beautiful and just as deserving of preservation.
All that's left of the Royal Theater is a fake

A solution would be the creation of a "middle district designation". Instead of a full set of requirements or none,  there should be a designation that covers the middle ground. This alternative approach is nationally know as the designation of conservation districts. New Orleans has applied this tactic over large parts of their city to complement their rather few historic districts. The matter hotly debated under previous mayor Landrieu who found demolition restrictions too onerous. Nevertheless, a host of other cities such as Detroit. are considering it. According to CHAP chair Tom Liebel, CHAP is also looking into this option for Baltimore.

One way to achieve a middle level protection would be through a zoning overlay district that could be applied to existing currently unprotected National Register Districts and would focus on the big stuff, such as demolition, major additions or alterations and compatibility of new infill.

If anyone inside a National Register District undertakes a subsidized historic renovation, the compliance with the full set of rules would still apply. But anyone not using tax credits would be subjected to a much more lenient set of rules which would govern much less detail.

Historic architecture is one of Baltimore's biggest assets. Its protection is economic development. One can hope that the new Baltimore mayor will throw his or her weight behind expanded protections.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Thursday, December 5, 2019

From steel making to windmills: The transformation of Sparrows Point

On a grey and rainy Monday afternoon a large group of entrepreneurs, engineers, attorneys and small business people filed into a conference room at TradePoint Atlantic (TPA) to hear about a brandnew industry taking root on the former steel mill site.
Sparrows Point today. Deep water access, berths, piers, docks and
lots of space.

OSW where the magic words that radiated enough promise to draw almost a hundred people out to listen representatives of  TPA and the wind-industry making a pitch for off-shore wind. What was once Deepwater has been bought by Danish wind giant Orsted which runs the world's oldest off shore windfarm (Vindeby in Denmark) and the largest one (Hornesea in the UK). Orsted's representative showed on a map how well Sparrows Point is located along the Atlantic coast, a place with large wind potential and large energy consumption at the same time, an ideal combination, especially when combined with a large sea shelf offering water depths under 60m. It was less clear what Orsted will actually do on the old steel site in Maryland, obviously more assembly then production, at least initially. The generators will come from GE and the parts for the piles will be shipped from Germany. The representative was a bit circumspect about the blades and controllers. In general, the new jobs would be for shipping, transport and assembly, not quite on par with the high end jobs the steel mill once offered but potentially better than those offered in the large distribution warehouses of Amazon, Under Armor and Floor and Decor which already dot the peninsula. Branded as a "modern intermodal logistics hub" the site is increasingly showing diverse uses, including an organic hydroponic farm and automobile import from large ro-ro ferries that can dock here.
Plenty of interest in wind-power and related jobs and
business opportunities

The last version of the steel making plant that used to be Bethlehem Steel had about 3000 employees. According TradePoint Atlantic there are now about 5000 jobs on site with a planning horizon of 10-15,000 jobs.

The Orsted decision to invest here will add manufacturing and make TradePoint an important hub for the "Skipjack" windfarm project planned off the shores of Ocean City. The project recently ran in unwanted headwinds with the disclosure that the blades would reach higher than originally envisioned, stoking afresh the fears that they would mar the ocean vistas. Skipjack and the MarWin Wind Farm by Baltimore-based U.S. Wind, a subsidiary of the Italian renewable energy company Renexia, are being reviewed in response to concerns raised by Ocean City officials about the farms' impact on tourism to the famous vacation spot. Both submitted updates for taller, more powerful turbines in their offshore leasing areas. Recent wind turbine research shows that capturing wind at higher altitudes yields higher energy returns. However, the ever larger turbines also pose previously unmet challenges for foundations, kinetic energy on the towers and forces the gears of the turbines.
The Skipjack farm is located about 23 miles away from the shore is proposed to use the largest turbines currently on the market, each producing 12 megawatts of power. The 850-foot turbines are about as tall as the New York Rockefeller Center RCA Building, a 70-story skyscraper). The now proposed version is 50% larger than the 8-megawatt turbines originally proposed. Whatever the components, they will be very large. The sites to handle them are currently under construction on the southern end of 4000 acre TPA site.
Deepwater access: Competition or collaboration with the Port of Baltimore?

Sparrows Point and its surroundings offer large scale opportunities for a new economy, but also for sustainability, resilience against climate change and future waterfront recreation. While the world went gaga over new Amazon headquarters what happens at TPA has to date spurred far less public attention than it deserves but may have ultimately a larger impact on this entire region.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The location of the Orsted investment

The eastern seaboard: High energy demand (left), high wind zones (center) and large sea shelves (right)

There are many activities occurring now on TPA (storage, distribution)

Little of the old structures is left. 

A model of the old steel plant is all that left of this particular past

Other articles about TPA on this blog:

The miraculous transformation of 3,250 acres of industrial wasteland

Arugula instead of steel - the next level of innovation?

Wednesday, November 27, 2019

What the Edmondson Village fire tells us about city redevelopment strategies

The sweeping fire tearing through parts of the Edmondson Shopping center before daybreak on a recent Friday morning  brought into stark focus an area that seems to have been forgotten after a lofty plans. It is a typical Baltimore story of neglect, corruption, crime, big deals, big developers, big promises and not enough follow up.
A historic shopping center fire is just the latest calamity

The major players are Baltimore Housing and its ever shrinking stock of affordable housing, a criminal developer, HUD, a nationally known, urban planning and design firm, a mega church, once trail blazing shopping center developed by a slumlord turning philanthropist, a not very cooperative shopping center owner, an indicted and convicted mayor living nearby, a gas station, a liquor store and the Baltimore Red Line.

The Uplands, Edmondson Village, Rognell Heights and their shopping center represented in the early 1950s what some would remember the "good old days". The developments were new, they were Baltimore's response to the housing shortage after World War II and an early answer to the lure of the suburbs. Edmondson Village was mostly working/class or middle class white, the yards were neat and the shopping center was constructed by Joseph and Jacob Meyerhoff. It had the same stores as downtown: Hochschild- Kahn, Hess shoes and a variety of others. The local barber shop had a live monkey in a cage. There was a then modern school, a library, a firehouse and lots of greenery.
orsers book about Edmondson Village
Edmondson Village is a twentieth-century creation, a suburban neighborhood built with Baltimore’s basic building block, the rowhouse. Between 1910 and 1930 the area now known as Edmondson Village went from a population of 97 to 8,9911. Prior to the twentieth century, the area was composed of gentlemen country estates, small truck farms, and buildings that served the industry
located along the Gwynns Falls. (Masterplan)
As the postwar housing policies were not city friendly and they were also deeply racially motivated. The stability of Edmondson Village and the Uplands and the suburban setting were no defense against the cheap housing loans in the suburbs and the white flight that ensued when racial weapons such as blockbusting were employed which played openly on the fear of white homeowners facing black people moving into the area. (Edward Orser's book Blockbusting in Baltimore: The Edmondson Village Story). Neither did it help that Meyerhoff developed a brand-new Westview shopping center where the new Baltimore Beltway created a new destination a few miles to the west.
Between 1955 and 1965, nearly twenty thousand white residents, who saw their secure world changing drastically, were replaced by blacks in search of the American dream. By buying low and selling high, playing on the fears of whites and the needs of African Americans, blockbusters set off a series of events that Orser calls "a collective trauma whose significance for recent American social and cultural history is still insufficiently appreciated and understood." (Orser book summary)
The racial composition flipped (now nearly 100% African American), and eventually the 1000 Uplands garden apartments turned into privately owned HUD subsidized low income housing units. In that they tracked precisely the failure of public housing which nationally had begun to cater only to the poorest of the poor and be almost entirely occupied by minorities. When Maryland Properties defaulted on federally backed mortgages and CEO Monte Greenbaum was convicted of skimming HUD funds dedicated to the Uplands into his own pockets throughout the 1990s, the downhill slide became precipitous.
Uplands was originally a pleasant community

The still upscale adjacent historic single-family home communities of Ten Hills and Hunting Ridge had long complained that Uplands was declining, poorly managed and a drag on their communities. Now with Maryland Properties no longer managing the 1000 Uplands, HUD was set on bringing the Uplands to an end. Soon the community with its hilly and curvy roads, mature trees and solidly built brick apartments was dotted with boarded up empty units, the bane of so many Baltimore neighborhoods.  As it is often the case, the decline was neither caused by poor housing design nor by the overall shrinking population, but the result of mismanagement. There were certainly enough families in need of decent affordable housing but the future of the Uplands wasn't based on need but on the policies of HUD and Baltimore Housing and the same forces that shaped housing solutions all across Baltimore, from Lafayette Courts to Hollander Ridge.

HUD clearly didn't want to be stuck with all those units that had fallen into its hands through a foreclosure sale in 2003. At that time only 24 families still lived in the complex. Instead of planning a rehabilitation and revival Baltimore Housing and HUD opted for the bulldozer. Except that the fight who should pay for the demolition went on for years during which the 1000 vacant apartments sat like a menace in the landscape with all the associated squatting, fires and crime.

It can hardly be a surprise that the Edmondson Shopping Center didn't fare well after it had lost 1000 households as customers. Sheila Dixon, Council President and eventually mayor, lived and still lives in Hunting Ridge. She ensured that a Edmondson Village masterplan was created and adopted, that a Giant supermarket was built adjacent to the shopping center, one of the successes against the spreading "food deserts". But the new Giant suffered from a lack of customers just as the rest of the center. The new supermarket never took off. It is still there but plenty of westside families still trek out to the Giant in the County, three miles to the west on Rolling Road, via bus, hack or car, claiming that the prices and quality there is superior.  Mayor Dixon had to resign in disgrace and with that the spotlight moved away from the area. Trash blown into the fence of Edmondson High wasn't picked up as often anymore, the traffic signals fell out of sync and the commercial development supposed to replace the defunct gas station and the liquor store next to the Westside skill center never made it beyond a color on the masterplan.
uplands at the time when it was emptied out

When Baltimore Housing finally owned the site, it cleared it of every single building and every tree, no matter how stately. The only thing still standing is the historic Uplands mansion which thrones over the site, a spooky castle, mothballed and ready to collapse one day. Even the New Psalmist Church was moved out in a land swap and in the hope that a larger clean slate would bring a better future. What had begun in 2003 with 800 units on the 52 acres of the Uplands Apartments complex had expanded to 1,100 units on more than 100 acres, including 38 acres of what used to be the New Psamlist church grounds. It took a court battle to ensure that 175 of the planned 1,100 units will be offered to tenants who had lived in Uplands Apartments; the majority of the set-aside units would be rentals for households earning up to 60 percent of the area's median income. The rest of the units was supposed to be offered for sale, 74 percent of them moderately priced and 26 percent top market price rate. (See here about the market projections at the time).
[The Uplands where] "people with different backgrounds, of different races, and, yes, with different incomes can raise children in decent housing." Mayor Martin O'Malley in 2006 shortly before elected to be Governor
Boston's star architects Goody Clancy were hired to develop a new urbanist masterplan which was even more suburban than the settlement it replaced. The new mantra was homeownership just like in the suburbs. The pseudo historic mini mansions lining the new streets with their brick and stone fronts and vinyl backs and sides were indistinguishable from mass produced suburban developments by production builders.

But after developing maybe a third of the site in this manner, home builder Pennrose and the City ran out of steam, partly due to the financial crisis and partly due to the fact that the demand for  clones of suburban buildings in the city with double the tax rate was limited, indeed, the asinine slogan "urban convenience with suburban charm" not withstanding. The fact that the entire infrastructure, roads, pipes, lights and trees had to done from scratch made it a bad deal for the city as well.

Maybe it would have helped if the Red Line would have had the promised stop on US 40 as a glue between Edmondson Village and the Uplands, but as is well known, that bit of good news was snuffed out when Governor O'Malley left office and the new Governor killed the project as soon as he settled into office.

This, then, is the backdrop for the fire-ravaged shopping center and it severely limits the options for moving forward. Vacating, relocating and demolishing has proven time and again as the wrong recipe for revitalization. It reminds of the  method of bloodletting as a cure for disease propagated by doctors in medieval times. The people are the blood, the streets, pipes and buildings are the arteries. Without those two elements there is no life in a community, in fact, there is no community at all. For successfully rebuilding communities from scratch on a pile of rubble it takes enormous market pressures and a large influx of people, both things Baltimore sorely lacks. From the Superblock on the westside of downtown to EBDI, from Poppleton to Hollander Ridge and from Uplands to Park Heights the City repeats this failed slash and burn strategy over and over. Each time the remaining residents and businesses, their roots and ties and their historic buildings are removed instead of using this social capital to grow back.
The new Uplands, a clone of suburbia

A city like Denver with fantastic population growth has a chance to repopulate a large area such as their former Stapleton airport and even there, where there never had been a community in the first place, redevelopment incorporated the characteristics of the former use: Old hangers, control towers and hotels were preserved, the hotels actually never ceased to operate. But in Baltimore new population can only be attracted if the area has strength and offers something the suburbs can't offer. Thus Otterbein, Federal Hill, Canton and lately Highlandtown succeeded, because there was history, waterfront and preservation.

In declining communities the solution is not to remove the few that are left and demolish their homes but to add additional people, ideally of a diverse background in terms of race and class. The reality, however, is that the biggest demand in Baltimore is for affordable housing. As laudable the idea of mixed income and mixed-use communities is, one after the other of the attempts in willing these into existence from scorched earth has failed. Meanwhile Baltimore has created a gigantic deficit in affordable housing. The few new affordable housing developments have no trouble at filling up.

Efforts to stabilize Edmondson Village and its shopping center as outlined in the masterplan are likely much more important than rebuilding all of the Uplands.

 Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Friday, November 22, 2019

After Pugh: Should one search for a savior?

In face of the tragic images of a once again disgraced Baltimore mayor being hauled into court, anyone who cares about Baltimore will ask: Why is it that we can't do better? Do the leaders drag the city down or does the condition of the city drag the leaders leaders down? Are these leaders what we deserve or can we get better ones? Some may ask, do leaders even matter?
Former Mayor Catherine Pugh being arraigned in
Federal Court (WBAL)

Those questions are similar to the nature or nurture debate: What is DNA and what is choice?  Or the one between idealists and materialists: Is Hegel right that ideas shape reality or Karl Marx who countered that material conditions shape the ideas?

Are cities shaped by material conditions such as the presence of a deepwater Port, deindustrialization, demographic change and other such things they cant control or are they thriving and faltering based on the quality of their leaders?

Most would probably say its a bit of both. A particularly gloomy Baltimore variant of a hybrid goes like this: Because we are doomed by the external circumstances of a postindustrial, shrinking, weak-market city we can't attract any other type leader than  machine politicians who aren’t there to lead but who cater at best to entrenched constituent groups and at worst to themselves.

Sky high murder rates, a governor who took $5 billion dollar out of Baltimore's economy (Red Line, State Center) a place-holder mayor who prides himself of not having committed murder, corporate local stars such as Alex Brown and now Under Armour losing luster, seem to verify the gllomy theory. Only the Ravens offer a glimmer of hope. Sure is that the city isn't  “moving forward” (one of Catherine Pugh’s favorite expressions). But does it have to be that way or are is Baltimore trading far below its potential?

The bleeding has gone on for about 70 years, no matter how much optimism urban boosters may have spread, no matter how many urban renewal projects were completed, how many Dollar Houses were renovated, how many Empowerment, Investment or Opportunity Zones were declared and no matter who was mayor In those last seventy years the metropolitan statistical area has grown from 1.2 million in 1950 to 2.8 million now while the city shrank by a third from nearly a million to just about 600,000.

Trends have come and gone. Urban flight, urban renaissance, highway boosting and highway busting, two fiery unrests, downtown development and neighborhood development, big government, small government and public private partnerships. Baltimore offered model developments like Harborplace and Camden Yards, copied worldwide and offered the backdrop for crime stories like Homicide and the Wire. Through all of it it continued to shrink and became less important in the State and the nation.

This protracted decline, no matter what the medicine, no matter who the doctor speaks for bad DNA. Something that is intrinsically wrong with Baltimore, either its physical setting or its demographic male up.

Our neighbors in DC, New York, Boston and increasingly also Philadelphia have managed stunning come-backs. Anyone who can look beyond the horizon of our own limited city boundaries will see that almost any peer city with a "rustbelt" post-industrial city DNA is doing far better  than Baltimore, especially when it comes to population growth and crime rates. While this insight may deepen the depression, this observation points towards bad leadership as the main cause of the malaise.

If even  Newark, Cleveland, St Louis, Hartford or Columbus can generate better metrics than we, then what other than leadership would explain that?

Our DNA isn't worse thatn that of those other cities. In fact, our externalities are actual better: We are the largest city in the wealthiest state in the nation. We are located near the nation's capital, we have a beautiful natural setting and are located on the only high speed rail corridor in the country. One would think some of that may rub off.

Additionally, national and international trends are helpful to cities: Urban living is all the rage once again, especially among the younger, upwardly mobile people. But Baltimore is profiting from its positive setting and surroundings and the trend back to cities in a way that hasn't led to a turnaround. In spite of the continued shrinkage, the tax base recently stayed remarkably stable because the smaller number of incoming better educated and earning residents could make up for the larger number of people still leaving the city. Not only does the shrinkage continue in a still growing metro area where the city has failed to capture its fair share of the metropolitan growth, many neighborhoods are still sinking deeper into disrepair and abandonment. Thus they are in no shape to keep their residents, let alone attract new ones.

Baltimore has always looked to New Orleans and Detroit for comfort. Two places that fared even worse than Charm City, especially when it came to corrupt leaders and badly performing city services. But that consolation is gone. In fact, both cities have staged a come back as well, especially in public perception. The reality may be less rosy, but the nation is bullish about them. By contrast, Baltimore is usually mentioned as a loser to such an extent, that visitors are surprised how much better reality is than the image.

New Orleans and Detroit can serve as exhibits for the argument that a city can recover from unfavorable externalities (Katrina, the decline of American car industry) if there is a good mayor. They prove that a decisive, competent and charismatic mayor can not only be elected but can improve a city against all odds and even after it had become a national poster-child of incompetence. Initially, the improvement is mostly psychological. Trust comes slowly. Competence and clear directives improve basic services. Once they function again on a basic level, constituents can believe in their city again and bigger ideas be approached. A mayor who does what he (or she) says and must have first ideas and then the energy, the talent, the support and the team to see them through. Once it is clear where the journey goes, money follows. Money from real estate investors, from stakeholders and sometimes even from state and federal government.

Aside from water meters, sewer lines, policing and traffic signals Baltimore's services have never been as bad as those in New Orleans or Detroit once were. But unlike those two cities, Baltimore continues its tailspin, especially after the unrest in 2015. Distrust in the police is at the root of public cynicism and the vicious cycle that follows. A fight well known to New Orleans. Baltimore has NOLA's police commissioner now, but Mayor Landrieu provided a different type of back-up. He would never have told his city that crime conditions had nothing to do with  poor leadership.
I want to try to gently peel from your hands the grip on a false narrative of our history that I think weakens us. And make straight a wrong turn we made many years ago — we can more closely connect with integrity to the founding principles of our nation and forge a clearer and straighter path toward a better city and a more perfect union.(Mayor Landrieu, May 2017)
Mayor Duggan in Detroit, now in his second term, may not be as eloquent as his NOLA counterpart. But he has shown a lot of action (see here) that ended the tailspin and created a virtuous cycle instead. For one thing the murder rate sank by 30% to around 260 in 2018, not bad for a city still larger than Baltimore, even though Motown's overall crime rate is still higher than most other cities.

“We have to do more to keep our community safe. We hit rock bottom six years ago with the highest homicide rate in America. We've made progress. We are not celebrating what we've done, but we're going to build on it." (Mayor Duggan in May 2019)
So is it all about leadership, no matter what the DNA? Didn't have Baltimore any good mayors in 70 years? Certainly it did. But it has been quite some time since a Baltimore mayor laid out a clear path and vision for where the city should be going. A convincing narrative. An agenda where all pieces add up to a larger comprehensive and doable future. An image of a city that residents, visitors and investors could like, believe and engage for. The Baltimore SUN sure thinks its time for a strong leader.
But we should have known that Baltimore needed — deserved — more than a so-called safe choice. We should have set our sights, and standards, higher.
We won’t make that mistake again. (Baltimore SUN editorial 11-21-19)
The Baltimore Business Journal toots into the same horn. In an editorial today Editor in chief Joanna Sullivan has this to say:
I've covered Baltimore longer than Young has been in office, and can't really name anything spectacular or visionary he has done for the City. [...] Just OK is not OK for Baltimore's next mayor. (BBJ Joanna Sullivan)
But banking on a mayoral savior maybe misguided. Dan Sparaco, once an aid to former Mayor Stephanie Rawlings Blake is more cynical regarding the search for a strong leader. He says the system is broken. As a former insider he would know. In his most recent missive about Baltimore he observes:
Each election, we wait for a superman or a superwoman who can overcome this system of inherited power and entrenched interests that, to mere mortals, seem impossible to overcome. But that superhero candidate for mayor never seems to emerge. (Dan Sparaco on Nov 18, 2019)
Indeed, the time of the grand projects and the big urban heroes (or villains) like Burnham (Chicago, "make no small plans"), Olmsted (many US cities), McMillan (Washington) or Koch (New York) seems quaintly yesterday in a time when government funds are scarce and the people question has become so much larger than building big stuff out of brick and mortar. No longer is the key to success big new shiny stuff. It is about the hard work to build up trust, education, competency, social capital and some sense of purpose. Still, even without big construction projects, tackling these hard issues requires good governance and good leadership. Even if the current system hasn't worked or is broken, Baltimore can be glad it allows a strong mayor and not just a figurehead.

Even a midsize city like Baltimore is a very complex undertaking in which the puzzle pieces will never fall into place by sheer luck. Even when social capital, equity and social justice are the drivers, it takes a lot of pull and push to make things to add up. And for the pushing and pulling to go in the right direction, it needs a clear set of goals and strong guidance. It was never Baltimore's problem that there weren't enough initiatives, enough small heroes on a thousands fronts. There was never a shortage of ideas, creativity or people willing to engage. But here everyone seems to do their thing without that a larger picture ever emerges. What has been missing for quite some time is someone who aligns the magnets.

Baltimore's DNA is good in spite of rot and widespread alienation. There are plenty of opportunities. The upcoming elections are only one. An opportunity to rectify leadership and complement the lately willing, able and active city council with a strong executive. An opportunity to elect a mayor who is able to describe such an agenda and unite the "two Baltimores" behind it. Not some pie in the sky dreamworld but an actual path that builds on the city's strengths, addresses the weaknesses and capitalizes on the major trends in the economy, demographics and technology.

So far it is hard to identify this potential in any of the candidates. But as the presidential campaign shows, campaigns are fluid and bring about new perspectives, both about what needs to be done and who is most suited to do it.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

updated for language and grammar 11/23/19

Saturday, November 9, 2019

Lost on Baltimore's waterfront Promenade

Anybody who uses the Baltimore Promenade knows it is far from perfect. It isn't as sleek as Tampa's new Riverwalk, it isn't cutting edge like New York's Highline and not as long as Chicago's Lakefront Trail. Instead it is an often invisible sleeping beauty, marred by inconsistency and gaps caused by those who just never followed the rules. In short it is typical Baltimore.
The Baltimore Promenade, as broken as its signs. Follow
the photo journey below this article to see what is broken

But only an end to end investigation shows how very far its potential is from its reality, especially if one imagines to be a visitor who isn't familiar with Baltimore. The problem isn't that the Promenade can't adhere to a consistent width, design or material. Not that it doesn't boast fitness, bike repair or art stations like some of its newer brethren in other cities. Not even that it has many rickety "temporary" connections or entirely missing links. No, the most egregious problem is that nobody seems to care about the Promenade any longer. Another discarded love. That, too seems typical Baltimore.
The promenade is the glue of the public realm around the Inner Harbor. As such, it is the framework for the public realm, knitting together the public open spaces and buildings along the waterfront. (Ayer Saint Gross, Harbor 2.0, Nov 2013)
Once a cherished child of tireless Baltimore promoters, it no longer gets the attention it needs to be an asset just like so many other things in Baltimore: Off to a promising start and then petering out in indifference. The indifference and lack of care is demonstrated by those who can close it off with a sign without providing a detour, by those who don't bother to think about the disabled, the elderly or those don't care to balance along the edge of a deep drop into the water. Very disturbing is that even city engineers design links such a four lane bridge extending central Avenue to HarborPoint without respecting the promenade enough to give it prominence or any kind of decency on the $15 million project. But maybe most annoying is the fact that in years nobody has made an effort to promote this facility not even on the simplest level: By putting some directional signs up so one can find one's way. without getting lost.
At present, the promenade is somewhat disjointed and inconsistent in quality throughout the harbor. As a result, current pedestrian navigation along the harbor is not straight-forward. (Ayer Saint Gross, Harbor 2.0, Nov 2013)
Six years later, nothing has changed. These deficiencies are not caused by a lack of money, just by lack of basic attention. The almost complete absence of signage makes the promenade invisible to anybody who isn't already intimately familiar with it. Somebody trying to follow it for more than a few hundred yards at a time would despair by the lack of guidance when many options are available but only one is the right one. Except the only way to find out is try and error. “Get lost” is what this tells the user, unless you are a local insider. For a city that prides itself to be welcoming to visitors, new residents and immigrants, this is inexcusable arrogance.

 Baltimore has been the leader in many things, one of them the redevelopment of formerly industrial waterfronts for recreational purposes. Baltimore's HarborPlace has been copied the world over, alas, the original is tired and in desperate need of new ideas. so is the 7.5 mile Promenade fanning out to both sides of HarborPlace. The concept is as old as HarborPlace and as much in need of rejuvenation and love.

Were it to work properly it would be one of the longest waterfront promenades in the country, reaching from Locust Point all the way to Canton Crossing. It would provide a cross section of Baltimore's history from industry to shipping, from bars to boats. Fort McHenry, Tide Point, Domino Sugar, the Museum of Industry, the Science and the Sewer Museum, the Aquarium, the World Trade Center, an Under Armour outlet store and a seafood restaurant in the shape of a large ship, are all par for the course. People from neighborhoods as diverse as once working class Locust Point and Canton, African American Sharp Leadenhall, urban pioneer enclave Otterbein, fast growing Dowtown, swanky Harbor East, low income Perkins Homes, historic Fells Point, and newly rediscovered Brewers Hill could utilize it. Some certainly do, but they are not really invited by some marked dedicated trail-heads or clearly marked access points.

Many forest trails are better marked than our promenade. Baltimore's water taxi landings strung all along the Promenade provide immediate access, except nothing at the landing points indicates that it stretches miles to either side. Of course, Circulator and MTA bus stops remain totally mum about it. The Visitor Center sits on it and so do a number of hotels, but nowhere anything that says, welcome to Baltimore's Promenade and here are all the places you can reach.

For someone walking on the promenade all kinds of history could come to life: The former immigration pier second only to Ellis Island, the Korean War Memorial, Federal Hill and the internationally famous Fort McHenry and the Civil War museum at President Street Station, to mention just a few. Good stuff, that could make this promenade Baltimore's #1 attraction for locals and visitors alike. Meanwhile the world is ooing and ahhing about the much shorter Highline in New York, the Millennial Park in Chicago or Seattles revived waterfront.

Baltimore's Promenade, by contrast is so well hidden that one could suspect that those living nearby wanted to make sure none else would share the joy. Even people who inevitably stumble across the promenade somewhere near HarborPlace have no chance to realize that it stretches miles each way. Wherever a person would have a momentous ambition to explore, the pursuit would be quickly thwarted by abrupt termination, and obscure hidden turns, routes that only the most intrepid pathfinder would test, a great great turn-off for everybody else. Walking the Promenade shouldn't be a case of breadcrumb navigation. The only ones undeterred are runners who use it every day.

It all started very promising. The promenade was conceived with ambition and a code that required anybody developing along the shoreline to not only set aside space for it but construct it to impeccable design standards emulating on a reduced scale what one can see at HarborPlace or near Rash Field.  Width , lighting, brick material, all established established. Presumably nobody along the water would get development approval without providing this public access feature. The Ritz Carlton development may never have paid its water bills, but it built a flawless promenade. But many other property owners never followed the rules, others never developed their land and let it sit fallow.

A recent example is the luxury Pendry Hotel on the Recreation Pier right next to the well equipped and prominent Broadway Pier.  It was exempted from promenade construction because the developer argued that rebuilding the pier was already costly enough. Taking off the width of a promenade on three sides would either leave no space for development while cantilevered structures hanging off to the sides would disfigure the historic pier. Routing the path around each projecting pier would also make a very circuitous route, although it is exactly what happens at Henderson Wharf and other developments and gives the promenade its record length. Fair enough. But wouldn't this exemption mean that the sidewalk in front of the Pendry which is now also the Promenade would deserve some extra attention? A few directional signs, right at the most popular arrival point for water taxi users?
Instead of extra width, the path is shrunk to make room for valet service.

East of the Pendry the Promenade just seems to end and even an ambitious user would never know that it somehow resumes around Henderson Wharf as a wooden boardwalk. The disappearing Promenade would make Houdini proud, but is an issue in more than a dozen places: At the Rusty Scupper or beyond the Ritz Carlton condos where the Promenade hits the HarborView property to become nothing more than an internal access road of the development, speed bumps included, before it dies entirely at Key Highway. All that is left is a narrow sidewalk in poor repair. No sign that would say, "sorry, the Promenade ends here". Or better: "A little further on, we can still offer some more waterfront pathway experiences", fragmented as they are: In front of the Little Havana restaurant, at the Museum of Industry and much further on at Under Armour. From there again there is no marked path to Baltimore area's only National Park,  Fort McHenry. Which, however closes after dark or whenever the National Park Service feels like it (for example when the federal government "shuts down"), which could be very frustrating after enduring the long obstacle path to there.
Even smack in the center of attractions: the Promenade closed off

Going east from HarborPlace the ambiguities begin right at the World Trade Center which blocks the water's edge with a tall fence. No signs which of the bridges to take from the Aquarium plaza. Or should one go around the Aquarium, where there is something like a promenade, but boy, don't do that, there it is as ugly as dumpsters and automobile parking can get. Then comes Pier 5 (again, where to go), Pier 6, (only insiders will find the short-cut bridge after cutting through a parking lot). Then things are fine along Harbor East until one gets to HarborPoint where that ill conceived road bridge is now open. This bridge, if it had been built for pedestrians and bicycles, could have been a highlight of the Promenade and a landmark. Instead, this most banal car bridge amounts to publicly financed large scale vandalism. No sign, just the puniest sidewalk and a tiny skinny unprotected bikelane. The car run sovereign here where the pedestrian should be king. Bland engineering convenience reigns where design and creativity was needed. (If you wonder how I feel about this bridge, read also here and here)
• Sidewalks on a promenade must be within an easement of at least 20’ in width. (Baltimore City Site Plan Review Manual 2017)
On HarborPoint itself, things are still unfinished. In fact, a temporary promenade all around the peninsula had been opened for a while so one could reach the wildly popular "Sandlot" waterfront attraction. From there one would almost be in Fells Point and at the historic Sugar House (the Douglass Maritime Museum). But when construction on another building began, a fence went up and with it the infamous Promenade Closed sign.  No detour. Our imaginary intrepid user would have to back-track, find a path across a humongous surface parking lot, through an underground garage and then back to Caroline Street before ever reaching the Douglass Museum. Utter disrespect.
Officials are pleased about an ugly road bridge at HarborPoint

East of  the Pendry and Henderson Wharf the chase of the Promenade becomes truly adventurous. Every time one thinks this must be the end, there is yet another way to continue. Around hard corners, across various property fragments, but on it goes, somehow.

On one of those tenuous connections built from timber hanging off the side of a building a bright orange sign catches the eye: It announces that the Promenade will be closed for 2 years! Yes, imagine! This is such a flagrant violation of a public compact that Councilman Cohen is working with the developer on a decent detour. Of course, the simplest route would be using existing marina piers with just a short gap that would have to be closed with a small bridge. But I am afraid that the detour won't lead across busy streets instead.

After navigating the many stops and fits at Fells Point and Canton the promenade resumes with some verve at Canton Cove along the Korean War memorial only to die with a whimper in a parking lot and a facility of the marine police unit. During snowy winters DPW dumps mountains of dirty salty snow here. But even this is not conceived as a trail head or terminus. No promenade signs whatsoever.  Nor any real access to Canton Crossing or Brewers Hill, Baltimore's latest growth area where the Rails to Trails People dream about a big loop trail along the former right of way of a railroad to connect to Highlandtown.
Opne of the best Promenade spots is at Harbor East: safe and attractive

To fix the most basic failings, a consistent signage should be installed that not only brand the promenade with a logo but also provide consistent uninterrupted directions. Access points need to be marked from major arteries and circulation junctures. Signs that emulate the downtown pedestrian signs and point out the surroundings would be great. Water taxi landings should be upgrade to become beacons at night and pearls on the string of the promenade by day. Each should represent an information hub with waiting areas and a pleasant place to rest. In some places the walk is so narrow and has such sharp turns that railings would be no luxury.

Another important issue is what is allowed on the promenade and what not? This debate has been going on at least since 2008 when bike enthusiast Greg Hinchliffe reminded the then City planner Robert Quilter who was in charge overseeing the Promenade, that man cities around the world allow bicycle use while Baltimore didn't. At least some of the old signs prohibiting bike use are still up, generally, today there is no clarity about it.
In this instance one could believe it for a moment
The space has been successfully shared by pedestrians, pets, and cyclists for years; I am not aware of any safety problems in that time, certainly not in excess of what would be expected in any multi-use facility, such as the Gwynns Falls and Jones Falls Trails.

Similar waterside facilities exist in cities all over the country and most if not all of them are open to regulated cycling.  They offer pleasant and safe bicycling for residents and visitors alike in cities such as Vancouver (BC), Seattle, San Francisco, San Diego, Denver, Chicago, and New York.  The only places where cycling is banned are where there are parallel bike paths immediately nearby. (
Greg Hinchliffe, May 2008, then Chair, Mayor's Bicycle Advisory Committee)
While Baltimore is searching for the right path in so many ways, the path along the water already exists. It just needs the attention it deserves. From Forth McHenry to Canton Crossing.

Picture tour along the promenade from HarborPlace to Canton Crossing:
Is this the promenade?

Or this most direct but skinny connection

Or this utterly unattractive route around the Aquarium

South of Powerplant  still no Promenade direction

Is this the route for the Promenade? One can see this connection  only after traversing the Pier VI parking lot

Where the Promenade meets the new Central Avenue Bridge a huge opportunity was missed

The intrepid bridge sidewalk user gets to this point: Where to go if anywhere?

Those adventurous enough can find this temporary promenade around HarborPoint

Until this abruptly stops the journey. No detour is provided

From the other sie there is at least a warning about the closure but still no information where to go

At times the brick turns into a boardwalk. The sharp turns without bollards or railings may be hazard at night

A quite attractive access route from Fells Point's Bond Street. But no signs point to the Promenade nor
do signs inform anyone on the Promenade about where this route goes

Here the Promenade dives underneath the Bond Street Wharf building. A good solution.

One of the few signs that provide orientation on the promenade, but it is about a special health walk only. But at least its shows the Promenade route.

Walking towards the Pendry Hotel. This is just a sidewalk now, but it is also an important Promenade connection

The Promenade offers many attractive views

Coming to this juncture on Thames Street, there is no clue provided where to go from here

One can indeed get around Henderson Wharf, except that the walk isn't very luxurious and not lit. 

The boardwalk ends here. Is this the end of the Promenade?

The courageous user will try this route which looks awfully like a private driveway

And will find that the Promenade, indeed, continues!

At least for a bit when things get dicey again. Is this the end?

No it isn't, just  a 90 degree turn.

By now one suspects that this isn't the end either, even if it looks like it

Even this isn't the end, except a sign announces that it soon will be

After some twists real Promenade territory comes back into sight

The standards chnages but the route continues (Captain James)

Crossing a parking lot there is an effort made to give some spray-paint guidance

Promenade built to the standards (almost, it hardly seems to be 20' wide)

In Canton near the Safeway on Boston Street a hard choice has to be made. The runner seems to know the way

At Tindeco the standard is different again and a restaurant got away with narrowing the path, but still: This is nice

and transitions a bit awkwardly into the real Promenade standard at Canton Cove

The water taxi landings could be visual highlights and hubs along the Promenade. But most have no amenities at all. This one at the Korean War Memorial has at least a shelter

The path veers away from the water. Why?

Because now, here in this manner it really ends. No sign to inform the optimistic user that may traverse the parking lot once more hoping for another surprise

But the hopes are dashed at this publicly owned waterfront terminusof the Baltimore Police Marine unit. 

Really the end

Turning around one can barely grasp that Baltimore's 7.5 mile attraction should begin like this. No sign, no information, no welcome. But it looks promising, doesn't it?

Very promising, indeed. But maybe it is just easier to use the boat?

Baltimore’s Waterfront Promenade represents a unique public and private partnership that has ensured public access to the city’s most cherished natural asset – its harbor.  It is a public pedestrian walkway/shared use bicycle path that functions as a waterfront sidewalk for development sites and public spaces that have emerged from the former industrial waterfront. The concept of the eight-mile promenade was established in the 1960’s as a key component in the Inner Harbor Master Plan – a visionary plan that proposed massive redevelopment of land adjacent to the historic harbor that was the basis for the founding of Baltimore in 1729. (online description by the Planning Department)