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)