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

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