December 31, 2006

Innerspace 2006


Baltimore Innerspace is an alternative master plan that contains actual actions and projects, not bureaucratic gobbledygook. To review, here is your guide to what was covered in 2006.


THE RED LINE - is the proposed east-west regional rail transit line that needs to be able to do two things:

- To integrate the regional transit system so that everything actually connects to everything else.

- To create places where a new kind of urban development can take place that actually depends on transit for its accessibility.

In these places, transit should be the dominant travel mode, not a nice "alternative" afterthought to the automobile upon which virtually all of Baltimore's economic growth has relied for the past half century. This requires a clean start, not a subtle retrofit.

EDISON-MONUMENT - is the East Side place where the regional transit system can become truly connected. This is a huge piece of vacant land adjacent to the Amtrak tracks where a comprehensive transit hub can be established for the integration of the entire bus and regional rail systems and MARC Commuter Rail. It is especially essential for East Baltimore and Downtown to have a link to the new super-regional economy, exemplified by the expansion of the military bases at Aberdeen and Fort Meade and the way that the entire Washington metropolitan area is being drawn closer to Baltimore. The Red Line plan for East Baltimore should be an extension of the existing Metro Green Line east of Hopkins Hospital along the Amtrak tracks. The MTA Red Line plans have totally ignored the need to integrate the transit lines in this way.

THE HAVEN STREET CORRIDOR - is the East Side place where the Red Line can allow transit to take its rightful place as the dominant transportation mode for new development. Ambitious development plans are already starting to come to fruition in CANTON CROSSING, BREWERS HILL and BAYVIEW. Ambitious Plans are also on drawing boards in HIGHLANDTOWN and GREEKTOWN. All of these plans need the Red Line to be built on a vacant freight siding adjacent to Haven Street in order to create the kind of transit-dominant environment that is necessary for transit line to have its maximum impact. This is in stark contrast to the "official" Red Line alternatives prepared by the MTA which try to subtly weave through the already established areas of FELLS POINT, CANTON and the BOSTON STREET CORRIDOR, where most development has already happened, travel patterns and habits are already in place, and the Red Line can have only a minimal impact.

THE FRANKLIN-MULBERRY CORRIDOR - is the West Side place where everything can get a fresh start. In most of Baltimore's old "highway war zones" like Fells Point, Canton and Otterbein, people have gotten on with their lives and adapted the vacant lots and structures to fulfill real needs. But people have been mostly just fussing, fretting and doing nothing about Franklin-Mulberry. That is hopefully changing, but you wouldn't know it by the look of what the MTA proposed for the Red Line. What is needed instead is a fresh concept - a downsized highway to reflect that it will never be I-70 but is still useful for funneling through traffic, and a fast efficient transit line which truly integrates with new development to make the most of the vast space available. The West MARC Station anchors the west end of this corridor and provides the multi-modal transit hub opportunities.


CANTON - is truly Baltimore's prototypical urban neighborhood of the 21st Century. That means using some basic tools to allow the aura of Canton to spread around Baltimore - mostly just simple things like four-way Stop Signs, angle parking and rooftop decks, set within the melange of formstone renovations and infill construction. Some people still think that Canton is all about expanding waterfront high rises and the resultant dense human activity, but they're wrong. There are opportunities in Baltimore for more of that, but not in a prototypical urban neighborhood like Canton.

SETON HILL - is one of those unique hidden hideaways where the people try to make a virtue out of their seclusion. Even their big magnificent park is obscured by walls. So seclusion appears to be only a small step from neglect.

THE GAY STREET CORRIDOR - is a forlorn place where the basic principles of traffic flow and traffic engineering have been thrown out along with a lot of other trappings of urban civilization, in what is sometimes referred to as the "Other Baltimore".

THE EUTAW STREET CORRIDOR - is Baltimore's closest resemblance to Le Champs Elysees. Well, it's not all that close, but compared with all the other streets urban designers want to call the Champs in their dreams, it's not bad. What Rue Eutaw needs is a roundabout at North Avenue to mend the division between RESERVOIR HILL and BOLTON HILL, and another roundabout at Dolphin Street to mend the division between Bolton Hill and UPTON and STATE CENTER. Roundabouts in these places also make sense from a traffic flow standpoint, making them attractive to sane smart motorists but not crazy ones.

RESERVOIR HILL - is separated from BOLTON HILL by big nasty North Avenue, which was widened many years ago in such a way as to eliminate the reasons why it might have needed to be widened in the first place, except to create a protective moat of destruction around Bolton Hill. Narrowing North Avenue could be part of a plan to mend the division between Bolton and Reservoir Hills, which along with a roundabout would refocus attention on this as a real place and not just a corridor.

NEW JONESTOWN - has a sort of traffic calming "thing" stuck in the middle of East Lombard Street at Albemarle, which only has the result of confusing traffic and pedestrians, creating an obstacle for both and taking away parking where it should naturally be. Median strips can be great people places, but only if they are designed very carefully. The new median nearby on South Broadway between Lombard and Fleet Street in UPPER FELLS POINT appears to fill the bill.

BROOKLYN - is absolutely the best neighborhood in Baltimore that has not been discovered by the trendies. There is an eerie resemblance to Federal Hill circa 1970 when you could buy a solid rowhouse hovering above the harbor for well under a $100k in pre-inflation dollars.

PENN STATION - is supposed to be a priority neighborhood for City government, but you'd never know by its rather scandalously abusive traffic patterns and street functions, including dumpsters in the middle of Oliver Street and totally uncontrolled expressway-bound traffic whizzing across the sidewalk on Charles Street. See the full Top Ten List of crimes against humanity. This isn't a neighborhood. It's a mess.

MOUNT VERNON - BELVIDERE - is the proposed integration of Mount Vernon, one of Baltimore's most famous neighborhoods, with one of the City's most obscure dead-end streets, Belvidere Street, which ties into our greatest and most celebrated cemetery, GREEN MOUNT. All of this is a logical, beneficial and realistic alternative to one of Baltimore's most spurious recurring pipe dreams, the conversion of the Jones Falls Expressway into a huge surface boulevard in order to attempt to integrate the east side prisons with the west side neighborhood.


CARROLL PARK - is a great big beautiful park in Southwest Baltimore which is separated from the neighborhoods to the north by an industrial wasteland that virtually ensures that the park will not be an asset to them. The B&O Railroad Museum owns this wasteland, but they are preoccupied by strengthening their museum, not the land development business. What is needed is a whole new community fronting on Carroll Park's north edge in the grand tradition of the streets surrounding New York's Central Park and the more Baltimore-sized ambitions of the streets surrounding Patterson Park. Carroll Park North Edge would also be a fantastic place for a streetcar line to carry the historic B&O Railroad motif from the Inner Harbor to Montgomery Park, the city's largest office building.

FARRING BAYBROOK - is wonderful hidden park of wonderful hidden Brooklyn, with panoramic views spreading out all the way from Downtown to Dundalk.


THE LOST HIGHWAY - is an Interstate Highway so beautiful that it makes downtown appear in its background like the skyline of Emerald City looks from the poppy fields of the Land of Oz, while the poppy fields themselves make CHERRY HILL look like Roland Park. But there are no ramps to enable Baltimore-bound travelers to use the Lost Highway, so it will remain lost until we click our ruby heels together and build the proper ramps. It's something we could have done anytime, but we seem to be waiting until the Good Witch of South Baltimore tells us to.

SOUTHWEST PARK - is so incongruous that even the Land of Oz can't explain it. Located right off the PATAPSCO AVENUE light rail station is a vast green park on the shores of the Patapsco River that is overlooked by a mountain of tractor trailers. This would make a great place for parkfront transit oriented development.

That's the sign post up ahead... your next stop... Baltimore Innerspace.

December 5, 2006

Overlooking Carroll Park

One of Baltimore's most celebrated, most historic and most well-preserved mansions overlooks an industrial wasteland. The reason that this is tolerated is probably because the industrial wasteland serves as a buffer to separate the mansion and its vast glorious park environment from one of Baltimore's seediest neighborhoods. That situation feeds the all-too-common mentality that historic parks and treasures are things to be sealed-off from human riff-raff rather than treated as the human resources that they should be.

The mansion is Carroll mansion, home of one of Maryland's leading 18th century citizens. The park is Carroll Park, the west side equivalent of East Baltimore's Patterson Park, which has become the focus of neighborhood revitalization emanating in every direction. The neighborhood is Mount Clare, named after the birthplace of American railroading which now houses the B&O Railroad Museum. The industrial wasteland is mostly owned by the B&O Museum, which has hugely ambitious plans but has many less remote and higher priority places to spend its precious funds than here.

The Mount Clare neighborhood turns its back on the park. Its streets dead-end into the industrial wasteland where trash accumulates. Generally, the closer its houses are to the park, the worse they are maintained. The north end of the Mount Clare neighborhood abuts Union Square, which has been beautifully renovated along with the homes that surround it, while the properties right next to Carroll Park are mostly in a state of dissolution that makes it difficult to tell what is supposed to be residential and what is industrial.

The industrial wasteland is also occupied by rotting railroad cars that are the target of graffiti artists and other vandals and miscreants. These railroad cars also form a bit of an additional barrier between the neighborhood and the park. In the picture above, the neighborhood is hidden off to the left, while Carroll Park is hidden off to the right.

Carroll Park itself is beautifully maintained, considering that it has very little local constituency. Its shape is a huge trapezoid and only its smallest dimension, the three blocks on the east edge adjacent to Pigtown's Bayard Street, has a residential frontage (shown above). To the south is Washington Boulevard, which is mostly fronted by the distinctive historic headquarters of the City's streetcar fleet, now retrofitted for the storage and maintenance of MTA buses.

On the west edge of Carroll Park is possibly Baltimore's greatest recent preservation success story - the magnificent Montgomery Park, the City's very largest office building. While the magnitude of this success cannot be overstated, it underscores a planning principal that is well-known in urban areas throughout the country - that an office district that lacks support from other uses such as residential and retail will become a dead zone after the end of weekday business hours.

So it is the north side of Carroll Park, with the industrial wasteland that comes between it and the Mount Clare neighborhood, which is by far the longest dimension of park frontage. Hidden along a long appendage to the northwest corner of the park is the Carroll Park golf course, the vast Gwynns Falls Trail and the incredible Carrollton Railroad Viaduct, but these remote gems are hidden so completely from the rest of the park that they might as well be on the moon. Here is an urban neighborhood with its very own public golf course, probably the least elitist golf course in the whole metropolitan area, but it's still beyond most of the folks in Mount Clare.

Imagine if Patterson Park, or any other successful urban park anywhere, had to exist in the same type of environment as Carroll Park, particularly along its north edge. What if Patterson Park, instead of being surrounded as it is by rowhouses overlooking the greenery, had a vast intervening industrial wasteland like that which comes between Carroll Park and the Mount Clare neighborhood? What if instead of being drawn into the park by the surrounding streets, one had to cut through a totally undifferentiated thicket of weeds and bushes to get there?

Great parks are defined by the streets and communities that surround them. Imagine New York's Central Park without Fifth or Seventh Avenue (the latter better known as Central Park West) or Chicago's Grant Park without Michigan Avenue. All they would be is just big pieces of land. That's what Carroll Park is.

There is an irony to the way Carroll Park and Mount Clare evolved over the years. When the Carroll mansion was built in the 18th century, and even when the first railroad track was laid in the mid 19th century, they were on the rural fringe. This area has really never been urban. The inner city Mount Clare neighborhood went through its entire urban life cycle from birth to decay without an urban connection to Carroll Park.

The Carroll mansion's lack of an urban connection is reflected by the fact that the front yard of the house faces the back of the park. The mansion's elegant front gateway is shown above, only a couple hundred feet away from the Mount Clare urban wasteland in the background. The mansion is as disconnected from the City as its park surroundings.

What Carroll Park desperately needs is a front door that creates a community identity. The industrial wasteland along the north edge of Carroll Park should be replaced with an urban street that defines the edge of the park in the most public way possible, which would become the address of new rows of distinctive rowhouses that would overlook Carroll Park, the same way that Fifth Avenue overlooks Central Park. The worst address in Mount Clare would be instantly transformed into the best. The front yard of the Carroll mansion would be right across the street from the new houses, setting the architectural tone.

The entire Mount Clare neighborhood would then be redefined as the neighborhood that leads to Carroll Park instead of the neighborhood that backs up into an industrial wasteland. The B&O Railroad Museum would then finally be able to run its vintage train tours through the urban neighborhood that rightfully grew out of the rural hinterland that once existed, instead of through the land that time forgot.

The historic train tracks could also be adapted to run streetcars or light rail transit from the Inner Harbor to Montgomery Park, connecting downtown to the City's largest office building and encouraging further employment and residential growth, revitalizing the Mount Clare Junction Shopping Center and extending the reach of the tourist district to include the B&O Museum. This is a logical extension of the new urban wave which is currently proceeding from Camden Yards and Ridgely's Delight into Pigtown.

The Mount Clare neighborhood should overlook Carroll Park the same way that great urban neighborhoods overlook great urban parks throughout the world.