August 15, 2016

Proposed Pratt to Pigtown Parkway: Sooo-eee chic

Pigtown's development strategy is all about positioning. The community touches several of West Baltimore's healthiest neighborhoods, including Barre Circle, Camden Crossing and Ridgely's Delight, but so far all the pieces haven't quite come together.

Pigtown has made a great effort to be noticed. They've put their cool Pigtown logo banners all the way up on Pratt Street, well north of what is traditionally thought of as Pigtown, thus demonstrating the real estate adage that successful neighborhood brands expand to cover territory that was once outside.

Great logos are a rare and precious thing. The iconic pig is a great asset. It's hard to believe planners once wanted to change the neighborhood's name to the anonymous "Washington Village".

Pratt Street is also iconic - the east-west spine of the Inner Harbor. So this positioning is an effort to get Pigtown closer to Baltimore's front door and its big bucks economy.

Pigtown's plan also calls for gateways to its Washington Boulevard business district to lure people in from the outside. But Washington Boulevard's gateways lack a softer side, dominated by heavy traffic fed from its intersection with the giant Martin Luther King Boulevard, which is also a major barrier to downtown and the Inner Harbor.

So the key to making Pigtown's strategy work is to reposition this gateway in the most inviting possible way to the Baltimore mainstream.

Looking westward into the Washington Boulevard business district from what would be a Pigtown gateway.
Banners with the Pigtown logo are directly above the "2-Chic Boutique",
owned by Presumptive Mayor Catherine Pugh and Comptroller Joan Pratt. 

Pigtown Park

The solution is to locate Pigtown's gateway as close as possible to downtown and the Inner Harbor, and to make it as alluring as possible. This cannot be well done at the existing giant intersection of MLK and Washington Boulevard, with its brutally heavy traffic whizzing by.

Instead, the gateway should be in a new Pigtown Park, where Washington Boulevard can emerge out of an attractive meandering greenway directly from Pratt Street to the north.

Creating a prominent gateway from Pratt Street would enable the city and the world to see Pigtown as Baltimore's first major full-service neighborhood westward from the Inner Harbor, framed by greenery that draws people into its residential and commercial areas. This would both contrast and complement Otterbein and Ridgely's Delight nearby, which are merely small enclosed residential enclaves.

Proposed Pigtown Park served by Pigtown Parkway (shown in porcine pinkish mauve) from Pratt Street in the lower-right corner
to the Washington Boulevard business district in the upper-left.
The proposed relocated southbound lanes of Martin Luther King Boulevard are shown in yellow.
The adjacent neighborhoods are Barre Circle above (west of) MLK Boulevard and Ridgely's Delight below (to the east).

Most of this parkland can be created by narrowing MLK Boulevard, shrinking its median strip and pushing the remaining roadway up against the existing east curb. This is how it should have been designed in the first place.

When Martin Luther King Boulevard was originally plowed through the corridor in the early 1980s, it was made much wider than necessary simply because the land was there and the designers had a propensity for grandiosity. This also left a huge swath of small jagged parcels which were mostly converted into miscellaneous open spaces. But that land can be re-made into a long greenway that provides useful active open space which can relate to the adjacent communities. It's even already part of the city's various plans, for what it's worth.

But so far, this concept has gotten very little traction from the powers-that-be, who appear to be more interested in demolishing more and more houses, propping up highly subsidized mega-projects like La Cite and the Biotech Park, and solidifying rather than breaking down corridor barriers, notably the historic B&O Railroad "First Mile" and the Franklin-Mulberry "Highway to Nowhere".

The big bend in proposed Pigtown Parkway through Pigtown Park - from the Washington Boulevard Pigtown business district
in the upper left, toward the Pigtown Gateway at Pratt Street/MLK Boulevard in the upper right.

Pigtown Parkway

Having Washington Boulevard wind through parkland toward Pratt Street would change the way people see Pigtown. Here's how it could be done:

1. Narrow MLK Boulevard by eliminating most of its median strip and unneeded non-thru lanes, and pushing the whole road up against its existing east curb. Three northbound and two southbound lanes should be enough for this segment. The third southbound lane should be expendable south of Pratt because there would no longer be any turns into Washington Boulevard, and no longer a capacity loss due to traffic on the two legs of Washington Blvd. moving in separate green signal phases.

2. Eliminate some of the parking lot for the small shopping center which flanks Washington Boulevard. If need be, it can be replaced by new parking behind the stores in the recovered right-of-way of the narrowed MLK Boulevard. The smaller of the two retail buildings at the corner of MLK and Washington Blvd. (currently including a 7-11) should also be rebuilt so that it overlooks the park appropriately for such a visible location. The larger shopping center building (Dollar General Store) is also ugly, but it's set back far enough from these streets so that it doesn't matter too much.

3. Make parkland out of all this recovered land, northward to Pratt Street. Some existing parkland behind the brick wall in the Barre Circle neighborhood should be incorporated as well.

Looking northward toward Pratt Street from proposed Pigtown Park at what would be its North Gateway.
The park would incorporate practically all of  the adjacent southbound MLK Boulevard to the right
 (which would be narrowed to a single lane and realigned to become Pigtown Parkway) and some of the existing park behind the brick walls to the left.

4. Rebuild Washington Boulevard as a narrow parkway that winds through the park from the Pigtown business district northward to Pratt Street, instead of going straight into MLK Boulevard.

5. In the south/west-bound direction, the new Pigtown Parkway should originate as a single lane out of the intersection of Pratt Street and MLK Boulevard. This would essentially become the gateway to Pigtown, providing the maximum presence for the neighborhood and business district from downtown and the Inner Harbor to the east, as well as most of West Baltimore and the University of Maryland campus to the north.

6. In the north/east-bound direction, the roadway should diverge from that alignment to intersect MLK Boulevard somewhere south of Pratt Street. Such a new intersection would segregate its turning traffic from turns at the existing MLK intersections at Pratt and Washington Blvd., making traffic more manageable, reducing congestion and providing an additional safer location for pedestrians to cross.

7. Bikes, pedestrians and joggers should be accommodated on separate off-street paths as part of the city's larger system.

8. The Pratt Street/MLK Boulevard intersection should have be some kind of artful monument, sculpture or kiosk to announce this Pigtown gateway. With a pig perhaps? Tasteful, not too campy, maybe even chic - although a bit of controversy never hurts.

Proposed Pigtown Park plan view - Pratt Street Gateway in the upper left, Pigtown Parkway in stylish porcine pink,
relocated southbound MLK Boulevard in yellow, and the Pigtown Washington Boulevard business district in the lower right.

Six Mile Greenway Loop

All this would be part of a proposed six mile greenway loop to revitalize West Baltimore - northward along the MLK Boulevard right-of-way through the University of Maryland campus to the Caves Valley redevelopment of the empty Social Security complex, then westward to redevelop the "Highway to Nowhere" corridor, then southward to the Gwynns Falls Greenway, and then back east along the historic B&O Railroad "First Mile" corridor along the desolate "no man's land" north edge of Carroll Park.

So while this is part of a Pigtown plan, it would serve as an even greater template for the revitalization of West Baltimore as a whole. Neighborhoods like Pigtown are unique, but also need to be interconnected with the city.

Right now, the city is looking at what to do with its vast inventory of vacant lots and abandoned buildings, and the natural tendency for them is to consider new open space or parkland as a catch-all use. But parks need to be located where people are and where they want to be, not where people used to be.

Parks need to serve a greater purpose, to bring communities together, provide recreation, and to guide and stimulate revitalization. Parks which truly serve the people feed on themselves, because people want to be near other people. A new Pigtown Park along Martin Luther King Boulevard from Pratt Street to Washington Boulevard would serve such a purpose.


  1. Lot's of good information in this article, but a few glaring errors right off the bat: 1) Camden crossing is not a neighborhood. It is a HOA and falls within the boundaries of Pigtown. 2) Pigtown does indeed extend all the way up Scott to Pratt Street, according to any neighborhood map I have seen, so there is no stretch there.

    1. "Glaring"? Really? Neighborhood boundaries are fluid. They're not taxing districts or zip codes or election precincts. People make them up to serve their own needs, be they real estate agents, politicians, activists, etc. And have you ever noticed how local TV news interprets them? Unique to say the least. I have no idea what an HOA is. But thanks for your interest.

  2. Well, yeah... it seems glaring to someone who lives in Pigtown. The neighborhood association (Citizens of Pigtown AKA Southwest Community Council, Inc. which defines the boundaries of Pigtown in it's by-laws might think its glaring. Baltimore City, as it defines the boundaries of Pigtown might think its glaring. But yes, of course you are correct, people do make them up to suit their own needs. Feel free to substitute a kinder gentler word if that one is too intense for you, but Pigtown is not "stretching" by placing signs up to Pratt. FYI, a HOA is a Home Owners Association. Cheers.

    1. In any event, I'm really glad you think this is important, because even though I don't think Pratt Street is very Pigtownish now IMHO, and even bylaws are just somebody's viewpoint, the point of my article is that I think Pratt SHOULD BE PART OF PIGTOWN, and the way I would propose to make that work is to create a very visible gateway park that extends southward from the intersection of Pratt and a narrower MLK Boulevard.