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Posts Tagged ‘investment’

Those familiar with Baltimore know it’s a vibrant city; there’s always more going on than meets the eye. Dive bars, little-known hotspots and a very clustered, main-street, neighborhood feel can make sections of Baltimore seem emptier than they really are. A recent series of murals looks to change that perception by bringing some of the color that every Baltimorean is familiar with to the surface. The Open Walls Project, a collaboration of artists from around the world, is aimed at using murals as a means to enliven and revitalize communities. Below is a map showing the relatively large section of central Baltimore that the Open Walls Project has chosen to cover including the neighborhoods of Station North and Greenmount West.

A map showing the locations of all of the murals

Station North, the area just north of Penn Station, from which is draws its name, and Greenmount West are two neighborhoods that are physically very close to one another with Greenmount West lying just to the east of Station North. Despite their proximity, they find themselves at slightly different points in the revitalization process. Though both have seen a turnaround recently, Station North, due to its central location and proximity to Penn Station, has seen more investment than its eastern neighbor. But art, it would seem, is undeterred by the vacant homes and lack of investment east of Guilford Avenue. In fact, many of the murals are in Greenmount West. Some are even on the sides of homes that stand in the middle of what used to be a proud block. Due to disinvestment and blight, some properties have been demolished leaving windowless walls facing vacant lots and street corners. This problem plagues many of Baltimores neighborhoods but, hopefully, the addition of art to the Greenmount West’s corners can help fill the void left by vacant houses and empty storefronts.

Below are some of the murals:

A mural on the wall of the City Arts apartment building at the corner of Greenmount Ave and Oliver St. – City Arts has been nationally recognized for providing affordable housing to artists and other Baltimore residents.

A mural at the corner of Latrobe and Lanvale Streets

At the corner of McCallister and Barclay

On Maryland Avenue just North of North Avenue

Facing Charles Street just north of North Ave.

A portrait of a neighborhood resident

Across the street from the historic Charles Theatre

More murals can be seen in an article in the Huffington Post on the Open Walls Baltimore project.

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Good news for anyone who lives or works in South Baltimore: this coming Monday, June 4th, there will be two changes that will expand circulator service:

1.) The existing Purple Route will be extended about one quarter mile farther south to Fort Avenue. This long overdue connection will serve many of the smaller, local businesses that operate on and around Fort Avenue.

2.) The Banner Route begins service and, despite the contested path the Banner Route will take, there will only be about half a mile between the two routes that serve Fort avenue. Basically, no business on Fort Avenue will be more than one quarter of a mile from a Charm City Circulator Stop.

With the addition of the Banner Route and the extension of the purple route, the Circulator will actually begin to resemble its own small transit network.

The new Banner Route and the addition to the existing Purple Route figure to attract even more riders to Baltimore’s fledgling transit system. Even without any changes, ridership climbed again between March and April. In fact, as of April 18th, the Circulator celebrated its five millionth rider. The system notched its four millionth rider in mid-January. So, over the past three months, the Circulator has transported 1 million riders. Not too bad for a system paid for by a parking tax and some grant money.

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When the real estate bubble burst, it left millions of homes and businesses underwater. Baltimore is no stranger to this phenomenon: over 20,000 homes have been foreclosed upon in the last five years.

A map showing all of the foreclosures that occurred in Baltimore in 2011 - this map only displays 10% of the properties foreclosed upon in the last 5 years

With communities across the country still feeling the effects of the foreclosures and lost jobs, a new study is showing how we can make the best of a bad situation. The Red Fields to Green Fields research effort is attempting to document the effects of taking “red fields”, properties with zero or negative property value, and turning them into “green fields”, public or quasi-public green spaces.

So far the study has taken a look at six cities: Atlanta, Philadelphia, Cleveland, Miami, Denver and Wilmington, DE. Each city has its own unique issues but each sees red field to green field conversion as an opportunity and each has something in common with Baltimore.

Atlanta has one of the lowest parkland acreage to population ratios of any large city in the U.S. and hopes to change that by converting 2,850 acres of vacant land inside I-285 into parks. Meanwhile, in suburban Atlanta, 13,000 acres of available land will be removed from the market to create green space, strengthening the real estate market and communities.

A map showing all of the vacant lots within Atlanta's I-285

Cleveland is focusing some of its efforts on improving water quality. Cleveland’s red field plans involve taking some formerly occupied land and using it to implement neighborhood-scale solutions such as a small wetland or park. Proposals also recommend increasing the amount of vegetation along stream corridors draining into Lake Erie.

Using vacant space, Cleveland plans to create small wetland parks that aim to increase the area's ability to absorb and filter stormwater

Denver and Miami are putting a lot of effort and money into creating parks near proposed and existing rail stations. It seems that governments have realized that, in order for Transit Oriented Development (TOD) to be successful, new development must have access to parkland as well as transit.

A map of park expansion and how it would reinforce Transit Oriented Development in Denver

Miami, on the other hand, sees Transit Oriented Parks as potential centers for new neighborhoods and as a way to increase transit ridership by making the area around the station more livable.

A before and after rendering of a Transit Oriented Park in Miami

Philadelphia is taking a look at the inequity in available green space. Some neighborhoods have access to wonderful  parks while others are entirely without access. Many of the areas without access to parks are also areas with an excess of vacant land.

A map of Philadelphia showing access to parkland

Wilmington has perhaps the most interesting and relevant proposals. The city is faced with neighborhoods facing shortages of green space and large scale abandonment and vacancy problems. Each of these issues contributes to a cycle of disinvestment and a continued decrease in property values (sound familiar, Baltimoreans?). Wilmington intends to remove blighted and vacant properties from the real estate market and, more importantly, the neighborhood. By converting these properties into “pocket parks”, the neighborhoods would, ideally, begin to stabilize themselves.

A formerly abandoned row house in Wilmington has been converted to a small green space

Perhaps what’s most intriguing about Wilmington’s plan is its small scale and neighborhood-level impact. Wilmington’s approach is only estimated to cost about $22 million; the other proposals, however, are estimated to cost over $1 billion and some will cost much more than that. Baltimore is not a city rolling in cash and, therefore, the small solutions may work best here. That said, there’s something Baltimore can learn from each of the proposals above.

1.) From Atlanta – a row house does not need to remain a row house. Analysis of the supply and demand in a neighborhood would likely show the need for more demolition and open space conversion.

2.) From Cleveland – converting small parcels into natural areas can make a difference in water quality. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor suffers from terrible water quality while the City has an overabundance of vacant properties, there’s a solution in the making here.

3.) From Denver – transit isn’t everything to TOD. Developments planned around Baltimore’s proposed Red Line must have access to parks as well as transit.

4.) From Miami – surrounding transit centers with parkland can be a great way of reinforcing a neighborhood’s center and increasing transit ridership. Creating nodes where transit and parkland intersect could create vibrant neighborhoods.

5.) From Philadelphia – equal access to green space is more important than having more or larger parks. Greenways and small open spaces are great ways to ensure that everyone has access to a park.

6.) From Wilmington – low cost, neighborhood level solutions can be an effective revitalization technique. Sometimes the large-scale solutions intimidate Baltimore. Well, sometimes a small park in the right place can change a whole block. Put it on a corner, and it could change two blocks. Baltimore should make the most of its vacant properties and use them as instruments for neighborhood revitalization.

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There has been a common theme in the news recently: invest now, save later. There are two huge issues before Maryland’s legislature. One involves raising the gas tax; the other involves raising billions of dollars for school improvements and construction in Baltimore City. The common thread is the need now and the payoff later.

The Gas Tax:

There is a lot of opposition to the gas tax but there is also a demonstrated need for it: just last year, Maryland passed New York as the state with the highest average commute time– almost 32 minutes. The gas tax would pay for much needed improvements to roads, bridges and mass transit. These projects would help to lower commute time and repair the State’s ailing infrastructure in other areas. The American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE) reported that Maryland’s water systems (both drinking and wastewater) need $9.4 Billion in investment over the next 20 years. Water quality improvements are not just for the benefit of the Chesapeake Bay, they will ensure Marylanders’ access to safe drinking water.

The ASCE also reported that in Maryland:

  • 29% of bridges are structurally deficient
  • 44% of Major Roads are in mediocre or poor condition and
  • 55% of Major Urban Highways are congested

Traffic on I-83 - lane closures caused by high water - a sign of things to come without investment in stormwater management and transportation infrastructure

Rebuilding Maryland’s infrastructure should be a high priority even for those who will pay more at the pump. Those same Marylanders who are opposed to a gas tax hike are likely the ones will suffer most from increased commute times as a result of inaction. The Baltimore Sun recently exposed the dangers of  allowing the State’s infrastructure to fall apart and the threat of such degradation on an already fragile economy.

Education:

A bill before the Maryland General Assembly would help Baltimore City reach its goal of raising $2.8 billion to put toward improving the City’s schools, many of which lack basics such as heating and cooling systems. Many in Maryland are not in favor of the bill including the Executive Director of the Public School Construction Program, David Lever. Mr. Lever’s criticism is that, if passed, this bill would grant the City a larger amount of money than other jurisdictions which he insists is not “fair”. However, a quick look at the map below will show that Baltimore’s request isn’t about fairness, it’s about need.

A map showing the conditions of various Baltimore City Schools

The allocation of money to Baltimore City over other jurisdictions may not be “fair” from a statewide perspective but it is smart: if the State does not act now, the $2.8 billion will likely grow to 3, 4 or even 5 billion dollars.In other words, the State’s unwillingness to act now will cost taxpayers later. In fact, a recent op-ed in the Baltimore Sun suggests “that for every $1 invested in early childhood education, society saves as much as $16, offsetting the cost of remedial education, teen pregnancies, juvenile delinquency and incarceration.” That kind of return is one most investors can only dream of and hardly one the State can afford to pass up.

Though investment in our schools may be fiscally responsible, it isn’t about the money. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, understands that and has proposed a $300 million bond to the Baltimore City Council which would be paid for by an increased bottle tax. Baltimore’s kids can’t wait; according to a report issued by Baltimore City Public Schools, students are being taught in schools built an average of 40 years ago, the highest average age of school buildings in the State. Meanwhile, the $32 million made available by the State to the City for school construction in 2012 is barely enough to make the repairs necessary to keep old schools operational. Baltimore’s public schools need a big investment now in order to turn them into great places to learn.

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An article in this Sunday’s Baltimore Sun titled Baltimore’s port marks record year for vehicles in 2011 discussed the inherent advantages of the Port of Baltimore’s geographic location: Baltimore’s cozy harbor on the Patapsco River is farther inland than any other port in the Northeast. Historically, this made Baltimore’s harbor safe from storms but more recently it has given Baltimore’s port an indisputable advantage when it comes to shipping cargo to and receiving Cargo from the Midwest. But as a Rex Sherman, a research director for the American Association of Port Authorities, points out in the article: “‘Those terminals weren’t built overnight.’”

Indeed, there has been significant investment in Baltimore’s port infrastructure: cranes, dredging and expanded storage and processing facilities. This investment has paid off; the automotive import and export industry alone provides over 1,000 jobs. And, according to the State of Maryland, that’s only a small part of the over 50,000 total jobs and more than $3 Billion of annual revenue created by the Port.

For once, however, the jobs and the money are not the only focus of the article. In fact, it has undertones of an “if you build it, the will come” approach to investment. Baltimore needs a bit more of this attitude to build its infrastructure and, eventually, create the jobs that will keep the City growing.

The Port has shown private investors, the Federal Government and the State of Maryland that investment in Baltimore can be rewarded. In fact, a public private partnership is responsible for the construction of new berths and for millions of dollars in tax revenue. Perhaps the Port of Baltimore is one of the only infrastructure projects in which some are willing to invest in what many see as a lost and troubled Baltimore City. If that is the case, then let the money continue to roll in and create several thousand more jobs. However, repairing and adding capacity to one piece of infrastructure alone can’t fix Baltimore. The City needs to rebuild and, in some cases, rethink its infrastructural priorities in order to reverse decades of population decline; and it needs some help from investors to do it.

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