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  • Chris 11:06 am on October 28, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , History, Morgan State, Planning, SACRPH, Urban   


    YOU GUYS. Sorry for the all-caps, but the Society for American City and Regional Planning History (SACRPH) Conference will be in my fair city of Baltimore from November 17-20, 2011.

    And dudes, CHECK OUT THIS PROGRAM (PDF). Sorry, can’t stop.

    First, I happen to know several of the participants:

    • My Morgan State professors Siddhartha Sen (Panelist, Session 47: Planning Imperial Cities), Sidney Wong (Panelist, Session 10: The Urban Design Profession in the 1960s, and Session 29 Baltimore Highway Planning and its Effect on Planning Baltimore Roundtable), Daniel Campo (Panelist, Session 48: Industrial Redevelopment in the United States), and Joyce Pressley (Chair, Session 8: Planning for Infrastructure/Infrastructure for Planning, and Panelist, Session 55: Ecological Planning for Regions);
    • My friend Alex Baca (Panelist, Session 27: Out of Place: Gentrification, Displacement and Community Resistance)

    Then there’s:

    I just…I can’t even deal with this. And those are just the people with whose work I am most familiar. That just scratches the surface.

    Of course, the conference costs money, but if you (like me) are strapped for cash, contact Eileen McGurty, Ph.D. at emcgurty at jhu dot edu; volunteer for one session and you get a free pass for an entire day of the conference!

    Spread the word, and see you there!

  • Chris 8:46 pm on October 25, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: AIA Baltimore, , David Dixon, Klaus Philipsen, Tom Murphy   

    Baltimore and the Fear of Density 

    On October 12, WYPR’s Midday with Dan Rodricks hosted David Dixon, FAIA, head of Planning and Urban Design at Goody Clancy in Boston; Tom Murphy, former Pittsburgh Mayor and current Senior Resident Fellow for Urban Development at the Urban Land Institute; and Klaus Philipsen, FAIA, Principal of ArchPlan here in Baltimore. (Here’s a link to the show’s podcast, and a Goody Clancy blog post on the subject.)

    The show was promoting an event with the same participants that was held later that night as part of AIA Baltimore’s Architecture Month, titled Shrinking City/Growing City – Baltimore’s Future? In light of the fact that Baltimore has lost a third of its population since 1950, Dixon and Murphy (moderated by Philipsen) debated, as the Goody Clancy blog post says,  “whether Baltimore should embrace and plan for a new, smaller size (Murphy) or should try to capitalize on undervalued strengths to turn shrinkage into expansion (Dixon).”

    I am firmly in Dixon’s camp on this one, but I am constantly surprised at how few others in Baltimore are. Sure, lots of people talk about how we need jobs and how we need to get all the vacants rehabbed, but when the time comes for a developer to come in and make it happen, there are a million reasons why it shouldn’t happen. Not in MY backyard, of course. (At a recent community meeting in my neighborhood of Remington regarding a potential RFP for 10 houses that had been vacant eyesores for 20 years, some homeowners on that block insisted that the RFP explicitly restrict the sale of the finished homes to resident homeowners; they literally said they’d rather see the houses vacant than occupied by renters.)

    David Dixon related a similar story from work he had done in Baltimore. This was in response to a caller (42:40 on the podcast) who suggested that most of Baltimore’s vacant houses should be demolished and replaced with park land (the following conversation begins at 44:21):

    DAN RODRICKS: A lot of us have driven past these abandoned lots in East and West Baltimore and said: “Why don’t we just plant some trees, or put a park there?”

    DAVID DIXON: I would say, as an interim measure, just fine. I had the honor and pleasure of leading a planning effort for O’Donnell Heights about three years ago – basically, a reuse plan. It was a very interesting process, and frankly, not fully successful, because O’Donnell Heights and the area around it are part of the change going on in Baltimore, and it takes time to work with people and help them understand change. Klaus said that people should be able to make decisions about their neighborhood; to make decisions, people need to understand what is happening to their neighborhoods, to themselves and their neighbors. So we did a market study for O’Donnell Heights, and because so many people want to live in cities, and it’s relatively close in, if you create the right housing stock – cool lofts, enough density so you can support some life on the street, some retail, some amenities, SOME park space, but not too much, because people love to play in parks, but parks…are a place where vitality can play out, but they don’t actually create that vitality. You need enough critical mass of people living, working, shopping, playing, etc. The folks who lived around O’Donnell Heights were really worried about seeing 5-story loft buildings, and rowhouses, and other things…they probably would have preferred that it be a park – frankly, to their own detriment. I don’t mean to speak for them, but because the 800-1,000 housing units that could replace what’s around O’Donnell Heights could actually bring a Main Street life, (it) could bring a great deal of amenity and life for the larger neighborhood. (Emphasis mine.)

    So, what is that? Is it a fear of gentrification? A fear that walkup apartments equal crime (and an attendant ignorance of the fact that many middle class people truly do want that kind of housing)? A simple “I don’t like this, so therefore nobody does” kind of thing? A worry about parking?

    Whatever it is, how do we get beyond it? Baltimore was probably overcrowded at 900,000 in 1950, but there’s no reason we can’t add another 150,000 people without resorting to large-scale clearance and reconstruction.

    We can do it. We aren’t Detroit.

    But what will the neighbors say?

  • Chris 12:28 pm on October 24, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    What’s Wrong With This Tree Pit? 


  • Chris 10:39 am on September 30, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , creeping myrtle, english ivy, groundcover, landscaping, Mid-Atlantic, sustainable   

    Sustainable Urban Groundcovers for Baltimore 

    This past Monday, I attended a talk by Vincent Vizachero of Roland Park Native on native plants for Baltimore landscapes. The talk was useful, and I hope to connect with Vincent – who is a self-taught amateur on this topic – on such issues in the future.

    But one point particularly interested me. For a while, I have been contemplating what I will call “sustainable urban ground covers.” (I’m sure there’s an actual term for it out there somewhere.) By sustainable, I mean that: 1) it grows fairly quickly; 2) it grows horizontally, not vertically, thus precluding the use of lawnmowers, and minimizing shelter for rats, drugs, or guns; 3) it is non-invasive.

    Vincent said that there are few if any such groundcovers. English Ivy is a notoriously invasive tree-killer, and also terrible for bricks…Wrigley Field notwithstanding. Creeping Myrtle (a.k.a. Periwinkle or Vinca minor) is a likely candidate, but Vincent said that is also considered invasive. I have a small patch of Vinca minor in the tree pit in front of my house, but it grows very slowly, so how invasive can it really be? It certainly fulfills criteria 1 and 2 as outlined above.

    So, what are the best groundcovers for the Mid-Atlantic? Again, the idea here is to cover the ground in a way that does not require mowing or extensive weeding, but also does not hurt valuable street trees or provide havens for rats and other urban scourges.

  • Chris 3:32 pm on August 5, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , Bioswale, Maryland, Rain Garden, Stormwater Management, SWM   

    The Bioswales of West Baltimore 

    I’m finally getting started on my graduate thesis – more on that some other time – and thanks to Bryant Smith of the Parks and People Foundation, I am delighted to have learned, just recently, of five impressive Stormwater Management (SWM) demonstration projects near Franklin Square in West Baltimore. These bioswales were done by PPF in partnership with the surrounding community as part of the larger Watershed 263 project.

    I’ve created a Flickr slideshow. Enjoy, and check them out yourself sometime!

    • Phil LaCombe 3:48 pm on August 8, 2011 Permalink | Reply

      Thanks for the photo slideshow, Chris!

      While these projects surely have some environmental benefits in terms of stormwater management, I don’t believe they offer much to improve the civic realm. To the average pedestrian, the bioswales might look more like blight than neighborhood improvements. Perhaps an ornamental fence would help change the message it sends, but otherwise it looks like an abandoned and overgrown grassy patch.

      I like the blog and look forward to more posts. I’d enjoy having a conversation with you about these new features to the landscape in Baltimore.

      • Chris 4:51 pm on August 8, 2011 Permalink | Reply

        Phil, excellent comment. Among the main things we still need to work on in this realm are aesthetics and “self-maintenance,” i.e. designing them so they require as little ongoing maintenance as possible. This is an extremely complex issue, and frankly I don’t have the first clue about how to solve it. We need to fill these bioswales with groundcovers that don’t grow too high, but how many such plants are invasive species to avoid, e.g. ivy? I’m sure greater minds than mine are wrestling with these issues as we speak.

        By the way, speaking of fences, I thought the bioswales dug into those vacant lots were potentially very dangerous – someone walking through there could very easily fall into one! Same with the triangular one at Baltimore & Frederick. Lawsuits waiting to happen!

  • Chris 10:02 am on July 27, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: automobile, , bicycle, bike, biking, car, transit   

    “For some, Baltimore life is sweeter with no car” – with quotes from yours truly,0,7106792,full.story

    A few minor notes:

    1.) I’ve been car-free for 3 years, not 2;

    2.) I began grad school in 2008, not 2009;

    3.) I took pains to emphasize to Michael Dresser that, while I am concerned about the environment and wanted (at least on some level) to “make a statement” about our car-centric culture, the decision to sell my car was mostly an economic one. I simply could not afford it at the time, whatever my other, higher-minded reasons were.

    Today, I probably could afford a car, but why bother? The only thing I wish I could do that I currently can’t do is go to my Mom’s house whenever I want and stay as long as I want. Fortunately, I have a wonderful and understanding mother who doesn’t mind driving a mile to pick me up from the bus stop. (Sometimes I bike that extra mile. And sometimes, she comes to me and spends money in the city. Being car-less means it’s harder to do anything – among them, spending money – outside the range of public transit. And maybe that’s not such a bad thing.)

    Really, think about it: What are the things that you currently do that you have to drive to? And are those things all that important? For me, they really weren’t. And I think a lot of people, were they to ask themselves that question, would reach the same conclusion.

  • Chris 6:26 pm on July 15, 2011 Permalink | Reply  

    If It Doesn’t Fit, Expand The Pit. 


    1262 New Hampshire Avenue NW, Washington, D.C.

  • Chris 2:11 am on July 7, 2011 Permalink | Reply
    Tags: , BDC, City Council, Development, Shadow Government   

    Tom Kiefaber: Drunk Uncle, or Truth-Teller? 

    So, after reading the recent piece about Tom Kiefaber in the Sun, and particularly Kiefaber’s highly entertaining series of rants in the comment thread, my only question is this: Is Kiefaber now the Crazy Drunk Uncle of Baltimore politics, or is anything he said here true?

    Kiefaber is by no means the only person to have questioned the ethics and utility of the BDC, and it’s easy to dismiss him as a bitter, insane crackpot. But what if he isn’t? Does anyone care enough to find out?

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