Connecting The Dots To Smart Growth
Letters to the Editor, The Baltimore Sun, June 2008

Monday's Sun offered fertile ground for connecting the dots on Smart Growth and environmental protection.

While the front page reported a revival of the growth debate in Frederick ("Frederick revives debate on growth," June 9) and posed questions about whether the Chesapeake Bay Foundation is too cozy with farmers ("Bay advocates called soft on farm pollution," June 9), later pages featured Bernie Fowler's annual Patuxent River "wade-in" test ("Fowler stands by his 'beautiful lady,'" June 9) and an article about a PBS documentary about the success of the Inner Harbor ("Harboring success," June 9).

How should the dots be connected?

Maybe it is obvious that paving over the farms around Frederick would do more lasting harm to the bay than bad farming practices, which can at least be changed.

Maybe the Inner Harbor's inventive reuse of fallow land can show Frederick how growth can be promoted in the right places, growing up instead of out.

Maybe Mr. Fowler's persistence over decades can remind the Chesapeake Bay Foundation that stewardship of the land is not only an attitude to be encouraged (with a carrot) but also one to be enforced by lawsuits and fines (a stick).

Maybe with $4 gas fewer people will be able to afford to build on or live on outlying farm soils.

Maybe such high energy costs will make traditional farming and local food more worthwhile again.

Perhaps there is hope in these stories that we can find a perspective that will make us all better off in the end.

- Klaus Philipsen, Baltimore

Future Trend: What's Next For Cities?
Published in The Urbanite, March 2006

Not long ago, author David Rusk located Baltimore beyond a point of no return, essentially beyond hope. I believe that now it would take extreme circumstances or incompetence in local government to bring us back to such a state of despair. Our geographic position between the Appalachians and the Chesapeake Bay, our proximity to D.C. and New York, our rich history and memorable architecture, and our world-class institutions, from Johns Hopkins and the University of Maryland to the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra and the Baltimore Museum of Art, almost guarantee the desire of upwardly mobile folks from around the world to locate in our region.

As a city, we have to direct some of this growth from the greenfields to the core. As a state, Maryland has reached density levels comparable to my birth country of Germany. In our metro region, we are at the point where folks are truly fed up with sprawl, destruction of green space, the ugliness of endless commercial strips, and aggressive automobile traffic.

Place-making and quality of life are the new paradigms. Instead of segregation by class and race, we will strive for diversity and mix. We will accept density and look for intensity paired with rich visual and sensual experience in lieu of the sterility of the monochrome suburb. The city in the postindustrial world allows work and living, recreation and enjoyment all to come together in unexpected ways, as we can see already in the revitalized mixed-use areas of Federal Hill, Canton, Pigtown, and Hampden.

As Baltimore has pioneered downtown waterfronts and the downtown stadium, so will we pioneer urban biotech parks on the east and west side of downtown. Many other things we will have to learn from others. From Philadelphia and Boston, we must learn how to integrate a university campus successfully into urban life. We will have to learn from Portland or Zurich, Switzerland, how to make transit successful in a city that has no space or desire to build more roads or widen the streets. We will have to learn from Chicago, New York, and Charleston, South Carolina, how to maintain affordable housing and make it part of revitalization in order to provide opportunity for all and break up the concentrations of poverty and disinvestments that still jeopardize the future of Baltimore. We will have to learn from Portland or Zurich how to make a city "green."

We will have to grow from being a beggar for development, just any development, to being choosy and critical. We will have to learn how quality development will beget more quality and how raising the bar will attract better investment. We just need to look to D.C. to see how the U Street corridor, which very recently was a "no go" zone, has become a vibrant destination. We need to have the courage for a vision that transforms every part of our city instead of leaving behind wastelands of disinvestments, crime, and abandonment. If we doubt that this can be done, we need to visit Boston and, increasingly, Brooklyn and the Bronx where these transformations have taken place or are underway.

I believe that the distribution and scarcity of resources and the resulting cost of energy and concerns about climate change will shape the next decades. I believe that true homeland security grows out of creating a stable, just, and attractive society. Cities and metro regions will be in the forefront of creating such places and solutions for sustainability and livability because cities are the places of knowledge and interaction.

- Klaus Philipsen

Hotel's Flawed Design Will Harm City
Editorial in The Baltimore Sun, March 2006

Camden Yards is like a great blues tune. It assimilates the untidy reality of its place and time yet manages to transcend these to express something of the soul of Baltimore. It is one of those extremely rare settings where our physical and cultural worlds complement each other in a fascinating if imperfect harmony.

This bit of urban design magic was the result of the chutzpah of a few individuals with a vision who managed to prevail despite a decidedly un-magical process. Our city now possesses a national icon for which many have hastened to take credit.

Unfortunately, no one has volunteered to shoulder the burden of producing a convention center hotel that is worthy of this legacy. While earnest efforts have been made on all sides, the mundane details seem to have overwhelmed any desire to add another voice to the previous performance, although the cues are in plain sight. The citizens of Baltimore deserve better.

Construction of the 19-story, 756-room hotel has begun. The architectural design received final approval from the city Dec. 22. Bonds totaling $301.7 million were sold Jan. 26 to finance the project, with the city pledging $7 million in annual hotel occupancy tax receipts to back the bonds as a means of obtaining more favorable terms. Site work by design-builder Hensel Phelps Construction is under way, and the hotel is to open in 2008.

But construction is not so far along that design changes cannot still be made that would have a dramatic impact on how the building interacts with the public spaces around it. It is not uncommon to make changes to a building's design throughout the construction phase at the request of an owner. In this case, the owner is Baltimore's citizens.

One of the most enchanting elements of the ballpark is that it participates in the street life of the city. It manages this through its remarkable permeability. A ground level arcade and an upper level promenade reduce its massiveness and invite pedestrians to become involved in both the surrounding urban energy and the spectacle of a ball game.

Eutaw Street continues through the site between the stadium proper and the historic warehouse, knitting the stadium grounds into the fabric of the neighborhood. The stadium complex faces directly onto the adjacent streets on its north, east and west sides, without the large parking lots that create a feeling of isolation at other ballparks.

This sense of connection is a critical aspect of the design that few other cities have managed to emulate and is more important to its success than the historical details that have been imitated across the country.

The interconnected exterior urban "living rooms" are a pleasure to walk through and provide a lively and attractive pedestrian environment. No one up to now has suggested eliminating or bridging over these spaces, as they are an integral part of the experience.

But in the design of the convention center hotel, the city seems to have been identified as the enemy. All open spaces are regarded as problems that must be overcome and, in most cases, bridged over rather than as assets. The extension of Eutaw Street has become a constricted passageway beneath the extensive overhanging connections between the base of the hotel proper and the ballroom wing.

Howard Street has a low-slung bridge across it between the ballrooms and the convention center that will almost entirely block this major view corridor and create a disagreeable pedestrian environment beneath it.

The space in front of Camden Station has an anomalous diagonal wall at the ballroom wing that forms an uncomfortable relationship with the historic station, focuses attention on the largely blank wall at this end of the convention center and has none of the intimate scale and detail of the station itself.

The base of the hotel is a closed box that seems impenetrable despite some areas of glass that have been inserted into the design; there are no arcades or walkways, even along Camden Street. The hotel turns its back on one of the finest urban ballparks in the country with a low, hermetically sealed utility wing.

The uses at the base of the building consist chiefly of service areas and meeting rooms, which add nothing to street activity in the area. There is little retail. The transit station proposed for the site in the block adjacent to Howard Street has been discarded, abandoning an opportunity to create a major new gateway to our city.

There are ways to avoid these urban design shortcomings and still have an efficient convention center hotel.

Imagine the equivalent in Baltimore of Pioneer Square in Portland, Ore., the renewed Campus Martius in Detroit or Dupont Circle in Washington, all of which have become gathering places and defining symbols for their cities. The bridges can be eliminated and the convention-goers brought into contact with the street life in Baltimore.

The featureless ballrooms can be buried beneath an urban square or inserted into the hotel mass on the adjacent block, as has been demonstrated in various studies.

The outdoor space at Camden Station can become another urban "room," an additional setting for the convention experience, as similar "rooms" are inseparable from the experience of a baseball game at Camden Yards. This is heresy to some convention hotel planners, but it was also heresy to build a ballpark adjacent to city streets and a historic warehouse and without a "parking moat" completely surrounding it.

Oriole Park is direct physical evidence of the power of good urban design to transform a city for the better. Flawed urban design has an equal and opposite power. It's time to step up to the plate.

- Gordon T. Ingerson, Klaus Philipsen, and Gil Thomas

Rethinking Downtown Parking Garages
Editorial in the Baltimore Sun, July 2006

The late Jane Jacobs ("The Death and Life of Great American Cities") has spent decades of her life dispelling the notion that cities should be designed around cars and, instead, promoted the city as a people place.

Baltimore still needs to catch on, especially the quasi-public Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC). A few years ago this organization set out to remedy with astounding single-minded zeal what it had identified as Baltimore's biggest woe: The "parking gap". Since then parking spaces have been sprouting far more frequently than coffee shops, tens of thousands of them. One of the latest examples is a 700-car garage occupying Pier Six, right on Baltimore's famous Inner Harbor waterfront. Many City officials have privately acknowledged that this garage is both a planning folly and a real estate bungle.

But if you thought that after one garage with a water view, another terminating the view of one of Baltimore's great boulevards (the Little Italy garage at the corner of Pratt and President Streets), and one cheek to jowl with the Baroque revival style City Hall, we would have learned that parking garages kill historic buildings and deaden urban space, think again. Along comes what might just be the greatest garage debacle of all: A full block garage at the southern downtown gateway of Charles and Light Streets.

Why is a garage in this location so bad?

- It ruins the Charles Street gateway: Everybody wants to get the millions of tourists that cling to the water's edge at the Inner Harbor to visit downtown and spread their dollars around to businesses a bit removed from Harbor Place. The premier northward coordinate to do so is Charles Street, our premier downtown street. To place an enormous parking garage at this all-important gateway to downtown will be like symbolically turning the City's back to visitors, aggressively discouraging pedestrians who might make the brave attempt to walk up Charles Street from the water's edge.

- It tears down old buildings: People who see downtown Baltimore often observe that much of our architecture is beautiful. One could argue about the historic value of the buildings that have to come down for the garage but they certainly are part of a sliver of old Baltimore sitting quaintly in front of the towers of urban renewal . An above-ground garage is certainly no better alternative, no matter how artfully the fa├žade is done. Crossing driveways and listening to the cars mounting the ramps has never been an attraction for pedestrians!

- It sits in the middle of already existing parking garages; in fact, all of Lombard Street appears to be garage and service gates.

- It's a garage in full view. "Good" structured parking is underground like at the Gallery building or wrapped like the new garage on Caroline Street which is faced with townhouses.

Transportation Policy: Visitors who swoon over our architecture often observe that there are no people in the streets and few stores to buy something. People don't walk in the streets because for too long the priority has been the car. Every new garage cements this misguided policy further and will make it harder to walk because more cars will be drawn to downtown, clog the streets and pollute the air.

12,000 parking spaces within three blocks of the Inner Harbor are enough, especially if they were to be managed through a smart parking system that guides drivers to available spaces. It is time for Baltimore to say good-bye to this massive use of public funds for garages and fund better transit instead. The most visited parts of our City (aside from the Inner Harbor) are those where the car friendly plans were defeated (as in Fells Point) and the historic buildings remained. Some of the most visited cities in America (New York, San Francisco, Boston) are those that have lively streets, are easy to walk, and have good transit.

Businesses need to stop blackmailing the City ("build us parking or we will leave"). Downtown can only remain an attractive business location if it is well-planned and attractive to everyone. That means no more parking garages in prime locations.

- Klaus Philipsen

New Roads Only Add To Sprawl
Editorial in the Baltimore Sun, February 2003

Q: Despite the state's budget crunch, Gov. Robert L. Ehrlich Jr. is moving ahead with plans to build the Intercounty Connector in Montgomery County. Would you prefer to see Maryland invest in this and other highway projects, or in public transit initiatives such as the Baltimore regional rail plan and the maglev line?

New roads seldom reduce congestion. Instead, they tend to increase reliance on private automobiles and encourage development patterns that can only be supported by building even more roads.

In contrast, urban rail transit systems, as components of integrated transportation networks, efficiently move people along transportation corridors at volumes that far exceed the capacity of roadways.

Rail transit promotes concentrated development at station nodes, which counteracts sprawl. And transit-oriented developments provide opportunities for active places for human interaction.

Transit also alleviates automobile congestion in the city centers and reduces the need for parking. Per passenger-mile, the energy consumed, pollution produced and environmental degradation incurred are lower for rail transit than for any other mechanized mode of transportation.

But our rail transit network cannot support a better urban environment until it is extensive enough to complement other forms of transportation.

And projects such as the Intercounty Connector would divert funds that could go into implementing the Baltimore regional rail plan, which has met with an unanticipated groundswell of public support.

But if there is to be no state funding to further this plan, there will be no federal dollars either, and Baltimore will see no new transit lines for a long time.

- Gordon T. Ingerson, Klaus Philipsen