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Turning Carroll Park into a Harbor Point for the rest of us

Instead of acting as a "border vacuum," historic rail corridor could transform the park into an anchor for southwest Baltimore

carroll park mount street

How Mount Street would look opened up to Carroll Park’s Mount Clare Mansion.

Photo by: Marc Szarkowski illustration

In the 1960s, as everyone knows, the yet-to-be-named Inner Harbor was a dreary landscape of derelict warehouses, old piers and end-stage industrial sites like the Allied Chemical plant.

A border vacuum. That’s what urban visionary Jane Jacobs called such soul-sucking, community-defeating places.

Since then, Baltimore has focused on revitalizing its waterfront, inspiring copy-cat versions in cities around the globe and continual local efforts to replicate the magic – most recently atop the chromium-laced remnants of the Allied Chemical plant (which has been renamed Harbor Point).

But the revitalization strategy for inland areas of the city should really be no different than for the waterfront – fighting border vacuums. The wonderful-but-struggling north edge of Carroll Park is a prime example.

Like the harbor, Carroll Park is beautiful and full of fascinating historical lore. It’s got Baltimore’s grandest colonial home, the Mount Clare Mansion, for instance and the “First Mile” of the B&O railroad – the birthplace of American railroading – runs right along the northern edge of the park.

Mount Clare Mansion could be the neighborhood's anchor. (Photo by Brian Babcock, BeMore Photography)

The currently-isolated Mount Clare Mansion should be the area’s anchor. (Photo by Brian Babcock, BeMore Photography)

Unfortunately, this historic rail corridor completely cuts West Baltimore off from the park and the iconic mansion. Pigtown enjoys easy access to Carroll Park from the east and south, but communities like Mount Clare, Carrollton Ridge, Union Square and Steuart Hill are out of luck.

We think the vacuum between the park and the neighborhood needs to be "a people place." (Marc Szarkowski illustration.)

The historic “First Mile” railroad corridor cuts west Baltimore communities off from Carroll Park. (Marc Szarkowski illustration.)

How cruelly ironic that a railroad corridor that helped unify an entire continent still walls off the communities in which it was born!

Further evidence of this painful irony can be seen in the blocks immediately to the north of Carroll Park – the closer they are to the park and mansion, the worse condition they’re in.

This is quite contrary to typical park-neighborhood synergy, in which the blocks closest to a park tend to be the strongest, as is the case with Patterson Park.

...but at the end of Mount Street now, a wall of debris cuts the park off from the neighborhood. (Photo by Gerald Neily)

At the end of Mount Street, a wall of debris cuts the park off from the neighborhood. (Photo by Gerald Neily)

Only Connect!

Fortunately, there are ways to solve this problem, and people in the community are actively exploring them.

We offer here our approach, a proposal we developed with support from The Warnock Foundation. The foundation recently established The Baltimore Social Innovation Journal to solicit, discuss and support ideas for improving Baltimore. Our proposal for redoing the northern edge of Carroll Park is one of 13 ideas profiled in the journal’s inaugural issue.

[See SLIDESHOW illustrating our idea at the end of the post.] 

It’s clear that people want to access the park from the north despite official prohibitions on trespassing. There’s evidence in the form of what planners call “desire trails, or unofficial, tramped-down, ad hoc paths that usually represent the shortest distance between two places.

On our many visits to the area, we have noticed accompanying homemade directional signs (see below) and have frequently spotted pedestrians and bicyclists using them.

Looking south across the tracks from the intersection of Stricker and Cole streets, where access to Carroll Park is officially prohibited but apparently strongly desired and informally promoted. (Photo/illustration by Marc Szarkowski)

Looking south across the tracks from the intersection of Stricker and Cole streets, where access to Carroll Park is officially prohibited but strongly desired and informally promoted. (Photo/illustration by Marc Szarkowski)

The solution to this particular border vacuum is the same as that deployed along the harbor: the northern edge of the park needs to be turned into a people place.

That is, the northern side of Carroll Park needs to have an active, permeable urban enclosure, which is what the eastern and southern sides already have.

To create the initial connection, Mount Clare’s dead-ended Fulton Avenue and Mount Street could be extended right into Carroll Park, as suggested in the illustration at the top of this story. This would allow the Mount Clare Mansion to assume its natural role as the neighborhood’s focal point, thus drawing people in.

A new parkfront avenue running along the historic B&O tracks could celebrate the “First Mile” of American railroading and supply Mount Clare with a well-defined park edge, parkside promenade and local main street.

"The First Mile," re-imagined. (Brian Babcock photo. Illustration by Marc Szarkowski)

“The First Mile,” re-imagined. (Brian Babcock photo. Illustration by Marc Szarkowski)

This “First Mile Avenue” would be incrementally extended along the entire northern edge of the park: the iconic B&O roundhouse would serve as the eastern anchor while Montgomery Park, the city’s largest office building, would serve as the western anchor, as suggested in this diagram.

A "First Mile Corridor" would stitch it all together. (Illustration by Marc Szarkowski)

A “First Mile Corridor” would stitch it all together. (Illustration by Marc Szarkowski)

Excuse us, CSX, We’re Playing Through!

Carroll Park could even be connected to the “out of sight, out of mind” Carroll Park Golf Course via a strategically-bermed clubhouse portal passing under the CSX tracks – the Olmsted brothers proposed such a connection way back in 1907. The course could then be re-oriented and re-branded to make it a true urban golf course.

This would allow the Gwynns Falls Trail to run along the edge of the course, through the portal, and through the park, thus opening up to all of Baltimore the magnificent and bucolic Gwynns Falls Valley and its amazing attractions – like the soaring Carrollton Viaduct, the continent’s oldest railroad bridge still in use.

The Carrollton Viaduct is another neglected historic gem in the proposed rail corridor. (Wikimedia)

The Carrollton Viaduct is another overlooked historic gem in the proposed First Mile corridor. (Wikimedia)

The First Mile corridor is owned by the B&O Railroad Museum, which would like to make it more attractive. John Ott, the museum’s first director, envisioned transforming the corridor into the “Williamsburg of Railroading.”

But challenged by several concerns – like strict federal safety regulations, security issues and recovering from the roundhouse roof collapse of a decade ago – the museum has understandably moved slowly towards this goal.

The museum infrequently runs tourist trains on the corridor, so it is subject to the same federal regulations that apply to “Class I” railroads like CSX. At-grade crossing is stringently regulated and discouraged – hence the “no trespassing” signs plastered all along the corridor.

It would therefore seem that Mount Clare’s need for frequent, at-grade, street-dependent access to Carroll Park is in direct conflict with federal regulations that severely restrict such access.

So to realize the dream of giving this rail corridor the Historic Williamsburg treatment means rethinking what kind of “railroad” the First Mile corridor should actually be.

The Streetcar Solution

Since “heavy rail” corridors are incompatible with casual at-grade crossing, why not accommodate this crossing by converting the First Mile corridor into “light rail” – that is, a streetcar line? Unlike a conventional rail line, a streetcar is perfectly compatible with the urban milieu – more in keeping with the much-needed spirit of a “people place.”

In his “Williamsburg” vision, John Ott proposed incorporating the Baltimore Streetcar Museum into the B&O Museum – and that could be accomplished by relocating the streetcar museum to one of the historic Washington Boulevard streetcar barns.

The historic "First Mile" looking east to the B&O Museum. Carroll Park is immediately to the right (south) and the Mount Clare community to the left (north).(Photo by Marc Szarkowski)

The historic “First Mile” looking east to the B&O Museum. Carroll Park is immediately to the right (south) and the Mount Clare community to the left (north). (Photo by Brian Babcock)

A “First Mile” tourist streetcar line would conveniently connect the two parts of the combined railroad/streetcar museum and maintain the historical profile of the corridor. In the future, th e line could seamlessly connect to a modern streetcar network linking to the Inner Harbor and other parts of the city.

There are many solutions for this border vacuum, but in its current state it’s a corrosive barrier that discourages all the great things city living should be about, thus reinforcing the unfortunate myth that city life begins and ends at the waterfront.

 

Marc Szarkowski creates plans, models, and illustrations of urban design, planning, and architecture proposals, and is a graduate of Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute’s School of Architecture. Gerald Neily, who writes for Baltimore Brew, was transportation planner for the city Department of Planning from 1977 to 1996.

 
-SLIDESHOW BELOW – To view all 10 slides in Marc Szarkowski’s slideshow, grab the bar at right and pull down. (Thanks to Ben Kutil for help embedding it!)

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  • LessHumid

    If only this area were a “brownfield” it would already be under development.

  • Walter

    Time to get some real help for Carroll Park – down at the old Beth Steel Sparrows Point mill they even have folks like Gensler thinking about it. If Sparrows Point can go from a steel factory to a Cheesecake Factory – why not Carroll Park?

  • George Lopez

    What are you going to do with all the Hookers?

    • bmorepanic

      They’re parked in the ho-wagons :) Srsly, I’ve seen it where the pimp arrives in a van or SUV with a working woman. Clients drive up, park, walk to the side of the ho-mobile, pay and climb in. Suspensions rocks for a time and client climbs out. In a park. Within 50 feet of the only playground for about 1.5-2 miles.

      • ushanellore

        bmorepanic,
        Hemingway would have loved your eye for detail expressed in pithy prose. The suspensions rocking, for instance, how close did you have to be to see that? And do the pimps just sit there smoking dope and counting money?

        Looks like Gerald and Marc have it in for the oldest profession in the world. I wonder if the pimps know they’re coming. They might want a house on stilts under the soaring Carrollton Viaduct, accessible only by boat, where the sound of their trade can be smothered by the sound of the choo choo trains.

        • bmorepanic

          Thanks and yes, the seller does stand at the side of the van. We were kinda looking out for it after finding a pile of like 50 condoms in worn condition and parts of wrappers.

          • ushanellore

            This is certainly a busy trade. No unemployment there. You’ve given me food for thought.

            Fifty condoms in a pile,
            what does that say about life?
            it’s sometimes about
            body fluids shed
            in the van of someone vile–
            a pimp –stands tall and proud–
            an observer at the side,
            and a girl worn out and hungry
            is forced to spread her thighs,
            inside that van work plays out,
            until the boss outside,
            has counted up his profits
            and decides he’s satisfied,
            later looking in the garbage
            comes a rather curious child,
            and finds fifty condoms
            used and worn in a messy pile,
            The mother behind screams, “Lay off,
            Don’t touch that stuff, you’ll die,”
            the child lifts that mess–defiant,
            sometimes that too is life..

            Thanks, that’s dedicated to you.
            Usha Nellore

    • ushanellore

      Assimilate and incorporate like live and let live.

  • bmorepanic

    I really like most of this concept. The only part I completely disagree with is running more vehicles through or into the park itself. What if all of the “street” connections were pathways except for ?Monroe and whatever runs beside Akins Park – is it Bayard?

    It would be much safer for children, for runners, skaters, board and bike riders. It would still visually connect through to the neighbors, but would eliminate the negatives from vehicles. I’d like you to think about how much it resembles the loop in front of the lake at Gwynns Falls which turns into crazy motorized vehicle stunt shows, killing any sense of peace or safety there.

    Add some parking to the new trolley edge street on the neighborhood side. Maybe encourage more than one trolley stop instead.

    • Gerald Neily

      Panic, this plan would enable a reduction of cars in the park, not an increase. Right now, there is only one auto access, located on Washington Boulevard. The city is loathe to close it for anything because it’s all or nothing. To maintain mansion access, for example, it can’t be closed for a sporting event. Our plan creates flexibility. All roads can be closed anytime as desired and any other road re-oriented to serve the other needs. Also note that all the new connections are oriented to the north peripheral road that empties out into Monroe Street, not to the park itself.

      Anyway, I’m glad you like the concept and are delving into the finer points of the plan. Same with Bmore Free, who wants to get into funding issues.

      James, the scrap metal operation farther west is part of the border vacuum created by the active CSX freight track, not by the independently owned and controlled B&O Museum tracks. It’s a related but subsidiary issue, as you suggest.

      Day Star, what did we say against Harbor Point? You’re the one who seems to be making this a game of the zero-sum variety.

      • bmorepanic

        And why isn’t one entrance for cars enough, particularly since there can be a fine amount of edge parking on the side. To me, you are thinking in a way that benefits cars instead of park users. One entrance is enough for moving stuff in and out, and for disabled access. Getting cars out of parks is important to me.

        Adding, as far as I know, the city WILL NEVER close an entrance for any reason in any park.

        • Gerald Neily

          Very well, Panic. Yes, one car entrance is indeed enough. Carroll Park’s only parking lot is near the mansion, so maybe the community would prefer to close the Washington Blvd. entrance permanently and replace it with access only off the north end much nearer to the mansion. Or maybe eliminate all traffic in the park if enough parking can be created on peripheral streets.

          Another possibility is building a parking deck off Monroe Street next to Montgomery Park to eliminate surface parking between their building and the park, and also serve park uses and the golf course. This parking deck could be wrapped by new housing units to make it fit in attractively and further activate the park frontage, as is often done these days. This is illustrated in our diagrams.

          I don’t blame you for not trusting the city to close off access points when desired. The neighbors around Patterson Park just went through a big controversy with the city over that. Then there’s the new gigantic 4000 car parking garage the city approved that’s now being built in the Middle Branch parkland for the casino. The city talks a good game about favoring people over cars but actions speak louder.

  • Pat Yevics

    I run the trail into Carroll Park downtown and it always saddens me that more is not done with this amazing underutilized area. All we worry about is the harbor waterfront and other upscale areas. This can be a great area but we have no visionary thinkers in Baltimore.

  • James Hunt

    Interesting stuff. Outside the scope of your study, but getting rid of the car-shredder between Mill Hill and the golf course would be a huge boon to the neighborhood. Should be room to make CP a full 18-hole course.

  • River Mud

    Seems like a great idea. Public access to quality outdoors areas is directly linked to civic engagement…..something sorely lacking in this town.

  • Day_Star

    Brew, do the cheap shots against Harbor Point ever end? It’s unrelenting. Us vs them. We the people vs business and development. Not to put Carrol Park revitalization down since it’s a good idea and I’m a big fan of neighborhood improvement, but if it’s a matter of Harbor Point vs Carrol Park as the Brew frames it, then I will stoop to your level and point out the obvious that a heck of a lot more Baltimoreans will visit Harbor Point than CP, not to mention temporary and permanent job creation that the City needs above all else.

    • Aaron Mirenzi

      by “cheap shots” you mean legitimate criticism, right?

      • Lizzie 58

        Aaron: James does not accept that city taxpayers could have legitimate arguments against the amount of public investment at Harborpoint. James tells us that it is a good thing and we should stop being ungrateful minks (an old time East Baltimore expression) even if our neighborhoods get nothing.

        Just wait until cost overruns start on the Harborpoint bridge and the City has to cover the gap. Or there is a chromium release and accident affecting the waterfront. Or we find out that Michael Beatty is only human, not god-like, and runs out of cash like other developers do.

        • Aaron Mirenzi

          i agree totally

        • ushanellore

          James enjoys being a contrarian especially if he perceives you as having a leftie softie “victim” mentality. As per James the industrial tycoons are that way because they are talented and deserve their bedazzling advancements. The taxpayers are incidental accidentals.

          • James Hunt

            This is why I love women … even if you don’t say it, they’re certain that whatever _they’re_ thinking is what _you_ meant. Cherchez les femmes!

          • Lizzie 58

            Lol. Didn’t your father teach you, James that sometimes it if better not to try and win a fight with a woman? Life’s important lessons missed. Lol.

          • James Hunt

            Amen to that. Especially if she’s armed. http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vpv9tJwjmAk

    • River Mud

      You must admit, Harbor Point is an easy, taxpayer-funded / developer-profiting target.

      • Day_Star

        I agree with you there. A giant bulls eye.

        • ushanellore

          A giant bull would have hit the bull’s eye.

    • James Hunt

      Yeah, Day-Star, I had the same thought when I read the headline of what’s an otherwise very fine article: why the constant draughts of Harbor Point hatorade? That asphalt-covered waterside brownfield is one of the few places in town whose tax revenues (property, sales, and income) at build out could actually exceed the public investment in it.

      • Day_Star

        I, too, agree it’s a fine article. Actually, one of the best city planning articles in recent memory, in my opinion. Real thinking went into the plan. It’s a shame the headline had to be dipped in class warfare, even if Harbor Point was only mentioned once in the actual text, which leads me to ask why mention it at all? Why be divisive? The spigot has to be continuously run, I guess.

        • Gerald Neily

          What, Hunt and Day Star? Are all 600,000 of us going to move to Harbor Point and close down the rest of the city? We’re just saying that Carroll Park can aspire to the same principles for urban success that the city is attempting to bestow on Harbor Point.

          Actually, the city’s contention is that success at Harbor Point can help the entire city. We’re showing how to do it.

          • James Hunt

            The headline “Turning Carroll Park into a Harbor Point for the rest of us” sounds a lot like Seinfeld’s Frank Costanza proclaiming “A Festivus for the rest of us.” IOW, it continues to play up the Brew’s ongoing meme of Harbor Point as an exclusive place where “the rest of us” can’t go. Which is silly. Again, compliments on the research and the article but the headline’s meaning couldn’t be more clear.

          • Gerald Neily

            OK Jamie, this leads back to our previous arcane discussion regarding one of Harbor Point’s prime attributes being that it was on a peninsula which created an “aura” (Fern’s excellent word) of a gated community, which got you going in your patented Hunt-esque way.

            Of course, Harbor Point is what it is. We can’t change its geography. But we CAN make wonderful Carroll Park far more attractive to a very large portion of Baltimore, i.e. “the rest of us”.

          • James Hunt

            W/R/T Harbor Point, you made my point.

            W/R/T to Carroll Park: The “rest of us” are already there. Check out the skate park, soccer fields, baseball diamonds, Charles Carroll the Barrister’s house, music festivals, etc. when the weather’s decent.

            Again, nice plan. As the Italians say, it’s a fine bit of “lagniappe”–featuring lake trout and legal pharmaceuticals–on an already well-used facility.

          • Aaron Mirenzi

            could tax revenue from harbor point be earmarked for projects like yours? my fear is that tax revenue to from harbor point will go directly to more projects exactly like harbor point. projects that ONLY aim to bring new people into the city

          • Day_Star

            We live in a city that won’t even audit it’s own departments :-) . Seriously though, once a drop goes in the bucket, it’s lost. Like the social security trust fund. The only way, to my knowledge, would be to apply a special assessment that is directly tied to an education or recreational fund, but that wouldn’t do anything about the base taxes collected that’s given out from the state to the city. I will stop there before an attorney corrects me.

            OK, now about Carroll Park. It makes sense and provides a public connectivity so lacking with parks and green space (don’t be fooled by the Jones Falls Trail). If the museum could truly put its support behind it, so many other pieces could fall into place.

    • bmorepanic

      My not so cheap shots will end when they pay back every dime of city money and the taxes they pay go into into city coffers instead of paying the interest and principal of bonds their private enterprise is benefiting from. When their actual new taxes exceed the property taxes on my 50 x 100 foot lot with diminutive dwelling now worth much less than its assessed value or when I get to “relocate” the drug dealers from my park to theirs.

      And yes, those drug dealers are in cars parked on the park roadways. Other cars drive past with open windows and exchange money for the goods and either park beside the playground, or drive right out at speed. Because of the mobile nature of both sides to the transaction, relocating their business should be no hardship.

      I’d like the developer to start a new methadone treatment facility in one of their buildings. It’s the very least they could do for the surrounding community because they are not building any inclusive housing. Not only would it balance the dealer community, but the rest of the tenants can experience the feeling of authentic Baltimore.

      It is very much a matter of giving huge shots of cash to private developers for a private project of questionable benefit and then having no money for neighborhoods and existing parks. Instead of using much smaller amounts to do some wonderful things rebuilding neighborhoods, we gave away our ability to do smaller project for at least 20 years – the projected time when the city will see the FIRST DOLLAR of increased taxes. Everything good doesn’t have to cost 3/4 billion or so.

      • Day_Star

        Your numbers are off. Their taxes will be higher than your 50×100 foot lot — hence the “increment” in tax increment financing. Put aside the money for the bridge and some direct funds for the park and various capacity enhancements, and you’ll realize that the hundreds of millions of dollars you and other zealots have in their heads isn’t taken away from anything. The actual general fund dollars the City spends is a fraction of the private market investment in the project and the dollars to be spent on wages and benefits. The hundreds of millions you refer to comes from bond investors who get paid back with the. . . wait for it. . .increment in property taxes. Sure, they’re getting tax relief, but counting taxes the City doesn’t get from its regular property tax rate would only apply in a fantasy world where the project gets built regardless of whether it can pay off debt or provide a return to private investors. Your 20-year figure you state was pulled out of your arse.
        I actually agree with the controversy on the EZ zone designation. I also don’t believe in backtracking on statements by the City of “we won’t pay for that”, but after weighing pros and cons of the project, there’s much more good than bad for the City. It’s a shame this project gets lumped together with the Grand Prix and the West Side initiative which were disaster City led projects and not projects led the Beatty Group, with great organization and a real business plan.
        Your other comments don’t merit a response.

        • bmorepanic

          We are NOT receiving any of the base or increment for 20 years because they were also given other separate tax credits amounting to that sum of base property taxes. And all of the increment will be devoted to the bond repayment for quite a while – so we end up with bupkis for 20 years. All that time, the development is consuming city services for which they will not be paying. We will not have any property tax money to support schools, transportation, or city salaries or to pay city contractors. Yes, we do get some compensation from the state for our portion of part of the tax credits.

          Since the majority of the jobs are being transferred from other downtown locations, we will not be seeing many more city residents with permanent jobs and no big bounce in employment taxes.

          We get to expend millions not covered by the bonds – the bridge is only one example. Harbor East was built and THEN the city had to dig up the streets and redo the water/sewer system is another.

          Just to make life really spendid, IF built and successful, some funding formulas used by the state for needs like schools are based on assessed values, not taxes paid. So our school funding from the state will go down well in advance of the actual city coffers receiving a dime.

          The city will end up in debt in multiple ways so developer and investors can get rich, and ride their cars over a fairly useless bridge for anyone else and then go sit in their “park” which since it has no amenities, is decoration for the development. And they ruin the existing connection to the harbor for other residents and the living classrooms site.

  • BmoreFree

    Interesting proposal but how is it funded? Are you proposing some sort of public-private partnership (i.e. between the museums, the city and significant real estate owners in the area)? What would the estimated cost be versus the benefits of improved property values, access to green space, etc?

  • RealGMan

    Love the concepts, but what is the specific active use of those tracks right now? You mention that they are graded “Class I”, so I’m assuming its not abandoned. Is CSX rolling trains through there hourly, daily, weekly? Tons of freight going through? Connected to the port? I have not footing on how vital or not this stretch is to regional rail movement, and I imagine that info would drive any potential future development.

    • Gerald Neily

      The Museum is the only current user of these dead-end tracks for their tourist rides. There’s nowhere for CSX trains to go on them.

      • Steve

        They’re not actually dead-end tracks. They’re the museum’s only connection to the rest of the rail-world. Any time they need to bring in equipment or Thomas the Tank Engine shows up, they use that mile of tracks.

        • Gerald Neily

          That’s what I meant, Steve.

      • BmoreFree

        Gerald, have you engaged the museum in this plan? It seems they are the first entity that you would have to get on board with this idea. Are they willing to give up their tracks and train rides?

        • Gerald Neily

          Yes, we’ve talked to the museum and they’ve talked with the community people. They know they must work with the communities and realize their futures are intertwined. They’re looking for answers. They don’t want to run trains through a increasingly desolate deteriorating drug infested no-man’s land and are also concerned with their closer neighbors around Mount Clare Junction.

  • petefrombaltimore

    Patterson Park was really run down in the 1990s.And few people wanted to walk through it. The reason that is so nice today, is because the City fixed it up. But its also because the community helped the Friends of Patterson Park organisation do tree plantings and park clean ups

    Patterson Park also benifited from BSSC sports leauges playing various games in the park.And latino immigrants started to have picnics and soccer games in the park

    My point is that there should be many solutions to Carrol Park’s problems. And that there is no silver bullet. My point is also that community involvement is key. And its not just a case of the city improving access from the north

    Carrol Park’s main problem used to be drugs.I havent been there in a year.So things might have changed. But im surprised that drugs and prostitution werent even mentioned in the article. I once was riding my bicycle through the park.and tried to use a porta john. There must have been over 40 drug needles in that porta john . Needless to say, i held my bladder and rode out of Carrol Park

    I think that Carrol Park can, and should, be improved.And that it can, and should, be the anchor for the neighborhood. But i dont think that access is the problem. The problem is drugs and prostitutes.And a park that doesnt seem to have been fixed up in years

    • Sherman Greene

      Things have changed in Carroll Park.

    • Gerald Neily

      Pete says, “My point is also that community involvement is key. And its not just a case of the city improving access from the north.” Pete, you’re absolutely correct about community involvement. Creating access to the north is all about drawing these communities into Carroll Park. If Patterson Park was wrapped by industrial wastelands, there’d still be a lack of community involvement there too. That’s the silver bullet. There’s no community involvement without the communities.

  • Sean Tully

    First off, the Southwest side of Baltimore is not the Inner Harbor or East Baltimore. The Inner Harbor had obvious assets on which to build. Same with the East side. There is no harbor in Southwest on which to build million dollar condos; there is no established shopping district (Eastern Avenue) in which to attract Hispanics who are reshaping that area; there is no historic waterfront community like Fells Point, and on and on. All of these have worked together to make East Baltimore what it is and what it is becoming. They tried to turn Pigtown into the “next big thing,” but there is no “there” there. For the most part Pigtown is a pretty shabby area with some nice refurbished rowhouses sprinkled around. The only area that could really take off is Morrell Park. They have “The Boulevard” and they are close to I-95. But I don’t see any money poring into that area as of yet. Maybe this idea for the park could spark something, but I doubt it.

  • Sean Tully

    Remember, Baltimore City has other plans in store of the Southwest side. They want to build the CSX terminal in this area and they want to build subsidized housing here too. So, while your idea for the park is nice, sorry, it just doesn’t fit into the plans to drive Southwest Baltimore into the ground.

  • Matthew Riesner

    So where are the pigtown hookers to turn tricks in this plan? Is there a plan to build brothels. Otherwise, by fixing up the area in and around the bark, they will be ran out of business.

    • Matthew Riesner

      To vote this down is to ignore the relatively long standing tradition (famous and infamous) of prostitution on the Washington Blvd corridor. Maybe we should somehow incorporate this tradition in the future into the revitalized area.

  • baltimorebrew

    Marc Szarkowski (co-author with Gerry Neily) asked us to post this response to the comments on his behalf:
    What an engrossing discussion! Lots of people have raised some
    great points, and I’ll try to address them here:

    1.) Regarding Harbor Point:

    I doubt that anyone would want the redeveloped parts of the harbor
    to revert to their derelict condition of the 60s – 80s, and I
    suspect the editors’ opinions on Harbor Point vary widely – I
    think even mine and Gerry’s opinions differ. Personally I have no
    problem with waterfront infill (I think infill anywhere is great),
    though I think there’s room for debate over the financing tactics
    (TIFs, PILOTs).

    The way I interpreted (and intended) the allusion to Harbor Point
    was in the spirit of gentle ribbing: Gerry and I argued at the
    beginning of the post that the very same tactic the city used to
    revitalize the harbor could apply to inland areas as well. That
    is, the city has been admirably focused and organized when it
    comes to removing harborside “border vacuums” to create one
    unified, vibrant waterfront district, but I’d argue this focus has
    largely fallen apart when the city has attempted to revitalize
    inland neighborhoods.

    I know James has aptly argued how many previous “invest in the
    neighborhoods instead” efforts have fallen flat, and I think this
    is precisely because the focused waterside border-vacuum-fighting
    tactic has been neglected in favor of airlifting isolated
    solutions into isolated inland areas. For example, for all the
    money airlifted into Upton, little to no effort has been made to
    reconnect that district to Seton Hill/Mt. Vernon across the looong
    north-south chasm that is State Center, McCulloh Homes, MLK, and
    the Highway to Nowhere.

    So I’d argue that Harbor Point and other waterfront developments
    offer a valuable lesson: the same tactic used to stitch a
    continuous band of revival from Canton to Fort McHenry can and
    needs to be used inland. True, there is not as strong a unifying
    central amenity (the harbor) inland, but other amenities (like
    Carroll Park, and Druid Hill Park as discussed in our previous
    article) can still be tied together to overcome inland border
    vacuums. So here Gerry and I proposed a streetcar/promenade/avenue
    corridor that would tie Carroll Park to the Inner Harbor via the
    high-potential Pratt spine, which could eventually overwhelm the
    perception of a detached “Gold Coast” by connecting that coast to
    revitalizing corridors and spines deep within the city.

    2.) Regarding drugs and prostitution along the corridor:

    Pete mentioned that we didn’t even discuss the problem of drugs
    and prostitution along the northern edge of the park. This was
    deliberate: it would be absurd to assume that physical design
    could solve entrenched problems like drugs and prostitution in and
    of itself. We strove to treat the issue of park accessibility
    purely as an issue of park accessibility, and not to attach the
    notion that this would somehow “solve” the problem of drugs and
    prostitution. A personal quibble of mine is when overly-idealistic
    promises are attached to projects that aren’t really positioned to
    deliver on those promises, such as the implicit promise that
    top-of-the-line rec centers and school buildings will somehow cure
    delinquency.

    That being said, I think Pete’s Patterson Park example raises an
    interesting caveat. Gerry and I argue – as Jacobs did – that
    border vacuums tend to attract the seedy, furtive, undesirable
    elements of the human condition. That is, it’s a lot easier to get
    away with stuff in an unpoliced, out-of-sight, out-of-mind “back
    door” than in a prominent “front door.” If the northern edge of
    the park was converted into a well-defined, park-enfronting
    residential enclosure (like the eastern and southern sides of the
    park), that could replace the current “back door” with a third
    “front door” that had the ability to elicit “eyes on the park” and
    a sense of ownership/pride from new parkfront residents. This

    would deprive (or at least weaken) the current “back door’s”
    usefulness as a haven for out-of-sight, out-of-mind activities
    like dealing and prostitution.

    Would this guarantee neighborhood success? No. As any
    Pigtown resident will tell us, the neighborhood still has more
    than its fair share of problems. But I think adding residential
    enclosures (infill) along the park would at least expand the
    *potential* for neighborhood revitalization by expanding the
    number of stakeholders who feel that the park is an indispensable
    front yard. Pigtown already has this potential, but Mt. Clare does
    not. James pointed out that the park is already well-programmed
    and in excellent condition, and this is absolutely true, but
    beside the point. Our – and Jacobs’ – argument is that, contrary
    to popular notion, parks do not automatically uplift their
    surroundings, but are in turn affected by how their surrounding
    interact with them (Death and Life, 92-95). So in the case of
    Carroll Park, no amount of exquisite upkeep or engaging
    programming has been able to spill out across the tracks to
    stabilize Mt. Clare, and we argue that this won’t happen until Mt.
    Clare gets the same well-defined parkfront attachment that Pigtown
    has to at least offer the *potential* for a sense of park
    ownership.

    And this gets us back to the Patterson Park example. As Pete
    pointed out, the park didn’t save the surrounding neighborhoods;
    it was actually the other way around. Gerry and I argue that it
    was precisely because all these neighborhoods enjoyed a sense of
    “front yard” park ownership, they were able to unite under a
    shared goal to tidy up their front yard. This coordinated effort
    consequently stitched all the neighborhoods together – i.e. the
    result was the same as that used to overcome the border vacuums
    around the harbor! How much harder would this stitching have been
    if large swathes of Patterson Park’s perimeter were disconnected
    from surrounding neighborhoods by furtive “back doors,” as along
    the northern edge of Carroll Park? So if Carroll Park was given a
    Patterson Park-style urban enclosure, this wouldn’t necessarily
    guarantee either park or neighborhood success (because by that
    logic Patterson Park should never have sunken into seediness in
    the 90s in the first place), but it’d at least allow for a
    border-vacuum-fighting rallying point. It might take time for the
    neighborhoods around the park to organize and stitch themselves
    together, but at least the unifying tool would already be in
    place.

    3.) Regarding the extension of vehicular streets into the park:

    Please note that – as labeled – this proposal is still very much
    schematic. When we proposed extending streets into the park, we
    didn’t really propose any specific car/bike/pedestrian street
    configuration. It would ultimately be up to the communities on the
    northern side of the park to determine the precise desired
    configuration of the extended streets. They might prefer
    pedestrian walkways, or bikeways, or conventional streets with
    sidewalks, or any number of other possible configurations.

    But Gerry did make a good point on vehicular distribution. If an
    increased number of parkfront stakeholders results in increased
    vehicular traffic into the park, and if this traffic was
    concentrated on the sole central access road leading to the
    mansion, that might unintentionally result in a “traffic sewer”
    cleaving the park in two. Multiple access roads would distribute
    the traffic so that no one road need become a high-volume traffic
    sewer. As Gerry pointed out, there also are options to control and
    direct traffic, such as road closures – and I would add options
    such as pavement (cobblestones or bricks) and geometry (sharp
    curves and narrow lanes) to further tame any traffic.

    In any case, there are any number of street extension options. Our
    intention was not to prescribe a finalized street layout, but
    merely to emphasize that anyone traveling south along any Mount
    Clare street (Fulton, Mount, Gilmor, Stricker, etc.) should be
    able to effortlessly slip into the park, just as anyone currently
    traveling north or west can do via Bush, Bayard, Sargeant, James,
    Glyndon, Herkimer, etc.

    4.) Regarding funding:

    We anticipate that such a project would have to be completed in
    small, manageable phases. So the extension of Fulton and Mount
    would occur first, then progressive additions of the parkfront
    avenue to accommodate potentially-profitable parkfront infill,
    then addition of streetcar lines and the other fine-tuned
    amenities designed to bring in long-term real estate attention.
    The B&O Museum (which owns the First Mile ROW), the Rec &
    Parks department (and the park’s associated caretaking
    organizations), and various city departments (planning, DOT, etc.)
    would need to cooperate when it came to infrastructure.

    In other words, as discussed earlier, I think the same tactics
    used to revive the harbor could be deployed here, providing that
    the focus and goal is the same (i.e. overcoming a vacuum by
    stitching the neighborhoods to the park, the parkfront
    neighborhoods to each other, and the entire district to the Inner
    Harbor). In short, the same redevelopment tactic the city is using
    to transform Charles Street as a unifying spine from Federal Hill
    up to Station North and even JHU to spark fine-grained,
    incremental corridor redevelopment can be used in a southwesterly
    direction towards and around Carroll Park.

    5.) Regarding current track activity:

    The only trains traveling on the tracks between the B&O Museum
    and the CSX interchange near Catherine are the occasional museum
    tourist train and shifting of museum rolling stock. CSX runs
    freight trains on the loop that runs from the Carrollton Viaduct
    and around/parallel to Monroe/Montgomery Park (i.e. where Gerry
    and I proposed a portal to connect the park and golf course), but
    this freight traffic doesn’t extend to the “First Mile.” Of
    course, as Sean mentioned, CSX is proposing repurposing the First
    Mile as a storage yard for their Morrell Park intermodal facility,
    and this would likely prohibit any connection opportunities
    between the park and Mt. Clare. But due to community opposition,
    we don’t know if/where the facility will actually land.

    Thanks for the thought-provoking comments everyone – please keep
    them coming!

    – Marc Szarkowski

    • Sean Tully

      Some other amenities that string many of the communities in Southwest Baltimore together – crime and poverty. The East side of Baltimore may have been run down, but they didn’t have the entrenched poverty and crime that Southwest has. It would take an army to turn those communities around, not just a few yuppies with some extra cash to burn.

  • Matthew Riesner

    Could this proposal use a diesel powered tram, built to use the same gauge track as the B&O, instead of the electric light rail. That would allow for the tracks to still be used for heavy rail (in a pinch), since there would be no overhead lines to get in the way? Diesel powered trams do exist and are used in some parts of the world http://www.vossloh-kiepe.com/news/press-releases/spain-leon-new-diesel-electric-train-trams

    • Gerald Neily

      Sure Matthew, there are ways to do anything. The existing MTA light rail line accommodates freight trains in Cockeysville. Wireless diesel light rail trams run from Camden to Trenton, NJ. The MTA is even looking at running its Red Line without wires in some places – Edmondson Avenue where it’s too tight to squeeze in the poles, I think.

      • Alexander Mitchell

        Actually, there haven’t been freight trains up to Cockeysville, nor down to Glen Burnie, over the Light Rail in perhaps ten years or so–no freight traffic to use it. But should any demand develop, it’s possible.

  • Richard

    If talking about actually running a street car that would carry people, the line should not dog leg south at Monroe street heading for Westport where there is already light rail but should instead parallel/run on Wilkens until it reaches UMBC and then curve south to hit Haelthorpe MARC.

  • omaryak

    Just wanted to mention Jack London Square in Oakland as a possible analog to this redevelopment effort. Several train tracks run through the area carrying freight and passengers. It just takes funding and political will to revitalize an area like this! Best of luck!

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