Sunday, September 27, 2015

Turning Ellicott City's Main Street into a Pedestrian Street?

I've been recently thinking about the concept of turning Ellicott City's Historic Main Street into a pedestrian-only zone, removing vehicles from the corridor. The thought came into my mind after going to Ellicott City's MusicFest this past weekend, and realizing how congested the downtown area becomes when cars and pedestrians fight for space. This got me thinking, wouldn't sectioning off this main artery for pedestrians, increase visitors and enhance the Ellicott City experience?

Ellicott City's Main Street

This concept has been implemented in many cities across the United States, like Cumberland in Western Maryland, and New York's Ithaca in the Finger Lakes. Those communities are now celebrated for their pedestrian-friendly atmospheres; something that E.C. is certainly lacking. Whenever I travel to Main Street, the feeling of being taken back in time quickly disappears when traffic snarls up Maryland's Route 144. During a normal day, parking usually isn't too much of an issue because of the city's many free visitor parking lots. However, when walking down Main Street, you are mere inches away from cars much of the time, causing a sense of claustrophobia and danger. So I went to my Google Maps, and created a new plan for my version of the new Ellicott City.

My proposed plan includes a new bypass for Historic Ellicott City, by rerouting traffic on a new road that I've coined "Ellicott City Parkway". This new parkway would leave old Frederick Road in Oella, and cross the Patapsco River undercutting south of Ellicott City. The new road would intersect all of the major roads on the south side: College Avenue, New Cut Road and Old Columbia Pike. The bypass would terminate and join Rogers Avenue at the intersection of old Frederick Road/Main Street on the west side. Manahan Drive is also extended to intersect the new bypass to increase connectivity. I've also added a new bikeway/path and a park on this new road in order to increase access to greenspace and the historic district.

A design for Ithaca's Pedestrian Mall.

For the pedestrian zone, Main Street would be sectioned off from Old Columbia Pike to the west end, and Maryland Avenue to the east end. All of Main Street from those two points, and Tiber Alley would be only used by pedestrians and authorized vehicles. This new zone would be the perfect place for entertainers (like that Bubble Blowing guy that's always there, ghost tours, festivals, and socializing). Old Columbia Pike and Main Street could also include a drop off zone area at the curve.
Of course this plan would require extensive work, and might not even be allowed due to historic conditions under the historic district and the Historic National Road (MD 144). Either way, it is worth thinking about how we can make Ellicott City more pedestrian and biker friendly.

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Red Line Alternatives in the Wake of Gov. Hogan's Cancellation

On June 25, Governor Hogan announced his cancellation of the Baltimore Red Line, and instead gave the green light to the Purple Line in Washington's suburbs. Obviously, this news is detrimental to Baltimore's future, and devastating to all of Baltimore's citizens, politicians, urban planners, and transit enthusiasts. At a time when Maryland continues to grow, gas prices continue to rise, and our transportation infrastructure weakens, the need for new transit is extremely necessary. It appears that Baltimore continues to be neglected by Governor Hogan, as well as the rest of Maryland. We can't keep devoting all of our money to the already wealthy Washington area. So, while we are under the gloom of this regressive attitude projected by the Hogan Administration, we might as well explore some alternatives. Below, I have created a map that includes a proposed outline for a Red Line BRT (Bus Rapid Transit) System. The system includes two lines: Red Line East and Red Line West. The line basically follows the old path for the proposed Red Line, but instead includes a Downtown Loop that could be used to circulate individuals to different modes of transit. The alternative plan also includes an extension for the existing Metro Subway (Green Line). This extension would go from Johns Hopkins Hospital to White Marsh.
Red Line Busway

Red Line East (CMS to Harlem Park)
Security Square Mall
I-70 Park and Ride
Edmondson Village
West Baltimore
Harlem Park

Red Line Downtown Loop (East to West) 
Poppleton (MLK/Baltimore)
UMB Campus (Pratt/Greene)
Convention Center (Pratt/Howard)
Inner Harbor (Pratt/Calvert)
Aquarium (Pratt/Gay)
Shot Tower/Market Place (President/Baltimore)
City Hall (Saratoga/Holiday)
Midtown (Saratoga/Charles)
Lexington Market (Saratoga/Eutaw)
Seton Hill (Saratoga/Greene)

Red Line West (Harbor East to Essex)
Harbor East (Fleet-Eastern/Central)
Fells Point (Fleet-Eastern/Broadway)
Canton (Eastern/Patterson Park)
Patterson Park (Eastern/Linwood)
Highlandtown (Eastern/Conkling)
Bayview (Eastern/Bayview)
Kane Street (Eastern/Kane)
Eastpoint Mall (Eastern/Rolling Mill)
Essex (Eastern/Beltway)

Baltimore Metro Extension

Green Line (Johns Hopkins Hospital to White Marsh)
East Baltimore
Franklin Square / CCBC
White Marsh

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Centre Theater: Baltimore's Original Cinema

Centre Theater
10 E. North Avenue
Baltimore, Maryland 21218

            The Centre Theater opened its doors on February 2nd, 1939 as the latest addition to Baltimore’s theater community. The complex was originally deemed “Radio Centre” for it also included a radio station for WFBR, as well as offices for the Equitable Trust Company, a shop, and a parking garage. Prior to its construction, the lot at 10 East North Avenue was used as a Studebaker and Chevrolet car dealership, a similar industry that was commonly found on North Howard Street (Kelly, 2014). The Centre is located in Station North Arts and Entertainment District on the first block of east North Avenue on the north side of the street. Currently, the complex is being restored to become a mixed-use development that will centralize history, arts and community in Station North.
            The theater came to fruition thanks to Morris A. Mechanic, a local developer who would later be the namesake of the late brutalist 1967 Mechanic Theater in Downtown Baltimore (Chan, 2011). Mechanic came from a Polish and Jewish background, who immigrated to Baltimore as a child. A true businessman, Mechanic began his success by owning a chocolate shop downtown while being a principle for Hebrew School in West Baltimore (Pousson). Ten years prior to the opening of The Centre, Mechanic purchased The New Theatre at 210 West Lexington Street on the Westside, which became a major success with its showing of Sunny Side Up (Kilduff). This success drove Mechanic to continue his theater business until his death in July of 1966 (Pousson).
The theater presents a rich history for its precedence in the arts and for its architectural significance. A few days before opening night, the Baltimore Sun described the new art deco style as “conservatively modern”. The architect, Armand Carroll, expressed that the style was meant to be utilitarian and that the decoration was “intended to soothe rather than startle the spectator” (The Sun, 1939). The sheer smooth angles of the theater’s fa├žade still attract the passerby’s eye as they traverse North Avenue. The theater also is significant for it was the first theatre in the city equipped for radio broadcasting and the ability to project live television on the screen (Kelly, 2014).
            Within its interior, the theater also was acclaimed for a circular proscenium arch outfitted with multicolor light bulbs and gold leaf paint. The main stage of the theater was a modest size, but was equipped with the latest technology for either film or theater events. The theater itself seated up to 1,000 guests, and was one of the first in the city to be climate controlled. On the opening night, Mayor Howard W. Jackson along with major players in the film and broadcasting industry joined Baltimore’s socialites to view the Baltimore’s first aviation film: Tailspin (The Sun, 1939). Many memorable films were shown at The Centre, including the Baltimore premiers of Oklahoma, and Around the World in 80 Days in 1956 (“Center Theatre”).
            Unfortunately, The Centre’s crowds were dwindling as Station North decayed due to suburbanization and white flight. In response to the declining admissions, the lobby was also used as a gallery space for artists Jacob Glushakow and Herman Maril (Kelly, 2014). The Centre continued to operate as a film and radio center until April 16, 1959 when the neighboring Equitable Trust Company expanded its office space into the structure. Redevelopment plans included adding an additional story to the existing theater, due to there being 20,000 square feet of unusable space on each level of the theater (The Sun, 1958). A major reason for the banks expansion was the need for new space to house state-of-the-art electronic equipment that was highly sensitive. Despite the closing of the theater, WFBR continued its operations under a lease with the bank. During the 1970s, WFBR became locally renowned for their disc jockey, Johnny Walker, who operated out of the leased space. Later on, the space was also used as a church for the community, but soon became vacant and dilapidated (Kelly, 2014).
            In 2002, Station North Arts and Entertainment District was formed by the city government, creating hope for the old abandoned North Avenue theaters. Along with this designation, the National Register of Historic Places created the North Central Historic District, protecting the Centre Theater from deliberate destruction. However, it wasn’t until July of 2011 when Charles Duff, the president of the nonprofit organization Jubilee Baltimore, purchased The Centre at a public auction for the price of $93,000 (Kelly, 2014). Duff is leading the efforts to redevelop and restore the property to its former glory, so that it once again can contribute to the entertainment industry of Baltimore.

The new theater will be the new facility for film and video programs derived out of the partnership between the Johns Hopkins University in Homewood and the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) in Bolton Hill (Kelly, 2014). Together with Jubilee Baltimore, Ziger/Snead and Southway Builders are leading the reconstruction process. The completed 73,000 square foot Centre Theater will feature spaces for film screenings, music venues, artists’ studios, galleries, a playhouse and a restaurant (“10 East North”). The project was awarded $3 million in Maryland Sustainable Tax Credits, and was required to follow environmental and historical design standards. Construction for The Centre began in late 2013, and is expected to open in March 2015 (Meehan, 2013).

Monday, May 11, 2015

Reflections - 5/11/15

Rowhouses in Charles Vilage

As the spring semester comes to a close, I am left with a sense of completion and greater awareness towards not only Baltimore, but also community engagement. In retrospect, I think the most important thing that I have learned is the endless significance of taking all perspectives into account, especially when it regards controversial topics like gentrification. This may not seem to be the most innovative of revelations, but I think that its importance spans to universal levels and can be applied in almost any setting. Personally, I feel like I am stubborn in my own views (maybe it's the aquarian in me), but being both a student of both geography and sociology, I recognize that everything (humans and nature) possesses their own individual qualities that shouldn't be disregarded. This class has helped me see this by gaining greater insight into the world where these voices originated. Conversely, these voices should also be viewed as one giant collective echo that distinguishes the many concerns humanity encounters in the urban realm. 

This course has also emphasized the importance of working together as a team in order to create an interdisciplinary product. I think my greatest contribution to this project would be mitigating our mapmaking process so that each voice or place could be visualized. As a result, we are able to have a dynamic map that could be used as a source for anyone who wishes to know more about Station North. Looking forward, I hope that our efforts will benefit others who wish to know more about Baltimore's past and present through the eyes of a neighborhood.

Monday, May 4, 2015

Reflections - 5/4/15

This past week was certainly eye opening for our class as Baltimore experienced the 2015 riots following the tragic death of Freddie Gray. In a matter of hours, the city was turned upside down when peaceful protests gave way to arson, looting, and chaos. Watching the destruction take place was certainly painful and depressing, and often seemed pointless. It is safe to say that it will take years for Baltimore to get back to where it was, as we have learned from the repercussions of the 1968 riots. However, unlike the '68 riots, these events were followed by an outpouring of love, concern, and hope that the city can get back up on it's feet.

Despite what some critics may say, we all need to care about "our" city, wherever we may live in the region. The geographical fact of the matter is that we all depend on Baltimore as an epicenter of economic, knowledge, and artistic proportions. While sitting at my desk at work on Friday, I watched Marilyn Mosby deliver the criminal charges that would be filed against the Baltimore City Police Officers involved in the Gray case. It was at this moment when I remembered why I loved Baltimore. Regardless of the charges, it was the timely fashion of delivery and straightforwardness of justice that gave Baltimore the shock back to life that it needed.

In class, we discussed the themes and quotes found in the Sherrie Chase interview. In my notes, I found the themes of diversity, detachment, family, and sense of place to be core components. In addition, the map group convened and worked together in outlining the introductory paragraphs for the webpage, and figuring out the missing places that needed to be completed for the map. Mike and I also worked on the graphic display of the map. I also created four new zones that highlight the different sectors of Station North: Charles North, Greenmount West, Barclay, and Koreatown.

Sunday, April 26, 2015

Reflections - 4/27/15

What a week! Things are winding down and really coming together with the project. On Tuesday, we were fortunate enough to have Marc Steiner of the Marc Steiner Show join us in a joint-class meeting to view the rough cuts of the audio and visual media that will be used for the final project. As a class, we viewed segments for Greektown and Station North. Afterwards we discussed the project direction, and what needed to be improved for the final edition of both pieces. The general consensus found that there needed to be a flow for the entire piece, and that the themes should be more evident throughout the piece. For example, Marc brought up the idea of having a two sided argument for and against the neighborhood changes that were taking place, such as gentrification and demographic shifts. On Thursday, we came together as a class and worked in groups on our assigned audio piece. Similar to Alethia's interview, we transcribed and pulled out common themes such as community and neighborhood change.

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Reflections - 4/20/15

This past week was heavily focused on project work, and outlining what needs to be done in order to get the project close to completion. On Tuesday, Mike and I presented the map along with the rest of the map group. Everyone seemed to be happy with the progress thus far, which was good to hear. I was really happy that we got a chance to hear some feedback from our classmates on what they would like to see added and changed on the map. The voices group presented their work as well, by playing some of their audio recordings and showing the class their interviewing database. Afterwards, Dr. King requested that we help out the voices group in their transcription and theme-pulling efforts.

For Thursday, I listened to the interview with Aletheia Shin. While listening, I transcribed her interview and pulled out common themes that I thought would be useful for the overall class project. In our new groups, we discussed the themes and consolidated our transcription by removing duplicates and editing the content. We then came together as a class to discuss our group work, and the common themes that we found from the audio. As a group, we discussed the themes of: community-based art, identity and presence, how we visualizing Baltimore, diversity, relationship with the community, and community participation.