Weak markets are really really really hard to develop: Baltimore's Poppleton (... State Center,; Park Heights) neighborhood
The Washington Post has an article ("This development aimed to overhaul a West Baltimore neighborhood. 15 years later, it’s made minor progress") about how after 15 years of planning, etc., attempts to push revitalization forward in Baltimore's Poppleton neighborhood, the only project moving forward is a small apartment building of 39 units, when the plans for the Center West development there were supposed to yield "thousands of apartments plus commercial space."
1. The first lesson in urban revitalization is that strong markets are a lot easier in which to spur revitalization than weak markets.
2. It's all relative when it comes to strong and weak markets within communities.
3. Most developers only do development in weak markets once most of the development capacity in the strong
Baltimore has lots of issues ("Social urbanism and Baltimore").
Downtown's vacancy rate is over 20% and tourism is down in response to Baltimore's spiraling crime rate post-the Freddie Gray death and subsequent riots.
From a revitalization standpoint, the biggest problem is that the city has a lot more development capacity than demand, and that even though the metropolitan area population is growing, the city continues to lose population.
(Although the neighborhoods in the Charles Street corridor are pretty successful.)
That's why development of neighborhoods and commercial districts like Port Covington originally the Westport redevelopment on the waterfront, now owned by Kevin Plank ("A victim of Port Covington: the “Other Baltimore” in Westport," Baltimore Sun); State Center, where transit oriented development proposals have been kicking around for almost 15 years, Park Heights, where the Pimlico race track remains surrounded by a poor community ("A portrait of the Pimlico neighborhood," Sun), take years and years and years and years.
The only way to spur development along there is to provide exranormal amounts of public money, and there isn't enough to do it.
It's actually just like the Skyland Center in DC ("Blaming Walmart for Skyland's failure is misdirected" and "For the first time, Skyland Town Center's revitalization might have a chance: creating a community focused retail destination").
That development is taking more than 20 years, and that's in DC, which is overall is a much stronger real estate market than Baltimore.
The four biggest things I'd do to "fix" Baltimore ("What Baltimore and D.C. can do to start working better together as a region," Baltimore Business Journal op-ed).
1. Merge Baltimore City and Baltimore County. It'd be one of the largest cities in the US, almost as large as Philadelphia.
2. Adopt a social urbanism approach to invest in Baltimore's people and civic infrastructure as a way to reverse the high crime and murder rate ("Social urbanism and Baltimore"). Medellin, Colombia is the model.
3. Create a robust rail transit network in Baltimore and Baltimore County ("From the files: transit planning in Baltimore County"). Right now they have a light rail line and a truncated subway line. A real transit network would reset development and population growth on the core (within the Baltimore Beltway).
4. Create a state-wide and regional passenger railroad system ("A "Transformational Projects Action Plan" for a statewide passenger railroad program in Maryland"). While it would equally serve DC and Baltimore, it would further strengthen Maryland and Baltimore as its heart as a city with almost 1.5 million residents after combining with Baltimore County.
Now you'd probably say, what about business development, etc. It had been a major center for insurance and finance, but those industries have waned.
Besides tourism, Baltimore's major business sectors are medical (Johns Hopkins and University of Maryland Medical System/UMB campus) and related biotech, higher education, and the kinds of business still active in cities, like law firms.
In the Joe Berridge webinar last week (I've been meaning to write up my notes), I asked a question about what we might call center-periphery cities partly because I've been meaning to write about Buffalo and Toronto because of an article charlie linked to many months ago ("Toronto's astonishing growth," "Coordination could spread Toronto prosperity" and "Immigration equals growth," Buffalo News), and then thinking about DC-Baltimore, Seattle-Tacoma, Philadelphia-Camden, etc.
I asked because while prosperity in Toronto is impacting the metropolitan area, it hasn't jumped quite as far as Hamilton.
Anyway, he said that if you do the right things placemaking wise (but schools and public safety are key as well) you get new residents who are highly educated, and business development follows them even though it takes awhile.
Besides the investment in placemaking, the creation of a more robust transit network in Greater Baltimore will attract new residents. Baltimore has the universities, has great civic assets, parks, a waterfront, and proximity to Washington.
A better more robust transit network will help to strengthen Baltimore's position so that it can attract residents. Although the public safety and schools issues must be addressed.
I'm not happy about it, but on schools, Baltimore probably needs to add the charter school option as a way to build family confidence concerning schooling.