Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Opinion: What Baltimore and D.C. can do to start working better together as a region (Baltimore Business Journal op-ed)

I wrote an op-ed in response to an article that ran in last week's Baltimore Business Journal discussing the meeting of a group of stakeholders from DC and Baltimore sitting down over dinner and talking about the need for a stronger focus on regionalism.

I have paid attention to Baltimore pretty carefully since I got involved in urban revitalization as an avocation and vocation, partly to contrast the difference between strong and weak real estate markets and to be able to become more nuanced in understanding the differences in opportunity that result from significant differences in material conditions.

For example, DC still has a strong center and a transit network, while Baltimore is bigger, has more poverty and crime (although for a time crime was worse in DC), has lost relevance with the outmigration of population and economic activity, and has a couple rail transit lines, but no transit network.

I worked briefly as a planner in Baltimore County in FY2010 (I wasn't able to stay on for a couple reasons, one being during the recession they were cutting staff and agencies not adding people) and that gave me more insights into some of the issues in the metropolitan area, and I have written many blog entries over the years about it, including:

-- "From the files: transit planning in Baltimore County"
-- "Best practice suburban bicycle planning using the 'action planning' method"
-- "Morgan State University should move their architecture and planning school to Downtown/Station North Arts District"
-- "Marketing resident attraction"
-- "New Baltimore area regional plan for sustainability"
-- "One big idea: Getting MARC and Metrorail to integrate fares, stations, and marketing systems, using London Overground as an example"

Here's the article but note that the actual article is locked and only available to subscribers.
"Opinion: What Baltimore and D.C. can do to start working better together as a region," Baltimore Business Journal, 12/16/2016

In “Building a case for regionalism between Baltimore and D.C.,,” published Dec. 9, Melody Simmons reported on a recent meeting of Baltimore and Washington stakeholders.

As a planner-writer with experience in both communities, I believe building the Baltimore and Washington metropolitan areas into a single region is dependent on three things:

1. Each metro needs to “get its house in order” by functioning and acting at a “best practice” level;

2. More efficient physical connections need to be constructed within and between the metropolitan areas; and

3. More attention needs to be put on working together — rather than reflexively choosing to be obstreperous, the first inclination needs to be to collaborate.

Here are five initiatives where Maryland can start setting the stage for making real a powerhouse Baltimore-Washington region:

1. The state must acknowledge that the two metropolitan areas drive the state economy and rather than pit the areas against each other or against other parts of the state, a program of high value investment in both the Baltimore and Washington areas needs to be prioritized.

2. While as a Washington resident I would never argue for re-merging the city into Maryland. Maryland should “take ownership” of D.C. by recognizing it is the linchpin of the economies of Anne Arundel, Charles, Howard, Montgomery, and Prince George’s counties.

3. For example, the state government needs to have an open mind about financial solutions for the D.C.-area’s sputtering Metrorail system and should be “all in” on not only building the Purple Line as currently planned, but should initiate the planning process now for extending the Purple Line from New Carrollton to Alexandria, Va., and extending the Purple Line from Bethesda to Tysons in Northern Virginia should be part of any discussions about rebuilding the American Legion Bridge.

4. As the home to national political dysfunction, Washington has serious image problems. For different reasons, so does the Baltimore area. The metropolitan economy languishes in the face of Baltimore’s crime and population shrinkage despite the city’s incredible array of assets.

To completely redefine “Baltimore,” serious consideration must be given to a merger of Baltimore City and Baltimore County. The two jurisdictions separated in 1851. Consolidation isn’t easy, but Louisville and Lexington in Kentucky and Nashville, Tenn., offer models that show that it can be done.

A combined city and county would have a population of 1.425 million, making it the nation’s seventh largest city, the most populous and powerful jurisdiction in Maryland, and a much bigger player in the multi-state mid-Atlantic region.

It would increase bonding-financing capacity and enable significant transformation of the role of transit. A merger of the city and county community colleges would create a powerhouse institution as well, as would the merger of the parks and recreation systems

A merger could create difficult political issues, because the formerly suburban county would have more legacy residents and like in Toronto and London, where more conservative suburban voters tend to outvote more progressive voters in the core, this could create representation and governance issues.

A slightly different governance model could be adopted, providing for city-county consolidation, but also the creation of separate boroughs within “the city.” Boroughs are smaller and more local governments, with elected representation and responsibilities for planning and the delivery of certain services. London, Montreal, and Paris are some of the cities that are organized in this fashion.

5. High quality transit defines great cities. Right now transit in the Baltimore area doesn’t have the kind of multiplicative place and investment value that can intensify development and population. That’s why it’s so hard to build transit oriented development projects like State Center or Penn Station, or new lines like the Red Line.

The major impetus for New York City’s consolidation in 1898 was to increase its ability to raise funds to build the subway system. A merged Baltimore would have the heft to address strengthening, extending, and leveraging transit investment.

Reconfiguring the light rail system to serve Towson and extending it a bit into Hunt Valley, extending the line southward to Howard County, spiffing it up with new, design forward, rail cars, connecting the light rail and subway lines more directly in the vicinity of Lexington Market, and extending the subway line to White Marsh would begin to create a transit system and network out of what are now two disconnected rail lines.

They did a good job cutting the piece down.  But mostly, they did so by cutting the last three points.  Here's the rest:

6. MARC is one of the more successful commuter railroads in the US. In recent years, the system has added weekend service on the Penn Line between Baltimore and Washington, but the Camden and Brunswick lines operate only on weekdays, and the Brunswick line doesn't offer reverse commute service from Washington to business districts in Montgomery and Frederick Counties.

Like how London reconfigured some rail lines to function as a railroad equivalent of subway service, MARC should integrate its fare media system and station network into the local transit systems in Baltimore and Washington--the MTA CharmCard and WMATA SmarTrip fare cards are already interoperable.

Building on that, Maryland should create a framework where DC can become a co-owner of MARC system, with expanded coverage and stations within DC, new lines to Annapolis from Baltimore and Washington, service to Charles County, and reverse commute service added to the Brunswick line. An improved station in West Baltimore, a new station in East Baltimore, and service between Frederick and Baltimore should be part of this program.

7. Longer term the merger of MARC and Virginia Railway Express should be on the table -- I suggest calling the new system RACER, for "Railroad Authority of the Chesapeake Region" -- extending the Penn Line into Virginia, and adding lines throughout the multi-state region including connections to Delaware, Pennsylvania, and Richmond.

8. DC’s public higher education system does not have institutions of quality comparable to the University System of Maryland. Why not treat DC residents as “residents” for enrollment purposes at Maryland’s public institutions of higher learning?

There are plenty of other initiatives that can be added to this list, ranging from integrating tourism planning, building the region into a biotechnology powerhouse, better leveraging the value of federal research facilities and higher education institutions, integrating airport planning, supporting the Port of Baltimore at the multi-state scale, etc., but this is definitely a start. Now on to making a list for Washington.

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At 9:23 PM, Anonymous Baltimore Fan said...

I read your piece in BBJ and occasionally see your comments on GGW. I generally am in agreement with your thesis, but as a life long resident of the Baltimore area, I do believe any push to integrate the city and county would be DOA. It's a political hot potato. My only quibble with your comments is that tend to emphasize Baltimore's negatives and minimize its strengths. Along with the port, we have vibrant financial services, edtech, healthcare, cyber and other technology related industries. Do we have problems? Of course, but so does Chicago Philly and other medium and large cities in the country. The 40 miles separating Baltimore and DC is a regular commute in many regions (LA, NY, etc). A more vibrant regionalism benefits both areas.

At 10:28 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

consolidations are very very hard, and I understand how difficult the politics are.

But if you don't begin to put the idea out there, you can guarantee it will never be considered.

That being said I recognize it's a process that usually takes a couple decades to come to fruition.

I had limited space for the op-ed so I was unable to discuss my learnings from working for Baltimore County, but I found two maybe three things particularly problematic wrt the metropolitan area:

1. The County is self-satisfied in terms of "benchmarking" itself against Baltimore City only. For various reasons it will always be seen as doing better. But the County is one of the largest counties by population in the US. It needs to set its sights higher and pick a different set of reference communities by which it measures itself.

2. The County from a planning sense on a one-off basis has a track record of doing amazing things (probably this has ended during the Kamenetz era). It was arguably the first county in the US to create an urban-rural growth boundary, building out of work done by Ian McHarg in the early 1960s.

It also has a history of other planning forward initiatives. It was one of the first counties to create an agency focused on environmental issues.

It had a strong urban design component in the planning office and aimed to push forward the concept of smart codes (but that was scuttled because of opposition by the land use bar). But for a suburban county, on urban design they were way ahead of most other counties, at least intellectually. (E.g., those efforts preceded the White Flint and Tysons initiatives by 10+ years.)

It has a stated policy of inward investment on existing communities (Smart Growth related), although that being said not unlike PGC's talk about TOD and the reality of developments like National Harbor and Konterra, Baltimore County prioritizes sprawl promoting development in Owings Mills and White Marsh. (WRT Owings Mills especially there just isn't demand.)

But all these initiatives are one off, not unlike Baltimore's transit. They are discoordinated, not integrated, and so in terms of outcomes and realized opportunities the whole is less than the sum of the parts.

-- continued --

At 10:28 AM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

3. The third thing I guess would be the focus on automobility as the primary if not exclusive mode, of transit as a social service not as a mode of transportation that shapes development patterns in a way that optimizes efficiency but also contributes to real estate appreciation and concentration. If the County Executive had been willing to put county money into the Red Line, chances are good it wouldn't have been scuttled, since Hogan got so many votes from the County. But the County was somewhat indifferent.

That being said, I recognize those advantages you mention. But they still get overshadowed by the negatives. A city-county merger would completely transform the discussion, branding, opportunities, public finance, etc. and place of Baltimore not just regionally but at the scale of the Mid Atlantic multi-state region, which hasn't been the case for decades.

Instead of the narrative of the shrinking city you go to the 7th biggest city in the US.

DO I think the leaders in either jurisdiction are capable of bringing something like this to reality, maybe not. But it should be discussed.

And of course, I have no problem with the area being a strong region together. None.

And the DC area has its own issues that make it a weaker partner than it should be too.

Note in the list of items I wanted to discuss that I didn't even include because the article draft was already way longer than what they said (500 words), the Port and Biotech/Life Sciences was definitely on the list (I was going to suggest the creation of an annual regional biotech conference like the one that CSU does,, and I probably would have mentioned the higher education institutions, both in terms of health sciences and the other elements you mention. I probably would have forgotten to mention the military elements that you call attention to.

Since you are a "fan" you might be interested in this piece that I wrote for the Europe in Baltimore project. I'd be interested in any comments you have on that.

At 1:55 PM, Anonymous charlie said...

One thing that has always puzzled me is that the Hopkins healthcare empire never moved south. They own Sibley, but I think that is it.

Unifying smart cards, bikesahre systems (so you can use fobs, even if I get charged a guest fee), car2go, etc would all be very helpful as well. But very much in the weeds.

(the one place where you are seeing that network effects is BWI, and Virginia/DC is always trying to kill the bus service to there rather than increase it).

At 8:00 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

I'll have to think about JHU. I do think that there is intra-state issues between UMD and JHU in terms of how close JHU can be around UMDCP. Then again, they have a growing operation in MoCo. They have Sibley and Suburban Hospital too, I think.

You did give me an idea though. Not sure how to work it out though.

2. wrt bike share, even though it wasn't the right product I don't think (e-bikes), the people we were working with to try to sell bike share (but we were undercapitalized) got the Copenhagen contract. But as part of it, the same terms were available to all other govt. entities in Denmark.

For obvious reasons, it makes sense for Maryland to have an interoperable bike sharing platform across the state.

I think it was a mistake for Baltimore to not just go with a Cabi clone, just as the CharmCard and SmarTrip are already interoperable.

I don't know what interoperability agreements BMC and MWCOG have. With the COG, any of the member jurisdictions are supposed to get the same terms on contracts between a contractor and another member. (SO I don't understand why PGC was supposed to pay a lot more for Cabi service than DC or Arlington.)

BMC and MWCOG should aim to extend such provisions across their respective memberships.

But no state has really done that, all the agreements are at the town/city/county scale. (In my cover letter--I scored an interview but not the job--for the state bike and ped coordination position in Utah, I mentioned how the state should work with the SLC bike share system to offer other communities the ability to do bike share, on the same kind of basis as Denmark, although I didn't mention Denmark...)

Obviously, you can use Zipcar in Balt., but Car2Go isn't operating there. C2G should be offered super cheap access as an inducement. And of course, as you know, Car2Go users can use any of the systems elsewhere in the US and Canada (not Europe, unlike Zipcar).

3. As mentioned above, SmarTrip and CharmCard are already interoperatlbe, it's just that you can't use them on MARC (or VRE).

In a couple areas (Sounder/Puget Sound; Caltrain/SF Bay) you can use "local transit media" on the railroads too.

According to the interview I linked to with the MTA Administrator, he is interested in extending CharmCard access to MARC...


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