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.

Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Whatever happened to planning when it comes to civic assets, public facilities, revitalization?

I am dealing with something in Salt Lake, and it's frustrating because my fellow board members don't have a reflexive inclination to plan, but to react and do.  It reminds me of my line for many years that "an RFP--request for proposals--isn't a plan."  I am trying to work out a problem that's been festering for going on 5 years, because of instead of doing a plan, they issued an RFP.

It's a request for proposals and while the RFP probably lists desires and preferred outcomes, it's still not a plan, and likely it'd be better to do a plan.

I'm writing this in reaction to an op-ed in the Baltimore Sun, "Harborplace reinvention: Baltimore needs a task force to get it right," about Harborplace. 

It was written by Ted Rouse, son of James, who created it. Harborplace was an early example of what are called Festival Marketplaces and for many years it was considered an international best practice.

But a failure to keep renewing the space, a fall off in tourism after the Freddie Gray riots in 2015, and the unfortunate occurrence of a lousy property manager buying the complex combined to drive it into ruin. It's creeping out of bankruptcy ("Court order finalizes sale of Harborplace to Baltimore investment management firm," WBAL-TV).

-- "Baltimore's Harborplace in bankruptcy and what that says about certain development trends in urban revitalization," 2019

There have been a bunch of reports and concept papers in the interim.

From the op-ed:

Baltimore has a wonderful opportunity to make lemonade out of lemons as my father, James Rouse, used to say. He also used to say, “Every problem is but a challenge, and a challenge is an opportunity in disguise. And when confronting a problem start by thinking first of what things would be like if they worked and let reality compromise you later.”

The current state of Harborplace is for sure a sad one. Tearing down the existing pavillion buildings and replacing them with Harbor East style high rises, with new first floor tenants (hopefully this is not being contemplated), might make the spreadsheets work, but it will not produce the lemonade that Baltimore needs. And the lemons that we need to confront are even larger than the decisions involved in how to revive Harborplace.

... So in thinking about how to make the Harborplace renovation work, we can’t just think about building for rich people who want to live or work in high rises. We need to think big and capture and captivate those visitors to our Convention Center and our stadiums with a good reason and an easy way to come visit the Inner Harbor. As American Visionary Arts Musuem founder Rebecca Hoffberger has suggested, we should celebrate Baltimore heroes along Conway and Pratt streets with sculptures and imaginatively written quotes from Frank Robinson, Cal Ripken, Edgar Allan Poe, Billie Holiday, Frederick Douglass, Elijah Cummings and others.

...  Both pavillion buildings should be saved, and green and/or solar roofs should be added. Take every opportunity to educate about global warming mitigation. Tearing down buildings is not green!

Baltimore’s mayor and Maryland’s governor need to appoint a task force that looks at both the ideas that work in other great cities around the world — such as the Guggenheim in Bilbao, the Sydney Opera House, The Charles Bridge in Prague, the Tivoli Gardens in Copenhagen and Pikes Place Market in Seattle — and ideas that have been proposed for Baltimore’s reinvention, such as the Baltimore Lift, which would use gondolas for mass transit and also offer a fun ride and way of seeing the city. An Inner Harbor Bridge between Fells Point and Federal Hill has been proposed in various forms by several people and groups. The Baltimore Museum of Art once proposed opening a branch in the Power Plant.

The task force should include David Cordish of the Cordish Companies, which has created great urban entertainment in many American cities, including Baltimore’s Power Plant Live!; and Mike Hankin and Laurie Schwartz, who have done a terrific job with The Waterfront Partnership in reinventing Rash Field. Perhaps the task force could ask Janet Marie Smith, who saved the warehouse at Camden Yards and put Baltimore on the map for inner city stadiums, to recommend urban planners for the job of sorting through and presenting the best possibilities for a reinvented Inner Harbor.

We need a new vision for our Inner Harbor, not just new buildings for Harborplace. Let’s start by thinking about what things would be like if they worked for all Baltimore’s residents and visitors. Where there are problems, there is opportunity. Getting the Inner Harbor right is an opportunity that will not come again in our lifetimes; it offers the chance to create an economic and perceptual transformation.

Instead of a task force.  Do a plan.  Have an advisory committee with developers and key organizations.  Have a public process.  Include transportation, arts and culture, and tourism planning elements.

Don't dumb it down.  And yes, reference the great projects around the world, which ironically often referenced Harborplace to justify their efforts.

This journal article in particularly highlights Harborplace as a model for waterfront revitalization efforts in Europe.

--  "On the Revitalized Waterfront: Creative Milieu for Creative Tourism," Sustainability Journal, 2013

Baltimore used to have a pretty robust planning arm, although it was somewhat beleaguered in the face of all of Baltimore's other needs.  This might be a way to amp up the planning function.

And combine it with other initiatives around transit and other ways to re-attract residents and business to the city.

-- "Transit agenda for Greater Baltimore," 2021

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At 10:40 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Great article!


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