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Lindsey Davis

The Rundown

By | The Good Plan | 3 Comments

In a deviation from the biweekly rant and rave on one thing in the world of planning, TheGoodPlan is pleased to present a current rundown of … well, several things in the world of planning:

Lexington Market

The world famous market is trying to clean itself up – again. After promises of Superblock creation and targeted development to re-frame Lexington Market as a safe and bustling place, the Market Make-Over survey is asking its readership to help direct another promised clean-up. Without much action visible to the general public, the desire for guidance may seem as tired as the market itself. Facing a problem often encountered by community developers in perpetually unstable neighborhoods, just how many times can a place be studied without visible investment? Lack of continuity and unchanged landscapes will have a greater effect on the residents, as they feel repeatedly ignored and distrusting of what has become a series of empty promises. Will something actually happen with Lexington Market this time, or is this just another report to put on the shelf?


IMAGE CREDIT. [Lexington Market via Wikimedia Commons].

From Scaffold to Seat

There are stories of which I never tire, and they often revolve around urban furniture and ways to engage the public with their surrounding environment. Softwalks designers have created a ‘pop up park’ kit, aiming to create community, spatial awareness, and comfort in the same fashion of the sidewalk cafe. Most interestingly though, these kits can’t be ordered by the general public. As the seats attach to scaffolding, safety is a concern. It seems the consumer has to be approved by the design team before the kit is sent. Still, scaffolding can now be used for something other than just a temporary rain shelter.


Photo from Web Urbanist

Get Out of Here

Tufts University wins my awesome award, offering to financially support students willing to take a gap year between high school and University. Launching a program called ‘4+1,’ the groundbreaking program encourages students to get out of their comfort zone and go elsewhere. How could the opportunity to see the other side of the world help future changemakers? Time will tell; way to go Tufts.

SXSW Reports Tragedy

Over the past 25 years, the annual music, film, and technology gathering has helped Austin become the place to be for aspiring entrepreneurs and forthcoming radio gods. This year a tragic collision involving a drunk driver and concert goers killed three, creating negative buzz when there had previously only been good. The incident is the dark stain, sparking discussion of the festival getting out of hand, having become far removed from its roots, forgetting the spirit under which it was created. I wonder though if these are the right questions to ask. Of course the festival has changed in the past 25 years. To think otherwise would be shortsighted – the needs of two and a half decades ago were very different than those today. Perhaps the right questions to ask would be directed at the human behavior that caused such tragedy – how could that have been prevented, and is it a case of SXSW, the availability of alcohol, or simply an individual’s intoxication and reckless actions?  Let’s get to the root of the problem, rather than simply scrounging on the surface for blame.

Urban Perspective

By | The Good Plan | 7 Comments

One of the things I most greatly valued  at the University of Vermont was that nobody took the surrounding natural beauty for granted. A postcard-worthy view of the mountains was never overlooked, and there was a somewhat fulfilling sentiment that came from watching passersby consistently turn their heads 90 degrees, taking in the light over the mountains. It was a moment to feel fortunate about where you are and the things that are bigger in life. Bigger than tests or roommate troubles or the collegiate broken heart. I remember an evening class which would break once per week so the entire class could climb the fire escape and watch the sunset.

Urban beauty is different. Mountains and treelines are replaced with street art and lighted facade. We’re lucky to have the water in Baltimore. The film noir feel of the dusky ships on Keith Avenue and South Clinton Street, the pattern of the city from the 13th floor. We have ducks and the occasional urban-safari worthy animal spotting, and the ability to walk to the end of the pier and hear relative silence. Perhaps a fog horn in the background. While there are moments of horror, such as the low-laying waterfront landings after a storm and rat roadkill, there are elements of our city – any city – with character and grace.

I was reminded to slow down and look at things differently after a Fast Company article crossed my path. Tracing a tiny Lego photographer on an urban quest to see the world, the photographs were a reminder of how mundane and everyday patterns are often, dare I say, pretty.  I’ve spent a significant fraction of my life working in the outdoor industry, reminded that there are kids who grow up without parks, who have never been on farms, who have never been surrounded by trees or bumblebees. Though as I’ve come to learn cities, I realize these worlds of concrete are not without beauty. Lights reflecting on the water or the sunset in my rearview mirror still make me pause. The evening ride from Tide Point on the water taxi in the blackness of winter shows me a skyline every Baltimorean should make a point to experience. A rooftop deck on the fourth of July, the farmers market under 83, the man with the telescope in the middle of South Broadway. The urban landscape is often made beautiful because of the wooden boards or rain-soaked pavement which we work so hard to ignore.

While I often ache to see the stars and escape the sound of sirens, living in the city has forced me to redefine those things that help me breathe and remind me to reflect. I wonder if we were all a bit more adept in appreciating our landscape for the beauty it holds, if we’d work to make it better and add to it, rather than tearing it down. If we’d emphasize street art and ways to engage and enjoy, rather than throwing an empty bottle out of our car window as we pull onto Fayette Street. Perhaps a city doesn’t fit the traditional definition of beauty often affiliated with a bucolic pasture, but we have a moon and stars here too. We just have to look a little harder to see them.


The Rundown

By | The Good Plan | One Comment

In a deviation from the biweekly rant and rave on one thing in the world of planning, TheGoodPlan is pleased to present a current rundown of … well, several things in the world of planning:

It Snowed.

Yes, dear Baltimoreans, our godforsaken winter isn’t over yet. And while I’m keeping sane with salt sprays and irresponsible trips to the Caribbean, I cannot escape the cold or the snow forever. This past week, winter storm Pax blanketed us with more of the cold wet white grit, causing us to hunker down, bundle up, and express our displeasure through wails of desperation or clenched teeth of remorse. In the planning world though, the snow created a visual map, indicating places we didn’t need to tread. Coined “sneckdown,” snow has added a new lens – and abbreviation – to the transportation term “neckdown,” used to refer to the sidewalk extension occurring at a crosswalk. Bear with me. When we shovel snow or remove it from our path of travel, we’re leaving a physical indicator that the space is used and desired. Piles of untouched snow, however, indicate the realm of public space that isn’t desirable, isn’t traveled upon, and isn’t used. This essentially means that our still snow-covered roadways are showing the planners and the engineers that there are spaces in the street which nobody uses. Due to the seasonality of park benches and plazas, the sneckdown is most effective with traffic and on roadways, but the concept of how much extra space we have is pretty cool to think about.

Source: Twitter User Prema Katari Gupta

Source: Twitter User Prema Katari Gupta

It Rained.

It continues to rain in the United Kingdom. Reportedly the worst rainfall in 250 years, winds over 100 miles per hour are pummeling homes and forcing the Prime Minister to scrounge up money for emergency management and relief services. While a plethora of organizations plan preemptively to protect against forces of nature like earthquakes and hurricanes, it may be time for planners to take a more realistic approach to combat increased rainfall and extreme heat. While floating schools and Waterworld-style planning is hypothesized and entertained, the reality of extreme weather is here and now. It’s time for planners to focus not just on disaster relief due to an unprecedented force of nature, but relief from climate change induced storms.

Source: Daily Mirror

Source: Daily Mirror

Sochi Isn’t Perfect.

THE OLYMPICS AREN’T PERFECT (did you read my last blogpost?). The Twitter account @sochiproblems blew up in popularity, gaining over 110,000 follower in two days. Through snark and wit, @sochiproblems documented the yellowed water, bashed through bathroom doors, and fallen athletes (no, truly, athletes who have fallen over). Despite criticism for posting photos without context or timeliness and for portraying an ethnocentric level of entitlement, the account brings Olympic problems to the human level.

Source: The Independent

Source: The Independent

Southeast Baltimore Activates.

With crime rising in the southeast district, two floors of standing-room only residents and tenants packed house this past week to discuss city actions. With Mayor SRB present, word on the street was that Commissioner Batts was the true star of the evening, providing direct answers to tough questions. As a resident of the neighborhood in question, this past week has featured an increased police presence on the roads and a rise in awareness when walking from place to place. The hope and approach to crime prevention is to stop crime before it starts. And kudos to all the residents who attended the meeting. Apathy is not alive here in the district.

IMAGE CREDIT. [Wikimedia Commons].

My Love for Olympic Sized Disasters

By | The Good Plan | No Comments

The Olympics are my circus. Like politics to the Daily Show or Justin Bieber to CNN, the months leading up to the biannual exhibition of athletic prowess and city makeover are the zenith of planner porn. Imagine a city somewhere in the world, trying to achieve someone’s dream of hosting nearly every other country in the world, spending millions of dollars to participate in a two-year bid process, only to realize, upon winning, they must spend tens of billions of dollars to build just the right number of hotel rooms, construct venues that will potentially crumble after a two week usage, and expect an increase in infrastructure pressure from tourism, athletes, friends, family, traffic… it is of the Olympics that I am obsessed.

The temporary use of space is something that has always fascinated me. Similar to Burning Man or the annual pilgrimage to the Ganges, cities have forever shouldered the expectation and burden of temporary human influx. Often, the mass hysteria of invasion comes and goes without a lasting scar. Burning Man prides itself on the desert being left as it was found:

It isn’t as easy for the Olympic Games, though, to take down what has been constructed and let it blow away with the dust. Every year I scour articles and anecdotes of planning visions gone awry. The forced removal of homeless people for the Beijing Olympics, the collapse of the new stadium for the World Cup, crumbled Olympic venues, and cities like Lake Placid New York who still hang on with all their marketing might to their Host City days … of 1980.

Just as much fun as the pre and post game speculation of course, is the cleverness and creativity of the world around the Games at a more human scale. For example, the London Games sparked an incredibly creative cabbie, who overcome the hotel shortage by turning his cab into a one bedroom suite.

Hosting The Games is a significant gamble, exposing a nation to the international maelstrom of critique. Russia continues to receive criticism and protest on human rights, gay rights, terrorism, and budgetary outlay on the road to their games. Let us not forget that an inordinate number of individuals have already been SET ON FIRE by the so-called cursed Olympic Torch relay. The Economist, bless their souls, features a triple sow-cowing Vladimir Putin on the cover, skating in circles around a fallen Russian skater. The cover cleverly captures the suspicion that countries will endure for host city notoriety, no matter what the toll on their country may be.

That migrant workers were shipped out of the city or Russia’s atrocious record on gay rights has been exposed is of little consequence to the organizers, unfortunately. The host country will brush past all of this to spend obscene amounts and build architectural wonders in order to capture their two weeks of worldwide visibility. It almost seems like no lessons have been learned from the past, where certain cities haven’t ever truly recovered from hosting the games. Economically, the cost is significant. Politically, the potential impact is great enough to warrant a gold medal worthy attempt. Here’s hoping that exposure on the world stage will have more of a lasting impact on Russia’s values than the mad scramble for the Olympics will have on its landscape.

IMAGE CREDIT. Wikimedia Commons.

The Livable Divide

By | The Good Plan | One Comment

A recent article in The Atlantic Cities entitled The Dramatic Makeover of New York’s Streets Under Bloomberg featured a before and after video of the changed urban landscape from 2005 to the present. Upon viewing, you see bumper to bumper traffic disappear, replaced by tables and chairs in Times Square, unpaved industrial roads transformed into designated bike lanes, and the integration of greenery and formalized bike shares, creating an entirely new experience for those who stop, stay, or move throughout the area. The landscape is moving from scenery outside a window to earth under our feet. It is theorized by planners and mayors that those who experience a place from touch and feel, are perhaps more likely to take care of it. Facilitating human involvement will ultimately lead to greater care taken. These changes are executed with the underlying goal of increased interaction, engagement, and visibility for both humans and place.

City planning is presenting the opportunity for people to get outside, sit down, and slow down; spending a few key exploratory minutes engaging with their environment in a different way than previously possible. An emphasis on making cities walkable and bikeable aims to remove people from cars and give them the opportunity to walk or ride. The way our landscapes develop changes the way we interact, and are able to interact, with the surrounding world. Cities have created more opportunity for us to see a place by walking, rather than driving through. They’ve cleaned up parks so people can experience urban greenery, rather than avoid places filled with menace and illicit activity. Giant chess and checkerboards activate spaces, presenting us with a new way to experience that which surrounds us. Building or creating a place with the intent to engage makes a community feel cared about. But what of those places that don’t benefit from this care? A revolution in digital technology has created both unprecedented communication and connection and a gaping digital divide between those who have access and those who do not. What about those places on the other side of the “livable divide”?

Bikeshares and circulator routes help individuals and families access a greater area easily and more quickly, but for those without that access the absence of transit options keeps whole neighborhoods segregated from greater opportunity. The absence of landscaping improvements or streetscape installations in these clusters of poverty demonstrates a lack of attention and communicates indifference, giving off the air of not caring to engage the people or not caring about them at all. Those who live in these places are left only with their own resilience. Lack of investment represents not only neglect, but abandonment.

That impact on the psychological landscape is the most crucial element, especially for the young. Just as the digital revolution is transforming intellectual development in children and providing an unprecedented opportunity for self-expression, the transformation of the physical landscape is shaping young minds. The openness and care embodied in livable places both reflects and inspires the purpose-driven life millennials are so eager to pursue. From obesity to economic opportunity, the built environment for those on the wrong side of the livable divide is stifling that promise. As we work to open up our cityscapes and build a meaningful sense of place where people can flourish, planners and politicians must not close their minds to those whose everyday existence prevents them from getting to a better place.

#SaveBmore: The (mis)use of Power

By | #SaveBmore, The Good Plan | One Comment

I began thinking about the #SaveBmore idea in a really clichéd manner: “We need more love!” I wanted to write, before sensing all of your eyes roll collectively. Snoop Pearson’s Instagram account almost inspired me to compose a diatribe about respect, as 80 percent of her posted photographs raise middle fingers to the camera. That failed too, as did crime, homelessness, and taxes. These were failures because all my preliminary ideas blamed someone else. I found I was projecting blame, rather than taking ownership of it. Blaming guns or the economy or the actions of the police didn’t make me part of the solution, it simply made me point fingers at the perceived wrongdoings of others. In order to #SaveBmore, I would have to take on part of the responsibility.

My lightbulb moment came when I questioned not necessarily what I can do, but whether or not I actually do it — that’s when I realized the answer to saving Baltimore is all about power.

Power is a supremely complex concept. Fueled by our ability to relate to others, build our credibility, speak the right words, and play the right cards at the right time, it is the key to getting what we want, and to guiding others to act the way we feel will create a better future. Where I see the great problem in Baltimore is that power is often abused, misdirected, or left to rot — untouched and unused. As I find my professional self in rooms with influential individuals, I often think about the power they have and the power they’ve used. Some seem to use their power for good, whether that translates into public speaking, creating things that are beneficial to others, or hiring that kid who has never held a job before. Others have power through money, and donate graciously, using dollar bills and signed checks to guide their influence in what they believe are areas of promise.

And yet there are also many who hoard their power, perhaps believing that taking no action makes them more desirable, or makes them seem more powerful to onlookers. Abuse, misuse, and the refusal to use power is the reason we can’t get ahead in this town. At a recent meeting where several individuals pushed for increased public transit shelters around the harbor, the request was met with a resounding no — ‘case closed.’ What struck me was not the no itself so much as the refusal to even justify the denial, an attitude that’s far too common in our fair city. Somewhere, I thought, there’s an individual with the power to make lots of people happier and more comfortable, and they refuse to do so. That routine refusal by those in power — whether to create more bike lanes, question arrest policies, or approve a shelter — is what keeps Baltimore from reaching its greatest potential.

But I said I wasn’t here to blame others. The fact is that we all have power that we refuse to exercise — whether out of fear, ignorance or inertia. We can heal, create, speak up, and — where necessary — act out. A few of us even have the ability to exercise power through a signature or an endorsement. I believe Baltimore will be saved not simply through the recognition of our own power, but the courage to exercise that power. Every moment we don’t is another time we shirk our responsibility — to use the power to create change that we are all fortunate enough to hold.

IMAGE CREDIT. [Wikimedia Commons].

The Caped City

By | The Good Plan | 3 Comments

If you were anywhere on the media sphere last week, you most likely heard about Batkid, a 5 year old San Francisco boy named Miles in remission from Leukemia. Miles was granted a wish through the Make-A-Wish Foundation. His wish, as you may have gathered, was to be a superhero for the day.

But this wasn’t a ‘meet a celebrity in the isolation of a hospital room at the children’s ward’ wish; this was a full-fledged, 20,000-attendee spectacle of humanity throughout the City of San Francisco. In addition to the publicity of Wish execution, the support for his wish was what went viral. The Foundation reported that the total reach from all social media users who used the hashtag #Batkid or #SFBatkid was 1.7 billion people. That’s more than the population of the United States, India, and Mexico combined.  Essentially, nearly one quarter of the entire population in the world learned about Batkid and saw the City of San Francisco in an unbelievably positive light. The city made Miles a pint-sized hero in a pleather cape, but Miles made a hero of his city.

The humanity as demonstrated by San Francisco was a reminder that our cities can be hubs of good, if and when we choose to work together or are united by something bigger. I don’t know the details of those who flooded public plazas and sidewalks that day. I don’t know if they skipped work. I don’t know if they answered the Make-A-Wish call for volunteers My hunch is that they weren’t there for fame or recognition, or that many of them had ever given money to the Make-A-Wish foundation before. Instead, they showed their support through presence – exercising their social capital to belong and participate, rather than sit back and write a check, maintaining anonymity and removal from the cause.

Miles’ day was assisted by entities around the city: social media, newspapers, actors, mascots, costumers, government officials, the U.S. Attorney’s office, event planners, the police department, and lest we forget, the President, who made a Vine for the little guy. All of this was undeniably moving and admirable, and it made me wonder if this same outpouring of support would have been shown in Baltimore. Or Miami. Or Detroit. Or Nashville.

What is it about San Francisco that facilitated the outpouring of support exhibited by Batkid’s 20,000 onlookers. According to a variety of rankings, San Francisco was ranked the #1 city by in 2012. Together with Bloomberg Rankings, the center evaluated 100 of the USA’s largest cities on attributes around leisure, education, economics, crime, and the environment. San Francisco is walkable, the citizens are highly educated, and its apparently one of the happiest cities in the world, so perhaps the fact that the majority of its citizens are far removed from the worries of crime, isolation and poor health allowed them to unite in the outpouring of Batkid-based support.

Communal resources may make a difference, but personal wealth or poverty seems not to. Comparing the volunteer capacity in San Francisco with the capacity in Baltimore, and on a greater scale, the capacity of those in rich states to those in poor states, I wasn’t able to find a correlation.The three richest states based on average household income: Maryland, New Jersey, and Alaska, have 27.6%, 22.6%, and 22.6% residents volunteering respectively. The three poorest states, Mississippi, Arkansas, and West Virginia, have 25.8%, 23.2%, and 22.7% of resident volunteers respectively. Looking specifically at cities, San Francisco has 31.8%.

Based on this quick glance at the numbers, it doesn’t seem that household income plays a defining role in volunteerism. Whatever the variable might be, Miles and Make-A-Wish were able to draw themselves together through something bigger. People came out to support not because they had more money than anyone else, but perhaps because they live in a city that facilitates joy, activity, culture, and education. We have Miles to thank for saving Gotham, but it was also the City itself that saved the day.

IMAGE CREDIT. [Instagram user @phippsadelphia].

A Shot of the Past

By | The Good Plan | No Comments

As a visual learner, I’ve always struggled with remembering dates and time periods. I associate more with story or memory. Much like the buildings in our city, things mean more to me when I know where they came from or what they used to be. A rowhouse is a rowhouse, but when I learn it used to be an old funeral home, for example, it becomes unique and memorable.

In this light, I’ve thought much about the education of ‘things’ and the enhanced respect I glean for a place or an object when I know where it comes from. When you learn about the past, when something has a story, it demands understanding. A few months ago, I was asked to research the distilling process for a potential work project. In learning about the history of the drink, I uncovered a side of Baltimore to which I hadn’t given much thought. Beer and Boh are everywhere in this city, but there’s more to our city’s drinking past than the urban spring water we’ve long since outsourced to North Carolina.

In the 1700’s, Rye production was prominent in Pennsylvania and Maryland, where Scottish and Irish immigrants settled. Farmers found barley — the key grain ingredient for whiskeys — didn’t grow well in this soil, though rye and corn did. Bourbon — made up of at least 51 percent corn — and rye — made up of at least 51 percent rye grain — seemed the obvious choice for distillation, and since it was easier and more profitable to distill rather than ship surplus grain, rye found a new home.

In the 1900’s, industrialization accelerated and whiskey making was transported to the Susquehanna River Valley. Many of the Maryland whiskey makers vanished, but the concept of Baltimore Rye caught on. Small distilleries were established throughout Maryland, though a high whiskey tax during the Civil War made production unprofitable. By 1933 Maryland led the nation in rye production, producing 14 million gallons in one year.


Sadly, the drink lost its luster. Alcohol was diverted for military use during World War II, and afterwards the public’s taste began to favor scotch, bourbon, Canadian blends, and gin. Many farmers moved to Kentucky where they helped sow the lands of bluegrass and bourbon. By 1972, Rye whiskeys were all but gone from bars. The president of Pikesville Rye laid down his last batch of Maryland rye at the Majestic Brewery in 1973 and told a Sun reporter he had enough rye to “last seven or 8 years.” By 1982 he had sold the building, the formula, and the remaining inventory, shifting production to Kentucky.

Perhaps the greatest transition, though, was not the geographical relocation of grains and distilleries, but the respect we show the spirits we ingest. In 1962, Sports Illustrated quoted “The exemplary behavior of Preakness patrons has been attributed to the fact that Maryland rye whisky, given a base of crab meat and fried chicken, is known to have the effect of steadying the gait, sharpening the vision and clearing the mind of all but the most kindly thoughts.” Read that. Read it again. This was before vomit and beer cans littered the infield and a fence was put up SO WE DIDN’T GET HIT BY A HORSE.

Once upon a time, there was class to the drink. So much of what was once a classic tradition has been replaced by excess — a capitalization on filling the gap of necessity with something that will get the job done quickly, giving no regard to the past, and fulfilling the need without a glimpse to the future. One could say the same about development. When it comes to cities, we know I’m a romantic — a romantic for identity and belonging, for finding a place that will hug you in all four seasons and welcome you home at the end of the day; a place that belongs, and where we belong. With better education — much like learning where we’re from, where our food was produced, and what our ancestry may be — we can live more present lives.

(With thanks to for a wealth of local knowledge.)

Overwhelmed by the Terrors of Tomorrow

By | The Good Plan | No Comments

Earlier this week, my acupuncturist asked  if I could ever imagine living in a pain free world, without the chronic head or back aches that brought me to her in the first place. A conversation on the doomsday mentality followed. I discussed how I could never disillusion myself into thinking I could one day have a pain-free life, but rather I do what I felt most people do, live with a mindset that accepts things they way they are, and then responds in kind. Why, and how could we live with fruitless hope?

The conversation made me think about how our society has trained itself to create a market around the doomsday mentality. I feel like I less frequently read about inventions for a world of equality than I do about inventions in response to fear.

Several months after Hurricane Sandy, after the articles on recovery efforts and rising insurance costs, there were the articles on building new resilient cities — floating schools, and planning for the sinking of coastlines throughout the next century. After the BP oil spill there were articles on a world without seafood, and this past week, an article on an art exhibit entitled ‘Ghostfood,’ made my skin crawl, as it proposed the provision of oxygen tubes, allowing people to experience the taste of chocolate, since one day it is forecast that all chocolate will be gone.

I’m torn by these premonitions. While preparing for the generations to come is a responsibility of our time and a socially responsible application of our acquired knowledge, I wonder how much of this projection of a destitute and deprived future is taking us away from our ability to revel in the present and solve the problems at hand. Is it possible to enjoy where we are right now, and what we do right now, tearing ourselves away from the future mentality of destruction without being seemingly irresponsible? Fighting against segregation and immediate issues such as the 1% vs 99% is one thing, as it affects our ability to respond and evolve, but is there more detriment to a productive emotional state if we insist on focusing on the coast-less chocolate-less, water world of our future?

If sending people into space for $250,000 should take precedent over ensuring the children in the Delta (or Baltimore City, for that matter), are educated. If we should be growing petri-dish-produced hamburger instead of taking a more active response to the poachers poisoning watering holes in Africa. If we’re living in a world where we do nothing but proselytize the proposed resolution to destruction, are we overlooking our ability to prevent, or heartily postpone this destruction in the first place?

Focusing more on the now, having contests deisgning higher seawalls or hurricane proof homes should take precedence over what the world wiould be like without fat belly tuna. Teaching urban farming may be a better option than theorizing on which place is going to be the new New York City when the current one has gone the route of Atlantis.

Imagine the difference if we could see the change created by our actions, if the knowledge we had was applied in a way that helped people more immediately, allowing us to believe the world would get better. If we could see the ramifications of our actions in our own lifetimes, instead of the solutions that exist hundreds of years away. What if people saw good and felt change, would that shift the way we care about the places we live and the world around us? I argue that it would. Running community meetings where people can see change does worlds more than the mentality of residents in the communities repeatedly positioned as guinea pigs, studied by a semester-long workshop of college students and presented with a report that then sits on the shelf. Seeing change may allow us to change our mindsets; allowing us to picture a pain free world because we see change for the good, instead of the repeated and infinite promise that generations from now, people will thank us.

IMAGE CREDIT. “Apocalypse” by Ignacy Gierdziejewski, Wikimedia Commons.

Should Memory Hinder Progress?

By | The Good Plan | One Comment

This past week, a friend sent me an email titled ‘Very Worrisome.’ In the body of the email, she referenced an article from The Baltimore Sun on Vacants to Value and the demolition of rowhomes in certain parts of the city. A historic preservationist living in New Orleans, she was distraught that the unique architecture of our city was being eradicated in the name of revitalization.

I responded to the email, validating her concern, though I suggested that perhaps these houses were beyond repair. Not just in their structural integrity, but in their institutional memory. I love that term – institutional memory – where we assign a value to a place based on our own experiences; what we’ve read, what we’ve heard. But it can be a hindrance to acceptance of change.

When applied to these houses, or these shells of houses, I told my friend that perhaps the institutional memory was justification enough in the razing of this housing stock. “…The city has been tearing down houses like crazy in these areas,” I wrote, “ as we’ve found the oral history is more prevalent in keeping people away. It very much is a blank slate approach — clear the structure, clear the history. In truth, these places are so unbelievably scary and infrastructurally un-sound that I can’t imagine anyone investing in rehabbing them as-is, or moving into these neighborhoods. Its one thing for historic structures that are old and beautiful and on a well traveled path, but V2V is tearing down scary, scary places that do nothing but represent our city’s decline and deterioration.”

I cited my work with Ayers Saint Gross on what we informally call ‘the Last Mile,’ defined as the segment of the Amtrak corridor as you travel into Penn Station from the east. Looking south from the train, the homes are blown out, vacant, dilapidated, and unwelcoming. I hypothesized that maybe it really isn’t all that bad to start anew if the memory of a place is so tainted. While this friend argued that vacant lots turned gardens and parks don’t garner the same weight as a revitalized home, I argued that perhaps the places need a new story to tell, and certainly plowing down these homes wasn’t ridding the city of its historic housing stock. As many of us know, Baltimore has many, many more rowhomes to choose from. Yes, this was selective destruction, but it wasn’t architectural eradication.

And yet our relationships to place are complex, and demolishing or transforming a space doesn’t mean we erase its memory. As a planner, I feel that history can either encourage or hinder the ease with which a place is redeveloped: a beautiful old mansion would be easier to redevelop than a home where someone was murdered. This argument came full circle last week when the Apex Theater was auctioned. As the last remaining adult theater in Baltimore, this structure has one hell of an institutional memory. Whatever this theater becomes, how long will it take for people to stop referring to it as “the old Apex Theater?” How long will it take me to stop referring to the Under Armour campus as “Tide Point”? And while many may roll their eyes and say, ‘let it go,’ is it really such a bad thing to remain connected with a place through what once was?

IMAGE CREDIT. Wikimedia Commons.