Coldspring at 15

December 25, 1992

Within just a few miles of one another in Baltimore City stan three remarkable planned communities. They span more than seven decades in changing urban philosophy and architectural thinking: Roland Park, Cross Keys and Coldspring.

Roland Park was one of the earliest planned suburban communities in the country, a celebration of turn-of-the-century Victorian tastes and the genius of the skills of the Olmsted brothers.

Cross Keys, built in the mid-1960s, was a precursor of the Rouse Co.'s larger and better-known experiment, Columbia. That Howard County development's town center idea and blend of mixed uses were tested in Cross Keys, which happened to be just down the hill from Roland Park.

Coldspring -- across Jones Falls Expressway from Cross Keys -- in turn was the municipal government's attempt to make Baltimore City more attractive to middle-class families in search of affordable housing in a suburban setting. "This development is as important to the lifeblood of this city as is its commercial development," Mayor Thomas D'Alesandro III declared, when planning started in 1971.

Fifteen years have elapsed from the day when the first residents moved into the distinctive cinder-block deckhouses Moshe Safdie designed for Coldspring. Instead of a 3,800-unit community Mr. D'Alesandro envisioned, only 250 town houses and a 150-unit senior citizen complex have been built.

A cluster-home community this small could not attain many of its ambitious goals. It never became a powerful magnet able to counteract the lure of the counties to middle-class families, for example. Yet Coldspring works. A racially, socially and economically diverse community 15 years ago, it remains so. This in itself is no mean feat in a city where racially and economically homogeneous neighborhoods are a virtual rule.

Over the years, many of the early Coldspring residents moved out because their community's housing choices did not meet their needs. The original Coldspring plan, of course, would have addressed that problem by creating more varied types of houses that would have enabled families to move within the community as their needs changed.

For this reason, we heartily welcome the recent announcement that the long-stalled Coldspring expansion is finally about to begin in the spring. The 47 single-family residences and 55 town houses to be built on a parcel next to Cylburn Park will be larger than most existing Coldspring units. They will have amenities like fireplaces and individual garages that today's Coldspring lacks.

This new section, known as Cylburn Hills, could be an important testing ground for ideas that might later be adopted in the residential redevelopment of the Memorial Stadium area, for example.

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