What Happened to City Renewal?

November 09, 1993

The crises facing a big American city today are so serious and so real that it is easy to become overly discouraged and pessimistic. That's overreacting. History, after all, goes in cycles -- or has so far. The Bronxes, Newarks and Philadelphias of America, which were often-repeated urban horror stories just a few years ago, now are cited as unexpected examples of successful turn-around.

Since the 1970s, when Baltimore's urban renaissance began with Charles Center, this city, too, has had its moments of glory. Visitors have marveled at the changes triggered by the Inner Harbor and the new Orioles ballpark at Camden Yards. But to maintain its reputation, a city needs to be constantly improving.

This Baltimore is doing. New Inner Harbor attractions -- such as the Christopher Columbus Center -- are under construction or on the drawing board. Meanwhile, city development officials are hoping to link the Howard Street corridor, once a bustling retail area, more closely to the Mount Royal cultural institutions by locating galleries and performance spaces in its vacant buildings.

In the spring of 1991, a glossy report called "The Renaissance Continues" was issued to outline a 20-year strategy for downtown Baltimore. That document defined downtown as an area stretching from the Penn Station vicinity in the north to the Inner Harbor. It was bounded by the Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard on the west and roughly by the Jones Falls Expressway on the east.

For planning purposes, that chunk was divided into six districts. Each of them will be examined in a series of public forums that will be conducted at the initiative of the Baltimore Chapter of the American Institute of Architects.

The first forum will focus on the Mount Royal district, home of many cultural institutions and the expanding University of Baltimore. It will be held at 7:30 p.m. on Nov. 18 at the Maryland Institute, Mt. Royal Station, 1900 Cathedral Street.

Subsequent forums, at other locations, will scrutinize progress and prospects at the Inner Harbor (Dec. 16), in the business district (Jan. 20), Mount Vernon (Feb. 17), East Side (March 24) and UniversityCenter (April 21). They will be moderated by M. J. Brodie, a one-time city housing commissioner and a former director of Washington's Pennsylvania Avenue Redevelopment Corp.

At a time when many exciting projects are planned for downtown, this series is a reminder that a living city keeps transforming itself.

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