Ambitious plans for the eastside

May 09, 1994

Life shows that some people are planners and some are doers. Which is another way of saying that even the best plans have no chance of being realized unless people make things happen.

The city has now targeted the vicinity of the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in East Baltimore for one of the most ambitious revival plans since the development of Charles Center and the Inner Harbor. No one is certain yet about the source of financing, but consultants have outlined some challenging goals.

They want to eliminate 1,340 vacant buildings and offer new homeownership opportunities for some 850 families. Many of the decrepit rowhouses would be demolished so that center courts of open space could be created in the middle of existing blocks to give buyers a common area of greenery.

This large-scale demolition would cut the area's overall residential density by 50 percent -- to no more than 25 dwelling units an acre. In consultant language this would "create value" -- make the area more appealing for the large work force at the nearby Hopkins institutions and others.

Traffic rearrangements proposed by the consultants aim at the same goal. They suggest that such busy one-way arteries as Monument, Madison, Wolfe and Washington streets be returned to two-way flow. Consultants also think all traffic should be eliminated on Gay Street between North Avenue and Broadway and that narrow stretch turned into a sliver of greenery.

To provide more job sites, consultants want some parcels rezoned along the Amtrak tracks.

At a recent public meeting, many of these ideas proved controversial. Perhaps they were too novel. But the consultants reminded, "Unless you do something, nothing will happen."

All these plans are to be completed within the next few months. At the same time, a community development corporation will be established to carry them out. There will be a big push for financing. Meanwhile, work is under way to revitalize the old American Brewery site on Gay Street and Old Town Mall.

The Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions are among Baltimore's major employers. Their relations to the nearby communities have seldom been easy but seem to be improving. Cooperation and a shared vision are essential for the realization of the current improvement plans.

Revitalization of East Baltimore is a key aim of a $100 million empowerment zone the city is proposing to the Clinton administration. The city cannot put all of its eggs in one basket, though. East Baltimore revitalization has to happen even if the federal windfall fails to materialize.

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