Guilford may get barricades

August 18, 1994|By Peter Jensen | Peter Jensen,Sun Staff Writer

An article in Thursday's editions of The Sun about the proposed installation of traffic barriers in Guilford incorrectly reported the name of the president of the Guilford Association. His name is Timothy D. A. Chriss.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Four days after an elderly couple were found beaten to death in their Guilford home, city officials will propose erecting traffic barricades on four streets linking the wealthy North Baltimore neighborhood to less prosperous communities to the east.

The proposal follows years of complaints by Guilford residents about nonresidents taking shortcuts through the otherwise quiet streets of the tree-lined community.


But the plan took on a greater urgency in recent weeks with heightened concerns over security after the death of an elderly couple last week in their home. That incident was the latest in a series of violent crimes to shake Guilford this year.

"The city was approached four or five months ago by the Guilford Association about this plan, but it has taken time to determine what kind of impact it would have on traffic," said Vanessa Pyatt, spokeswoman for the city's Public Works Department.

"These streets are local, and we have determined this should have a minimal impact," she said.

The plan, to be unveiled at a Guilford community meeting tonight, would close Southway and Bretton Place at their intersections with Greenmount Avenue. Farther north, where Greenmount becomes York Road, barriers would be installed across Northway and Underwood Road. The barriers could be erected as early as next week.

Timothy D. A. Cross, president of the Guilford Association, declined to comment on the proposal, but it seems likely to win favor with local residents. As early as 1985, Guilford homeowners pushed to limit traffic access to their neighborhood.

"Then, the issue was stadium traffic," recalled Councilman Anthony J. Ambridge, a 2nd District Democrat. "Now, the issue is quite different. It's public safety."

The proposal could have an impact beyond Guilford's borders. Reducing access to city neighborhoods runs counter to conventional urban planning that touts an unobstructed "grid," the interlocking north-south and east-west pattern, as the most efficient way to move traffic in high-density areas.

But the idea does conform to a philosophy called "defensible space," which has recently become popular with city planners and housing officials. It holds that urban neighborhoods can greatly reduce crime and improve the quality of life simply by breaking up some grids with cul-de-sacs.

Oscar Newman, a city planner and architect who originated the idea in a 1972 book, said yesterday that he believes Guilford might be a good candidate for such a change. The former professor of architecture at Washington University in St. Louis has visited Baltimore twice this year to consult with city officials.

"I think we're headed to a point where sections of cities vulnerable to crime will adopt this philosophy," said Mr. Newman, president of a nonprofit research firm in Great Neck, N.Y. "Criminals are finding Guilford a great place to pick up change. You can burglarize a car or house, get out of there and use the money to buy drugs."

In Dayton, Ohio, a conversion of one neighborhood, Five Oaks, to defensible mini-neighborhoods, each with only one combined entrance and exit, lead to a 67 percent drop in traffic and half as many violent crimes, according to recent report.

Drug dealers, prostitutes, muggers and other criminals are reluctant to enter a neighborhood with limited points of retreat, Mr. Newman said. Reduced traffic makes residents feel better about venturing outside their homes, where they can keep closer track of comings and goings, he said.

"In certain areas of the city, this concept could work," said Charles C. Graves, Baltimore's planning director. "The whole concept of defensible space is to give greater sense of community by limiting access points."

Ms. Pyatt said Guilford would serve as a first test of this philosophy. "If other communities want to do this, we're going to work with them to accomplish it," she said.

Racial, class issues

But the proposal also raises issues of racial and class divisions. Guilford's eastern barriers would separate the neighborhood from Pen Lucy and Wilson Park, where residents are lower-income and predominantly black, not from wealthier and whiter Roland Park or Tuscany-Canterbury to the west.

"In the 1985 discussions, there was a tinge of classism involved," Mr. Ambridge said. "There could be a perception of that again."

Still, city officials point out that most of the other communities they are studying for applications of the defensible space philosophy are far less privileged than Guilford. Pen Lucy, Sandtown-Winchester and the neighborhoods north of the Johns Hopkins Hospital top the list of candidates.

"I can see where there could be cases where this could cause friction between neighborhoods," Mr. Graves said. "That's something that should be considered."

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