Strolling Charles St. via the Web Cybertrip: Merging academia, creativity and the Internet, the UB School of Communications Design creates Estreet, an electronic tour of popular and little-known Baltimore sights.

The Education Beat

February 18, 1996|By Mike Bowler | Mike Bowler,SUN STAFF

High Noon on Estreet.

The tall, dark stranger gets off the train at the north end of town. Squinting at the bright sun, he heads south, passing the opera house and theater on his right. Down Estreet a few more blocks, he strolls into the saloon

Now change Estreet to Charles Street between Penn Station and the Belvedere. The opera house is the Lyric, the theater is the Theatre Project on West Preston Street. The saloon is the Owl Bar.

And the School of Communications Design at the University of Baltimore has made it possible to walk along with the stranger if we have a computer, a modem and access to the Internet.

The UB professors and students have created an electronic village comprising the 16 blocks on each side of Charles between Penn Station and the Belvedere. Through the window of the computer screen, we can explore Estreet (short for Electronic Street), pausing at each major intersection.

And, if we want, we can enter many of the buildings. (There's an aerial map to help us along.) We can explore the nooks and crannies of the city's cultural center, find out what's playing at the Theater Project or the Meyerhoff, delve into the history of the Greek Orthodox Cathedral of the Annunciation, look over UB course offerings and, in the near future, know the location and price of every roast beef sandwich served in Estreet restaurants. (An Estreet terminal is already installed in the Belvedere lobby.)

There's even a poetry reading by Kendra Kopelke, UB's poet in residence who is elevated on Estreet to "poet laureate."

Estreet is, and will always be, a work in progress, said Neil Kleinman, co-director of the design school and one of about eight faculty members who have been working since summer to design the electronic neighborhood and get it on the Web.

"Universities put people and ideas together," Dr. Kleinman said. "That's what we're trying to do here. Of course we're in it to promote the university, but we're also in it to promote the city. We want to draw people into the city on Estreet, not send them away. The city's here, and we don't want it empty."

A sign of Estreet's expansion in the four months since it was conceived is that its builders no longer know how large it is. They do know that there are some 150 photos and drawings along the street. Nancy Kaplan, associate professor in the School of Communications Design, said Estreet might comprise about 500 Web pages, ranging from a couple of inches in length to "as long as the Torah."

For professors and students teaching and learning about cyberspace, "Estreet is an ongoing laboratory," said Stuart Moulthrop, associate professor. "We've spent sleepless nights worrying about whether something would work. We've gone through phases."

One of those phases, said Dr. Kaplan, was the "we-could" phase. "We were saying we could do anything. We could map the subterranean sewers, for example. But we gave up on that."

The planners also have given up on listing Amtrak schedules, at least for now. "We found that train schedules are one of the hardest things to deal with, and we don't want Estreet to be simply a bulletin board," said Dr. Moulthrop.

Even Baltimore old-timers can find serendipity along Estreet. There are little-known alleys, the carvings of a woman with two children on the exterior wall at 11 East Chase, wonderful color photos of the old and new domes at Penn Station and the recently uncovered old National Boh sign on a wall facing north near Charles and Preston streets. (Because Charles is one-way northbound, few motorists notice the sign.)

How far will Estreet run? Its University of Baltimore planners have what Dr. Kleinman calls "a grand vision" of building a WEBBaltimore for the entire city. (All 182 public schools would be hooked up.) An intermediate idea would be to extend Estreet south and north so that the city's extraordinary corridor of colleges and universities would be connected, from UMAB to Goucher and Towson State.

"Those aren't plans, though. They're just grand visions," said Dr. Kleinman. And they raise many questions. Should Estreet go commercial? for example. Thus far, the experiment has cost about $30,000, some of it provided by area merchants and businesses.

Much of Estreet's construction, said Dr. Kleinman, has been supported by the "sweat equity" of students and faculty.

For now, "while we're thinking globally, we're building locally," he said.

Estreet's Internet address is http://raven.ubalt.edu/es

ACLU suit gets boost

Good news for the American Civil Liberties Union in its lawsuit seeking more state aid for Baltimore schools.

Last week a three-judge panel of the state Court of Special Appeals rejected Montgomery County's attempt to intervene in the case on the side of the defendants.

Montgomery's argument amounted to this: If Baltimore wins, the state will have to rob Peter, the rich counties, to pay Paul, the poor city -- therefore Montgomery has an interest.

Not necessarily, said the appeals court. The ACLU suit simply alleges city children aren't getting the "adequate" education guaranteed in the Maryland Constitution. "The resolution of that issue will not result in an overhaul of the entire state system of local management," said the court.

Montgomery's intervention in a 1979 suit brought by Baltimore and three rural counties not only helped the defendants win the case in the Court of Appeals four years later, it also ran the cost of litigation for all of the parties into the millions of dollars.

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