'New Urbanism' effort targets lagging Harford Road stretch

March 05, 1997|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

Over the past 10 years, a group of young architects known as the "New Urbanists" has gained international attention by designing suburban communities based on old-fashioned principles.

But can their traditional town planning concepts also be used to help energize older urban areas in a city such as Baltimore?

That's the challenge posed by the Harford Road Partnership, a nonprofit group that has hired one of the acclaimed leaders of New Urbanism to recommend ways to revitalize a one-mile stretch of Harford Road, from Parkside Drive to Echodale Avenue.

Starting tomorrow, the partnership will sponsor a weeklong community effort aimed at developing a plan to guide development along Harford Road.

It will be led by an architect from Duany-Plater Zyberk & Co., the Florida-based firm that has gained national attention for its town planning efforts at Kentlands, in Gaithersburg; Seaside, on the Florida panhandle; and other "neo-traditional" communities.

Harford Road has lost vitality as a commercial strip and needs a new strategy to jump-start development, said Karen Strozyk, a resident of Arcadia and volunteer in the planning effort.

"This was a vibrant commercial district at one time, but it's somewhat fallen into decline," she said.

The Harford Road Partnership turned to DPZ because its tried-and-true planning principles have led to some of the most livable communities in the United States during the 1980s and 1990s. It stresses the need to make communities walkable and to have a mixture of uses on the same block.

Community leaders are optimistic that the same neo-traditional planning concepts can be employed to improve the Harford Road corridor, which has always had a small-town atmosphere.

The study area abuts communities such as Arcadia, Beverly Hills, Lauraville and Mayfield.

Mike Watkins, the architect who will lead the planning effort for DPZ, said the firm's goal is to find a way to channel new development so it enhances the quality of life for residents and business owners up and down the corridor.

He said the area is about to get new retailers, including a Safeway grocery store, a Rite Aid drug store and a Pep Boys auto supply shop, and they can be building blocks for other improvements.

"When we're finished, we hope to have a clear direction for the growth of the corridor, and where to put our resources," he said.

The effort is billed as a "community visioning charrette" -- "charrette" is a French word for "little cart," which was used to collect architecture students' drawings just before the deadline for turning them in. The term also is used to describe intense planning efforts involving a community leaders and design consultants.

Watkins said Harford Road, like many urban corridors, has a variety of interests, often conflicting in their objectives. He said one goal of the charrette is to bring all the different groups together so they can discover where they have common ground.

"No one knows an area better than the people who are already there," he said. "It's what makes the project richer."

Watkins said his team would try to develop short-term and long-term strategies for revitalizing the corridor, from redesigning unsightly storefronts to changing traffic patterns.

Watkins said DPZ rarely takes on urban projects such as the Harford Road charrette because they can be so difficult to implement.

But if done right, he said, "it's some of the most important work we do."

The planning effort will begin with a public forum at 6: 30 p.m. today in Room 104 of the Jenkins building on the Morgan State University campus, Hillen Road and Cold Spring Lane.

Subsequent meetings, to be held at the Bell Atlantic Building, 4909 Harford Road, will address issues such as zoning along the corridor, transportation and pending developments.

The closing session will be held in the McKeldin Center ballroom, on the Morgan State campus, at 6: 30 p.m. Tuesday. That's when plans, drawings and ideas generated during the charrette process will be shared and displayed for community review.

Pub Date: 3/05/97

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