Angelos touts reviving urban renewal to renew cities

September 13, 1998|By Paul Delaney

PETER ANGELOS is a throwback. Now, there are good throwbacks: recognizing things of principle from the past that may permit progress today; and there are bad: relying on things that don't help move society forward.

Mr. Angelos is on the positive side of the past. That judgment may be too hasty, coming from someone who's relatively new to Baltimore who has met Mr. Angelos only once. But journalists are paid to do quick studies and are expected (at least by readers, family and editors) to make accurate judgments most of the time. That is my disclaimer in case the man is snookering me.

Nevertheless, Peter Angelos is a throwback in his thinking that urban ills really can be solved by principles and programs from the past, that something is askew in today's acceptance by so many of greed as god, that the rest of us are obligated to help the less fortunate and that the government, not globalism or the market, has to be the leading player.

An attractive downtown

I was impressed with his concern for the city, his desire to see downtown busy and bustling again with the excitement of more people residing there and enjoying attractions after work, not dashing for suburbia and exurbia. I share all those beliefs.

Another disclaimer: his statements may be the rhetoric of the politician-businessman looking to make more bucks.

After all, he has a vested interest: He plans to build a new hotel downtown, and he owns the Orioles.

Yet, I'm still impressed and concur with him that downtowns are great and Baltimore's can be revitalized beyond the Inner Harbor and that people can still be lured back to fuse human vitality with the brick and mortar of redevelopment.

He knows that people are the answer, and when they do return they will need a city full of divertissement such as restaurants, clubs, taverns, inns, green space, promenades, movies, theaters and other cultural attractions. He spoke of Baltimore landmarks and legends, parts of the overall scheme, with passion: Lexington Market, the Hippodrome, the old Hamburger building, Charles Center, Hopkins Plaza.

"Downtown has lost a lot of its luster and sheen," he lamented during a recent meeting with The Sun's editorial board.

But he was speaking of most American downtowns over the past few decades. Like Baltimore, they are still experiencing a complete remake; already, most have a different look and feel about them despite poverty and scars. Chicago and San Francisco come to mind.

Some are farther along in their renovation: Boston, Philadelphia, Washington, even Cleveland. Houston, Dallas, Los Angeles and Phoenix are . . . well . . . another story in their sprawl and multi-downtowns or pseudo-downtowns.

Architecture, obviously, had much to do with the remake in most cities with totally new skylines.

Where Mr. Angelos is a throwback is not in trying to get Baltimore to replicate other places, but in how it should be done. He suggests the old-fashioned way: federal urban renewal. Recent private development gave us the Manhattanization of America, some of it pleasing. But overall, it was like new clothes covering dirty underwear.

In the 40-plus years since suburbia and the freeways brought doom to the cities, no one has found an effective way to attract goodly numbers of people back downtown as residents. Mr. Angelos recognizes that only heavy government involvement can make it happen.

Mr. Angelos believes the country is moving in the wrong direction with the current focus on money, greed and globalism, and neglect of deepening social problems in the midst of plenty. He is a throwback in thinking that government is part of the solution. And I believe he is correct.

I would hate to see the fate of cities in the hands of the Donald Trumps or Rupert Murdochs of the world. When did you last hear one of them talk about the plight of the underclass or the steps immigrants of the past took to move up from working class -- paths no longer open to current immigrants.

Entry-level and factory jobs were, "the first rung immigrants grabbed when they arrived," Mr. Angelos said. He failed to add that many of the kids of those immigrants are the boomers, yuppies and generation X-ers who are upset with people who they think get too much help from government or other sources. He blamed NAFTA for allowing companies to transfer those factory-type jobs from the United States to other countries.

Safety first

Mr. Angelos stressed that it was absolutely pertinent for people to feel safe downtown before they will move there in large numbers. Even as crime rates decline in big cities, there's still a perception of downtowns as crime-ridden, so a heavy police presence is a necessity. Another throwback: Police are the answer. Mr. Angelos says residents feel safer with cops walking beats.

The city's strict parking policy, which leaves many thoroughfares off-limits to parking even after 6 p.m., is another hindrance to the resettlement of downtown. Mr. Angelos complained about it noting that he fought it when he was a city councilman.

He could have added that the city's traffic engineer must have been asleep since the 1950s to allow traffic lights to remain red for so long that many motorists run through them or ignore right-turn-on-red directions.

While I disagree with Peter Angelos on a few details, like heavy use of police on social problems, we are essentially in the same ballpark as a couple of throwbacks.

Paul Delaney writes from Baltimore.

Pub Date: 9/13/98

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