Baltimore report: Admiration and dismay

Experts' study notes `unfulfilled potential' along with progress

Five days of scrutiny

April 10, 2001|By Meredith Cohn | Meredith Cohn,SUN STAFF

An international team of urban experts brought in to study Baltimore's redevelopment efforts departed with "admiration for the city's progress and dismay at its unfulfilled potential," according to a report released yesterday.

The report was a result of five days' worth of study by more than 50 experts from 24 countries. All at one time had been fellows at the Johns Hopkins University Institute for Policy Studies, according to Sandra J. Newman, the institute's director.

The assembled experts reviewed topics including redevelopment of the city's housing stock, industrial areas and west side of downtown, as well as stabilization of vulnerable neighborhoods and promotion of entertainment and leisure development.

They then looked at the 16-month-old administration of Mayor Martin O'Malley to see if its policies address what they believe needs to be done.

"It's intriguing and gratifying to see the high degree of congruence between their views and current city policy and practice," Newman said. In all the areas, the experts said, city policies should - and often do - capitalize on Baltimore's unique attributes, such as its waterfront, in steering development.

The city should also emphasize pedestrian access, green space and neighborhood preservation, they said.

When considering redevelopment potential, the report said:

On the west side, Baltimore should preserve its old buildings and urban flavor. The experts said emphasis should be placed on grocery, specialty and other retail shops and restaurants as well as green spaces, homes for the arts and high-density housing.

On housing, 55,000 of the city's total of 302,000 housing units are unoccupied, and blight is a severe problem. The response should be to focus limited resources in neighborhoods that are on the cusp of decline. There, the city should increase demand for homes with incentives, reduce supply, upgrade physical quality and take action against drug houses.

On vulnerable neighborhoods, residents should be involved in developing plans that encourage, among other things, self-sufficiency and improvements in the physical condition of buildings.

On entertainment and leisure, the city should capitalize on all of its assets by spreading focus from the Inner Harbor outward to historic districts such as Mount Vernon and Fells Point. Attention should be paid not only to tourists, but also to current and potential residents.

On industrial areas, master plans should be developed rather than promoting conversions of old mills and plants on a case-by-case basis.

The experts also said redevelopment of industrial areas would have more success if they were done along with surrounding communities.

All the plans assumed that the city would simultaneously work to combat "crime and grime."

Mayor O'Malley, who accepted the report from the institute yesterday, said he was pleased to see his policies basically on target.

O'Malley acknowledged that his policies are not perfectly applied; lack of money is a factor; and improvements will take time.

But he said government has a big role in redevelopment of the city.

"We need to protect home investments, protect business investments and promote more private investments," the mayor said.

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