`Hometown, U.S.A.' reinventing itself

Dundalk: A panel is discussing ways to make the Baltimore County area more attractive to younger families and to build upon its proximity to Baltimore. Reinventing Dundalk

November 02, 2001|By Joe Nawrozki | Joe Nawrozki,SUN STAFF

Now, it's Dundalk's turn.

Dating to World War I, the proud community on Baltimore County's east side is attempting a renaissance that could usher in water links to the Inner Harbor, a tree-lined main boulevard and long-delayed attention to the historic African-American enclave of Turners Station.

"There is a blank canvas to work with, there are no premeditations about Dundalk," said architect Kent Muirhead, vice president of Cannon Design in Baltimore. "Right now, we all have a collage of images, and it's all very exciting."

Muirhead is part of a volunteer effort by the American Institute of Architects that, over the past three decades, has fashioned blueprints for changing 140 cities, including Austin, Texas; Buffalo, N.Y.; and Nashville, Tenn. The 11-member team, which arrived in Dundalk yesterday, is headed by Peter Batchelor, professor of architecture and urban design at North Carolina State University.

Once a linchpin of Maryland's economy with steel-making and shipbuilding, Dundalk faces what most older American communities grapple with: an aging housing stock, outdated infrastructure, crime and fewer young families moving there.

Batchelor has said that one priority could be making it easier to get from Baltimore to Dundalk.

The Urban Design Assistance Team's seven-day workshop, which is under way, is based in the gymnasium of St. Rita's Roman Catholic Church, less than a block from the historic Dundalk Village Shopping Center. The shopping center and neighborhood of 815 stucco houses were designed in 1918 by Frederick Law Olmsted Jr., son of the designer of New York's Central Park. Many community leaders want to revive the center with trendy shops, a refurbished Strand Theater and a streetscaped Dundalk Avenue.

While many of the village's old businesses sit empty and some neighborhoods attract real estate speculators, others remain strong -- evidence, some say, that the spirit of Dundalk hasn't flagged.

"The community has always celebrated its spirit, its patriotism," said sociologist Scott Holupka, a Dundalk resident for 35 years.

"This project has helped us realize that the past is not our future and that we need a more organic connection to the city," Holupka said. "We've long been incorrectly stereotyped, because we sit on a peninsula, that we're insular. Most people lived and worked here. That's going to change."

The Dundalk Renaissance Corp., a fund-raising and leadership group, and a steering committee of neighborhood workers began the project in January. The corporation has raised more than $14,000 to go with a $30,000 county grant helping to fund the study. The price tag for any makeover of Dundalk is unknown.

County Councilman John Olszewski, a Democrat who grew up in the area, said one of the primary objectives will be to address housing concerns, such as the low-income Yorkway Apartments.

"For Dundalk to survive and grow, we have to attract young homeowners," he said. "The community has to be more accessible from the city and Beltway. And you do that with new transportation ideas, new businesses."

At 10 a.m. tomorrow, local leaders and the design assistance team will take part in a public forum in the lecture hall on the Dundalk campus of the Community College of Baltimore County. (Among the many proposals made to help transform Dundalk's image is to restore the college's old name, Dundalk Community College.)

A session on commercial and retail issues is scheduled for 1 p.m. Victor Hoskins of Urban America, a firm that invests in older properties, will be among the speakers. A discussion will follow.

Design assistance team members will brainstorm throughout the week and post conceptual sketches as they meet and talk with residents, said project manager Jane Willeboordse, of the county Office of Community Conservation.

"At our first public meeting in October, a gentleman stood up and said `We gotta get Baltimore to love us,' " said Willeboordse, an architect who worked on an urban design assistance team project in North Carolina in 1994. "That's part of it, but we have to reach out across all age groups, from the seniors who want peaceful parks to the kids who want more modern sports facilities."

On Wednesday, the final concepts will be displayed from noon to 2 p.m. at St. Rita's, Willeboordse said.

"This is helping us finally understand who and what we are," said Ed Parker, a retired high school principal and president of the renaissance corporation. "I've lived here my entire life, raised my five children here. It's Hometown, U.S.A., a place Norman Rockwell would have liked. People have to want to come here, though."

The Dundalk renaissance has energized Courtney Speed, a longtime resident and activist in Turners Station, a mostly black enclave on Bear Creek whose strong men made steel at Bethlehem Steel Corp.'s Sparrows Point plant -- in the 1950s the most productive steel works in the world.

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