Plan Baltimore

February 23, 2006

Baltimore's proposed master plan envisions a city that capitalizes on its affordability, historic pedigree and niche in a prime metropolitan corridor. It emphasizes an aesthetic of a well-designed city, abundantly green and rich in culture. With some caveats and modifications, it could well serve as a template for Baltimore's future physical and social landscape .

Once approved by the City Council, the 187-page document would serve as a guide for spending $2.4 billion over six years on capital projects. The money is used to maintain city schools and other buildings, underwrite community development, revitalize parks and recreation centers and make other physical improvements. That's the main reason Baltimoreans should take a look at this draft plan and decide if it reflects the priorities and areas they would want improved in the city. Public hearings are being held through April 2 to gather citizen comments.

The plan identifies many of Baltimore's features: architecturally diverse and historic neighborhoods, a rowhouse stock that provides affordable homeownership, a panoply of parks and accessible waterfront, a solid health sciences sector and a developing biotech industry. It recognizes the need to make homeownership affordable to more residents, to allow for additional group homes and drug treatment centers and to link new development to transportation hubs. It promotes integrating commercial and residential areas, partnering with universities and advancing the city's entertainment venues.

But the city doesn't control the mass transit system, which it acknowledges. Nor does it have total control over improving the city schools. Both are critical to Baltimore's progress, and each requires consensus and cooperation with the state - not always easy to come by.

The draft plan also offers no new ideas for eliminating the city's 16,000 vacant houses, a blight on many neighborhoods that contributes to crime. But then again, this is a draft. Review and revision are part of the process.

The aspirations for an improved Baltimore where people live near where they work will require a major overhaul of the city's outdated zoning code, a necessity that can't be overlooked. And the city's parks are overdue for a major revitalization campaign.

But the city the plan envisions is taking shape in pockets around town: Look to the west side near the University of Maryland, the development under way within blocks of the Johns Hopkins University, the mixed-income neighborhoods planned in Poppleton and Uplands.

The master plan is about possibilities. For it to be more than a document on a shelf, it must capture the public's interest and earn a commitment from the city's leaders to carry out its goals.

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