Reviving Baltimore's east side: a new view of Old Town

July 08, 2008|By Bernard C. "Jack" Young

Beginning this week, the residents and property owners of East Baltimore's Old Town neighborhood will have an opportunity to shape their future by participating in a weeklong planning charrette sponsored by the Baltimore Planning Department. This area between the Johns Hopkins University medical campus and downtown represents a significant development opportunity, which is why the city has selected it for this public "visioning" session.

On the east side of the study area, the vacant Somerset Courts public housing community adjoins the Dunbar and Sojourner Douglas schools at the edge of the Hopkins campus. The western edge is bounded by the Fallsway neighborhood, with its large, underutilized area of parking lots separated by the Jones Falls Expressway from both downtown and Mount Vernon. Between these boundaries, the Old Town community's former Belair Market and Gay Street revitalization areas are mostly marked by vacant land and buildings. By combining all of these areas into one planning district comprising more than 100 acres, the city has recognized the strategic importance of this neighborhood to Baltimore's future.

As the City Council representative for this community since 1996, I believe a comprehensive plan of this type is long overdue for this often-overlooked area. For too long, this community has been seen only as a place to expand the state's correction system, or as the path of least resistance for locating large-scale social service providers such as the recently proposed homeless shelter along the Fallsway. While these uses serve a needy and much-deserving segment of Baltimore's residents, this type of development fails to address the needs of our broader community and lacks creativity, vision and sustainability.

Now, we have a chance to envision a new neighborhood of mixed-income housing, new retail uses and continued job growth, taking advantage of the proximity to Sojourner Douglas College, Hopkins and downtown. In many ways, this area has the potential to become as significant as Inner Harbor East is today, a development that started with a similar visioning effort more than 25 years ago with the city's decision to cancel the extension of Interstate 83 through downtown and Fells Point.

Almost 40 years after the last elevated section of I-83 was completed on the edge of downtown, this new planning effort offers residents and businesses the opportunity to examine the benefits of a proposal to replace this elevated highway with a street-level landscaped boulevard that would add a green edge to the new neighborhood and integrate it with downtown and Mount Vernon.

This planning effort needs to address several goals, including the needs of public and private educational institutions in the area as well as the possibility of creating affordable work-force housing and employment centers that take advantage of existing and proposed transportation options. With the amount of vacant and underutilized land in the study area, development of a new sustainable neighborhood for the 21st century that connects downtown with Hopkins hospital is an achievable vision for the future.

This process provides the city and its residents a major opportunity to set priorities for investing in the area and to make the decisions required to ensure that this expanded vision for Baltimore's east side turns into reality. I strongly urge all concerned citizens and business owners to participate in this process, and I challenge us all to ask, "What if?" and to say, "Why not?"

Bernard C. "Jack" Young represents the 12th District on the City Council. His e-mail is bernard. This week's Old Town planning charrette begins tonight at 7 at Fountain Baptist Church, 1215 E. Monument St.

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.