Untapped potential

Our view : An ambitious plan to redevelop North Avenue is doable if the city touts its assets

November 05, 2008

Even in the toughest times, wise leaders take the long view. That's why a plan unveiled last week by Mayor Sheila Dixon to transform a 100-acre arts and entertainment district north of Pennsylvania Station into a $1 billion cultural crossroads over the next 30 years expresses the kind of ambition the city dare not abandon. To be able to see tremendous opportunity where others see only blight and decay is exactly the sort of forward-looking confidence that allowed earlier visionaries such as former Mayor William Donald Schaefer and businessman Walter Sondheim to imagine a revitalized Inner Harbor and a new Charles Center.

A recent report by the Washington-based market analysis group Social Compact suggests that optimism isn't just for pie-in-the-sky dreamers. Researchers found that Baltimore is home to a significantly larger and richer population than indicated by the last U.S. Census report in 2000. The group estimated Baltimore's population at 663,717, or about 23,000 more people than the Census reported, and its total household income at $13.8 billion, an increase of about $3 billion.

In practical terms, the finding means there's more opportunity for business development and more local dollars to support such growth in city neighborhoods that have been ignored . In the Station North area, for example, which lies roughly between St. Paul and Howard streets and between 21st Street and the Jones Falls Valley, the Census underestimated the population by more than a third and missed 10 percent of the area's household income.

The Station North community has already begun to attract notice for the influx of young artists who are supporting new businesses and renovating properties. The neighborhood's central corridor along Charles, St. Paul and Calvert streets could provide the unifying link between a reinvented lower Charles Village and a redeveloping Mount Royal Avenue community. That would extend the urban revitalization that began downtown with the redevelopment of Charles Center and the Inner Harbor all the way to the Johns Hopkins University's Homewood campus, Guilford and points north.

The transformation of the Mount Royal Avenue corridor over the last decade would have seemed like an impossible dream just a few years ago. But there's no reason dramatic change can't happen elsewhere in the city, and perhaps just as quickly. North Avenue could once again be a grand boulevard if the city can let people know how much its neighborhoods truly have to offer.

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