Thursday, February 28, 2008

Universities step up to the plate of City Redevelopment

The Wall Street Journal recently wrote an article about universities across the country becoming major city developers and de facto planning commissions of their own neighborhood. The main focus of the article was on the University of Pennsylvania's (UPENN) $2 Billion redevelopment of a 42 acre parcel on the Schukill River, which separates the campus from downtown Philadelphia, that will include a 50 story plus high-rise.

Proposed UPENN redevelopment site

Focusing on UPENN, which has been lauded by many developers and universities outside of Philadelphia for successful redevelopment and partnership with surrounding neighborhoods and the university, leads the question of whether having universities as a developer or a de facto city planning agency is ultimately a good thing for cities.

The answer would seem obvious in UPENN's example, the redevelopment of the site will bring over 4,000 new jobs and the University has the resources and capital that the city of Philadelphia does not, with UPENN almost having an operating budget larger than the entire operating budget of the city. There is a down side that is not talked about, especially in UPENN's example outside of Philadelphia. UPENN's continues growth beyond it's campus whether it's for university use or economic development growth has uprooted many long term residents and has almost totally cleared some neighborhoods original character.

While change is inevitable, many neighborhoods adjacent to UPENN feel that change is only accommodated when the old neighborhood is completely removed and their needs go unaccounted for as new residents reek the benefits of new amenities that long term residents never had. Many long term residents do not feel their neighborhood were gentrified, they feel their neighborhoods were steam rolled over by the university.

With the previous example in mind, one has to wonder about the danger of having a university, which is still a private entity take on de facto planning roles that should be handled by a city planning agency which could help better integrate existing needs of a neighborhood with the the new demands of a university. If Universities are left alone solely to be the developer they may only look out for the interests of their clientele which are the students and faculty who are a lot of times of a different socio-economic class then the residents of adjacent neighborhoods and expect different needs and services.

So what is your opinion of Universities becoming major developers or de facto planners? Has University development been successful or unsuccessful in cities where you live? Let us know.

Reclaiming a historic restaurant in Baltimore

Yesterday the Baltimore Sun reported that the Baltimore Development Corporation (BDC)reached a deal to buy the historic and iconic Chesapeake Restaurant which is located on Charles Street near Penn railroad station. BDC proposes shops, restaurants, a gallery and condos for the site.

Excerpt from the article:

"The BDC selected Station North Development Partners LLC in 2005 to build Chesapeake Square - then proposed as an estimated $40 million to $50 million project with shops, restaurants, an art gallery, subsidized artists' lofts, a 91-unit condominium tower and 11 townhouses."

This deal is not only important in providing commercial activity near Baltimore's train station which is currently almost non-existent or out of visible sight to travelers but will help invigorate the Charles North community which is sandwiched in between the prominent neighborhoods of Charles Village to the north and Mount Vernon to the south. Filling in the gap of development along Charles street can only make the corridor stronger and help revitalize the intersection of Charles Street and North Avenue, which is one of the city's most prominent intersections but has been in decline for the last three to four decades.

Currently there are some positive signs that the crucial intersection of Charles St. and North Ave. is coming back online with the redevelopment of the North Avenue Market site but there is still signs of a weak market with the failed redevelopment of condos on Calvert Street just a few blocks away which was also in close proximity to the train station.

Hopefully, the new proposal by BDC will provide a stronger link to the train station as well as provide more density and amenities to the site and neighborhood that will attract potential residents and frequent passerbys from the city but also from the much coveted D.C. commuter crowd as well.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

The Next Slum

The Atlantic Magazine recently wrote an article titled, The Next Slum, about the rapid decline of new suburban tract housing as the real estate market takes a down turn and homeowners are now making life style changes to live closer to where they work. The suburbs of Charlotte, which have been particularly hit hard by the real estate crises as has many communities across the nation, has seen McMansion neighborhoods that were built during the real estate boom of a years ago turn into slums.

Atlantic Magazine writes:

"At Windy Ridge, a recently built starter-home development seven miles northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, 81 of the community’s 132 small, vinyl-sided houses were in foreclosure as of late last year. Vandals have kicked in doors and stripped the copper wire from vacant houses; drug users and homeless people have furtively moved in. In December, after a stray bullet blasted through her son’s bedroom and into her own, Laurie Talbot, who’d moved to Windy Ridge from New York in 2005, told The Charlotte Observer, “I thought I’d bought a home in Pleasantville. I never imagined in my wildest dreams that stuff like this would happen.”

Who would have ever thought that suburban tract housing located in the fringes of American cities would become America's next slums. What is your opinion? Have you observed any suburban blight in your local metropolitan region?

To read the entire article, click here.

Monday, February 18, 2008

Designers push to make cities more female-friendly

Late last year, the USA Today wrote an article about Designers pushing to make cities more female-friendly. The article explores what the City of Philadelphia is doing to make a safer and comfortable environment for women, especially in districts where more than 2/3's of the households are headed by females and over 2/3's of the elderly are female.

This blog has previously made post about the lack of female designers of urban space and this article by USA Today points out the need for a better planned urban environment that is accommodating for everyone’s needs. Issues such as neighborhood violence, crumbled sidewalks, poorly lit streets, multi-story rowhouse stairs that make it tough to carry strollers or walk with a cane not only may disproportionably affect some women but also children and the elderly as well. The article argues that all of these factors create an urban environment that is not contusive to walking which is creating several health concerns for some women in these environments.

Excerpt from the article:

Consider these statistics:
  • There are 118.5 million women in the nation's central cities and their suburbs, more than half the urban population.
  • About 17 million women in those areas are age 65 and older — almost 60% of the total number of seniors in cities.
  • Women 65 and older are three times as likely as their male counterparts to live alone.
  • More than 14 million women live alone in cities.
  • More than 23 million women are heads of households.
  • More than 60% of those who care for an older person are women.
What is your opinion?

An Inner City Staple...Check Cashing Stores

Through out many of Americas’ inner-city commercial corridors you will find Cash Checking stores or liquor stores that have cash checking services. In many inner-city communities Cash Checking services have replaced Banks, which have either closed down or fail to see a viable market for investment. While residents of inner city communities have a higher probability of having poor credit that would not allow them to open a checking or saving account, the lack of any banking institutions hurts a community’s chances for reinvestment and redevelopment.

Furthermore, many Check Cashing services charge high fees to a community that is already strapped for cash and may help continue bad spending habits for residents who have never a checking or savings account. To be fair, check cashing is a needed service for many people for varied financial reasons. The problem is that in the inner-city; Check Cashing services are over represented and often times replace banks as the primary financial service institution for these neighborhoods.

The combination of check cashing services and rent-to-own services in communities with poor or limited knowledge of banking will leave them vulnerable to paying higher fees and interest rates for their financial services as well as leaving them vulnerable to predatory lending such as “Payday loans.” So not only can Check cashing services lead to a lack of positive financial investment in inner-city neighborhoods, it often leads to a continuing cycle of disinvestment which will make communities even poorer and more of a financial risk to banks to invest in the neighborhood.

So what are your thoughts on check cashing services in the inner-city? Do you feel that this is a needed services that has some flaws or do you feel that stronger action needs to be made against check cashing services to help protect inner-city residents?

Recognize: Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture

The National Portrait Gallery is showcasing an art exhibit about Hip Hop called Recognize: Hip Hop and Contemporary Portraiture that will focus on photography, painting, graffiti, film and poetry. As some of the older readers know, this blog focuses a lot on Hip Hop because it is the only American genre of music that was created from the inner-city with almost no outside influence from anyone outside of the city. This blog always like to show the intersection of Hip Hop with cities and city planning. Any exhibit showcasing Hip Hop will inherently show the art, creativity, culture and mindset of the inner-city.

An excerpt about the exhibit from their website:

"Since it's inception in the late 1970s, Hip Hop has become hugely influential in America. While the images of Hip Hop performers are as pervasive in our culture as the music itself, some visual artist have created powerful images that both celebrate and explore the complexity of this creative form. These six artist and one poet whose work is included in RECOGNIZE! have approached Hip Hop culture through the lens of portraiture, and, in combination, their contributions highlight it's vitality and beauty."

For more, click here to go the site's website.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Flashing Lights...A look at City Billboard Signs

For many local and large businesses, signage is crucial in identifying a store's location as well as for advertising to attract potential customers. In any city across the globe, businesses compete with each other to grab customers' attention with billboard signs that can be seen for several blocks away. Over time these billboards signs have become larger, brighter, more colorful, more creative, controversial, celebrity endorsed and lately, digital signs with moving graphics.

Today numerous cities are beginning to question whether billboards have become too distracting to drivers and whether these signs posing a public safety hazard. Before cities begin to think about restricting billboard signs, here is a look at Billboard signs from across the globe:

New York Billboards

Times Square Billboards

Hong Kong



Unknown city

Friday, February 15, 2008

For the Baltimoreans...A Housing Conference at Towson University

Metropolitan Dilemmas and Solutions... A focus on Housing in the Baltimore Region

Wednesday, March 5th, 2008 - Towson Unversity, Potomac Lounge - University Union

From Towson University's website:

Housing is an issue that unites us all whether we live in Baltimore City, Baltimore County or the surrounding Metropolitan region. On Wednesday, March 5th, 2008 community organizers, activists, politicians, foundations and academics will bring their expertise on housing issues in the Baltimore Region to Towson University for Metropolitan Dilemmas and Solutions. Please join us for an educational and strategic experience on where and how we live in this place we all call home.

Featured Topics:
Community development corporations
The effects of gentrification
Sprawl and base realignment
Subprime mortgages
The credit crunch… and more!

For more infor, click here.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Whites to become minority in U.S. by 2050

A Febraury 11, 2008 AP article showed by 2050 Non-Hispanic whites will make up only 47% of the population and the Latino population, who will be responsible for 60 percent of the population growth until 2050, will account for 29% of the population. The Asian population is expected to nearly double and the Black population is expected to remain stable at 13%.

To read the entire article, click here.

As America is becoming more urbanized it is also interesting to see if also becoming moee diverse. It will be interesting to see whether population diversity will translate into have diverse viewpoints on space, land uses, density and housing structures. Different cultures have different ideologies on how they utilize space and housing structures. For example a large immigrant population may desire to have housing with multiple bedrooms or may require to live near public transit.

What is your opinion? Do you believe, future immigrant populations coming to American cities will assimilate to current design standards or do you believe they may have an effect in changing development and zoning codes to adapt to their cultural norms?

What people eat around the world

A family in Beijing, China showing the amount of food they purchase a week

For the first time in history there are more people living in urban places than in rural areas. With an increased demand of food from cities and a dwindling population of farmers all across the globe, the importance of providing food to everyone in this world has become more critical than ever. Right now, there are 2 Billion people in this world that live in slums. Before we plan the next great development for people to live in, we must first plan to make sure we can feed everyone in this world first.

Here is an interesting website showing the amount of food and how much their weekly budget is for food. Also, check Talib Kweli's, Eat to Live and Mos Def's, New World Water.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

Presidential Revival

Ok, for all the Baltimoreans, Marylanders, Virginians and Washingtonians reading this blog, make sure you go out and VOTE!

Here below is a fuzzy cell phone pic of the Obama Rally that was held last night in the Baltimore Arena (a post about the Arena is soon coming). This blog is called Urban Revival but last night's rally surely looked and felt like a true Revival.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Preserving Historic Black Neighborhoods

The AP has recently written in article about the historic preservation of subdivisions that were built for blacks. This issue has often been somewhat of a touchy issue because the argument is about preserving the cultural heritage of a neighborhood instead of the aesthetic character or the significant age of the site. Factors that work against these sites in historic preservation is that some of the neighborhoods have lost their cultural significance as the black population has dwindled out or was displaced and these neighborhoods are often times not as old as the typical historic neighborhoods already in the inventory of historic places.

Many historic, culturally rich black neighborhoods have already succumbed to development and gentrification while others are still fighting to keep their cultural identity. Examples of historically black neighborhoods that have completely lost their identity can be seen in Philadelphia in the Society Hill neighborhood which was the basis of W.E.B. Dubois's ground breaking anthropology, The Philadelphia Negro. Other neighborhoods that are struggling to maintain their identities include the iconic black neighborhoods of Compton, CA, Harlem in New York City and the Atlanta neighborhood of Dr. King which is already listed in the register of historic places.

Here's an excerpt of the article:

"Some of the early black homeowner neighborhoods around the country are trying to win historic recognition before their place in the history of homeownership fades. The residents want to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places, which would make them eligible for federal tax credits or grants for historic preservation. ... Persuading black property owners to seek the designation can sometimes be difficult because some equate preservation with gentrification or higher taxes."

For the entire article, click here.

So what are your thoughts on preserving neighborhoods based on their cultural identity and history?

Friday, February 8, 2008

Unfamiliar Skyline Series...The Caribbean

Port of Spain, Trinidad & Tobago

Kingston, Jamaica

Havana, Cuba

San Jaun, Puerto Rico

Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic

Thursday, February 7, 2008

The Cityscapes and Photo montage of Romare Bearden

Romare Bearden's life was full of movement. Born in 1912 in Charlotte, North Carolina, Bearden's family moved shortly thereafter to Harlem where their apartment was a popular meeting place for intellectuals such as W.E.B. Dubois as well as artists during the Renaissance.

In 1925, Bearden moved to Pittsburgh where he eventually graduated from high school, and later came back to New York, obtaining his bachelor's degree in mathematics from New York University.

The painter eventually joined the "306" group and continued his study of European painting which was later to exert a heavy influence on his work. After serving in the army for three years, Bearden studied philosophy in Paris at the Sorbonne, returning to New York afterward to paint.
The Street

Photo Montage, 1964

Pittsburgh Memories

Berkeley - The City and it's People

Rocket to the Moon

The Baltimore Urban Forest Project

Check out this new sustainability project in Baltimore. From their website:

The Urban Forest Project is a growing national exhibition working in conjunction with the Times Square Alliance and World Studio in NYC. Tilt Studio Foundation, Inc. is located in Baltimore and we discovered this project when it ran in NYC last fall. We are introducing the Urban Forest Project to Baltimore in the Spring of 2008 from April 11th-June 27th.

The project brings together 200 artists, designers and College students, 75+ K-12 students, and another 100+ businesses to produce a visual story based on the image of a tree and the idea of sustainability. Each participant was asked to design a banner, to be hung throughout Baltimore City. The banners will lead visitors to Druid Hill Park, Wyman Park Dell, Herring Run Park, Patterson Park and Carroll Park. In each park, we will have installations and day long events that help to promote and drive traffic to the park

After the closing, the banners will be recycled into tote bags and sold as original works of functional art. All proceeds from the project will benefit the Baltimore City Department of Recreation & Parks Tree Baltimore Campaign for a greener city. The best thing about Baltimore: The Urban Forest Project? It produces no waste!

For more info, click here.

Monday, February 4, 2008

The lack of diversity in Architecture and Public Space

Architects have the awesome task of defining the spaces that we work and live in. The creation of this space can be for aesthetic beauty or for simple functionality. Architects can define space by light, shadow, color, massing, materials, repetition, objects and so on. Ultimately these spaces that Architects create that we all live in, reflect their culture or their clients' culture through space. These spaces help give us index clues on the values and mindset of the larger overall culture.

The spaces that have been created in America have often been very Euro-centric. While America boasts about it's ever increasing melting pot, the defining of space through an Afro-centric viewpoint has been absent from the stew. Moreover from race, studies have shown that women might perceive space differently then men, especially in dealing with conformability and safety. While women have made significant inroads in the male dominated profession of architecture, the percentage of licensed black architects is still at 2 percent. The percentage for black women in architecture is even more abysmal. Here is an excerpt from a story in Architect Online last year about the percentage of black women in architecture:

"First, the good news: The number of black women licensed to practice architecture in the United States has quadrupled over the past 15 years.The bad news? That number is still only 196."

By the article's percentage, black women only make up 0.02% of architects in America. So the question this blog poses is, How does the lack of diversity in architecture affect public spaces?Please comment and tell us your opinion.

Stumping for Obama

Check out this February 4th article in the Baltimore Sun about the Democratic Presidential nomination race which features a nice blurb about Donnell Zeigler, the main author of this blog.


Carrying a clipboard with printed lists of Democratic voters, Donnell Zeigler, 26, was knocking on doors Saturday in the Hillendale neighborhood in which he grew up, asking voters whether they plan to support Obama. If they said yes, Zeigler asked them to sign the paper. The campaign would contact them later, making sure that they vote in the primary.

"Eighty percent of the people who do sign, they say, come out and vote," said Zeigler, a Temple University graduate who works in the Baltimore County planning office.

Baltimore County has a growing black population, and is considered a bellwether in state elections. The Hillendale neighborhood of brick-faced attached houses built in the 1960s is about 85 percent black, and while many residents were reluctant to answer door-knocks, "once you say Barack Obama, people are kind of energized," Zeigler said.

To read the full article, click here.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

The House that Reagan Built...wasn't built in the 'hood

The GOP often cites former President Ronald Reagan as their icon for the Republican party. Reasons cited for this were Reagan's fiscal policies, the reduction of federal government interference and Reagan's ability to reach across the aisle and gain Democratic support. This current idealist image of Ronald Reagan was further advanced by last week's Republican Presidential nomination debate that was held at the Ronald Regan Presidential Library. All of the GOP Presidential hopefuls have a clear affinity for the 40th President of the United States and were even asked if the former President would have endorsed them as President.

The hero worship given to the former President, leaves one to wonder, Do any of the GOP Presidential candidates realize the negative effects the "Reagan Revolution had on American cities? With 80% of the country living in urbanized locales, is it smart for a political party to rally around a man that cut off so many social programs that were in critical need in many of America's inner-cities as well as preside over a time period when drugs, specifically crack cocaine devastated the inner-city with unpredicted levels of crime and addiction.

In fact some have even called Ronald Reagan the first "Hip Hop President" because of the deplorable conditions he left America's inner-cities that Hip Hop rapped about back then in songs such as "The Message" and songs that Hip Hop still raps about today.

What is your opinion of how Ronald Reagan's Presidency affected cities?

The Green City...The Masdar Initiative

A British architectural firm is teaming up with other architects and engineers to create the world's first first zero-carbon, zero-waste city in Abu Dhabi. Named Masdar City, which means “the source,” the 1,483-acre project will include commercial and manufacturing space dedicated to developing ecofriendly products, housing, a university, and the headquarters for Future Energy Company. The city which will be run almost entirely by solar electcicity that is denerated on site will be a car-less city with a light rail system that will have driverless 'pods' on magnetic tracks to move people around.

An excerpt from the February 3, 2008 article in the Khaleej Times:
"...Masdar — it means 'source' in Arabic — is one of the mostambitious building projects of the last 20 years, rethinking from scratchthe idea of a city, and putting it at the heart of the environment debate.The concept of how it is laid out, and its prime objective of beingself-sufficient and sustainable, should be transferable anywhere, from Chinato Chorleywood."
To view the entire article, click here.

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Explaining 10 myths of urban design

The London Free Press recently ran an opinion article about the 10 myths of Urban Design.
Here is there list below:

10. It's all about front porches. Indeed, building more houses with front porches is important, but it's really about making friendly buildings and attractive street-scapes.

9. It wants to eliminate the back yard. Back yards are important for privacy, but urban design reminds us not to forget the front yard as a place of activity and usefulness.

8. It's all about density, density, density. It's about providing variety and diversity, allowing people to grow up in a single-family home, move to an apartment, then a townhouse, then back into a single- family home, then back into an apartment as their life progresses -- all in the same neighbourhood.

7. It expects everyone to walk everywhere. It's about providing friendly streets and sidewalks and public transit and other infrastructure to entice people to walk more. Nobody expects the car to be eliminated.

6. It is just about the rear laneway. London is fearful of the rear laneway (for reasons nobody is sure of, considering they are all over Old North and Old South, for example). Some can be unpleasant, but there are examples of attractive back alleys in new urbanist developments across North America. Not everyone wants a big house with a big back yard.

5. It will not fit into a "normal" person's lifestyle. What is normal? People may want to drive to the supermarket for the big shop, but do they want to get in the car and face traffic just to pick up a loaf of bread or litre of milk? People want options. They want variety in the kinds of buildings they interact with, variety that makes the experience of living in a community richer.

4. It is just about creating pre-war housing architecture. It's not about replicating Victorian architecture; it's about eliminating repetitive architecture that saps identity from a neighbourhood.

3. It is all about new urbanism or placemaking. New urbanism a catchphrase, but it's about old-fashioned, grid-style developments with a diversity of home types and architecture. Placemaking involves integrating all industrial, commercial, residential and retail areas.

2. It is just about what the buildings look like. No, it's about how we deliver our walking spaces, our driving spaces, our open spaces. It's more than just architecture and landscaping.

1. It is not economically viable. New urbanist communities are thriving across North America. New ones are being built every day. They're sought after by home buyers.

For the rest of the article, click here.

The biggest fears that we encountered locally from developers and communities about Urbanism would be myths 6 and 7. People fear that planners are going to take their struggling suburban commercial corridors and instantly turn them into inner-city corridors.

I also take notice with myth 4, even though good urban design is supposed to make varied styles and sizes to buildings and neighborhoods, too often New Urbanism makes everything the same with the same standard retail chains with very little independent local stores.

Lastly, I agree with the critique of myth 3. Good Urban Design is about placemaking, making a built environment that is healthy and one that attracts people to visit.

What is your opinion of the 10 myths?

Friday, February 1, 2008

TransFORM Baltimore

The City of Baltimore Department of Planning is holding a community open house on Wednesday, February 13 from noon to 1.30pm to outline the highlights of TransFORM Baltimore: The Zoning Code Rewrite.

From the Baltimore Department of Planning's Website:
"Transform Baltimore is a two-year initiative that will develop a state-of-the-art zoning code and thereby streamline the development process. The goal of this ambitious effort is to review, rewrite and replace the existing code (circa 1971) with modern toools that will support and guide City investment, enhance and protect neighborhood character, strengthen retail districts and promote job growth."