Wednesday, December 23, 2009

Urban Art Helps Detroit Cope With Hard Times

In a city laid low by hard times, surprising sights are popping up on the streets of Detroit.

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Big City Attitudes

The stereotypes that you often hear are that small towns are friendly and that big city are rude, unfriendly places. I don’t know if that stereotype is still true in some places or if it was ever true but here on the east coast it’s almost impossible to gauge the small town from the suburb or ex-urb of the big cities. The east coast at times feels like just one giant metropolitan area especially from D.C. in the south to north of New York City in Hartford. The “small towns” that are in between these cities are often never more than 45 minutes to a city beltway or an hour from a city line and they are probably now filled with people who are now making an hour commute of more from the city.

So with this spatial mismatch of people the idea of a true small town to me is lost…or maybe it’s just lost along the I-95 corridor. As a community planner, I know of whole inner-city communities (usually ethnic-nationality or single industry communities) that literally picked up and moved into an outer ring suburb and then picked up and moved again to a further ex-urb. While those communities may have been long separated from their inner-city roots, they certainly maintained their inner-city characteristics, which are both good and not so pleasant at times. Like most northeastern and Midwest cities, there has been a purging of all types of communities leaving the city for it’s suburbs which now blurs the imaginary line of city and suburb leaving little distinction between the two in some parts.

Now when my family first moved to the Baltimore suburbs in the mid 1980’s, there were definitely some “Leave-it to Beaver” type neighborhoods. The neighborhoods where you would drive by and everyone would just smile and wave at random strangers. While appearance wise, those neighborhoods are still around; the people in them are definitely not around anymore. In fact there are very few of those “Leave it to Beaver” type neighborhoods around anymore, even in the ex-urbs. The stereotypical “big city attitude” is found everywhere throughout the east coast and most prevalent in the Mid Atlantic.

But what’s most ironic about “big city attitude” myth is that the nicest people I have met on a day to day basis, whether it be a neighbor or a random stranger are the people actually living inside the big cities. For all the flack that New York City and Philadelphia get for being rude, inhospitable, uncouth places, I have received the warmest greetings from total strangers in these big cities then I ever have in the suburbs of Baltimore and D.C. While it’s true the people living in bigger cities maybe more direct and aggressive, I bet you will be treated more kindly by strangers in Midtown Manhattan of Center City, Philadelphia then you would in downtown Baltimore or D.C.

What’s your opinion on this? Anyone else have any similar or different experiences?


BlackAtlas Travel Expert Nelson George takes you on a trip through Kingston. View more of Nelson's videos online at

Los Angeles

BlackAtlas Travel Expert Nelson George takes you on a trip through Los Angeles. View more of Nelson's videos online at

Friday, December 11, 2009

All things being equal, I'd rather be in Baltimore

A freind of mine on facebook recently said in his status update that:

"You know I hear people say all the time...'I'm sick of Baltimore and I can't wait till I leave'....well make sure you are leaving for a good reason because I guarantee you that after a while you are going to get sick of wherever you move to if you are not doing anything positive. Every place is like the next place without motivation and a game plan!....move for a reason and not an excuse."

Great point. I have definitely been guilty before about complaining about the lack of night life in Baltimore and wanting to leave for a bigger city. Both of my parents are from Philadelphia and when I was young I would always go up for weeks at a time to stay with relatives during the summer and visit them during holidays in the winter. It was from these visits that I fell in love with Philly and just the general feeling of being in a big city. Even though I lived less than a year of my life in Philly after being born there, I would even tell people growing up proudly and directly, I'm from Philly. The truth was I really a kid from suburban Baltimore who happened to visit Philadelphia often.

So ever since I was a kid, I have always been wishing to be somewhere else than Baltimore. Somewhere bigger. Somewhere more grand. Somewhere more flavorful. I never really appreciated Baltimore for what it was because I was too focused on what other cities had that Baltimore lacked. Throughout my childhood I would go back and forth from Philadelphia by train and by car and I would marvel at how fast the bigger city moved, the skyscrapers, the different cultures, the subways, the trolleys, the elevated trains. All Baltimore had was a bus and subway line that did not run on my side of town.

So when it was time to go way to college, naturally I choose to go to school in Philadelphia to no longer be a visitor but a resident of a big city. I enjoyed my time there, I soaked up everything Philly had to offer. The museums, the night life, the history, the sporting events, the culture, everything. The big city was everything I wanted it to be but also everything I did not expect it to be. The big city was colder. The big city made you rush and become brash because everyone was trying to hustle to get over. At times the city felt too dense, it would take sometimes an hour to get to another side of the city and park. The big city did not have much open grass and trees but had a lot of brick, concrete and steel. The big city was not laid back and relaxed.

After college was over, I got a job opportunity to go back to Baltimore. While I would certainly miss Philly and would love to move back, a part of me was relieved to go back home. Being back home made me relaxed again. Over the next year, I would travel back and forth from Philly to visit old friends when I realized something. I had spent my whole life wishing to be somewhere else only to get there and realize it wasn't what I thought it would be.

Don't get me wrong, I still got a lot of love for Philly and I would still move back there...if the situation was right. I would go back with my eyes wide open and I would not just jump back to the city at the first opportunity. So you would think, I would have learned my lesson about appreciating home but I did not. While back in Baltimore, I would travel south a lot to visit friends and sometimes just wander around in the city of our Nation's capital, D.C. I soon developed an adult wanderlust of D.C. similar to the childhood desires I had to be in Philadelphia.

Unlike Philadelphia, D.C. was not a big city. D.C. had a very similar scale to Baltimore but just exuded an overabundance of sophistication and hipness while still keeping a neighborhood charm from within its local neighborhoods. D.C. had what seemed like an endless amount of beautiful women and lots of young folks with money who spent it on the numerous megaclubs, clubs, lounges, restaurants that were defacto lounges, bars, entertainment venues that seemed to trump Baltimore's nightlife.

D.C. is a small city but I would have endless amounts of fun or course with the nightlife but also going to different museums, checking out it's many hipster-like neighborhoods and going to random cultural events. Everything was pretty much within walking distance of the Metro, which is one of the cleanest and best subway systems I have been on. Once again, all Baltimore had was a bus and a subway line that did not run on my side of town.

While I have never moved to D.C., it is only an hour away and I have come to really know the city through my frequent visits. And while I still love the town for it's endless amounts of beautiful women and nightlife, the amount of money you would have to make to enjoy said women and nightlife is outrageous. The amount of hours you would have to work to afford a lifestyle where you could enjoy the nightlife on a regular basis would run you ragged. And if the cost of living doesn't run you ragged, the horrible traffic and parking in D.C. and its surrounding areas will. One weekend of receipts from partying in D.C. often makes me appreciate the cheapness of my favorite local bars in Baltimore that much more.

Would I still move to D.C.? Maybe. D.C. has a lot of great neighborhoods and places with a lots of scenery and things to do. While I'm sure those places are nice, they are not quite home though. While in comparison to other cities, Baltimore may be small and laid back but I kind of dig that about my hometown. Here, I move around with ease. There's nothing here forcing me to move faster then I want too and there's no need to try to show off to keep up with the Joneses. This city allows you to be exactly who you are and not much more. Could it stand to have a better nightlife, transportation system and an overall hipness to it? Absolutely.

But all things being equal, I'd rather be in Baltimore.

Friday, December 4, 2009

Recession = No Holiday Cookies

Before the recession wiped out many local developers by practically halting almost all new construction, developers, law firms, engineering & landscaping firms, etc…used to send local government offices all types of snacks and treats during the holidays. Nothing major, all the catered snacks and such were very nominal and were meant for everyone in the office to enjoy. We used to receive almost a dozen different trays of cookies, brownies, candy and other holiday snacks. This one law firm in particular used to send us this huge tray of these small gourmet cookies. The incredibly soft cookies came in three different flavors, chocolate, snicker-doodle and my personal favorite chocolate fudge. There had to been at least 150-200 cookies on this tray and within two hours the whole tray of cookies would be devoured.

I write this because normally on a long Friday workday during the holidays, I would snack on all the different type of goodies to get me through the day. This year, there have been no cookies delivered to the office, much to my chagrin. Along with no cookies there have also been almost no new development…well at least in any consistent development. Fortunately I have been involved in several community plans that have provided more then enough work to keep me busy. Unfortunately the same cannot be said for my sometime oppositional counterparts, developers and attorneys. I feel for those guys and gals. Though sometimes was have to work in opposition of each other, after several years of working with them, you really get to know them. Hell, they give me cookies every year.

So this post is dedicated to all the people in the planning and engineering related fields. It’s been a tough year for all planners, architects and engineers alike on both the public and private side. Although significantly more tougher on the private side. I know more then a few planners, architects and engineers that have lost their jobs this year. While I know that development and the way we developed projects before the recession will probably never be the same again, I do hope for a rebound in more sustainable, transit influenced, walkable development and not the return of more strip shopping centers and residential sprawl.

So for all of the struggling planners, architects, landscape engineers, construction managers, engineers, permit runners and local planners, I hope there will be more development for 2010. And I hope that next year the holiday cookies will return.

Thursday, December 3, 2009

One night in Baltimore

The nightlife blogger for the Baltimore Sun newspaper takes Benji Lanyado of UK's Gaurdian Newspaper on a tour of the city's bars and clubs.

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

The Answer is Back in Philly

And so is the population.
Philly grew by 93K people in the last decade.

I knew the city had to be growing, there has been too much new development and new restaurants opening up in the city during a recession for the city not to be growing. And from being in the city in 99 to visiting there recently, there is a different vibe and energy to the city. There are a lot more things to do in Center City now besides just go to South St and Old City. There's positive development in North Philly since...the early 1940s?, South Philly is gentrifying like crazy and University city is becoming more then just a college neighborhood but a destination.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Baltimore - Nina Simone

Ill Song, Im surprised a local rapper hasnt used this beat and hook before.