Posts tagged baltimore
The (New) Company Town

Alongside the recent flood of news about the Baltimore Uprising, a trickle of stories has been appearing about Kevin Plank, co-founder and CEO of Under Armour, and his plans for Port Covington. A formerly industrial part of southwest Baltimore, including prime waterfront frontage, he faced little opposition and no legacy residents as he amassed 120 acres for $90 million. The acquisition has been done under the auspices of Sagamore Development, a UA-funded company that will also be spearheading construction on the new campus. Plank's vision includes new offices, a whiskey distillery, a makerspace, housing, horse stables, and possibly a new track for the Preakness

The project has glided along on a cushion of goodwill from politicians and business leaders, eager to see UA's job and tax footprint expand in the city. In general, press coverage has not been terribly critical, painting Plank as a Bloomberg-esque figure who is a forward-looking, tech-savvy, beneficent mogul looking to better Baltimore. In reality, he is hewing to a very old script, one with a tangled history of paternalism, racism, labor unrest, and the fragility of good intentions. 

Read More
Alley Walkin' III

I moved to Baltimore six months ago; time has blurred by in a slurry of work, friends, family, design projects old and new. As previously chronicled, I settled on the banks of the Jones Falls, on the edge of Hampden-Woodberry. I live in, and am surrounded by, renovated textile mills, once responsible for 80% of the world's supply of cotton duck. This rough canvas was used primarily for sailcloth and military equipment. 100 years of booming manufacturing brought in substantial numbers of sold, blue-collar jobs, supporting the independent community of Hampden until it was annexed by the city of Baltimore in 1887.

Hampden is situated at the center of present-day Baltimore, but due to quirks of geography it can seem isolated. It is cut off from the west by both the Jones Falls itself and the Jones Falls Expressway; hemmed in on the north by a series of dead-end streets and Druid Hill Park; and peters out to the south into Wyman Park and an industrial maze of one-ways. These factors contribute to Hampden's greater sense of insularity, relatively low crime, stable property values, and overwhelming whiteness in a majority black city

Read More
The Baltimore Rowhouse

This week, I finished The Baltimore Rowhouseby Mary Ellen Hayward and Charles Belfoure, which traces the development of the rowhouse from its English origins on up through the present day. Many cities have certain architectural types -- New York is a city of apartments, Chicago a city of three-flats, and Los Angeles a city of bungalows -- but the rowhouse, more than any other typology, has come to define the architectural, social, and economic fabric of Baltimore. 

Rowhouse construction began in earnest in Baltimore in the 1820s. Narrow (12-14' wide) homes were packed into tight blocks in what is now downtown, the Inner Harbor, and Fells Point. Two concepts from England -- connected superblocks of housing with shared party walls and the idea of "ground rent" instead of land ownership -- spurred development. Ground rent allowed someone to own a house, but not the land it sat on, instead renting the land from a landlord into perpetuity. Ground rents, in turn, could be packaged, sold, and traded amongst landowners, a kind of early derivative investment. Much like mobile homes today, removing the cost of the land from the purchase price made houses much cheaper upfront. Built on a speculative basis, most of the houses sold to people of limited means -- sailors, shipbuilders, shopkeepers, and carpenters. Efficient use of land kept the city from expanding beyond a walkable radius, key in an era before public transportation or widespread private vehicle ownership.

Read More
Wall Hunters

This past week, City Paper published a front-page article, Urban Artillery , profiling the Wall Hunters, a group of activists and artists who use wheat-paste posters to shame slumlords into cleaning up derelict properties in Baltimore. Both Wall Hunters and Baltimore Slumlord Watch have been getting a lot of press lately, even cropping up in the Baltimore Sun. Press is just what they're after, and they are bringing a lot of ruckus to an already raucous conversation about vacant housing in the city. 

Read More
Jones Falls

I have lived in Baltimore for one out of the last ten years, plus a few month's worth of summer breaks. In the course of reacquainting myself with the city, I have taken to walking, an old habit that soothes my mind and settles my bones. My first effort was a transect, cutting down Falls Road and back, an easy loop of about 2-1/4 miles. This walk mirrored, and at times veered into, the Jones Falls, a historic waterway that reveals much about Baltimore's past, its present, and provides a startling vision of one possible future.

Read More