2015 Bmore Resilient Design Competition: Most Feasible Design – Community Path

1502_Most-Feasible

Team: Jack Carroll, Soo Lee, Adam Louie, Todd Connelly, Sadie Dempsey | School: University of Maryland
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Project Narrative

Many of East Baltimore’s traditional rowhouse neighborhoods¹ have failed to be resilient because of social and economic issues affecting the entire city¹. In order for these neighborhoods to become resilient, these larger problems must be addressed, in addition to improving the environmental resiliency of individual houses.

Our proposal enhances the existing structure and provides interventions at the scale of the rowhouse and the block. The typical rowhouse structure is preserved, but the houses are renovated to improve environmental performance and reconfigured (if necessary) to provide more flexible and diverse living arrangements. The existing street grid and urban character of the block are emphasized, and certain buildings and open spaces are adapted in ways that address the environmental, economic, and social issues that must be solved to achieve resiliency.  The Middle East and Broadway East neighborhoods were built from the same rowhouse template repeated block after block, a model that served the working-class families of a century ago but no longer works today.  Resilient cities cannot rely on razing and rebuilding entire neighborhoods each time the needs of the community change, a method that minimizes the charm and ties to history that make Baltimore special.  Our proposal builds on the existing conditions within the neighborhood and provides opportunities for the community to adapt as needs arise.

We propose a pedestrian and bicycle path parallel to the Amtrak tracks that connects the interiors of blocks, creating a series of nodes of urban agriculture and/or boutique industry that activate the communities. Within this competition’s site, a woodshop and hydroponic garden are located along the path, and where the path intersects the street, a co-op sells the food and wood products.  A small community center sits adjacent to both the public street and a more secluded greenspace for residents.  Commercial businesses are at the corners of the block—a coffee shop, pharmacy, and bar.  Some of the rowhouses are combined to form larger homes, some are divided into apartments, and some are kept as they are.  Modular units that fit on the roofs allow for more flexibility for growing families or rental income. Where a group of rowhouses are planned to be demolished, a new ADA-compliant apartment building makes the block more accessible for the elderly and disabled.

Connectivity to the rest of the city is one of the keys to resiliency.  Communities cannot live in isolation; instead, they must rely on and strengthen their neighbors so that their city can take full advantage of the economic and environmental efficiencies of urban areas. The street grid of East Baltimore provides good connections, and our proposal reinforces that system while introducing the path as an additional connection for bicycles and pedestrians.  The path transforms the tracks from a barrier and dead zone into a source of activity and life.

The co-op and shops within the block will also draw people from across the city, as will the nodes of activity in other blocks, such as the planned Baltimore Food Hub² to the northwest. Our proposal anticipates future connectivity beyond our site—south on Collington Avenue towards the new Henderson-Hopkins School and JHU medical campus, the potential continuation of Prentiss Place to the east, and the extension of the path to other blocks along the Amtrak line. The current bus stop on Patterson Park Avenue is maintained, since it is the community’s gateway to the city’s public transit network, and any future improvements to that system would also benefit the community.

A strong community is resilient because it can recover from the inevitable challenges that every community faces. Our proposal addresses unemployment in the neighborhood by providing economic opportunities through the urban farming, woodshops, co-op, and retail, as well as the aforementioned connections to other parts of the city.  The sense of community is strengthened by the public open space, the community center, the ability to participate in the co-op, and the identity provided by the woodworking shops. Traditional owner-occupied rowhouses increase the residents’ stake in the community, and our proposal preserves the practice of ownership. The improvements proposed for the rowhouses are primarily made of wood so that their fabrication and maintenance can be accomplished within the community. The quality of life and health of the residents are also improved by the fresh foods available from farming and private gardens, safety provided by well-defined and visible open spaces and gated alleys³, and better air quality and heat reduction provided by increased vegetation.

In order to remain stable and survive through economic and demographic changes, a resilient community must be diverse.  A neighborhood that consists of a narrow segment of society is destined to struggle as times change. Our proposal provides a variety of housing types that accommodate a wide range of residents:  apartments for single students and young professionals, single- and double-width houses for families of various sizes, flexible arrangements for multigenerational living, and accessible apartments for the elderly and disabled.  At a smaller scale, rowhouses are renovated to express the old and new and celebrate the qualities of both.

Resilient communities and buildings must be environmentally sustainable and energy efficient, but they must achieve that in a reliable and maintainable way. We propose renovating the rowhouses by applying airtight construction, spray foam insulation, low-e insulated windows, sealed ducts, a dual-fuel heat pump (heating and cooling), a tankless gas water heater, and solar panels.  Energy efficient LEDs will be used for lighting, and Energy Star products for appliances.  Rain barrels, in addition to the added green spaces and permeable surfaces, will help reduce stormwater runoffs and conserve water. The greenery and white roof membranes help reduce the urban heat island effect.

Footnotes

¹Pietila, Antero. Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City

²Baltimore Food Hub: http://www.baltimorefoodhub.com/

³Interview with Jeff Thompson, Deputy Director of the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, Inc.

 

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