Baltimore Riots … Blame the Urban Planner?

Blame the Urban Planner

With my City in turmoil, I’ve been asking myself about the role of society, citizens, and my profession in contributing to, and then resolving, conflicts like this.

As a practicing Urban Planner who is relatively “fresh” out of grad school (one year, now), I have found myself wondering these past weeks (well, to be honest, my whole life, but especially in these last few weeks) what society must do to remedy tragic and unequal conditions in urban neighborhoods. As a minority majority member in a City whose population is 63% African American/Black, it becomes an issue about race whether you want it to or not (I know, we thought racial inequality ended decades ago…well it very certainly did not).

Being connected to many white people through facebook, posts this past week have created deep chasms between polar opposite viewpoints.

This presentation, which I gave yesterday morning to the Planning and Urban Design team at my office, talks about how structural racism has contributed to a cyclical and viscous inequality among Baltimore’s residents.

Despite its name, the presentation is not so much an attack on Urban Planners, but a criticism of society and urban policy as contributors to urban inequality and the resulting violence. However, the presentation is intended to be a call for action for urban planners and designers, and citizens alike.

Megan_May2015_TeamResearch_lores links

For the Baltimore Newcomer…

If you like…..

Having Random Fun:

  • Climb! Rockwall climbing facility in Timonium (if you go, let me know because I’ve yet to visit!)
  • Red Zone Laser Tag, also in Timonium (never been to this place, but if it’s laser tag, it’s probably fun!)
  • The Pirate Ship (drink as much as you can in one hour while shooting water cannons at attackers—also let me know if you do this because I’ve yet to myself!)


  • Baltimore Coffee & Tea in Timonium, or Zeke’s Coffee in Lauraville (City) retail their blends.
  • There are a number of great coffee places throughout the city (especially Hampden), too.

Radical/Counter Culture: go to Red Emma’s Book Store/Cafe on North Avenue in Station North!

Health Food:

  • Retail: The Natural across from the Fair Grounds, or MOM’s Organic Market off of Ridgley Road in the Timonium shopping center near Michael’s Craft Store.
  • Retail (City)—Mill Valley, Whole Foods
  • Vegan/Veg Restaurants: Liquid Earth, Land of Kush, One World Cafe

Hobby Shops:

  • Titan Games and Hobbies

Comic Book Shops:

  • Atomic Books (Hampden—they have a bar, too!)
  • Alternate World’s (Cockeysville)

Mexican: There’s a new Mexican place in Timonium, La Tolteca. I like it; then again, I have yet to find a Mexican restaurant I didn’t like…

  • Holy Frijoles (Hampden)
  • Zen West (Belvedere)
  • Los Amigos (Hamilton)
  • Nacho Mamas (Canton)


  • Miss Shirley’s (Cold Spring or Downtown)


  • County—Traditional: Edo Sushi (BYOB and next to a liquor store, off Padonia Road) or Sushi Hana (off of Ridgley Road by MOM’s and Michael’s Craft store and also in Towson). More eclectic sushi: Umi Sake on York Road, north of Padonia Road
  • City—Traditional: Sticky Rice in fells point; Eclectic: Ra Sushi in Harbor east (it gets loud)

City Markets:

  • Indoor—Lexington Market, Cross Street Market, Broadway Market, and Hollins Market
  • Outdoor—Under I-83 (warm months only); Waveryly Farmer’s Market (year round)


  • Max’s Taphouse (Fells Point)
  • Brewer’s Art (Midtown)
  • Belgian Beer Hall (Hampden)

Breweries with Tours:

  • Heavy Seas Ale House (and Brewery)
  • Union Craft Brewery


  • Boordy Vineyards
  • Basignani


  • W.C. Harlan (Remington)

Ice Cream:

  • The Charmery in Hampden


  • Abbey Burger Bistro in Federal Hill

Giant Pagodas: Patterson Park

Conservatories and Groves: Druid Hill Park (there’s also Baltimore’s Zoo in Druid Hill…but zoos are bad imo)

Art Museums:

  • American Visionary Arts Museums is a must
  • Baltimore Museum of Art
  • Walters Art Gallery
  • MICA Campus galleries

Other museums

  • Baltimore Museum of Industry
  • Edgar Allen Poe house
  • Maryland Historical Society


  • Head up to Gunpowder Bison on a good day and observe the bison (from a distance), and check out their retail shop where you can buy bison meat and bison byproducts (leather goods, etc.)
  • Nick’s Rotisserie in Pigtown (City) for (apparently) the best fried chicken ever


  • Charm City Yoga in Towson
  • Or there are a bunch of places near me in Hampden (like Hampden Bikram Yoga and Baltimore Yoga Village).


  • Cylburn Arboretum in the City has a number of hikes and trails, easy to get to
  • Loch Raven Reservoir
  • Hikes all around the City


  • NCR Trail (starts in Hunt Valley)
  • Shared dirt trails near Falls Road

Large Touristy Places:

  • National Aquarium in Baltimore (I think this belongs here…)
  • The Science Center

Historic Towns:

  • Old Ellicott City


  • Greenmount Cemetery (John Wilkes Booth buried here, along with a number of other famous folks; they have cemetery maps for finding key people.

Graffiti/Street Art:

  • Station North, Open Walls Baltimore. A number of walls around the neighborhood were painted by international street artists

Free Transit:

  • Charm City Circulator


  • Baltimore Light Rail
  • Bus System
  • Totally need all the support we can get for the proposed Red Line!


  • La Scala (Little Italy)
  • Home Slyce (Mt. Vernon)


  • Baltimore Sports and Social League (drinking involved)


  • Enoch Pratt Free Library Central Branch

Rich People Homes:

  • Roland Park

Cliched but Must See Baltimore Neighborhoods

  • Fells Point and Canton
  • Federal Hill
  • Mt. Vernon
  • Little Italy
  • Hampden

Less Cliched Neighborhoods to Visit:

  • Hamilton/Lauraville
  • Station North and Bolton Hill
  • Pigtown
  • Mount Washington

Why Would Anyone Want to Live in Baltimore

So it’s been 4.5 months since I moved into my home in Baltimore and, truly, I could not be happier!! While I’m still super busy and lack much time to write, I wanted to give a few cents on why I think you need to move into Baltimore.

My Story

I wanted to move into Baltimore City, first and foremost, because I wanted a more efficient and sustainable lifestyle. I wanted to live smaller, more simply…to have greater access to such a variety of experiences was more important than having a suburban house with lots of “stuff” and many “things” (I’m still working on reducing all of my stuff and things, but I’m making improvements!).

I also chose Baltimore because it’s up-and-coming—it’s on a cusp—and I see so much promise. Something great is about to happen and I not only want to be here for it, but I want to contribute to it. It’s really exciting to be a part of that—something that’s evolving, growing, and only getting better!

I chose Hampden back when I was in school nearby at MICA. I love how eclectic the neighborhood is; the people who live here are super crazy (myself included, I suppose). . .and I absolutely love that! It definitely has a unique character about it and it’s exactly what I wanted—it’s a little bit artsy, a little hippie (also a little hipster), a bit old fashioned, and sometimes conservative. I love the small, historic homes, and the possibility of still having my “patch of grass.” I love that it’s walkable to literally everything I could ever need: bank, pharmacy, hardware store, grocery, post office, breakfast/lunch/dinner/dessert, multiple parks, hike/bike trails, light rail (reasonably walkable, if you’re comfortable walking 10-15 minutes [I am]), bus stops, shops, movie theater, etc. And it’s small enough to still feel like a tiny, close-knit community—but with all the amenities of urban living. There’s recent development and interest in the community, and it’s definitely on the rise. I needed to get in while it was still affordable; however, I do think that the diversity of homes in the area (a diversity which I hope never goes away) will mean that anyone can find a house at or near their price point. So, I had been looking at homes in Hampden for years, and it just happened that my new job was located in the neighborhood!

Things worked out perfectly for me, and they can work out just as well for anyone else looking to move into Baltimore!

Advice for Buyers/Renters

My advice for buyers? Definitely take advantage of Baltimore’s many resources and incentives (see Live Baltimore’s site). I was able to receive the First Time Homebuyer/Buying Into Baltimore incentive, as well as a Live Near Your Work incentive. My house is also historic, so we’ve received preliminary approval for Historic Tax Credits.

As for renters, I would also recommend taking advantage of Live Baltimore to get a feel for different communities.

Finding the Right Neighborhood

For both renters and buyers (although this is especially important for buyers), I would recommend going to the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance’s website to know the facts about the different neighborhoods (crime, schools, income, diversity, etc.).

Look at sites like WalkScore and ParkScore to learn about a neighborhood’s amenities.

Living car-free and walking/biking to work is doable from certain areas of Baltimore. I still have my car (I literally just paid it off about a month ago), but I usually walk or bike to work—I’m still getting used to not commuting by car! In Baltimore, though, if the neighborhood is right and there are still Zipcars around, you could maybe even live car free—or be a single car household! (That’s my goal.) But unless you live within walking/biking distance to work, I wouldn’t suggest getting rid of the car just yet. Baltimore’s transit is still going through puberty…and it’s a bit of a rebel at times.

Once you’ve found a couple winner neighborhoods, be sure to attend their community association meetings before making a decision, and stay involved once you move in!

Getting Friendly with Baltimore

Lastly, for newcomers discovering Baltimore, I have a few tricks: find Meetup groups, buy the Baltimore drink/dine deck to learn about the coolest bars/restaurants, spend the autumn months enjoying Free Fall Baltimore, find great causes to support with VolunteerMatch, or join a sports group—like the Baltimore Sports & Social Club, etc.  And stay up-to-date with all the latest happenings through Visit Baltimore!

Why the Lack of Writing?

Well, I’ve been busy!

I started a new job in June at a Landscape Architecture firm that’s had my interest since my undergraduate studies; then, just two months later, my husband and I purchased our first home! Proud to say that I am FINALLY a Baltimore city-dweller (and my twitter handle—@theurbangranola—is now validated by my truly urban lifestyle :)).

Between those two major life events, I haven’t had much time for anything else!

I suspect I’ll have time once again soon, but I’m also preparing to take the AICP exam (the professional certification test for urban and regional planners) in May 2015. Thus, I’ll surely be spending a good deal of time studying. But maybe there’s a way to make my studying a writing component?

Stay tuned!

Baltimore Ecosystem Study Long-Term Ecological Research (BESLTER) Annual Meeting and Fun events!

Dearest readers, please mark your calendars for this very cool event in Baltimore this month. The BESLTER is having a number of opportunities to engage folks interested in sustainability in the city during their 2014 annual meeting—including a Science for a Sustainable City session on the 21st (see this flyer: BES Sustainable City Flyer 10-21-14), and a open house on the 22nd.

Being held at the Vollmer Center at Cylburn Arboretum, 4915 Greenspring Avenue, Baltimore, MD 21209.

Hope to see you there!


Consulting in Lancaster City

Not to begin yet another blog post with an apology, but I truly am sorry for not posting more often!

Since graduating with my Master’s in City and Regional Planning, I’ve been working as a planner for the Baltimore-based landscape architecture firm, Mahan Rykiel Associates. In addition, my husband and I are looking at a house down the street from my new office. Should all go as planned (there have been a few hiccups), we’ll be in there next month! In short, life has been great!

Although I don’t have much planning content at the moment—especially not written—I would like to share some of the work I’m doing with Mahan Rykiel.

One of the main projects that I’m working on is an Economic Development Strategic Plan for the City of Lancaster, PA. You can read about the project on the website of our client, the Lancaster City Alliance. In case you haven’t been to Lancaster, or haven’t been in some years (as was the case with myself), I highly recommend a visit soon! The city is in such a great place that this plan, being produced more than 15 years after their previous Economic Development Strategy (1998), is being shaped from a “position of advantage.” Believe me, that’s not just some cheesy line, this city is really something to see! Rather than a reactive, symptom-based plan, this will be a proactive, asset-based strategy that builds on existing strengths in the city!

One of the things that I find most refreshing about Lancaster is the lack of chain stores. Though it does, at times, limit the ability of local residents to meet their daily needs (where to buy underwear!?), it provides visitors and residents alike with unique products and experiences. Furthermore, it enhances the city’s identity as an authentic place, built from diverse backgrounds and a rich heritage.

I credit this success to the strong, energetic spirit of Lancaster’s creatives, young professionals, investors, and business entrepreneurs. There are some terrific dialogues taking place, center on great ideas and inspiring collaboration.

I just got back from my third trip up there; and am still feeling enthusiastic after our Thursday evening public meeting! As a planner, I have never been in a public meeting where the tone remained almost completely positive throughout, where there appeared to be total agreement on many of the points brought up, and where the community truly saw and embraced the potential. I was able to visit a few of our study areas during this most recent trip. Below are some of the (many) photos that I took while up there! Enjoy!

Juxtaposition of cables, wires, church steeple, and moon in the morning sky

Juxtaposition of cables, wires, church steeple, and moon in the morning sky

The Southern Market Center building, Queen Street

The Southern Market Center building, Queen Street

Green window boxes along Queen Street

Green window boxes along Queen Street

Wayfinding signs become attractive from the back with the imposed City logo design

Wayfinding signs become attractive from the back with the imposed City logo design

Commissioned Sculpture outside of the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design (PCAD)

Commissioned Sculpture outside of the Pennsylvania College of Art and Design (PCAD)

A neighborhood park in Lancaster, PA

A neighborhood park in Lancaster, PA

Curved alleys are scatter throughout Oldtown in Lancaster, PA

Curved alleys are scatter throughout Oldtown in Lancaster, PA

The Cork Factory Hotel, Urban Place along New Holland Avenue/Pike

The Cork Factory Hotel, Urban Place along New Holland Avenue/Pike

Economic Development Strategic Plan Public Meeting, mapping activity

Economic Development Strategic Plan Public Meeting, mapping activity

Economic Development Strategic Plan Public Meeting, mapping activity

Economic Development Strategic Plan Public Meeting, mapping activity

El Jardin, Florist along East King Street in Lancaster City

El Jardin, Florist along East King Street in Lancaster City

Street in Lancaster, PA

Street in Lancaster, PA

Pub facade in Lancaster City

Pub facade in Lancaster City

Downtown Lancaster, Duke Street

Downtown Lancaster, Duke Street

Green window on Duke Street in Lancaster City

Green window on Duke Street in Lancaster City

An arts initiative places painted pianos throughout the City of Lancaster

An arts initiative places painted pianos throughout the City of Lancaster

Lancaster City Central Market Day

Lancaster City Central Market Day

The project is looking at some of the major commercial corridors in the city—Prince and Queen Streets, New Holland Avenue, Harrisburg Avenue, South Duke Street, East King Street, Manor Street and West King Street, and the downtown area. The photos above are limited, mostly, to the corridors we visited this past week (New Holland Avenue and East King Street) and to the downtown area simply because that’s where I went walking yesterday morning!

While this project is still in the early stages, I encourage people to follow along! Search twitter and other sites for #BuildingOnStrength to see what’s happening!

Also, if you happen to be from Lancaster, please take a moment to complete this survey (there is a version en Español).


DEEP ECOLOGICAL URBANISM: A framework for integrating science and ethics into the planning and design of human-dominated ecosystems

Here is a copy of my finished capstone project:

Deep Ecological Urbanism

I’d love to hear your thoughts!


Assistance requested for professional project:


Background: I’m an urban and regional planning student considering a new framework for planning and designing our cities….

I’ve broken human communities into 4 layers:

  1. Habitat
  2. Biota
  3. Society
  4. Cycles

Each layer has 2 sectors:

Habitat describes all physical things that are either (1) built or (2) natural
Biota includes (1) wildlife (e.g. flora, fauna, microbes, fungi, etc.) and (2) humankind
Society is made up of our (1) communities and (2) institutions (i.e. social norms)

Cycles describes “things” that are moving, and the act of moving them. BUT I’M NOT SURE HOW TO BREAK DOWN “CYCLES” INTO TWO COMPONENT SECTORS…

I’ve had a couple ideas in the past……

  • A. Networks 
  • B. Metabolisms
  • A. Networks
  • B. Commerce
  • A. Infrastructure (essentially the same thing as networks but new name)
  • B. Stocks + Flows

or something else? I’m having a super hard time and would really appreciate any input!

Essentially, it would need to cover resources as commodities (when left alone, a resource would be a part of habitat, only when it’s harvested would it be a part of cycles); energy; waste; water; trade; industry; economic activity (“economy” used to be a part of cycles, where industry and jobs would be categorized; although I currently have “economy” as a part of institutions…)

No harm in a little self-pride?

I apologize if this comes off in poor taste, but I absolutely must recognize what I’ve accomplished in less than a year. I am often the humble type, but right now, I have no shame!

Not only did I accept the challenge of managing a student organization for my graduate, but I opted to take that opportunity to launch a full-fledged APA-certified Planning Student Organization. With a simple yet clever name, I gave the new Morgan Association of Planning Students (MAPS) a brand [logo, color scheme, graphic style, etc.]; using a pre-existing social media account on Facebook, launched a WordPress website, a LinkedIn account, a Twitter account, and a Google+ account with support from my colleague and the Director of Social Media and Communications, Michael Burton; I’ve distributed (semi)regular newsletters and campaigns to our membership; organized two fall events [Park(ing) Day and a presentation from a U.S. Census Bureau individual]; and managed to pull off a largely successful Professional Development Institute (PDI), from which I’ve just come home.

Still riding the high from this morning’s event, it’s difficult to play down how great I feel! The turn out may not have been overwhelming, but our program, after all, only has a graduating 2014 class of 3 students (including myself)!! You can learn more about the event by taking a visit to the MAPS blog. [Take a look at the MAPS 2014 PDI program!] Below is a photo of me (right) with my aunt Cindy Foster, a career adviser and founder of the B’More Hireable, a career club for women. Cindy presented two (out of nine) sessions at this morning’s event.


Not only am I proud, however, but I also feel enriched. In addition to the great company I kept this morning, I was energized from hearing an accomplished alumni remind me why I’ve chosen this profession; I had discussed with a planning consultant how I to prepare now for my interest in eventually consulting; I spoke with a career adviser about optimizing my resume; I listened to the principal at a leading local landscape architecture firm talk about using my skills as a planner to fit in wherever I can find an opening; I received pointers for acing the interview process; I probed recent graduates about life after grad school; and I had a blast networking with my peers and with local professionals….all before 1:00 p.m.!!

I’m hoping to get some of the presentations uploaded to our website (with permission from the speakers). But in the mean time, here are a few more photos!



See my short MAPS Blog post about the event!