Which Type of Gentrifier am I?

This article got me thinking. I’d like to share some of those thoughts here with my reaction—I invite discussion.

I am a vocal advocate for “gentrification without displacement.” I see no problem with creating a better neighborhood if lifelong residents can easily remain. Yet, could I actually be an active participant in displacement?

I chose Hampden not because it was up-and-coming, but because it had qualities I love and wanted in a community. The developing “hipster” scene feels to be quelling some of that, and I worry that my willingness to buy a higher-than-neighborhood-average priced home here in 2014 (combined with my support of said hipster establishments) only adds fuel to the fire.

Now, I had my eyes on Hampden long before there were beer halls, high-end restaurants, or the city’s “choicest liquor store.” I’ve loved almost everything about the neighborhood for over a decade. That being said, I do often complain about “old Hampden” — specifically, those of whom are racist.

So as I sit here and complain about the people I replace (and, again, sometimes feel no remorse when it’s replacing racists), and as I remain involved in improving the community through various means, I do nothing but watch as housing prices skyrocket and vacant homes flip and sell for MORE than my once-higher-than-average/but-now-probably-below-average priced home. Worse still, my worry is less about the people who’ve spent their entire lives in the community but can no longer afford it, and more about what I’m going to do when I need to grow my home and won’t be able to afford it. How shameful of me.

So, as I reflect, I’d say I’m a combination of all four types of gentrifiers:

  1. The Gentrifier Against Gentrification because, as I expressed, my ideal scenario is to invest without displacing.
  2. The Tiptoeing Gentrifier because I recognize my intrusion in the community and thus I tread lightly (though I am well aware of the strength of the existing fabric);.
  3. The Conqueror because I indeed am ashamed to be neighbors with racists and wish some would leave to make room for more open-minded and especially more minority residents (and at the same time, yes, I recognize the unlikeliness of seeing more minorities given the rapidly developing landscape of the community).
  4. The Curator because—even though I have ties to the neighborhood through my great grandfather and my mother-in-law—I have no immediate connection to the community or its quirks, yet I’m still quick to take the “keep Hampden weird” stance.

It’s important to recognize my role in gentrification with displacement, and it’s giving me the opportunity to consider what I can do to play a positive role.


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!

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!


An Intriguing New Concept in Water Quality Remediation: Floating Wetlands

[This is an excerpt from a final research paper created for my waterfront development course. The following paragraphs go into detail about a proposed wetland development for Baltimore City’s Inner Harbor.  The 15 page paper discusses the history of water quality, particularly in Baltimore, and how poor water quality might have adverse implications for future waterfront development. For a copy of the entire paper, or for the complete bibliography, please contact the author at sustainable.meg@gmail.com]


Figure 2 Photo looking southwest towards Pier 4, showing discolored harbor waters the day after rainstorms and the Aquarium’s new floating wetland in the bottom left [Source: Author, Apr. 23, 2012]

While legislation and a hardy regulatory framework are necessary to improve water conditions, the most provocative concepts for improving water quality have manifested themselves as physical solutions. In August of 2010, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, as part of the Waterfront Partnership’s Healthy Harbors Initiative, and in an effort to meet the federally mandated regulations addressing the Total Maximum Daily Loads (TMDL) for nutrient and sediment in our waters of the Chesapeake Bay, installed its first floating wetland (Figure 2 & Figure 3, bottom) between piers 3 and 4. While the Waterfront Partnership was working with the Aquarium to install this floating wetland, they were also working with Living Classrooms Foundation and Biohabitats to install a series of wetlands in front of the World Trade Tower (Figure 3, top).

floating wetlands

Figure 3 (Top) Floating wetlands in front of the World Trade Tower, (bottom) Aquarium floating wetlands two months after photo in Figure 2 [Source: Author, June 17, 2012]

Floating wetlands mimic the behavior of natural wetlands. Their submerged root systems becomes home to healthy bacteria and microbes which help to filter the contaminants currently circulating in the Harbor’s water. Additionally, mussels, a species known to filter water, and other creatures take residence on the island, establishing a microcosm of beneficial organisms. Made using roughly 3,000 recycled plastic bottles for every 250 square feet of wetland, the floats are anchored to the Harbor floor in order to limit their movement into the channel. In their blog post titled, “Wetlands are Wonderful!,” the Aquarium explained the purpose of the floating wetlands, as well as their origin. Initially, wetlands like these were used in wastewater retention ponds, or lagoons, to deal with excess nutrients. Only recently have such technologies been used in brackish, open waters like those of the Chesapeake Bay. The post also suggested the wetlands, despite their small size (each just 10 feet by 20 feet), would be a huge first step towards cleaning the Inner Harbor [The National Aquarium].

As the Aquarium concluded their blog post, they optimistically anticipated and hoped that the two recent wetland installations would be just the first of many for Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, and it would appear they were correct with their prediction. In August of 2011, a year after Baltimore’s first wetland installations, a similar project was proposed by a private entrepreneur and landowner.

The experimental floating wetlands that were first launched in 2010 by Waterfront Partnership had inspired Baltimore Marine Centers’ Chief Operating Officer, Dan Naor, to propose the construction of a similar, but intensely more elaborate, wetland of his own. It may come as a surprise to many that a private marina owner would propose a project that is entirelyfor public benefit[1], but Naor has expressed, “it’s his way of joining the fight to clean up the city’s major tourist attraction, which is blighted by trash, unfit to swim in and beset with algal blooms and fish kills” [Naor, as quoted in Wheeler 2012b].

HarborviewPerspectiveRendering.jpg Figure 4 Rendering of the proposed Harborview Floating Wetland [Source: Baltimore Marine Centers]

In a process which will continue for years into the future, with 100% completion by 2025, Naor is proposing to install 1.6 acres of wetland in an unused section of the Harborview Marina’s open water, the largest wetland project of its type yet to be proposed nationwide. The Marina, located just off Key Highway, currently controls 640 slips, and could easily acquire permits to add more. However, Naor has no interest in adding more slips to since his business has had difficulty recovering after the recession. The Harbor’s condition, as Naor explains, is partly to blame. Repeatedly, Baltimore Marine Centers patrons complain to Naor about the Harbor’s litter, appearance, and odor. To Naor, the Harborview Wetland isn’t seen as an income source. However, “the true effect,” he reveals, “if we can clean the water, we’ll get more business” [Wheeler, 2012b].

A floating wetland of the proposed scale, in addition to reducing the TMDL for nitrogen, phosphorous and sediment, would serve to improve the Inner Harbor in many ways. The local creation and manufacturing of floating wetlands, which are currently produced out of Utah, presents business and job opportunism, in addition to educational opportunities [Lee, et al.]. Furthermore, their presence invites visits from tourists and wildlife alike.

A visit to the Blue Water Baltimore Bacteria Monitoring Website indicates that two areas near the  proposed Harborview Wetland site were recently reported as having moderate contact risk, suggesting that a wetland in this location would easily have a positive impact [Baltimore Harbor Waterkeeper]. The Harborview Marina wetland project, however, has been tied up (no pun intended) in bureaucracy since it was first proposed in 2011. A year later and the project has still not been approved. In an article describing the project, journalist Wheeler innocently poses the question, “if a little green might help restore Baltimore’s ailing harbor, how can a lot be bad?” He’s referring, of course, to the success of the other floating wetland projects and investigates how Naor’s proposal is any different.

The issue with Naor’s proposal has been with the piers and platforms as seen illustrated in the rendering (Figure 4). Initially, the argument was that the piers and platforms would either have negative environmental impacts from being built over the water, or interfere with the continued development of the Inner Harbor waterfront- or both. Officials expressed they would consider a pledge from the owner, promising to remove the piers should the adjacent shore be developed, but then also decided that the Inner Harbor’s waterfront promenade must first be developed in the area before the wetland could be approved [Wheeler, 2012b]. Paradoxically, the incomplete promenade does not at all inhibit marina actives from continuing to occur at the site. The argument has now evolved to rationalize that, unlike boat slips and fishing piers, facilities which are considered to serve water-dependent uses, the piers, platforms, and docks proposed in the Harborview Wetland are, according to the officials and decision makers, decidedly non-water-dependent. Yet to myself, representatives of the National Aquarium in Baltimore, members of the Living Classrooms foundation, and the team working on the Harborview Wetland, the piers are absolutely water-dependent.

The piers allow access to the water for educational purposes, and the Aquarium and Living Classrooms have already considered region-wide youth educational programs for the site. In a letter committing their support and future involvement in the Harborview wetland project, Living Classrooms’ Vice President, Scott Raymond noted the potential of offering 110 students the opportunity to visit the wetland on any given day [Raymond 2012]. Furthermore, allowing residents to be engaged with the Harbor, to experience it up-close, raises public awareness about water quality issues and encourages a better understanding of the Harbor’s health and the importance of restoration projects. Then again, Naor could easily acquire the permits to build as many as 50 more boat slips and the accompanying floating docks in the same location and with roughly the same coverage as the proposed walkways, even though they would surely have a more adverse impact on the Harbor [Floating Wetlands for Baltimore Harbor?, Landscape Online 2012]. Considering that, are the piers which shall serve educational and social needs really as awful as the argument would suggest? Be honest.

It’s difficult not to be cynical and consider that officials and regulators might just be waiting for Naor and his team to give in; the regulators have already approved the wetland aspect of Naor’s proposal, but abandoning the piers is out of the question. Phil Lee, an associate at Moffatt & Nichol, an infrastructure firm specializing in the planning and design of water-related facilities and which is also involved in the Harborview Wetland project, explains that removing the piers from the wetland is akin to “putting up a park with a fence around it” [Lee 2012]. And so the team tolerantly waits for their next attempt to have the project approved. Until the permits are approved, however, the project will have no credibility and Naor and his team will have no basis upon which to secure funding. Baltimore should be grateful that Naor is not one to give up so easily, and that he and his team continue to fight for public access to water.

The Public Trust Doctrine protects the water’s edge, among other common resources, for “the benefit of all.” Yet our most precious waterfronts, those which are squeezed within densely populated cities, have largely been reserved for private commercial use. Traditionally functioning as ports for sending and receiving large cargo shipments, urban waterfronts have more recently been exploited for their ability to attract tourists. Waterfront real estate is therefore prized more for its high property value and the commercial potential it offers than for any purpose serving as a recreational amenity. Private business uses now invade the waterfront- snatching valuable land and blocking public access and waterfront views. In Baltimore now, the spaces directly above the water are being fought over. The waterfront is reserved for tourists, visitors, and anyone willing to spend money (although, as has already been confirmed, the water itself is beginning to detract from that market); what room does that leave for Baltimore’s residents? In this case, public access to the water would be encouraged and accommodated, yet decision-makers have spent over a year debating its approval. The project would improve the waterfront, but frivolous arguments have resulted in a lengthy delay of this wonderful revitalization opportunity. If the Baltimore Harbor is to be preserved for the benefit of all, as the Public Trust Doctrine would urge, then the Naor project is the ideal response and, when you think about it, the piers really aren’t the crisis they’ve been made out to be.

Naor and his partners contend that the Harbor is in such poor shape that it shouldn’t matter whether or not there are piers, that the officials should be more willing to experiment. And as researchers question if wetlands in open waters would even have much impact, a large experiment such as Naor’s project is needed to settle this uncertainty. Vice President for Science Application at the University of Maryland Center for Environmental Science, William Dennison, rationalizes the Baltimore Harbor is so degraded that anything which could improve the quality ought to be attempted. Dennison stated, simply, “We don’t have a lot to lose here”  [Wheeler 2012b].

As maddening as the political delay caused by nonissues has been, a light that’s beginning to shine on the horizon is a beacon of hope. On December 5, 2012, a meeting of delegates, congressmen and women, and interested parties ensued at the Moffat & Nichol office in Baltimore to discuss the future of the Naor proposal. In attendance was Delegate Maggie McIntosh, Chair of the House Environmental Matters Committee, as well as Delegate Peter A. Hammen, a former member of the Environmental Matters Committee. The presence of officials who are often involved in such similar affairs, on top of the understanding that individuals from the offices of Senator Barbara Mikulski, Congressman John Sarbanes, and the Governor will soon be involved in the Harborview Wetland proposal, offers relief to Naor and his team as they face the coming legislative session. With support from these officials, it’s promising to think the proposal will finally move forward [Lee 2012].

Nonetheless, despite the delay, multiple organizations and businesses have expressed interest in the project and, even without the permits, there have already been conversations with potential donors. In addition to the National Aquarium and Living Classrooms, which have declared their support for the Harborview Wetland, other large Baltimore-based firms have also recognized that the floating wetlands will impact more than just environmental health and see them as an economic opportunity. As Naor had recognized, visitors are being deterred by the unattractive state of the Harbor’s waters, making it difficult for businesses to recover from the 2008 recession. If one man can see the potential of the wetlands, perhaps it’s worth investigating more. ‘”It’s a really gorgeous harbor and it’s a huge asset,” says Naor. “Us, as the keepers, we need to keep it safe. We need to work as hard as we can to clean the water.” If the Harborview Wetlands are approved, Naor sees potential to create as much as 10 acres of floating beds of rosemallow, sea lavender, and salt grass throughout all five marina’s he oversees. Naor explains, “Our goal is to clean the water and drop 10 acres of parks in the middle of the Inner Harbor” [Killar 2012].

[1] To be fair, the intended outcome will without-doubt produce economic benefits for the business owner, though his own benefits will be trivial compared to the those which Baltimore City as a whole shall reap.

Filling the Void on Howard Street Baltimore

A Study of Emptiness and Finding Purpose Along Baltimore City’s Historic Corridor

Once a vibrant and busy destination, Howard Street now functions simply as a means for passage through, into, and out of Baltimore City. By intimately studying the blocks between Fayette and Monument Streets, one might catch brief glimpses of the lively street that once was. Most of what’s left standing today, however, tells a rather unfortunate story of a neglected and forgotten corridor. Borrowing from the processes outlined by urban theorists before me, I have used various systems to evaluate the physical form as well as the expressive essence of Howard Street. From such vigorous analyses, I have identified a combination of grounds for explanation as to why the corridor is, or is not, functioning in its current form.

As a Baltimore County resident, I often use the light rail line to travel into the city. As it enters Baltimore’s central neighborhoods, the light rail settles into the Howard Street right-of-way. In my years of riding, I have developed a sort of fondness for one stop in particular. At the corner of Howard Street and Centre street, the light rail drops its passengers off a few blocks west of Mount Vernon, just south of the Cultural Center, one stop north of Lexington Market, and nearby to downtown Baltimore. Yet it was never because of this stop’s close proximity to such amenities that drew me in; it was likely more about the adjacent park, or perhaps the fact that this particular light rail stop always had a sense of stillness to it, that I took the opportunity to step off the train. From the intersection at Monument Street, just north of the Centre Street light rail stop, down to the next light rail stop on the 100 block at Fayette, Howard Street has a very distinct character. My study of the corridor encompasses these six blocks, with heavy focus on the three northernmost blocks from Mulberry to Monument. Systems of evaluation- such as Kevin Lynch’s visual mapping; Emily Talen’s approach to transect classification; the Venturi and Scott Brown system of signs and symbols; and indeed Anne Whiston Spirn’s study of nature within the city- shall provide an opportunity to peel back the layers of the city to reveal the fundamental nature of Howard Street.

An Area of Historical Relevance

Howard Street, Looking North at Lexington; Photo Credit: Baltimore County Public Library Legacy Web

The light rail line, providing access to and from the county, makes Howard Street a significant transportation corridor. Combined with the Saratoga Street Metro Station, Howard Street is the link between Baltimore City and the larger Baltimore Metropolitan Region. To many, however, Howard Street’s significance lay not in its transportation roles, but in the rich history it possesses. City residents know Howard Street for the stories that have been passed down about its grand department stores and thriving theaters of the 1870s, as well as for the Lexington Market just one block to the west. Howard Street was a destination for city and county residents alike. People from all over would arrive at Howard Street for the stores found there. Meanwhile, the Academy of Music, Stanley Theater, and Natatorium (which would later become the Mayfair Theatre in 1941) were all located just a few blocks north between Franklin and Centre Streets, a block which grew into a major theatrical complex. Here, well known actors and actresses performed, such as Katharine Hepburn, who began her career in the Natatorium (Gunts 1993). The Natatorium was transformed into Kernan’s Howard Street Auditorium after a man named James Lawrence Kernan bought the property in the 1890s. Mr. Kernan not only operated the theater, but owned an additional building on the block which functioned as the Congress Hotel. This block became known as Kernan’s Corner.

The department stores and theaters have since shut down; only the Market continues to operate today (at 230 years old, it is the longest running market in the world), but fading signage lingers as a reminder of what once was. The evolution, or perhaps decline, happened slowly throughout the twentieth century as the corridor was altered little by little. In the 1930s, even amidst the Great Depression, Howard street was still a robust, and vibrant destination. Howard Street at Lexington was, at the time, a major intersection and in 1934, Read’s Drug Store was constructed on the southeast corner. Twenty-one years later, in 1955, Read’s would be the site of an early sit-in of the civil rights movement, which has since given Howard Street profound social significance.[1] Five years before the well known Greensboro sit-in, a group of Morgan State University students made a powerful statement when they organized a successful protest at the Read’s Drug Store lunch counter (Pousson 2011).

Read’s Drug Store on Howard Street; Photo Source: Baltimore Heritage Website

While Howard Street was doing well during these years so, too, was the automobile which made traveling outside the city an efficient alternative. With this convenience, the new shopping malls were able to flourish. As more and more city residents traveled to the outskirts of Baltimore to shop in these new malls, Howard Street became less and less relevant, yet managed to remain economically stable. In 1942, the Greyhound Bus Terminal was built at Howard and Centre Street (Vandervoort n.d.). Howard Street was to be enhanced by a new bus route, a future that was never realized. This building still stands today and is part of the Maryland Historical Society’s campus. The Maryland Transit Administration entered the picture in the 1980s with the introduction of the light rail line. Although it provided an inexpensive means for residents to travel within and around the city, there has been a general consensus that the transportation “improvements” of the light rail have been the main cause of Howard Street’s demise.

The Remaining Architecture

The booming activity of old Howard Street may be gone, but the physical form remains. Many of the buildings which directly front the street retain architectural details that can so rarely be found on buildings constructed after the 19th century. Sadly, behind these magnificent facades, the buildings crumble in disrepair. Like the Mayfair, whose roof collapsed in the 1990s, these buildings sit as abandoned shells, waiting for the next tenant to come along and embrace their history; but it’s been years since anyone’s seemed interested. While people have all but forgotten, nature has slowly begun the process of reclaiming the land upon which these buildings sit. A future similar to the one explored by author Alan Weisman in his book, The World Without Us, is developing before our eyes. As human activity continues to neglect the few blocks surrounding Kernan’s Corner, nature- as I’ll soon explain- finds new ways to make its presence known. 

 Methodology for Deeper Appreciation

Although I have been to Howard Street many times before, I had never delved so deeply into its story as I did upon my initial study visit. During this trip, I utilized photo documentation and visual mapping techniques, in conjunction with notations of any emotions felt along the way, to document the corridor. The goal was to be truly within Howard Street’s fabric as opposed to just passing through it, as too many people often do. Traveling a total of ten blocks between Martin Luther King Boulevard and Baltimore Street, I made a point to patronize local establishments and talk to any willing passerby. The subsequent visit entailed a much more elaborate process of evaluation, which proved to illustrate very interesting results.

A Collection of Urban Study Methodologies

Equipped with map and pen, I explored Howard Street through Kevin Lynch’s system of spatial mapping. Recognizing key nodes along the corridor proved simple, as there were very clearly defined areas of activity- often around the light rail stops, and certainly around Lexington Market. Landmarks were difficult to distinguish as very few literal monuments exist. Instead, identifiable and recognizable buildings- such as the Market, Hutzler’s department store, Read’s Drug Store, and the Greyhound Terminal- served to orient me along the way. Barriers were abundant due to the excessive presence of fences near Kernan’s Corner, as well as vast sections of unusable space formed by entire blocks of vacant buildings. An obvious north-south pathway was facilitated by the movement of the light rail train (although automobile traffic on Howard was minor), and certain cross streets had notably heavier traffic flows than others in the east-west directions. During my visit, I made quick notations of the presence of people and the coinciding activities along the way. The portion of Howard Street closest to Lexington Market was the most active, while my observation of population was lowest near Kernan’s Corner, where most of the vacant buildings are situated. Beginning with the most active section at the Lexington cross street and moving north towards Monument, the density of Howard Street gradually shifts downward. This transition seems to exemplify Emily Talen’s system of transect zones, if only as micro-transects of the ‘urban center transect’ classification. From the larger, high-rise structures between Fayette and Lexington all the way up to the three to four story buildings by Monument Street, the corridor transitions from a highly active district to a vacant and abandoned section of blocks. Although merely an observation, the identification of these conditions may prove useful when considering the future of Howard Street.

Very little that exists on Howard Street is consistent from Monument to Fayette. Street art, however, is surprisingly abundant along the entire stretch. These images carry heavy messages, which make them particularly intriguing. As I was studying one of the first pieces I encountered, I paused photographing so as to greet a passerby. The man said hello, continued walking to the opposite end of the block, then reversed course with extreme purpose. He marched back to where I stood to ask me why I would photograph this image which he didn’t find to be especially alluring. I’m very glad he decided to speak with me, for our long discussion of art proved quite enjoyable and as testimony of art’s power to bring strangers together. Art, much like the iconography and symbols discussed by Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown, and Steven Izenour, punctuates the public space of the corridor as a response to the everyday life of the city. As Venturi, Scott Brown and Izenour had done with the signage and graphic elements of the Las Vegas strip, I photographed and cataloged the street art and faded iconography along Howard Street. Plywood covered storefronts proved to be the most inviting canvases for street art, as the highest percentage of art was found on the blocks with the most vacant buildings. Whether it altered the environment for better or worse seems to be a matter of personal preference, as I noted from my conversation with the passerby, but its presence is certainly noticed.

 A most exciting study of Howard Street came from my consideration of nature in the city. My evaluation was based on Anne Whiston Spirn’s belief that nature helps to determine how meaningful a place may be. In my investigation, I paid particular attention to nature as it specifically pertains to plant life. When observing an open space inventory of Baltimore City as a whole, patches of green speckle the map save for the area within which Howard Street rests (Baltimore 2010). The only green spaces along this portion of the road are Howard’s Park, directly across from the old Greyhound Terminal[2]. Outside of Howard’s Park, nature has been left to fend for itself. Where street trees once stood, empty wells mark the  graves of fallen allies. These empty tree wells have sometimes been filled with asphalt, as if to ensure anything that lives can never grow there again. Occasionally, perhaps in an attempt to conceal this atrocious behavior, flower pots have been set on top of these asphalt-filled, empty tree wells. My investigation included counting the total number of tree wells on each block, and how many of them were actually filled with street trees. I discovered that the blocks with the most vacant buildings were also those with the fewest occupied tree wells. I determined that 17% of the tree wells on the 400 block from Franklin to Mulberry were empty, and an astonishing 62% of the tree wells between Mulberry and Saratoga were barren. In addition to street trees (or lack thereof), I identified any instance where nature proved more resourceful than humans had accounted for. It is not the property-owners of the northern blocks that have claimed ownership of the land, it’s the land itself that has declared possession. In these warm March days, hearty and verdant weeds have already begun to seep from the cracks in the pavement. Even the asphalt filled wells couldn’t keep nature from persevering: mature trees had found their way into abandoned buildings and now escape through gaps in the boarded-up windows and out onto rooftops. The six blocks between Monument and Fayette Streets account for a total length of approximately 2,513 feet. Along this stretch of Howard Street, there is an average of about one tree for every 40 feet. Not nearly enough, in my personal opinion. 

Other systems of observation were less fruitful. The study area lacked many of the layers that would define any of the elements architect Christopher Alexander might identify as terminology of a pattern language. Certainly this lack of patterns, however, contributes to the area’s absent vitality. Hierarchy of spaces can be experienced close to the Market, but on the northern blocks the space is void. As I review my findings from the various systems of evaluation, I find reinforcement of the intuitive perception that it is the absence of a number of systems which make certain environments less productive.

 A Strange Sense of Place

Oddly enough, however, the total absence of layers is also what contributes to the haven-like atmosphere of the northern blocks. The two blocks between Mulberry and Centre lack nearly all layers of environmental character, including people. Deserted spaces in cities usually connote an unsafe territory, yet these blocks have just the right amount of people riding by on the light rail and walking past on their trips to the area’s various attractions that the blocks offer safe solitude for any urbanite in search of refuge. How peculiar it is to be in a dense urban setting without all the commotion of frenzied city life!?

Future Study and Final Thoughts

The element of life, both human and natural, is an important assessment of a location’s well being. Had I more time to study this portion of Howard Street, I would take a cyclical approach. I would consider changes of the natural seasons and note how they may or may not shape the level of pedestrian activity. Such an analysis should be continued for a span of many years, and should be critical of the ways in which human behavior is altered by any changes in environment. There is also potential for more normative, detailed statistical research on the tree canopy of the area and about the life stages of the trees on each block. This data could be compared with that of Baltimore City as a whole. By further developing a study of life as it exists on Howard Street, overlays of information illustrate an urban environments success and failure.

Today, Howard Street struggles, yet it works. It works as an exhibit of sorts through which someone might stroll to discover something new about their city, or themselves. The unfortunate truth, however, is that although these crumbling facades paint a picture of the exciting corridor that Howard Street had once been, their symptoms of disrepair also warn of a disastrous future.



Baltimore, Downtown Partnership of. “Downtown Open Space Plan.” Baltimore, MD, 2010.

Bejgrowicz, Tom. “Tom B Photography.” Blogspot. May 31, 2009. http://tombphotography.blogspot.com/2009/05/mayfair-theater-i-balt.html (accessed March 9, 2012).

Gunts, Edward. “Mayfair Could Anchor ‘Avenue of the Arts’.” The Baltimore Sun. November 4, 1993. http://articles.baltimoresun.com/1993-11-04/news/1993308101_1_mayfair-center-for-theater-towson (accessed March 9, 2012).

Pousson, Eli. “Why the West Side Matters: Read’s Drug Store and Baltimore’s Civil Rights Heritage.” Baltimore Heritage. January 7, 2011. http://www.baltimoreheritage.org/2011/01/why-the-west-side-matters-reads-drug-store-and-baltimores-civil-rights-heritage/ (accessed March 9, 2012).

Vandervoort, Bill. Classic Bus Stations. http://web.me.com/willvdv/chirailfan/greystne.html (accessed March 9, 2012).

[1] A majority of this information has been gathered from personal discussions and general inquiries. Further research is required for verification.

[2] The study also identifies the Metro Station plaza as open space on the map, although this hardly accounts for any green space.

The above text is from a written report describing the conditions along Howard Street, Baltimore through use of the methods proposed by various urban theorists. It was an assignment from an Urban Design Studio course in Morgan State University’s City and Regional Planning Graduate program.

Sorting Differences and Finding Common Ground on Abandoned Howard Street

Quick Overview: This text is taken from a larger research project about 5 constituencies that had been identified along Howard Street in Baltimore City. The main focus of my studies (and in this post) is on street artists as catalysts for change.

“Almost always, the creative dedicated minority has made the world better.” Martin Luther King, Jr.

City streets are inherently public spaces. As the connections between all that the city has to offer, streets evolve into realms of social interaction. It doesn’t matter if you drive, walk, or take the bus — the streets belong to everyone. Who, then, ought we seek out when a street’s ability to function needs to be addressed? The list of constituents along the one mile stretch of Howard Street that cuts through downtown Baltimore could be never-ending. Members from all of these groups should have considerable interest in Howard Street, yet few are as active as they could be. This is especially true on the blocks between Mulberry and Monument Streets. On the surface, it seems as if no one is doing anything. But if you pull back the curtains, you’ll discover a plethora of operators. Busy at work on Howard Street we see the Maryland Transit Administration’s (MTA) Light Rail, Tree Baltimore and other environmental agencies, Baltimore’s planning initiatives and the Baltimore Development Corporation, the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation, and a creative group of artists. These five groups, each with their own objectives, carry the future of Howard Street.

Figure 1: Portrait of Harry Weinberg on Howard Street, by Gaia

Illegal Art: An Unlikely Act Restores Vivacity in the Streets

The image next to the Mayfair looks recalcitrant, much like the man it portrays.  It was created by the internationally recognized street artist, Gaia, and is one of many portraits from the artist’s Legacy Series. Gaia has been creating art in Baltimore’s streets since he began attending the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA). He has expressed that the intent behind these pieces was to “reinscribe[sic] the figures who have shaped our landscape back onto the surface of their legacy, the infrastructure and polices that we have inherited and must navigate”(Gaia, Legacy Series, Baltimore n.d.). Affixed to the facade of a forgotten building, the rendering of Weinberg looks out onto a parking lot of the opposite block. That entire square block was once one of Weinberg’s holdings, and the fact that it’s now a parking lot serves as testament to what little Weinberg had done for Baltimore’s revitalization. Gaia’s artwork is a reminder of this disastrous tale.

Gaia is not alone in his efforts, of course; numerous artists are dipping their brushes in Howard Street’s colorful palette. Local artist Nanook, another MICA student, has some of his bright paintings on display here. Additionally, a great deal of the remaining work on Howard Street can be attributed to a third, perhaps lesser-known, artist: Nether. There are even more, still, but these three seem to be most active and most passionate. I’ve had the fortunate opportunity to speak with all three of these artists individually. Prior to meeting them, I believed that street artists, whether they realize it or not, are motivators for transformation. As it turns out, each artist recognized this role and felt a connection to it in one way or another.  What they’ve had to say about street art’s potential has been entirely on par with my own theory.

Gaia, Nanook, and Nether are not the real names of these three artists. Because the work they are creating is unauthorized and technically illegal, each have chosen an alias to protect their identities. Though no one would recognize them by their given names, their street art names have earned them much recognition. The inability to take personal credit for their praiseworthy art, however, does not stop these three from creating pieces that have immeasurable impact on public spaces.

Many would agree that public murals have the ability to reinvigorate communities. Few, however, would currently consider illegal street art to have that same capacity for change. Comparing murals to street art, Gaia remarks, “One is an asset, one is a little social experiment”(Gaia 2012). Street art takes a very different approach in addressing social issues. Though both are creative forms of expression which impact a space and influence the public, street art is an improvised and more natural manifestation of social issues. Nanook explained it best when he described the quick and spontaneous nature of street art as a “glitch inside peoples’ everyday surroundings”(Nanook 2012). Personally, what I love most about street art is that it’s not as static as a legally authorized mural. Commissioned murals are always limited by a number of public and political preferences, as well as the requests made by those who have endorsed them. Street art, on the other hand, is pure freedom of expression. It lacks the “filter,” as Gaia calls it, that is imposed by whomever approves a mural. Of course, as Gaia bluntly remarks, “Street art really has potential, but there is so much bullshit – that’s what’s awesome: no one can control what occurs illegally.” Additionally, street art dares to go where no mural ever would. Street art touches on the less popular subjects of urban life; such as white flight, racial discrimination, and the city’s failures. On Howard Street, for example, Nanook has a wheat paste titled Washington, and Lady Godiva Falling from her Raven [Figure 2]. In lore, Lady Godiva is always depicted as a white, feminine woman; while Washington is known as being a strong white male. This piece actually speaks to Lady Godiva and Washington’s absence; for together, they signify white flight and the loss of feminine elements within the city(Nanook 2012). Showing both the good and the bad, street art demonstrates hope- we can change society by promoting art.

Figure 2: Washington, and Lady Godiva Falling from her Raven by Nanook

Of course, there is a difference between street art and graffiti. In the last decade, pop culture figures like Shepard Fairey and Banksy have drawn attention to street art’s relevance. Society has suddenly begun to view street art through a more appreciative lens, leading to increased public awareness and acceptance. Some people, however, often members from older generations, still find it challenging to differentiate between street art and graffiti; and so clarification is in order. As far as city officials are concerned, there is no difference; in either case, the unsolicited modification of a building’s facade is considered a signifier of blight. Yet anyone can see- from the message and tone to the level of artistic investment- that the characteristics of these separate creations are quite distinct. Graffiti on an abandon building is often equated with crime and can sometimes, especially in cases of gang graffiti, be considered threatening. Whereas traditional graffiti is usually a territorial claim to space or authority, street art is more about being socially invigorating. It is my belief that street art can potentially be considered an asset to a community. During our informal interview held in his studio, Gaia clarified the intent of street art “as an alternative means for use of inert space.” He proceeded with his animated conversation, pausing briefly to remind me of something fundamental: “But it’s illegal. And that’s what’s important.”

The artists don’t get much grief from Baltimore police. Rather than concern themselves with the fact that these artist are breaking the law, the cops have been more apprehensive about the artists’ safety in a rough neighborhood, or even admiring of their talent.[3] It is the community members who are actually more probing. Although both Gaia and Nanook say they’ve received only positive feedback in Baltimore, Gaia did note that a passerby will on occasion be inquisitive. “People try to call attention to the illegality of it,” Gaia tells me, “…but there are these horrible buildings that are a cancer to the neighborhood and they’ve accepted that.”  In many areas, Baltimore residents have just grown to accept the poor condition of such structures. In time, they stop caring altogether. To Gaia, street art “challenges the view of private property” by calling attention to the tolerated misfortunes of a forgotten building. In his view, “when the landlord gives up their responsibility to uphold that building, they’ve given up their right to how that space should be visualized”(Gaia 2012). In some circumstances, these artistic endeavors do prompt action. After putting up work in East Baltimore for some time, Nanook has begun to see progress. Abandoned buildings are now being demolished and renovated. But unlike Gaia, who sees a direct correlation between his art and social change, Nanook believes that although street art can enliven a community, it’s not necessarily an incubus for that change(Nanook 2012). In his view, the decaying parts of Baltimore are simply the neighborhoods to which these artists are first drawn. When the vicious real estate cycle defines impoverished neighborhoods, illegal street art is an opportunity to fill the voids created by vacant properties that would otherwise sit fallow. As Gaia explains, street art gives people a sense of “having volition — you could even say control — of their surroundings” (qtd. in Michaud 2012).

In my interviews with both Gaia and Nanook, I posed a chicken-or-the-egg sort of question. “When you’re compelled to create a new piece,” I asked, “what comes first: the idea or the location?” More often than not, the concept comes first. But in certain situations, a space invites participation. I soon discovered that an extensive amount of consideration precedes what the public ultimately sees.

In Baltimore, artists are free to create their work on buildings without a permit so long as they have permission from the owner. But how are these rules to be interpreted when it comes to abandoned and vacant buildings- what “owner” grants permission in these instances? These abandoned spaces are often the ones who most need artistic intervention. Street artists create their work for many reasons. Of the three artists, Nether seems the most concerned with creating art which inspires change. On the surface, Nether uses his art as a temporary means to beautify his city. On an underlying layer, he sees the figures in his ever-increasing number of wheat-pastes as a growing “army of revolutionaries”(Nether 2012). He believes more individuals ought to fight, at whatever cost, for what they believe, as he does with his art.[4] To this degree, Nether uses his wheat pastes as a form of artistic protest against the February 26th killing of the Florida teenager, Trayvon Martin. Since the tragic event, Nether has been pasting  images of a hooded figure throughout the City [Figure 3]- affixing empty Skittles wrappers to the side to represent Trayvon, who was shot while walking home after purchasing a bag of skittles and an iced tea(STREET ART: For Trayvon, by Nether 2012). While the concepts behind each of Nether’s individual image may be difficult to grasp along, his message becomes clear and strong when his creations are viewed as a whole.

Nether piece protesting the February death of Trayvon Martin

All three artists have emphasized the fact that, out of respect for property owners, they target neglected or unoccupied buildings. For this reason, Howard Street and Baltimore City, with plentiful vacant buildings, make for the perfect street art canvas. This environment also gives art the ability to address the issue of city vacancies. Both Gaia and Nanook were raised in other states, while Nether is a Baltimore native. Ashamed that one sixth of the houses in his city are vacant, Nether has no moral problem with the illegality of his work as he takes the vacancy problem into his own hands “in a civil and disobedient manner”(Nether 2012). Gaia and Nanook especially seem to understand real estate and development on levels that many others don’t, which explains why there are indeed times when putting work on an occupied building is appropriately justified.[5] With around 16,000 vacant buildings in Baltimore, “there’s no reason to hit an occupied building,” explains Nanook. “When you do, it’s on buildings that belong to large organizations who sit on properties forever and never develop”(Nanook 2012). By putting work on buildings like these, artists call the attention of the landowner back to the site. If only artists like Gaia and Nanook had been in Baltimore back when Weinberg was still alive and in control of all that neglected property, imagine how things might have changed.

More than just street artists, both Gaia and Nanook have experience at the other end of the public art spectrum as well. In 2009, Gaia had contributed to The Wynwood Walls mural project in Miami, Florida. More recently, both Gaia and Nanook, who have been known to join artistic forces, had participated in the Living Walls Mural Projects of Albany, New York and of Atlanta, Georgia. Their prolific mural creations continue to address the cultural, social, and political issues of cities, and there’s no indication they’re about to stop. In fact, as I write this essay, they are hard at work organizing a tremendous art undertaking right here in Baltimore. A short distance from the downtown district, Howard Street reaches Station North, where Gaia is curating the Open Walls Baltimore (OWB) initiative. Together with Nanook and the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, Gaia has called upon some of the most widely recognized street artists in the world, from as far away as Italy, for the purpose of creating 22 murals(Open Walls Baltimore n.d.). An art project of this magnitude is unprecedented in Baltimore.  For years, the City has been investing in this neighborhood, yet it wasn’t until the mural installations had begun in these last 3 months that any real change has been visible. With experience creating both street art and murals, Gaia and Nanook appreciate the advantages of each and are able to offer a more valuable perspective on public art. When the OWB project concludes, the artists will go back to creating street art until another grand opportunity arises. Their work may diminish in scale, formality, or publicity- but if there’s one thing I’ve learned from speaking with these artists, it’s that the integrity of their art’s purpose will never fade.

“My murals won’t last forever, the building it’s on won’t last forever. We think of the urban landscape as this static urban monster, but buildings are always coming up and going down and graffiti is a part of that.” Gaia, qtd. in Michaud 2012.

While murals can have a far reaching influence, there isn’t always the money for such a grand venture. Open Walls Baltimore is a rare opportunity.  It’s extremely difficult for a neighborhood to initiate a mural project like this until the government is ready for an area to change. If the government isn’t ready, it’s unlikely that a neighborhood can gather the funds for a mural project on their own(Gaia 2012). Street art can satisfy the need for public art when murals are not an option. Arlene Goldbard, author of New Creative Community: The Art of Cultural Development, praises the creativity and resourcefulness that artists employ as they nevertheless produce something amazing despite lack of money(McCabe 2012). When the world is changing, you can rely on the artists to enthusiastically pioneer the way.

As artistic protest, street art reminds “the Man that the space belongs to the people as well as to him”(Jamieson 2009). From Nether and Gaia’s wheat-pasted creations to Nanook’s vibrant illustrations, Howard Street exists as an artistic expression. These creators, along with the contributions of many others, have animated the empty space and transformed it into a very raw and human art gallery- curated not by any one person, rather by the present social conditions of Baltimore City. Slowly and quietly, street art has invaded communities, changed perceptions, and encouraged the formation of critical opinions among city dwellers. Street art is more genuine than a mural, more vivid than graffiti, and more visionary than a master plan. It can bring something to a space that wasn’t already there. It has been quite encouraging to discover that the three street artists with whom I’ve spoken have many of the same hopes for neighborhoods as do urban planners. Legal or not, their work along Howard Street is at the very least sympathetic to the surrounding urban conditions and an inspiration for all.


Although the 400 to 600 blocks of Howard Street may initially seem lifeless, they are not devoid of life. In actuality, an eclectic assortment of players are at work. Each are interrelated in one way or another, and additional agencies are pulled into their interactions that shape public spaces. Unfortunately, there has been little cooperation between them.  One group’s wishes interfere with the another group’s ability to achieve their own goals. Perhaps once these constituents understand that they each exist as part of a larger whole, their interactions will be more fruitful. Entities like the MTA and the Baltimore Development Corporation should plan together and coordinate their visions while the Harry and Jeannette Weinberg Foundation can use their power to offer assistance. Furthermore, the non-traditional collectives formed by wildlife and artists offer visionary remedies to revive public space. The inherent advantages of nature will be the spark that generates revitalization. Nature, or rather, its stewards, have the ability to transform these blocks,  while there is an opportunity for the artistic entities to take hold along Howard Street. Open Walls Baltimore started as a Station North initiative, but its vision would certainly hold merit on Howard’s Streets architectural canvases. And the nearby Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), for example, whose students and alumni (Gaia and Nanook, et al) have already claimed their creative rights on Howard as street artists, has nothing to lose by investing here. With collaboration, Howard Street  can potentially become an easily accessible mecca for social interaction where individual expression is encouraged and desired.


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Blankenship, Jessica. Vomet Pukes on Living Walls Mural. August 18, 2010. http://clatl.com/culturesurfing/archives/2010/08/18/vomet-pukes-on-living-walls-mural (accessed April 12, 2012).

Dickinson, Elizabeth Evitts. Gallery walls: Cities embrace street art as a ticket to success . March 23, 2012. http://grist.org/cities/gallery-walls-cities-embrace-street-art-as-a-ticket-to-success/ (accessed April 12, 2012).

Douglas, Robert. “Honolulu Harry.” News American, July 10, 1980.

Emily R.N. Tyler. “Collective Strategies for Increasing the City’s Tree Canopy, PowerPoint Presentation: Adopting a Strategic Action Plan for the TreeBaltimore Working Group.” Baltimore: Department of Recreation and Parks, August 16, 2011.

Flannery, Joseph L. “Man With a Midas Touch.” Baltimore Sun, October 27, 1963.

Gaia, interview by Megan Schwartz. Interview with Gaia in his Oliver Street Studio (April 20, 2012).

Gaia, Legacy Series, Baltimore. http://www.unurth.com/Gaia-Legacy-Series-Baltimore#ixzz1rq1AfqCA (accessed April 13, 2012).

Gunts, Edward. “Weinberg’s Properties Put Under Group’s Control, Board May Consider Upgrading Real Estate.” The Baltimore Sun, November 6, 1990: 1A.

Hanscom, Greg. Street artists see the city as their canvas. http://grist.org/cities/2011-10-11-street-artists-see-the-city-as-their-canvas/ (accessed April 12, 2012).

Jamieson, Ruth. Urban Art? Keep It On the Street. April 29, 2009. http://www.guardian.co.uk/artanddesign/2009/apr/29/street-art-buyers (accessed April 20, 2012).

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McCabe, Bret. “Art + The Public Space.” Urbanite Magazine. Baltimore: Tracy Ward, May 2012. 32-39.

Michaud, Debbie. March 9, 2012. http://clatl.com/culturesurfing/archives/2012/03/09/a-few-questions-with-baltimore-street-artist-gaia (accessed April 8, 2012).

Mika. The Sunrise of Edgewood: Gaia and Nanook at Living Walls. March 19, 2012. http://www.12ozprophet.com/news/the_sunrise_of_edgewood-gaia-and-nanook-at-living_walls/ (accessed April 12, 2012).

Nanook, interview by Megan Schwartz. Interview with Nanook at Bohemian Coffee House (April 13, 2012).

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[1] Baltimore’s WestSide is an area bounded by the State Center area to the North, Charles Street to the East, Pratt Street to the South and, Martin Luther King Boulevard to the West

[2] Kathy Robertson spoke with the Seminar in Urban Design I students on April 17, 2012 to discuss the Baltimore Development Corporation’s initiative to revitalize the Western district of Baltimore, a 100 square block area bounded by Charles St., Pratt St., Martin Luther King Blvd. and the State Center complex.

[3] It’s important to note that each of these three artists is a young Caucasian. Though unfortunate, the police would likely not be so pardoning had the artists been of other racial backgrounds.

[4] It seems worthwhile mentioning that a wise woman (my mother) has recently commended my generation for not being deceived by the “bullshit.” A subject worthy of its own analysis, the radical outlook of younger generations seems to be reshaping society into something more open and honest.

[5] One key word, used by both Gaia and Nanook, was “respect.” These artists are always mindful of the work they are creating, and especially so on buildings that may have owners, but are abandoned. There’s an equilibrium of respect that must be maintained. This principle is what steers them towards or away from certain neighborhoods. Take, for example, Charles Village: Nanook would never put his art in Charles Village, not only because of the affluence there but also because the residents themselves respect the buildings.