August AIA Baltimore President's Message: Baltimore of the Future

August 10, 2015

Not a day passes when most of us don’t speculate about the future. The interest and concern for our personal, professional and family matters demand our attention. We examine our options, project outcomes, and make choices with some sense of planning and control. We thoughtfully plan for the future and stay the course as best we can. Yet many events beyond our sphere of influence are found in our community, region and country that affect us in greater or lesser degrees. Politics, religion, philosophy, economics and environmental issues swirl around us in cycles of high and low anxiety. The issue of the day is most likely a disappointing, tragic, violent or shameful event that the media races to report, informing us of unfolding details across the full spectrum of social contact points. The result is usually a media-driven short-term response designed to address the immediate. We must ask, “What is the long view? What is the master plan?”
Architects love plans. People, businesses, organizations and governments love plans. Daniel Burnham, the great urban designer and architect of the 1890’s was quoted as saying (with my apologies to the women):
“Make no little plans. They have no magic to stir men’s blood and probably themselves will not be realized. Make big plans; aim high in hope and work, remembering that a noble, logical diagram once recorded will never die, but long after we are gone will be a living thing, asserting itself with ever-growing insistency. Remember that our sons and grandsons are going to do things that would stagger us. Let your watchword be order and your beacon beauty. Think big.”
The proposed comprehensive zoning code rewrite, ‘Transform Baltimore,’ is our local example of a big plan for the future. It must be passed by the City Council before it expires this fall. This vision for a better future is the passion that drives us to plan for the next generation. Baltimore recently suffered a series of reverses that have shaken its growing energy and spirit of urban life, and may dampen its plans for the future.
The public perception of Baltimore as a place to live or visit has wilted due to the national exposure of unrest. Yet, we know that the new construction in Harbor East, South Baltimore and the West and East sides is continuing to enrich the urban experience. We must continue to invest in the built environment of Baltimore City for all its citizens.
Public transportation is the thread that sews city neighborhoods together and to the region. Years of planning Baltimore’s east-west Red Line light rail have been squandered by Governor Larry Hogan’s decision to suspend State funding for the project, forfeiting Federal support. We know the Baltimore of the future will require accessible mass transit. Mayor Rawlings-Blake has vowed to continue the pursuit for this critical infrastructure.
The Downtown-Inner Harbor corridors of Pratt and Lombard, and Calvert and St. Paul Streets are traffic-centric corridors of cars and trucks. A proposal to unite the McKeldin Fountain island to the Inner Harbor pavilion plaza by closing the Light Street/Calvert Street ‘S’ curve is a win for pedestrians. The proposal seeks the demolition of the fountain to accommodate relocated traffic lanes. AIABaltimore’s position is that a vision for the future of this important public space requires a thoughtful and comprehensive consideration of design and traffic prior to demolition of an existing public amenity. The pedestrian must take precedent over automobile accommodation in order to support a thriving urban experience.
The vision for a better future motivated the past generation to create the Inner Harbor as an internationally known destination, fueling the ongoing urban and economic success of the waterfront. We, as urbanists and architects, must continue to contribute our voice to the civic structure of government, development and business to improve quality of life for all Baltimore residents. Together we must think big in our pursuit of order and beauty for the Baltimore of the Future.
Rob Brennan, AIA
President, AIA Baltimore, 2015
Principal, brennan+company architects