Sunday, April 8, 2012

Urbanization: What Is it and Why is it Coming?

In the early part of the 20th century, Baltimore and DC were very dense so much so that at the onset of the automobile age, they had very little room to adapt. The high density of the Baltimore and DC did not allow for cars to be kept therefore density in those Cities was lost to make way for acres of parking lots. As growth continued, the average consumer wanted their housing package to be reflective of the automobile. It was at this point that the suburbs were born outside of both Baltimore and DC. Suburbs are in low in density, and built around the idea of driving everywhere rather than walking or taking public transportation. Single Family Homes came with a generous piece of land and traditionally high density choices such as Apartments, even they were lower in density with large "Garden Apartment" complexes with large parking lots as the order of the day. The suburban Main Street became a Retail Drag of uncomprehensively planned strip malls with a hodge podge of styles. The only thing they had in common was their large parking lots geared towards, you guessed it, the automobile.
As the 20th Century wore on so did the expansion of the DC and Baltimore suburbs. James Rouse attempted to put the brakes on the automobile dependence in the 1960s when designing Columbia but that part of the experiment didn't go that well and Columbia's Residents depend on their Cars just as much as the rest of Howard County. In Baltimore it was discovered that the Harbor can be an attraction and that can be a way to bring revenue to the City. Old boarded up buildings by the Harbor were torn down in favor of surface parking lots to allow for automobile access in the City. It soon became apparent that the Harbor was not only a tourist attraction, but a place where people want to both live and work. It was at that point that surface parking lots were redeveloped into high density Apartment Buildings and Office Buildings with waterfront views. Baltimore at the time wasn't in the midst of a job market so a lot of the Offices with Harbor Views were merely existing companies relocating from Charles Center. All of these buildings either had underground parking or attached multi level parking garages. It makes you wonder if urban planners had thought of that at the onset of automobile dependence, if the suburbs would have taken off like they did. 
Growth is continuing and probably will continue in the Baltimore DC Area. In the Citys themselves, only certain parts seem to attract new Residents and investment. This begs the question; where will all this new population go? After all, the suburbs have been built out and with gas being so high the consumer doesn't want to move any further out. Now maybe suburbs have reached build out quite yet, maybe we're sitting tons of land that could be "urbanized" to make way for certain growth. Maybe that land is right here in Howard County!
Yes this post is ultimately about Howard County. In order for it to make sense I had explain the evolution of the suburb and the City's relations to one another. In recent decades, suburban Communities have begun to urbanize in other Counties such as Silver Spring, Bethesda, Rockville, Germantown, Gaithersburg, Towson, Owings Mills, Bowie, Laurel, Hunt Valley, White Marsh, and Glen Burnie. Columbia is at a stand still because the aging hippies that are Columbia's earliest Residents are getting in the way of progress. Columbia's Downtown will eventually be Howard County's introduction to urbanization. 
Other parts of the County in need of urbanization are in no particular order Wilde Lake, Harpers Choice, Oakland Mills, Long Reach, Owen Brown, Route 40, Route 1, Route 103, Route 100, North Laurel, and Savage. All of these places have dated Graden Apartments, sprawling parking lots, and unused land that would fit the definition of  "smart growth." At the same time, these areas are very much a great draw to prospective Residents and redevelopment of Garden Apartments and surface Parking Lots will only enforce their ability to attract new Residents and with denser urbanized layout, growth can continue full speed ahead. Who knows maybe if Howard County and surrounding suburbs are denser, more public transportation can come here and the dependence on the automobile can lessen.
Now that I've explanied urbanization, what it is and why it's coming, I can write more posts to that tune and then I will go into detail as to coming up with plans to urbanize certain areas. Stay tuned!

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Make Way for Ellicott Heights

 It seems that Public Housing Developments are an endangered species in Howard County. First Guilford Gardens hit the wrecking ball to make way for for the mixed income Monarch Mills in Columbia. Now it's time for Ellicott City's Hilltop and adjacent Ellicott Terrace Apartments to meet a similar fate. Strangely enough Hilltop was the replacement of the very sub-par Mount Ida Homes in the 1960s. Now Hilltop has seen its day in the sun and is undergoing redevelopment. So without further ado lets make way for Ellicott Heights.
It's hard to believe that as recently 1969 there were homes in Howard County that didn't have indoor plumbing. Ellicott City's Mount Ida Homes, which at the time was a Community rich in history but the
wooden cottages along Fells Lane had fallen on hard times. The media eventually got wind of the deplorable conditions of Mount Ida Homes and the County, with its back against the wall promised redevelopment
and delivered on said promise. Fortunately for the Residents they were allowed to move into the new homes once completed, a promise the County is making to current Hilltop Residents some of whom even lived
in old Mount Ida Homes 40 some years ago. 
When completed the then new Hilltop Housing and Ellicott Terrace Apartments consisting of Town Homes and Apartments respectively that offered the basic amenities of indoor plumbing, HVAC systems, and
solid brick constructions. Fells Lane was made into a dead end street off of the newly created Ellicott Mills Drive that extended from Main St. to Court House Drive. Hilltop was located on a new street known as Mount Ida Drive which pays homage to the former Community that once stood there.
 At the lower end of Fells Lane there was once an Elementary School that served African American Children in Ellicott City. Its life as an Elementary School was very short having opened in 1955 and closing in
1964 as Integration swept the nation. Previously White Schools such as St. Johns Lane and Ellicott City Elementarys absorbed the population of Fells Lane which then prompted the County to close the School. It
was then reused as a Police Station until better Police accommodations could be built. Since then it has been used as a Pool and Recreation Center, the only public pool in the County. Given that the Building was once a School its uses as a Recreation Center have been compromised.

After its 1969 completion Hilltop has lived a relatively quiet existence. In 2003 or 2004 a 25 unit Senior Apartment Complex was built on Mount Ida Drive which was the only known mile stone in Hilltop history. Given the successes of redeveloping public housing into mixed income Communities all across the Country Ken Ulman decided to attempt the same here in Howard County. First on the list was Guilford Gardens which by all accounts has been successful. Now it's time for Hilltop and Ellicott Terrace.
Site Plan For Ellicott Heights
When authoring this blog I always use the concept of urbanizing Howard County as the backbone for writing these posts. Not everyone agrees with an agenda as bold as mine but it appears that the developers
of the new Ellicott Heights do. Ellicott Heights will feature an increased amount of units, a brand new Recreation Center on the opposite end of the site and a diverse array of housing options and income levels.
 East Ellicott City is ready to usher in several new development and redevelopment projects all of which will usher in an era of urbanization and growth in a pocket of town which up until now appeared stagnant. I wonder what County owned development will see a fate similar to Hilltop's; Columbia Landing in Long Reach perhaps?