Elements of Urbanism: Baltimore

July 30, 2009 38 comments Open printer friendly version of this article Print Article

Baltimore's successful Inner Harbor serves as an example of successfully implementing a redevelopment strategy built around the concept of connectivity.

Tale of the Tape:

Baltimore Pop. 2008: 636,919 (City); 2,667,117 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1797)

Jacksonville Pop. 2008: 807,815 (City); 1,313,228 (Metro) - (incorporated in 1832)

City population 1950: Jacksonville (204,517); Baltimore (949,708)

Metropolitan Area Growth rate (2000-2008)

Baltimore: +4.47%
Jacksonville: +16.97%

Urban Area Population (2000 census)

Baltimore: 2,076,354 (ranked 18 nationwide)
Jacksonville: 882,295 (ranked 43 nationwide)

Urban Area Population Density (2000 census)

Baltimore: 3,041.3 people per square mile
Jacksonville: 2,149.2 people per square mile

City Population Growth from 2000 to 2008

Baltimore: -14,235
Jacksonville: +72,312

Convention Center Exhibition Space:

Baltimore: Baltimore Convention Center (1979)  - 300,000 square feet on two levels
Jacksonville: Prime F. Osborn III Convention Center (1986) - 78,500 square feet

Attached to Convention Center:

Baltimore: Connected to the 752 room Hilton Baltimore
Jacksonville: N/A

Tallest Building:

Baltimore: Legg Mason Building - 529 feet
Jacksonville: Bank of America Tower - 617 feet

Downtown Fortune 500 companies:

Baltimore: Constellation Energy (125), Legg Mason (500)
Jacksonville: CSX (240)

Urban infill obstacles:

Baltimore: A lack of fixed mass transit on the East side of the city.
Jacksonville: State & Union Streets cut off Downtown Jacksonville from Springfield.

Downtown Nightlife:

Baltimore: Inner Harbor; A concentration of strip clubs along Baltimore St, between Holliday and Gay Street.
Jacksonville: East Bay Street, located between Main Street and Liberty Street.

Common Downtown Albatross:

A continued challenge to draw significant development away from the waterfront.

Who's Downtown is more walkable?

Baltimore: 89 out of 100, according to walkscore.com (Downtown neighborhood)
Jacksonville: 95 out of 100, according to walkscore.com (Downtown Jacksonville as keyword)

Top 4 Walkable Neighborhoods, according to walkscore.com

Baltimore: Federal Hill (95 out of 100), Fells Point (92), Inner Harbor (91) and Downtown (89)
Jacksonville: Downtown (88 out of 100), San Marco (80), Fairfax (71) and Riverside (71)

Baltimore - Jacksonville Scaled Comparison

Jacksonville municipal borders: present (red), pre-consolidated city limits (green)

Jacksonville present (red line) and pre-consolidated city limits (green line) over Baltimore's city limits (red shaded area)

The Inner Harbor

While Baltimore has been a major U.S. seaport since the 1700s, the historically shallow water of the Inner Harbor (prior to manipulation through dredging) was not conducive to large ships or heavy industry, most of which was concentrated in Locust Point, Fell's Point, and Canton. The Inner Harbor was chiefly a light freight commercial port and passenger port until the 1950s, when economic shifts ended both the freight and passenger use of the Inner Harbor, such as the Old Bay Line's steamers. Rotting warehouses and piers were eventually torn down and replaced by open, grass-covered parkland that was used for recreational purposes and occasional large events, such as city fairs and the significant 1976 bicentennial visit of tall ships. This initial renewal of the harbor area and its continued transformation into a major cultural and economic area of the city was spearheaded by Baltimore Mayor Thomas J. D'Alesandro, Jr. (1947-1959). Harborplace, the waterfront festival marketplace, officially opened on July 1, 1980. Since being reincarnated as a cultural hub, the Inner Harbor has become the home to many tourist attractions. The two anchor attractions, in addition to Harborplace, are the National Aquarium in Baltimore and the Maryland Science Center.

In recent years, the area along the waterfront to the east of the Inner Harbor (in the direction of Fells Point and Little Italy) has been developed with condominiums, retail space, restaurants, and hotels; this ongoing project is known as Inner Harbor East (or simply HarborEast).

While little development-appropriate land remains around the Inner Harbor, what land is available has attracted much interest and many plans, many of which have never been realized. In recent years, there has been a decided push by developers to construct projects on the remaining parcels. The ongoing, proposed, and recently completed projects include many mixed-use developments incorporating office space, street-level retail, and condominiums as well as some hotel projects.

Recent or proposed projects include Lockwood Place, a mixed-use project on Pratt St. between Market Pl. and Gay St. featuring Best Buy, Filene's Basement, Panera Bread, Famous Footwear, and P.F. Chang's; the Ritz Carlton Residences, a condominium project on Key Hwy. at the southeast corner of the Inner Harbor; and 10 Inner Harbor, a proposed mixed-use project at southwest corner of Light and Conway Sts. that includes a 59-story tower, which would be the tallest building in Baltimore (a title currently held by the Legg Mason Building).

Over the years, a steady flow of attractions have opened within walking distance of each other in the Inner Harbor.

1976 - Maryland Science Center

The Maryland Science Center, located in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, opened to the public in 1976. It includes three levels of exhibits, a planetarium, and an observatory. It was one of the original structures that drove the revitalization of the Baltimore Inner Harbor from its industrial roots to a thriving downtown destination. In 1987, an IMAX theater was added, but the museum continued to show its age as the end of the 20th century approached. In 2004, a large addition to the property was opened, and the modernized hands-on exhibits now include more than two dozen dinosaur skeletons. Subjects that the center displays include physical science, space, Earth science, the human body, and blue crabs that are native to the Chesapeake Bay.


1977 - Baltimore World Trade Center

The Baltimore World Trade Center is the world's tallest equilateral five-sided building (the five-sided JPMorgan Chase Tower in Houston, Texas is taller, but has unequal sides). It was designed by the firm of the famous architect I.M. Pei, with the principal architects being Henry Cobb and Pershing Wong. The building was completed in 1977 at a cost of $22 million.

The building was positioned so that a corner points out towards the waters of the Inner Harbor, suggesting the prow of a ship

The Baltimore World Trade Center has an observation deck, called "Top of the World," that is open to the public during daytime hours.


1979 - Baltimore Convention Center

The Baltimore Convention Center was originally constructed in 1979 as one of the early cornerstones in the redevelopment process of the Inner Harbor.  Despite the success of the surrounding area over the years, the convention center did not live up to expectations until a convention center hotel was added in 2008.

During the next two decades, due in part to the success of the Convention Center and the other attractions, Oriole Park at Camden Yards, Sports Legends Museum at Camden Yards, M&T Bank Stadium, Power Plant Live!, and the Reginald F. Lewis Museum of Maryland African-American History, have joined the area, creating a ten-block plus entertainment and cultural destination at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, further increasing tourist dollars flowing into the region.


July 1, 1980 - Harborplace opens

Harborplace is a festival marketplace in Baltimore, Maryland, that opened in 1980 as a centerpiece of the revival of downtown Baltimore. As its name suggests, it is located on the Inner Harbor.

Harborplace is composed of 2 two-story pavilions, the Pratt Street Pavilion and the Light Street Pavilion. The third part of the Harborplace complex, located across Pratt Street from the Harbor, is a four-story glass-enclosed building known as The Gallery at Harborplace, which opened in 1987 and which is attached to Baltimore's Renaissance Hotel. Each of these buildings contains dozens of stores and restaurants. Many of the stores sell merchandise specific to Baltimore or the state of Maryland, such as blue crab food products, Baltimore Orioles and Ravens merchandise, Edgar Allan Poe products, and University of Maryland Terrapins clothing. Local merchants are complemented by national retailers and restaurants, such as The Cheesecake Factory, Johnny Rockets, Five Guys, Ann Taylor, Banana Republic, Gap, Victoria's Secret, Bath & Body Works, bebe, Fire & Ice, Starbucks, Brooks Brothers, Urban Outfitters, Uno Chicago Grill, and Swarovski.

Harborplace was designed by Benjamin C. Thompson and was built by the developer James W. Rouse and The Rouse Company near the former Light Street site of the Old Bay Line's steamship terminal and docks (1898–1950).


1981 - National Aquarium

It was opened in 1981 and was constructed during the urban renewal period of Baltimore. The aquarium has an annual attendance of 1.6 million to see its collection of 16,500 specimens of 560 different species. Particular attractions include the dolphin display, rooftop rainforest, and central ray pool, and multiple-story shark tank. The National Aquarium in Baltimore is widely considered to be one of the best in the United States, if not the whole world. Coastal Living named it the #1 aquarium in the U.S. in 2006.


1985 - Pratt Street Power Plant

The plant was completed in 1909 and originally served as the main source of power for the city's streetcar system.  After the electric plant was retired from service, the building was vacant for a time. The building had been the site of many failed development endeavors, most notably an indoor Six Flags theme park (1985-1989) and a short-lived dance club called P.T. Flagg's (1989-1990). The Power Plant now contains the first ESPN Zone in the country (opened July 11, 1998), a Hard Rock Cafe (opened July 4, 1997), a multi-story Barnes & Noble, a Gold's Gym, and loft offices. Maryland Art Place, a contemporary art gallery for Maryland artists, is located in the northwest corner.


May 7, 2004 - Baltimore visitors center opens

The new Baltimore Visitors Center opened on May 7, 2004, to replace an old antiquated visitors center that was operated in a modified construction trailer. It is located in downtown Baltimore, Maryland, USA, on the Inner Harbor.

The Baltimore Visitors Center cost $4.5 million to construct and is 8,000 square feet (700 mē) in size. In its first year of operation (May 7, 2004 – May 7, 2005), the Baltimore Visitors Center attracted nearly 390,000 visitors, which exceeded BACVA's (Baltimore Area Convention and Visitors Association) original estimate of 250,000. Visitors to the Baltimore Visitors Center in its first year of operation, booked 422 hotel rooms, worth $48,296 and bought 14,942 tickets worth about $223,286.

Inside the Baltimore Visitors Center are racks of brochures with information ranging from Baltimore's neighborhoods to major attractions, including the Maryland Science Center, the National Aquarium in Baltimore, Power Plant Live!, Camden Yards Sports Complex, and Geppi's Entertainment Museum. There is also a 50-seat theater that shows an 11-minute film on Baltimore and Maryland.


1981 - Pier Six Outdoor Concert Pavilion

The Pier Six Concert Pavilion is a music venue in Baltimore's Inner Harbor. It is home to the Cavalier Telephone Pavilion, an outdoor concert area.


Lockwood Place, a mixed-use project on Pratt St. between Market Pl. and Gay St. featuring Best Buy, Filene's Basement, Panera Bread, Famous Footwear, and P.F. Chang's; the Ritz Carlton Residences, a condominium project on Key Hwy.

Inner Harbor - Jacksonville Waterfront similarities

The redevelopment of the Inner Harbor has been a +30 year process.  However, few may realize, that Downtown Jacksonville's redevelopment of its urban riverfront has lasted just as long.  Furthermore, many of the attractions that make the Inner Harbor a special place, have also been constructed in Jacksonville over the same period.

Baltimore: Maryland Science Center - 1976
Jacksonville: Museum of Science and History (MOSH) - 1969

Baltimore: World Trade Center - 1977
Jacksonville: Independent Square - 1974

Baltimore: Baltimore Convention Center - 1979
Jacksonville: Prime Osborn Convention Center - 1985

Baltimore: Harbor Place - 1980
Jacksonville: The Jacksonville Landing - 1987

Baltimore: National Aquarium - 1981
Jacksonville: Times Union Center for the Performing Arts - 1997

*-Jacksonville does not have an aquarium and Baltimore does not have a performing arts center in the Inner Harbor.

Baltimore: Pier Six Concert Pavilion - 1981
Jacksonville: Metropolitan Park - 1984

Baltimore: Pratt Street Power Plant - 1997 (1985 - 1989 An Indoor Six Flags Amusement Park)
Jacksonville: Southside Generation Station (decommissioned in 2001 and demolished)

Although the Inner Harbor and Jacksonville's riverfront share many similarities, connectivity is not one of them.  Because of the tendency for Jacksonville to stretch development, instead of focusing on creating a compact walkable center, our waterfront has not achieved the same level of success that the Inner Harbor has enjoyed.

Baltimore Inner Harbor - Jacksonville Downtown Riverfront contrasts: Connectivity and Clustering

Metro Jacksonville has been a longtime advocate of connectivity and clustering complementing uses together because this tends to stimulate vibrant pedestrian activity, which in turn, spurs more critical mass development.  Both Baltimore and Jacksonville have made similar investments along their waterfront over the last 40 years.  However, Jacksonville's continued tendency to spread things out has led to a downtown scene that still lacks connectivity, which in turn, makes it more difficult to stimulate pedestrian synergy and infill between these major uses.

Baltimore Inner Harbor Aerial

Jacksonville Downtown Riverfront Aerial

Scaled aerials indicate that Baltimore's Inner Harbor would cover portions of the North and Southbanks between the Acosta Bridge and Berkman Plaza.  On foot, what seems like a large vibrant waterfront district in Baltimore, would take up one third of Downtown Jacksonville's waterfront.

Images of nearby Baltimore Inner City Neighborhoods

Downtown City Center

Downtown Baltimore is the section of Baltimore traditionally bounded by Martin Luther King, Jr. Boulevard to the west, Mt. Royal Avenue to the north, President Street to the east and the Inner Harbor area to the south. It consists of four neighborhoods: Westside, City Centre, Inner Harbor, and Camden Yards. It is the focal point of business in the Baltimore metropolitan area with over 100,000 employees. It has also increasingly become a heavily populated neighborhood with over 37,000 residents and new condominiums and apartment homes being built steadily.

A downtown ambassador escorting the homeless out of the Inner Harbor area.

Old parking meters are used for the "Make a Change" program.  This program encourages people to "put their change where they can make one" by giving to charitable organizations instead of panhandlers.

Restaurants with sidewalk seating and a light rail station between the convention center and convention center hotel.

Fells Point

Fell's Point is home to a variety of shops, restaurants, coffee bars, music stores, and over 120 pubs. Located on the harbor and famous for its maritime past, it now boasts the greatest concentration of pubs/bars in the city. This waterfront community is a much-visited location in Baltimore, accessible by water taxi, freeway, and several bus lines. The neighborhood has also been the home of large Polish, Irish, and Mexican-American populations throughout its history. In recent years a steadily increasing numbers of middle to upper middle income residents have moved into the area, driving up property values. Fell's Point is one of several areas in and around Baltimore that are listed on the National Register of Historic Districts.

Little Italy

Situated just east of the Inner Harbor, it has one of the city's popular restaurant districts.  It is so named because of the large number of Italian immigrant families that moved into the area during the 20th century. The neighborhood is still home to a large and active Italian ethnic community. Located near newly desirable neighborhoods like Fells Point, Upper Fells Point and Harbor East, Little Italy's housing market is very hot, not least because turnover is low in the tight-knit community. Little Italy is also notable as one of the safest neighborhoods in the city of Baltimore, as the neighborhood's reputation is such to not allow crimes against the residents caused by outside agitators.


Jonestown is a historical section of southeast Baltimore established in 1732 that was laid out on 10 acres (40,000 m2) dived into twenty lots on the east side of the Jones Falls. The district is a mix of industrial, commercial and residential buildings. In the last half of the 20th century, Jonestown has shifted from a predominantly Eastern European and Jewish neighborhood into a predominantly African American neighborhood. Public housing replaced many of the former rowhomes and townhouses throughout the area, though a historical presence is still felt. In the early 2000s, though, modern row housing resembling suburban townhouses replaced the public housing. Jonestown is home to Baltimore's central post office in addition to 8 Baltimore City Landmarks including the Flag House and the Phoenix Shot Tower, both Registered National Historic Landmarks.

Federal Hill

Federal Hill lies just south of downtown and the Inner Harbor.  The neighborhood's name comes from a hill within its borders.

From early in the history of the city, the hill was a public gathering place and civic treasure. The hill itself was given the name in 1789 after serving as the location for the end of a parade and a following civic celebration of the ratification of the new "Federal" constitution of the United States of America. For much of the early history of Baltimore, the hill was know as Signal Hill because it was home to a maritime observatory serving the merchant and shipping interests of the city by observing the sailing of ships up the Patapsco River and signalling their impending arrival to downtown businesspeople.

In the 20th century, Federal Hill was a working class neighborhood characterized by increasing crime, racial tension, depressed property values, and a decaying housing stock.  With the successful redevelopment of the Inner Harbor over the past few decades, Federal Hill has become a hotbed of investment and rehabilitation.

Mount Vernon

Mount Vernon is located just north of downtown. Designated a National Landmark Historic District and a city Cultural District, it is one of the city's oldest neighborhoods and originally was home to the city's most wealthy and fashionable families. The name derives from the Mount Vernon home of George Washington; the original Washington Monument, a massive pillar commenced in 1815 to commemorate the first president of the United States, is the defining feature of the neighborhood.

Baltimore Bonus: Hampden

Similar in style and character to Jacksonville's Five Points, Hampden is located in northwestern Baltimore.

Hampden was originally settled as a residential community for workers at the mills that sprung up along the Jones Falls; its first residents were in place well before the area was annexed to Baltimore City in 1888. Many of its residents came to the area from the hill country of Kentucky, West Virginia, and western Pennsylvania, looking for work in the mills. This influx cemented the image of the neighborhood for the decades that followed as a white, working-class, socially conservative enclave. However, like most of Baltimore, Hampden declined somewhat during the economic troubles of the 1980s-90s, and is a much more moderate political climate in recent history.

In the 1990s the neighborhood, conveniently located vis-a-vis Johns Hopkins and downtown, and relatively safe when compared to other, more blighted areas of the city, was discovered by artists and other bohemians, who began the process of gentrification. Many of these artists were attracted by the 1987 creation of an artist studio and office space known as the Mill Centre, located in the southernmost region of Hampden between Falls Road and Mill Road. Over the past decade, housing prices in Hampden have skyrocketed, and the area's commercial center on a four block stretch of West 36th Street known as The Avenue, has seen trendy boutiques and restaurants occupy storefronts that had become vacant when poor economic conditions forced many of the Avenue's traditional retailers to close.

Baltimore Photo Tour by Ennis Davis