Who owns our public spaces in post-Freddie Gray Baltimore? Mike Pugh explores Baltimore’s architectural pleasurescape: past, present, and emerging.
What is your dream to make the Inner Harbor spectacular and memorable for you and your family? Well, Kirby Fowler (attorney, former chair of the Maryland State Lottery and Gaming Commission, and president of the Downtown Partnership) and those in city hall don’t care.
The Baltimore protests have taught me that residents of this town are demanding transparency and authentic public access to the important decisions that are being made by civil servants (and their closed cohort) to make this city become the greatest, most-inclusive city in America. This is not just about the demolition of a Brutalist landmark that put our city on the urban planning map in the last century. This is about protecting an island for unregulated free-speech and our right to contribute our hopes and dreams for shaping our public spaces into something that represents our diverse population.
Downtown Partnership of Baltimore is using a dated strategy to build corporate fast food restaurants over parks (Chic-Fil-A), remove mature trees to install gravel along Pratt (at St. Paul), remove parks and fountains to add lanes of traffic along Light, and put the rest of us on the hook for hundreds of millions to construct a suburban Inner Harbor 2.0.
Millions have been spent already, and the results are new bland spaces and more fast food. Aren’t we smarter and more interesting than this, Baltimore?
This project is not about making this city healthy or fabulous. This project is about maintaining power over the hundreds of millions of dollars that this city will spend on demolition and reconstruction of what’s already there: parks, fountains, and trees.
Will it go to the corporate high-rent and developer interests downtown as usual, or will it go toward stitching the neighborhoods and main streets together in creative, resident-directed ways? If you go down to free-speech McKeldin Square today, you will see Baltimore residents of all colors and ages just having a terrific time. Do we need to be told what’s good for us by those who follow the money? No, let’s shelve this project and open the door for your vision.
Author Mike Pugh is a Baltimore Designer, Teacher, Artisan Potter & Restless Resident
** This was originally published in part as a letter to the editor in The Baltimore Sun on May 19, 2015. It was resuscitated upon learning that Baltimore’s Urban Design and Architectural Review Panel (UDARP) meeting, a public opportunity to voice your opinion, for McKeldin Square has been planned for this Thursday, July 2 at 2:30–right before a holiday weekend when few can attend. Although the funding is only there to destroy the fountain, and the plans for design are generic at best, it appears that a group of downtown business people (not public servants, not architects, not ordinary citizens) are determined to tear down the fountain. How’s that for democracy at work?