The revitalization of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor began in fits and starts as early as the late 1950s by Mayor Thomas J. D’Alesandro, Jr. Though technically a ‘harbor,’ the specific area known as the Inner Harbor was always too shallow for ocean-bound vessels, oven those built in the early nineteenth century. The Inner Harbor thus served as a rump of warehouses and cheap housing for laborers who had to travel a couple of miles east to get to the docks holding the big cargo ships. Almost as soon as the last medium-sized ships stopped coming into the eastern/inner harbor in the late 1950s, work went into finding other uses for the space. The first round of improvements mostly consisted of tearing things down and creating open spaces that could be used when necessary, but hardly grounds (no pun intended) for economic vitality. Rebuilding came in the 1980s, with a focus on tourism and attractions (the National Aquarium, , a myriad of restaurants, and the Maryland Science Center. Most of this rebuilding was along the eastern rim of the shallow harbor, but housing took a bit longer to enjoy a similar renaissance.
The row houses of Federal Hill (the southern side of the Inner Harbor) and of eastern Baltimore City (between the harbor and Patterson Park) survived much of the teardown of the 1970s, but they did not become desirable properties until the later 1980s. In the last two decades, Baltimore’s housing prices went up like everyone else’s. Fortunately (as we have reported in the recent past), Baltimore has had a good deal of vacant housing to develop anyway, so our bubble and its bursting were not so terribly violent. Although Baltimore continues to struggle with depressed housing prices in the city, a new green space will help buoy interest among locals to live in the area that has long been attractive to tourists.
Just yesterday the Baltimore Sunthat “Two local nonprofit groups are working to address that shortcoming by creating a $2 million waterfront park for families living in the Inner Harbor and Harbor East communities. ‘Pierce’s Park’ is the name of a public space that is expected to open by the fall of 2011 on a one-acre parcel on Inner Harbor Pier 5, between the Columbus Center and Eastern Avenue. A collaborative effort between the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore and the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance, it will be dedicated to Pierce J. Flanigan III, a Baltimore businessman who championed the project and died suddenly of a brain hemorrhage while on a business trip to Chicago two years ago.”
The focus of the park’s design is for residents to have a space for their children to play in a safe and natural environment that will allow traffic between the Inner Harbor and Harbor East, but will in fact be an opportunity for locals to be outside without being in the thick of the tourist environment of the harbor area generally. The Waterfront Partnership is negotiating a land use agreement that calls for the city-owned parcel to be leased to the nonprofit, and it is working with the Baltimore Community Foundation in the hopes of breaking ground in spring 2011.
Particularly nice about the venture is its effort to engage local communities and to draw not tourists but residents near and far so that they too enjoy the harbor experience. The effort will hopefully spur other neighborhoods to revitalize or expand their squares and parks, which are under appreciated treasures in our Charm City.