B A L T I M O R E
issue no. 22
CAN ARCHITECTURE SAVE A CITY? Architecture review The City’s debate over aesthetics • Hotel Rwanda’s Paul RusesAbAgina An excerpt from his new autobiography Lessons from MoMA Curator Terence Riley on contemporary design • STAYING IN the city Urban middle-class families on the rise
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17 what you’re writing 21 corkboard 23 have you heard … edited by marianne amoss
27 food: cooking with soul
31 baltimore observed: the next baby boom fern shen
37 space: navigating urban space heather harris
43 encounter: shoot and run marianne amoss
46 pipe dreams tom waldron
50 trash turnaround elizabeth a. evitts
52 the city beautiful joan jacobson
56 spanish lessons alice ockleshaw
59 fiction: the woman i left behind kim jensen
63 nonfiction: an ordinary man paul rusesabagina
67 sustainable city: house of blues jason tinney
71 out there: against the tide
63 cover note: Don Cook created this
month’s cover image with acrylic paint on primed paperboard. Cook was inspired to include images of bees because at the time he was working on this project he was reading The Beehive Metaphor ( from Gaudi to Le Corbusier) by Juan Antonio Ramírez, which discusses the influence of beehives and the structure of the honeycomb on architecture.
roberta brandes gratz
75 in review 79 what i’m reading susan mccallum-smith
83 resources 86 eye to eye
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Urbanite Issue 22 April 2006 Publisher Tracy Ward Durkin Tracy@urbanitebaltimore.com General Manager Jean Meconi Jean@urbanitebaltimore.com Editor-in-Chief Elizabeth A. Evitts Elizabeth@urbanitebaltimore.com Guest Editor Carol Coletta Executive Editor Heather Harris Heather@urbanitebaltimore.com Assistant Editor Marianne Amoss Marianne@urbanitebaltimore.com Copy Editor Angela Davids/Alter Communications Contributing Editors William J. Evitts Joan Jacobson Susan McCallum-Smith Contributing Writer Jason Tinney Art Director Alex Castro
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Urbanite (ISSN 1556-8105) is a free publication distributed widely in the Baltimore metropolitan area. If you know of a location that urbanites frequent and would recommend placing the magazine there, please contact us at 410-243-2050.
quotes BALTIM ORE
Maybe we can show government how to operate better as a result of better architecture.
When we build, let us think that we build forever. —John Ruskin, author and social critic
photo by Sam Holden
—Frank Lloyd Wright, American architect
Architecture is the will of an epoch translated into space. —Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, German-born American architect
Architecture is politics.
always been a bit obsessed with architecture magazines. It’s a longstanding joke among my friends: On a trip many years ago, I brought a stack of them to the beach, much to the chagrin of my travel companions who hoped to share more vacationfriendly reading. But for me, this was eye candy. There is a wonderful promise in all those images of cutting-edge buildings. And then there are the interviews, these funny little snippets from bespectacled architects speaking in the vernacular of the trade, tossing out well-worn and amusing catchphrases like: “I wanted the building to have a conversation with the street.” So if I am so enamored of glossy architectural magazines, why, you might ask, are there so few local buildings actually discussed in this architecture-themed issue? The answer has something to do with that notion of a building having a “conversation” with the street. Architecture in a city is more than just singular structures. It is an integrated blend of designed elements in their complete setting. It is sidewalks and streets, public grounds and transit. It is the corner store and the convention center, the streetscape as well as the stadiums. This issue is not only about buildings and architectural aesthetics, but also about our fundamental approach to urban design. Great buildings cannot exist in a vacuum. So we took this opportunity to look at infrastructure—at the architecture that exists below the streets, as well as the internal processes our city uses to make decisions about our built environment. We asked: What happens when we take a holistic and creative approach to even the utilitarian functions in our lives? Journalist Nicolai Ouroussoff wrote last fall, in a post-Katrina world, about the steady decline of infrastructure in American cities. “The challenge we face is not just about infrastructure. It’s about re-knitting the connective tissue that binds us into a functioning society.” If we construct nifty structures on top of potholed streets and leaking sewers, without connecting them to the adjoining buildings or thinking about how people come and go, or about which people come and go, haven’t we missed the point? Glossy magazines about cool architecture may be beach reading, but beach reading is essentially escapist. What we need is engagement, with the whole blooming, buzzing, morphing city and all the things and people in it.
—Elizabeth A. Evitts
—Mitchell Kapor, American entrepreneur, activist, and philanthropist
A man of 80 has outlived probably three new schools of painting, two of architecture and poetry, and a hundred in dress. —Lord Byron, Anglo-Scottish poet
The two elements the traveler first captures in the big city are extra human architecture and furious rhythm. Geometry and anguish. —Federico Garcia Lorca, Spanish poet and dramatist
I have the somewhat arrogant belief that the way people lead lives can be directed, even if by a little, by
means of architecture. —Tadao Ando, Japanese architect
Charged with giving form—with perceiving and contributing order—to agglomerates of buildings, highways, and green spaces in which men have increasingly come to work and live, the urban designer stands between technology and human need and seeks to make the first a servant, for the second must be paramount in a civilized world. —Fumihiko Maki, Japanese architect
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urbanite april 06
behind this issue
courtesy of Deanna Staffo
photo by Lisa Macfarlane
photo by Kevin Gass
Don Cook Don Cook, who created this month’s cover image, is a painter currently in his third and final year as a resident artist at the Creative Alliance. Cook returned to Baltimore after spending ten years developing arts education projects for high school students in rural Western Maryland. “The city gave me possibilities in its irresolutions and loose ends. It gave me back surprise,” he says. Cook is the studio instructor for the summer M.A. in art education program at the Maryland Institute College of Art and teaches continuing education visual arts classes at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts in Annapolis. He also works contractually with the Maryland Historical Trust doing mapping and architectural drawings. Cook has received numerous awards and fellowships, most recently an Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council.
Paul Rusesabagina Paul Rusesabagina’s story inspired the 2004 film Hotel Rwanda, which dramatized the one hundred days that Rusesabagina sheltered Hutu and Tutsi moderates during the Rwandan genocide in 1994. He was the first Rwandan to hold the position of general manager in the Belgian-owned Hotel des Milles Collines. Rusesabagina has received many awards, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Civil Rights Museum’s 2005 Freedom Award. His autobiography, An Ordinary Man, comes out this month; an excerpt from the book can be found on page 63. Rusesabagina currently lives in Brussels, Belgium.
Fern Shen Fern Shen, who has lived in Baltimore since the mid-’80s, has been a staff writer for The Hartford Courant, The Portland Oregonian, Baltimore’s Evening Sun and, until recently, The Washington Post. She helped create The Post’s “KidsPost” section, a daily page of news and features designed for younger readers. Shen’s writing has also appeared in The New York Times and the journal Neurology. Shen, who wrote about families with young children who are living in the city (p. 31), believes that “Baltimore would be a safer, healthier, more stable place with a better chance for long-term survival if it had more middle-class families with kids who attend city schools.” She and her husband and son live in a part of lower Roland Park that inhabitants refer to as “The Keswick Triangle.”
Deanna Staffo “I drew children playing with a tiny Baltimore skyline to show them peacefully ‘taking over’ the city,” says Deanna Staffo of her illustrations that accompany “The Next Baby Boom” (p. 31). Staffo earned her BFA in illustration from the Maryland Institute College of Art and now resides in Philadelphia. Her drawings have been featured on film festival posters and record covers and in newspapers and magazines such as BlackBook, Bust, and Baltimore’s City Paper, among others. She’s currently working on a series of personal drawings and illustrating a weekly column for Charlottesville, Virginia’s C-Ville Weekly.
Carol Coletta is passionate about cities. As the host and producer for the nationally syndicated public radio program Smart City, Coletta presents the people, places, ideas, and trends shaping urban areas. A longtime resident of Memphis—where she was one of the pioneers who moved into the downtown loft district—Coletta recently became the president and CEO of Chicago-based CEOs for Cities. This national organization is composed of urban leaders who work to increase the competitiveness of U.S. cities in the global economy. Coletta has served as executive director for the Mayors’ Institute on City Design and continues to bring her knowledge of architecture and the built environment to publications like The New York Times and The Washington Post. You can hear her weekly Smart City radio program online at www.smartcityradio.com.
photo by Christopher Reyes
photo by Adam Schoonover
with guest editor carol coletta
his issue of Urbanite explores why the urban environment matters and the effect it can have on us. Think about the places you love, the places with instant appeal, the places that remain fixed in memory. What made them so special? Answer that question, and you’ll know why the urban environment matters. Recent research tells us that a well-executed urban environment can spur investment, inspire confidence, make us healthy, and increase property values nearby. It can make us proud of the places we live and make our places desirable destinations for visitors. And, notably, a well-executed urban environment is within reach of any city. It is not an “inherited” asset. It is an asset that can be created. So with such a valuable asset at stake, it would be natural to think that urban leaders would clearly assign the responsibility for making a great urban environment. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case. The form of our cities is not an accident, but it is usually unintentional. It is, as my British colleague Charles Landry has observed, the product of decisions made for single, separate purposes whose interrelationships and side effects have not been fully considered. The public realm and our public infrastructure are too often driven only by the narrowest utilitarian considerations. We need someone to see the city in its wholeness, to see how each part connects to the other and to pursue with confidence a standard that reaches for the best a city can be. Great place-making is a complex art. But one of the best modern practitioners was Baltimore’s own James Rouse. His passion for cities and his attention to the important details in the urban environment still stand as inspiration for anyone who values special places. Another source of inspiration is Michael Singer, whose work is featured on page 50. Michael began his professional life as a noted sculptor, but he later turned his attention to large-scale public works projects, like two designs for New York’s riverside garbage transfer stations. He imagines turning these usually objectionable facilities into neighborhood assets. His designs prove that anything can be made beautiful, and everything can add value to its surroundings. Which places do I love? There are many, but the first ones that come to mind are Las Ramblas in Barcelona, Rockefeller Center in New York, the Lurie Garden covered with snow in Chicago’s Millennium Park, the bridges over the Chicago River, and Saturday night on Beale Street in Memphis. Making great places is not magic. But their effect is magical. Smart cities take advantage of every possible asset. Why shouldn’t design be one of them?
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what you’re saying
B A L T I M O R E
issue no. 20
marry your friends
meals with an ex-mobster
—Luise Rechen is a senior citizen who has returned to live in Baltimore for the ﬁrst time in ﬁfty years. Vince Peranio responds: This article is not about the cost of grafﬁti removal or gangsters, guns, and drugs. It is about some very ﬁne Baltimore citizens expressing themselves through their clothing styles. It was a joy and pleasure working with all of them.
Making It Claire I picked up a copy of your February 2006 issue and was pleased to see Elizabeth Evitts’ Editor’s Note about Claire McCardell. My mother is a McCardell, and her father Lee McCardell, Baltimore Sun war correspondent and editor, was a first cousin to Claire. Claire died at an early age but two out of her three brothers are still alive today. Her oldest brother, Adrian L. McCardell, ex-chairman of the board at the First National Bank of Maryland, died a few years ago and was well into his nineties. He was a remarkable man! All of us McCardells are very proud of Claire. And she was a big topic of conversation at our family reunion held in Baltimore three years ago. At the time, all of her brothers were alive. We know Claire is a giant in the fashion world, but unfortunately people here in her home state of
Life and Style I am appalled by Vince Peranio’s choice of style in Baltimore (“On Location,” February 2006). Does he realize the cost of removing graffiti? See “Art School” on page 52. And what of the toll of gangs, guns, and drugs epitomized in “City Chic” on page 50 and “Hip-Hop” on page 52? I’ve ridden the buses through those neighborhoods and with those types. It’s not chic or cute to encourage such a destructive culture. Get real!
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scouting baltimore style
Your Space What You’re Saying is the place for letters from our readers. We want to hear what you’re saying—and it does not have to be all about us. E-mail us at firstname.lastname@example.org or send your letter to Mail, Urbanite, P.O. Box 50158, Baltimore, MD 21211. Submissions should include your name, address, and daytime phone number; they may be edited for length and clarity.
If we publish your letter in our May issue, we’ll send you tickets to either the Morgan State University Choir Spring Concert on May 7 or the Urban Comedy Showcase on May 27, both at The Murphy Fine Arts Center on the campus of Morgan State.
with guest editor
Maryland forget how influential she was and still is. Time magazine agreed with her influence, making her the subject of their cover story on May 2, 1955. —Mac Kennedy is director of alumni for Boys’ Latin School and lives in Roland Park.
You May Now Kiss the Bride. Maybe. Having just finished reading your article “You May Now Kiss the Bride” (February 2006), I am really interested in why you would print such a nondescript and offhanded piece about such an important subject as marriage! As a retired (ordained) Protestant clergyman and former pastor of a church in Canton,
a former organist and choir director of a large Polish/Franciscan Roman Catholic parish on O’Donnell Street, and the current music director at a Roman Catholic parish in Woodlawn, I have some very serious questions and objections about the so-called “facts” in that article. First, when I came to Baltimore from Pennsylvania in the late 1970s, I was instructed by my denominational executive to make sure that I registered with the local Maryland court to verify that I had the legal authority to conduct marriages in Maryland. This legal authority was contingent upon the fact that the denomination of which I was a part was also a legally recognized and authorized religious organization to conduct legal marriages. That
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having been done, I was then legally capable to perform marriages anywhere in the state of Maryland where I was presented with a legal marriage license. The marriage in every case must happen within the jurisdiction of the county/city where the license was secured and the facts about the marriage (date, place, celebrant, etc.) returned to that jurisdiction for local recording of those facts. Therefore, ordination is not the key to confirm whether or not the marriage described here is legal, but rather it is whether the denomination or religious group mentioned here is recognized by the state of Maryland as a legitimate group to conduct marriages in this state! This couple may well have been done a most serious disservice by someone who “thinks” he has the authority to perform marriages in Maryland when just the opposite is the case and this couple is not legally married yet! Second, many, many couples come to us clergy with the desire to be married and some are not desirous of the “religious” aspects that marriage includes for professed Christians, Jews, and others. Therefore, to proceed with the “ceremony” without some really serious thinking together (like counseling) about these aspects by two persons who are making serious promises to each other, probably for the rest of their lives, is again doing this couple another disservice that could result in serious problems later on in their lives together. And thirdly, there are more than enough professional clergy of various religious groups in Canton already who could have provided the “service” this couple needed without the so-called “help” this socalled “ordained” person describes. Some, like myself, might even be willing to perform the ceremony in a backyard in Canton, as I have done previously! Next time, think twice before printing an article that seems “cute” or “different” on the surface, but may, in fact, depict some very serious underlying problems that could have been solved in a very different way. —The Rev. W. Scott Hengen III is a long-time Baltimore resident who currently serves as the music director at St. Gabriel’s Roman Catholic Church.
The writer responds: Maryland law states “A marriage ceremony may be performed in this State by: (i) any ofﬁcial of a religious order or body authorized by the rules and customs of that order or body to perform a marriage ceremony.” Assistant Attorney General Bruce Benshoof explains, “Ofﬁciates don’t have to register in the state of Maryland. If there is a religious order or body that says you are an ofﬁcial authorized to ofﬁciate a wedding ceremony, the state of Maryland does not set itself up to determine what is and what isn’t a wedding.” The couple featured in the article ﬁled their marriage license with the City and are therefore legally married.
No Place Like Home As smooth jazz played through the speakers, I logged onto the Internet and began searching. For as long as I could remember, I wanted to pack up and move far away. I wanted to live in a city filled with African American culture. I wanted this city to have museums that presented what Black people had accomplished in America and not just how Black people were held down by coming to America. I wanted clubs and bars. Not booty shaking hip-hop clubs and old singles sitting around moping. I wanted nice, smooth, jazz clubs where the music moved you and Black people spilled poetry of real life issues that we all could relate to and enjoy. I wanted African American neighbors with ambitions, goals, and jobs. I searched the Internet for that neighborhood and what I found shocked me. I stared at the computer screen making sure I read the link correctly: Baltimore City. I asked myself, was there any good in Baltimore City? From what I remembered, Baltimore City was the home of The Wire. Drug abuse, broken families, guns, and STDs were all they taught us. Baltimore City was supposed to be the worst city in which to raise children. I followed the link and surprisingly I found exactly what I had dreamed of. For the past twenty-one years I allowed myself to be blinded by my negative perception of my own city and not once did I research the positive aspects. After an hour of research, I learned the city I had dreamed of one day building was here, and I was that much closer to reaching my goals because I was living in it. —Essence Smith lives in East Baltimore. She works at Home Depot.
Sweet Jane I was especially touched when I saw the piece on the Salsa Grill in the January 2006 Urbanite. My late wife, Jane Lamar-Spicka, used to hang out there regularly with Santa and Mrs. Claus (Richard Holmes and Ann Henry), part of the Fabulous 50+ Players. The three, with Jane playing the role of Santa’s pixie-esque helper “Elfis,” would perform acting gigs as a team during the Christmas season. About a month after her passing, Dick, Ann, and I met at the Salsa to reflect on the way Jane touched our lives and to keep the tradition of meeting there going. To honor Jane’s memory, owner Jay Angle, who knew us all on a first name basis, gave us a complimentary meal. And the final nugget is that Jane, who besides being a performer, singer, songwriter, and actress, was also a writer. It was Urbanite that published her last piece. —George F. Spicka lives in Woodmore. He is a professional musician and composer.
rendering by Peter Fillat Architects
In our December 2005 issue, Urbanite described the controversial building plans proposed by Tower Hill Development & Consulting, LLC for 20 E. Preston Street in Mount Vernon. The developers’ proposal was a radical departure from the traditional architecture associated with Mount Vernon; Tower Hill, working with architect Peter Fillat, suggested a dramatic glass and steel design. On December 13, 2005, the Baltimore City Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) reviewed their concept and did not approve the design. In a subsequent letter to the developers, CHAP wrote, “while the Commission is excited about the prospects for new construction at this location, they were not able to approve the concept plan in its current form.” Kathleen Kotarba, CHAP’s executive director, said that it was not the modern glass and steel per se that caused the Commission’s reluctance, but rather how the elements “came together.” She emphasized CHAP’s position that buildings should be a product of their age, but said the Commission was also looking for a relationship between the buildings—a connection between new and historic structures. It’s more a matter of “massaging the elements,” she said in response to a question about what the developers needed to do for their plan to be accepted. CHAP has offered to collaborate with the developers on the next revision, and Kotarba is hopeful that Tower Hill will set up a meeting with CHAP and neighborhood representatives to move the plan forward. Tower Hill Development is undecided about how it will proceed. The developers, Matt Hoffman and Chris Regan, began work on the project in July 2004, and the clients who initially showed interested in the building have long since moved on. With almost two years of work invested in the 20 E. Preston Street project, vague City guidelines, and no guarantee of a resolution to this debate in the near future, Tower Hill is uncertain that it will pursue it any further.
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urbanite april 06
Ernest and daughter, Amanda live at Frankford Estates
photo by Helen Sampson
what you’re writing
store “What You’re Writing” is the place for creative nonfiction from our readers. Each month, we pick a topic. Use the topic as a springboard into your own life and send us a true story inspired by that month’s theme. Only nonfiction submissions that include contact info rmation can be considered. We have the right to edit for space and clarity, but we will give you the opportunity to review the edits. You may submit under “name withheld” to keep your essay anonymous, but you do need to let us know how to contact you. If you’ve already changed the names of the people involved, please let us know. Due to libel and invasion of privacy issues, we reserve the right to print the piece under your initials. Submissions should be typed (and if you cannot type, please print clearly). Send your essay to Urbanite, P.O. Box 50158, Baltimore, Maryland 21211 or to WhatYoureWriting@ urbanitebaltimore.com. Please keep submissions under five hundred words. The themes printed below are for the “What You’re Writing” department only and are not the themes for future issues of the magazine itself.
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called to tell me that Lucky’s had closed. I took it pretty hard. She knew I would, which is why she called before I could read it in the papers or show up at its darkened doors. I have lived in South Baltimore for more than fifteen years. The Lucky’s on Fort Avenue helped make life pleasantly livable. Guys that were working there in 1990 were still working there in 2005. They were friendly, efficient, and kind. In many a bad snowstorm they showed up and opened the store, and I went with my sled to bring home the milk and eggs. I’d rather go to Lucky’s than the 7-11. Let’s face it, I’d rather go there than almost anywhere. The gravitational pull of a corner store is irresistible. In one of my earliest memories I am clinging to the baby carriage beside my mother while my baby sister rocks inside. We are walking to “The Avenue” (Eastern Avenue in Essex), where, at Read’s Drugstore, we will buy baby aspirin and maybe my mother will get a magazine. At the grocery store my mother will use the baby carriage like a cart, being careful not to crush my sister with canned goods. Later, my parents moved out to Harford County to give us a country childhood. My father commuted to the city. We lived on Forge Hill Road and walked to the Sunoco gas station on the corner of Route 1 to buy Nutty Buddy ice cream cones or penny candy or a loaf of bread. Sometimes we stayed after school at Dublin Elementary for Scouts at the grange. We would walk to McCann’s store at the corner of Whiteford and Dublin roads. It had everything: food, hardware, chicken feed, and headache and tummy ache remedies. That store would become mythical to me when twenty years later I met and married the great-grandson of Mr. McCann. I moved back to Baltimore City and had my first baby. Bed rest before delivery and
childbirth fever afterwards made me and my errandrunners mainstays at the corner pharmacy, Levay’s at Riverside and Fort avenues. My mother-in-law commented in 1990 that she had not been in such a place since the 1950s in Upper Marlboro. Although great, Levay’s was not the best place to buy tissues, as the tissues never lost the reek of cigarettes produced by the chain-smoking pharmacist. Still, I was real sad to see him go. Trinacria Macaroni Works, Falkenhan’s Hardware, Schneider Paint & Hardware, the hotdog guy on Falls near Hillside, the farmers’ markets, and more that I haven’t yet discovered, still exist. We are sustained by the stock these stores sell. They minister to us. “Have a nice day.” Have a nice life. —Elizabeth J. Duvall lives in Federal Hill with her husband, two children, and dog.
in the northeast corner of Ohio, at the intersection of two highways, stands a town named Macedonia, where I found myself stranded one late summer evening a dozen years ago. I was working at a summer camp, and while returning from a horse show, the van I was driving broke down. Another van took all the kids back to camp, leaving me behind with a pony and a horse trailer. I took in my options. The local steak house wouldn’t let me in with my dusty boots and 5-gallon bucket to get water for the horse, so I ended up at the Donut Tree: a faceless and seemingly forgettable 24-hour breakfast joint on these seemingly forgettable highways in this seemingly forgettable town. A plain teenage girl in a tie-dye shirt worked behind the counter, kept company by her friends as she waited out the slow night shift. As my situation w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
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was an obvious conversation starter, they gave me water and there we stayed. For nearly six hours we sat, smoking cigarettes and talking, the way teenagers manage to do when adults aren’t around. These kids who let me sit in their kitchen, who let me graze the horse on the parking lot island, and bummed me smokes and coffee when my $4.85 in pocket money ran out, these kids were Midwestern townies, hoping to graduate high school and save enough money working at the Donut Tree and the Exxon to buy a bus ticket out of there. After a few hours sitting in the faded orange vinyl booths, we got around to the topic of my story. I told them I went to this prep school with a mansion on a hill. The girl said, “Huh, I would have never guessed,” and I felt like, suddenly, this proved that I could be a real person, in my own right. Because that summer, as I’d mulled New England college options, I’d also spent a lot of time wondering what I would be worth without that fancy prep school and the Roland Park house and my mom’s Ford Explorer to tell people who I was. I never got those kids’ names. Odd I guess, but it never crossed our minds that we’d ever see each other again. I went back the next summer, stopping in on the way to another horse show, but the Donut Tree was closed, the unlit sign hanging over black staring windows. That was the only corner store I’d ever known—my generation hasn’t seen many corner stores. Even now, I sit some evenings and wonder where they are, and what we’ve lost, and what we’ve gained. —Nat Coughlin works as a project manager for a concrete construction company and lives in Patterson Park.
An old brown clapboard shack on
the corner of 69th and East End Avenue in Chicago had a store on the first floor. It was across the street from the boys’ yard of the Parkside School. The year was 1956 and I knew I was joining up with the big boys when my world had grown to include Joe’s. I was proud that I could now go to Joe’s just like my big brother, Rick, and his friends. Joe seemed like the biggest man in the world— fat, rumpled, balding, with graying hair and a filthy apron. I wondered about his legs because I never saw them as he stood imposing and grouchy behind the counter. All of us screwed up our courage to enter his domain. I was 6 years old and Joe had most of what I needed to make my day. He sold Lik-m-aid, Dots, Dubble Bubble, Milk Duds, malted milk balls, and those waxy tubes filled with some sweet-flavored liquid. And he sold baseball cards. He probably sold lots of other things in his 22-by-25-foot store but I only noticed these, which were like gems in a jewelry case. I got a dime each week for allowance and all of it went right to Joe. Tough work on this budget because I wanted cards and candy. The math was easy but the choices were overwhelming. So I bought a pack of cards each week, and with the other five cents, I bought candy. But the cards were the reason for having money at all; they were like gold and the gum was the best even if it was stale.
I had to have cards to trade, cards to see if I could get them all, cards that others might admire, cards to flip, and cards to read the stats on the backs. Just holding them made me feel like I belonged, like I was part of something bigger. Baseball cards connected me to the stars. They were a way of communicating with others in my neighborhood and sometimes the only way. A way that my brother, my friends, and I could talk and compete. Comforting in my hands, like a Teddy Bear or a pet. The neighborhood began to change in 1956, and it got worse each year after that. We stayed around until 1964. I hated to move. I hated the reasons for the move and I knew them because my parents talked about them: racism, ignorance, economics, bad politics, and corruption. I wish that everyone who ran from South Shore could have hung on to the little joys that places like Joe’s brought, instead of succumbing to the power of fear. —Jeff Stern has been living in and loving dirty, wonderful cities all his life and doesn’t know how to stop.
Just last week
I rode past “the corner.” When I was kid, the corner was two blocks from Arlington, my elementary school, and two blocks from Pimlico, my junior high school. It hadn’t been so much about the stores but the place. “I’ll meet you at the corner at eight.” “We’ll meet back at the corner.” “See you at the corner after school.” No one said Richmond’s or Zentz’s, the two pharmacies that sat on opposite sides of Rogers Avenue at the intersection of Park Heights Avenue. Each store had a soda fountain where you could get Cokes, fries with gravy, burgers, and that Baltimore delicacy, coddies. (I think you could get a coddie, fries, and a Coke for less than a buck; a burger might take you over.) If you needed more money you went outside and bummed it. Bumming quarters or cigarettes or just hanging out was the activity at the corner. In those days you could buy a pack of cigarettes for thirty cents. From the time I was 12 until I started to drive, this was the place to meet. After school, all the cool kids hung out here: the girls in their Papagallos and Villager, the guys in Cox Moore sweaters and Weejuns. We all looked alike, talked alike, and thought alike. We’d hang out for about an hour and then scatter. The girls had to get home to watch The Buddy Deane Show. In tenth grade, in the fall of 1963, as many as twenty-five of us congregated at the corner, joking and smoking before going to our fraternity pledge meeting. The dreaded fraternity ritual known as “the dump,” an organized hazing event, was scheduled for Friday November 22. The fraters would load the pledges into cars and caravan to an isolated dark spot in the county. When we reached the destination, the fraters would pelt the pledges with all kinds of crap, the nicest of which was raw eggs. After making sure that the pledges had no money, the fraters left them alone in the dark, covered in slop. That evening, about half the pledge class had assembled outside Richmond’s, including me, when a white Ford Galaxie 500 careened around the corner. The driver, Fraternity Secretary Sheldon Klein, shouted out the
window at us. “Go home, you asses! Don’t you know the president was killed?” JFK had been gunned down in Dallas, but the fear of not showing up for “the dump” had overridden any sense of propriety. After we got our driver’s licenses, the corner ceased to matter to us. We moved to Mandell’s, eight blocks down Rogers Avenue at Reisterstown Road, for their big parking lot and French fries with gravy. We grew up and moved away. Richmond’s and Zentz’s are long gone. The corner is now one of the most dangerous places in Baltimore. The bricks and glass have been replaced with roll-down security gates. But my memories are still clear. My corner was safe. My corner was the place to be. —Jerry Gordon, owner of Eddie’s Market in Charles Village, is a life-long Baltimore resident. He is married and has two grown daughters.
Lola Olay owned the corner store. It had no
name, no painted sign, and no advertisements on the walls. No one called it anything. No one ever actually went into her store; they merely leaned over the windowsills to transact business—two windows with sills so shiny from the constant rubbing of customers’ elbows. The most exciting part of our day was that brief stop for the candy or pastry our hearts long desired. We tapped our coin on the windowsill and from somewhere within, in her floor-length skirt, her dark-rimmed glasses, and her hair in a bun, appeared Lola Olay. First, you told her what you wanted. Then you showed her how much you had. She always figured the deal out for us; five cents would buy six pieces of hard candy that came in lemon yellow, cherry red, or “Vicks” green. Two or three cents would buy smaller sized drops. She then made you decide what you wanted and brought your treasure wrapped in plain paper. If pleased with you, she might add an extra piece. She seldom smiled, but Lola Olay was always fair and prompt. She gave us our first lesson in mathematics, our first understanding of economics, and showed us proper business conduct. Not only our first mentor, she was our role model when we played house and went shopping with our dolls. From her we learned how to save on advertising by throwing in a little extra to ensure the customer came back. Her customer service was excellent. No returns on candy or pastry once you left the window. If you dropped one by accident it was replaced, but not without an admonition to be more careful. We learned about credit and payment dues. She taught us that children can be trusted to run errands for their mothers. She accepted handwritten slips of paper in exchange for the small items such as condiments, margarine, canned fruit. She kept the promissory notes in a jar and noted the purchase in a book she filed by our family names. Our fathers were presented with the bill at the end of the week or the month. Lola Olay epitomizes how simple and personal business transactions used to be. —Terri Achanzar moved to Baltimore in 2004 from Canada, now lives in Owings Mills, and enjoys writing. w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
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Free Library Enoch Pratt l Street 400 Cathedra April 8 p.m. 10 a.m.–4:30 410-274-5691 oject.org www.citylitpr
d win e festival anen bocce tournam t
cellandtown Wine Festival The fourth annual High e win de ma me ho A y. munit ebrates wine and the com is es tag and a selection of vin competition takes place, d, foo es lud festival also inc available for tasting. The s, and Baltimore’s only kid for zoo g music, a pettin indoor bocce tournament. nt Garden Our Lady of Pompei Conve corner from Conkling the d un aro ne, Father Petti La and Claremont streets . Festival: April 23, 1–6 p.m ings e glass and five wine-tast win ir $20, includes a souven ace tpl rke Ma lian quale’s Ita Tickets available at Di Pas Deli 6-6787) and Mastellone -27 410 ; eet Str (3700 Gough ) 433 rd Road; 410-444-5 & Wine Shop (7212 Harfo 410-534-2212 gym nt: April 23 at 9 a.m. in the Indoor bocce tourname n tee six m; tea cce bo erson $100 to register a four-p um xim ma team 6-0886 to register Call Dino Basso at 410-53 www.highlandtown.com
spring flowe rs!
Cheesm Richard photo ©
ar | Agen
From the last week of April through the first week of May, Sherwood Gar dens in Guilford is ablaze with eighty thou sand blooming tulips of all colors. The 6-acre park is open to the public daily from dawn to dusk. There is no admissio n fee. Sorry—no picnicking among the petals permitted.
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itects (AIA) Institute of Arch an ic er Am al nu The an gs innovative cture Series brin Le g rin Sp e or m Balti ct and UniverOn April 5, archite minds to the city. ackwell, AIA, ofessor Marlon Bl sity of Arkansas pr ut, mayor of Chevy Chase, dn speaks. William Hu mayor of Indianapolis, er rm fo d an , nd yla Mar . 26 ril lectures on Ap
Musician, actor, and social justice activist Harry Belafonte speaks in Bolton Hill at Brown Memorial Park Avenue Presbyterian Church. Proceeds benefit the Brown Memorial tutoring program for children. 1316 Park Avenue April 9 3 p.m. $20, or $40 for patrons 410-523-1542
Brown Center Falvey Hall at the College of Art te Maryland Institu Royal Avenue 1301 West Mount follows seniors $8, 6 p.m.; reception each lecture $13, r fo n io iss m ad l Genera free students with ID 410-625-2585 www.aiabalt.com photo by Elizabeth Lipinski
Schu Massimo photo by
atures a it Festival fe yL it C ee fr al nu and kids, The third an ts for adults en ev d an gs na, whose bevy of readin ul Rusesabagi Pa e lik s re gu fi true plus literary Man tells the An Ordinary y Hotel ph ra lm fi og bi 04 auto in the 20 ed iz at m ra d festival. story that was reened at the sc be ill w h pears Rwanda, whic gina’s book ap ba sa se u R om s and maga(An excerpt fr thors, journal au , es ss re P have inforon page 63.) izations will n ga or y ar er n participate zines, and lit ival-goers ca st fe d an , es en mic. mational tabl op and an op h ks or W k In in the Poet’s
circus an d 5k Bread & Puppet Theater’s Nationa l Circus of the Correct Momen t, a socially and politically aware for kids and fam circus ilies hosted by th e Creative Allianc features music, cl e, owns, dancing, an d the company ’s signature large pu ppets. The perfo rmance includes Correct Kids Flag the Ensemble, tips on cheap shopping, a Russian chair da and nce. The Americ an Friends Servic Committee, the e event sponsor, ho sts Visionary Peac e 5K run/walk af the third annual ter the performan ce. Pagoda Hill in Pa tterson Park Patterson Park an d Pratt Street April 8 5:30 p.m.–7:30 p. m.; 5K begins at 7:30 p.m. Free (donations for Bread & Pupp et Theater sugges Volunteer perform ted) ers are needed; ca ll 41 Pre-register for 5K at www.active.com 0-276-1651 ning and Walking , 5K Specialty Ru n(736 South Bond Street; 410-342-03 or Falls Road Ru nning Store (624 05), 7 Falls Road; 4105050) by April 3, 296or in person on ra ce day; registratio $20 in advance or n is $25 the day of th e race 410-323-7200, ex t 21 www.creativealli ance.org
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urbanite april 06
have you heard . . .
courtesy of Preserve Baltimore
Blog … “Poems and planning documents have a lot in common. Few people read them. Even fewer understand them. And while both of them can inspire, they are quickly forgotten, and people go on as they always have as though they hadn’t read anything at all.” So says the new Baltimore preservation blog, about the Comprehensive Master Plan for Baltimore City, a 187-page document that outlines the City’s plan for the next several years. This blog, created in
Walking Tour … Springtime is the best time to walk some of Baltimore’s little-known historic neighborhoods. Baltimore Heritage Inc. offers the Baltimore on Foot tour series in April and May. On April 29, stroll through Hunting Ridge (called the “Suburb of Beautiful Trees”), which contains two-hundredyear-old hardwoods and colonial, bungalow, and Tudor-style homes that date back to the 1920s. On May 6, walk through the nation’s most intact urban mill village, Hampden’s Stone Hill, and the nearby Mill Centre. On May 13, see three of Mount Vernon’s
photo © Wendy Kaveney | Agency: Dreamstime
features panel discussions and political commentary, while also highlighting the history of the Caucus, which was created in 1969. Today, the caucus has forty-three members that work toward goals such as health care for every American, equal treatment in the workforce, and closing the achievement and opportunity gaps in education. The program airs in Baltimore City on the Black Family Channel on Monday nights at 9 p.m.
most distinctive churches; Old Saint Paul’s organist Daniel Fortune will give a brief demonstration on the church’s “Great Organ.” Finally, on May 20, visit Auchentoroly Terrace, which borders Druid Hill Park to the west and contains grand Victorian three-story rowhouses. Local historians, members of CHAP, and residents lead tours. Running from 10 a.m. to noon, the tours are held rain or shine; $10 for members, $25 for nonmembers; call 410-332-9992 or go to www. baltimoreheritage.org to register.
January, focuses on historic preservation issues, offering a snarky but informative take on the goingson in Baltimore planning and preservation. Topics of postings range from the fate of the Rochambeau and the 300 block of Saint Paul Street, to the new chair of the Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation (CHAP) and the soon-to-be-vacated city school buildings. Go to www.preservebaltimore. blogspot.com.
photo courtesy of the Live Baltimore Home Center
Television ... Learn about the issues and legislation affecting the African American community with the new television show Inside the Congressional Black Caucus. Coppin State University launched the weekly, nationally syndicated show in January. Guests on the program have included legendary actress Alfre Woodard and senators Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton. Inside the Congressional Black Caucus
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lation that these visits be in addition to the time already spent with the youth. ACCESS Baltimore hopes to increase the amount of time that community members spend mentoring, while helping adults and children share a variety of cultural experiences. Those interested in becoming mentors must first apply to one of three Baltimore mentoring programs (My Sister’s Circle, Baltimore Rising, and University of Baltimore Rising) to take advantage of this offer. Call 410-396-4280.
eBlast ... There are so many events happening in Baltimore that they can’t all make it into the magazine. We’ve found a great way to spread the word to our readers about the things that we can’t cover in print—the Urbanite Biweekly eBlast, delivered straight to your inbox. Each e-mail newsletter features a local artist
Record Store ... Hidden behind a black iron gate on Broadway in Fells Point is the new location of record store Own Guru Records. It has the feel of a “speakeasy,” says owner Alan Rutberg: To get in, customers have to ring a doorbell and wait to be escorted down a sally port to the shop. Rutberg carries an ever-changing stock of LPs, 45s, and 78s in a wide range of genres—funk, soul, hip-hop, classic rock, jazz, and comedy—about which he is thoroughly knowledgeable, a result of his lifelong fascination with records. “I try to carry higher-grade records, in terms of rarity and quality.
I don’t buy records that aren’t creative in some way,” says Rutberg, who recently decided to focus on his love of music after teaching photography at UMBC and Towson for eighteen years. He moved Own Guru from Hampden, where it opened in 2004, to this new location in February in order to take advantage of the steady stream of visitors to Fells Point and the larger space he found. The shop accommodates more than seven thousand records, and customers can buy, sell, or trade albums. 728 South Broadway; 410-563-0257.
(whose work is often being shown at the time), noteworthy news for urbanites, and events to attend. Anyone who wishes to receive the eBlast, which is e-mailed out every other Wednesday, can go to www.urbanitebaltimore.com and click on “subscribe.”
photo by Adam Schoonover
Mentorship Program … The new ACCESS Baltimore program—which stands for Arts Creating Community Energy and Social Solutions—aims to enhance mentorship programs in Baltimore by offering adults and the children they mentor the chance to attend city cultural events for free. Mentors may take mentorees between the ages of 11 and 17 to a play, concert, or exhibit about once a month at such places as the American Visionary Art Museum, Center Stage, and the Maryland Zoo in Baltimore—with the stipu-
photo © Soundsnaps | Dreamstime.com
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(Conveniently located in Belvedere Square at York Road and Northern Parkway.)
by maria blackburn
photography by john dean
Cooking with Soul Chef Brigitte Bledsoe shares the secrets of her creative Southern cuisine
Above: At Miss Shirley’s Cafe & Bakery, executive chef Brigitte Bledsoe creates comfort food with a twist, like pancakes with espresso cream and chocolate shavings.
By 5 a.m. Brigitte Bledsoe has been cooking for more than an hour inside Miss Shirley’s Cafe & Bakery. The popular Roland Park restaurant doesn’t open until 7 a.m. (7:30 on the weekends), but the executive chef has already fired up the waffle iron, mixed up the grits with applewood-smoked bacon, and turned her attention to the Irish oatmeal. In true Miss Shirley’s style, it’s oatmeal with a twist. “If you’re looking for healthy, definitely don’t get the Irish oatmeal,” she says, laughing. “There’s buttermilk and heavy cream in there.” The restaurant is owned by Eddie Dopkin, whose family owns The Classic Catering People. It is named for Shirley McDowell, a local cook and longtime employee of Classic Catering whose salmon cakes, meatloaf, and sesame noodle salad were the stuff of legend. Bledsoe never met McDowell, who died in 2001, but she was determined to do her justice at the restaurant named in McDowell’s honor. Bledsoe worked closely with Dopkin to create a menu that blended McDowell’s brand of homestyle cooking with Bledsoe’s interest in eclectic Southern flair. Some of the menu items came easily. Others, like the tender drop biscuits, went through a lengthy
tasting and testing process. “I must have collected fifteen biscuit recipes from my friends’ mothers, grandmothers, and neighbors before I found the right one,” Bledsoe says. That’s the charm of Miss Shirley’s. It looks like a typical breakfast and lunch place—it’s small and sunlit and it serves pancakes, club sandwiches, and strong coffee. But it’s the little touches that set the place apart. Pancakes don’t just come with butter and syrup, unless that’s how you want them. Instead, they’re served with your choice of seasonal topping, like espresso cream with chocolate shavings, spiced apple, cranberry, and walnut compote, or strawberries with whipped cream. Club sandwiches are made with smoked salmon instead of plain old ham. And even lowly scrapple gets special treatment: It’s garnished with a sprinkling of mâche, a nuttyflavored salad green. “I’m amazed how many people like scrapple,” Bledsoe says. Bledsoe is a Baltimore native who has previously cooked at such restaurants as Louisiana in Fells Point and City Crab in Lutherville. She may have moved from searing filet mignon to frying up sides of sweet potato fries, but her creativity in the w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
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kitchen is in full bloom. From the coconut-creamstuffed French toast to the fried green tomato, corn, and crab eggs benedict, it’s obvious that she’s taking a fresh approach to breakfast and lunch. “I took very simple ingredients and added a twist to them,” she says. “Menu development for breakfast can be so much fun.” The food is far from low-fat, but customers don’t seem to mind. Those who might order plain broiled fish or chicken with sauce on the side at dinner are willing to let loose at Miss Shirley’s, she says. “For the most part, people want a tall stack of pancakes, not egg whites cooked without butter.” Whatever they order, they’re willing to wait for it. Outside the front door of the fifty-seat restaurant there’s a heated tent to accommodate the hungry crowds that have been willing to wait as long as ninety minutes for a table ever since the place opened last May. “I never imagined we would be this busy,” Bledsoe says. Dopkin is thrilled with the way Bledsoe worked to make his place such a success. “Heading a breakfast and lunch place is a very unusual job for a good chef; here I found a great chef,” he says. “Brigitte just has the right pizzazz and positive energy.”
Now that she’s conquered the breakfast and lunch market in Roland Park, Bledsoe has plans. Big plans. “I’m waiting for Eddie to tell me where we are going to open another Miss Shirley’s,” she says as she races from stove to counter and back again. “Somewhere at the beach would be nice.” But first there’s breakfast and lunch to deal with. By 6:30 a.m. Bledsoe is still the only person in the kitchen. The line cooks will be arriving momentarily, and the waitstaff are on their way. The customers are nowhere in sight, but it’s only a matter of time. Bledsoe turns her attention to the soup of the day, a crab bisque, which needs to be poured into a holding tureen so that she can wash the soup pot and get a batch of Maryland vegetable crab soup going for lunch. “I never eat breakfast,” she says. “Except on my day off. Then I come to Miss Shirley’s for pancakes.”
Bayou Strata Chef Brigitte Bledsoe serves this rich Southern-inspired casserole as a special at Miss Shirley’s.
2 tbsp. butter 1/2 c. sliced green onion, including some green Green onion, finely diced for garnish 1 clove garlic, minced
Miss Shirley’s Cafe & Bakery is open seven days a week for breakfast and lunch; 410 West Cold Spring Lane; 410-889-5272.
6 oz. tomato, diced 8 oz. andouille sausage, diced 8 oz. small cooked shrimp 8 slices day-old sourdough bread, cut into ½-inch cubes 2 c. grated white cheddar cheese 8 large eggs 1/2 c. whole milk 1 c. heavy cream 1/2 tsp. salt 1/2 tsp. cajun seasoning Fresh ground pepper to taste
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In a large nonstick skillet over medium heat, melt butter. Add green onions, garlic, and sausage and sauté about 5 minutes until onion and garlic are tender. Stir in the shrimp and tomato, mixing well. Place half the bread cubes in a lightly buttered 9x13 baking dish. Top with the mixture of shrimp, sausage, and vegetables. Sprinkle with half the cheese. Top with the remaining bread cubes. In a large bowl, whisk together eggs, milk, heavy cream, lemon juice, Dijon mustard, salt, pepper, cajun seasoning, and chives. Pour over bread, covering it completely. Sprinkle with the remaining cheddar and parmesan cheeses. Cover and refrigerate for several hours or overnight. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Bring strata to room temperature before baking. Bake uncovered until set, 45 to 50 minutes. Let stand for 10 minutes. Cut into squares and serve garnished with green onion. w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
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The Next Baby Boom Are more middleclass parents deciding to raise their kids in the city?
In some ways, the scene at Birches Restaurant in Canton was just what you’d expect at any funky eatery in one of Baltimore’s booming downtown neighborhoods. On a recent night, patrons were hoisting drinks, rocking out to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, and noshing on sweet potato fries. Looking closer, it’s apparent that many of the smaller revelers were wearing diapers. And the bigger ones were pulling sunflower seeds and carrot sticks out of their backpacks. “Let me look at your wines by the glass. And he will have a cranberry juice,” says Michelle Tracy, whipping out a plastic sippy cup. The juice went to her 22-month-old son, Jackson. Her musician husband, Mike Otto, ordered a Resurrection Ale and Tracy, a project manager at T. Rowe Price, went with the pinot noir. Pretty soon they were joined by about ten other couples with infants or toddlers. Parking their strollers near the bar, they headed for the restaurant’s upstairs room. Most had come from homes they own a few blocks away. While giggling kids ran around in a cleared-out play area, their parents chatted about each others’ writing projects and rowhouse renovation travails and the latest doings at the new Patterson Park Public Charter School that some of them helped organize, one of two nearby public charter schools where many plan to send their kids.
Welcome to Birches’ once-a-month “Family Night”—a weird sight, in a part of town better known as an adult playground, a venue for rooftop deck parties and beer bashes. But there they were: neighborhood kids with middle-class parents vowing to stay in the city and send their kids to public school. Toddlers are turning up in all the city neighborhoods where real estate values are soaring: Canton, Federal Hill, Locust Point, Upper Fells Point, Butcher’s Hill, and Mount Vernon. And the fact that their parents are even talking about sending them to public schools is enough to make some people’s hearts skip a beat. Laurie Feinberg, the city planner assigned to neighborhoods in Southeast Baltimore, says something is definitely happening. “Years ago, everyone who came to meetings was 50-plus,” she says of the regular community gatherings. “Now it’s people in their 30s, or empty nesters. And at one meeting recently, we even had a couple of questions about schools. We may be right at the very edge of something.” That something may be a population shift. Since World War II, the migratory habits of young, middle-class Baltimoreans have been considered axiomatic, as hardwired in them as they are in salmon. Members of the species meet and mingle in the w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
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big, bad city (or deep ocean, in the case of the sockeye or chinook). But when it’s time for mating and parenthood, they head for the safety of the suburbs (freshwater streams, in the case of our analogous, anadromous fish). Everyone knows how that pattern has shrunk this city, and many others in the Northeast, while fattening the surrounding suburbs. Baltimore has lost population every decade since the Eisenhower era, topping out in 1950 at 949,708 and standing at 641,943, according to the July 2004 census estimate. As with other cities in the same boat, Baltimore has pinned its hopes for revival on a rehabbed downtown—with condos and lofts, art galleries and white-collar tech jobs, hip restaurants, clubs, wine bars, and microbrew-pubs—meant to appeal to young singles and moneyed empty nesters. It worked. The strategy seems to have stopped the demographic bleeding, creating a hot real estate market and pockets of wealth, especially in places like Federal Hill and Canton. There are now 3,145 households within a one-mile radius of downtown earning more than $75,000, making Baltimore’s downtown the eighth wealthiest in the nation, according to a recent study by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. But nobody ever expected the new urbanites to raise children downtown. Another axiom about this bunch—dubbed “the creative class” in Richard Florida’s famous 2002 book—is that they are downtown to have lattes, not little ones. Social theorists like Joel Kotkin (an enthusiastic burb-booster, sort of the yang to Florida’s yin) dismiss downtown living as no more than a niche lifestyle, “preferred mostly by the young, the childless, and the rich.” But, wonder of wonders, there appears to be a sizable group in Baltimore determined to prove him wrong. Census data show that the toddler population has grown in Baltimore’s gentrifying neighborhoods. Between 2000 and 2005, the number of children under age 4 living in Federal Hill grew by 13.7%, according to the Baltimore City Data Collaborative. (During this time, the neighborhood’s overall growth was just 7%.) The growth was similar in Canton, while Midtown saw a whopping 21.7% increase in toddlers. Baltimore is not the only American city where a hot downtown residential real estate market and a renewed interest in urban living are bringing more kids to town. In Manhattan, between 2000 and 2004, there was a 26% increase in children under 5, at a time when the borough’s overall population grew only slightly. (Demographers can’t say for sure that the spike stems from new affluent urban-dwellers there, but condo developers think it does—for the past couple of years they’ve found a ready market for family-friendly features like pools, extra bedrooms, playrooms, and eat-in kitchens.) In booming San Diego— where waterfront development initially attracted only young professionals and affluent seniors—the demographic shift has been striking. “We’re starting to see families with kids. They’re forming playgroups and pushing for
change in the schools. They’re a real force,” says Jason Luker, communications specialist for Centre City Development Corporation in San Diego. Is the creative class growing up and having kids in the city? In Baltimore, stroller-pushing parents seem to be everywhere these days, flocking to Patterson Park and Belvedere Square for outdoor summer concerts, or rolling in a once-a-week convoy at the Maryland Science Center, where a popular stroller-exercise class meets during the winter. You see them in java joints, like Spoons in Federal Hill, the new Starbucks in Canton, Common Ground in Hampden, and Red Canoe, the Northeast Baltimore kids’ bookstore and cafe. They pack tourist attractions like Port Discovery, the National Aquarium, the Science Center, and the B&O Railroad Museum. They turn out in droves for the Enoch Pratt Free Library’s interactive nursery rhyme sessions, which have seen attendance more than double in the past two years. And they’re a can-do crew, these parents. In Federal Hill, for instance, they’ve organized trick-ortreating and an annual Fourth of July parade. Three Federal Hill moms started a kid-stuff consignment store called Ladybugs & Fireflies, so that now—
Our two kids may not know how to catch a frog, but they can catch the No. 3 bus to the Inner Harbor. across the street from shops selling designer jewelry and Cole Haan shoes—you can buy a used snowsuit or Wiggles action figures. Prodded by parents, several restaurants started family nights, like the one at Birches. Simon’s of Butchers Hill had one recently where they showed SpongeBob videos. And in Mount Vernon, there will soon be a children’s playground, with special features like a water play area and a hedge maze, thanks to a fundraising drive by the neighborhood’s new crop of parents. “Our two kids may not know how to catch a frog, but they can catch the No. 3 bus to the Inner Harbor,” cracks Paul Warren, vice president of the Mount Vernon-Belvedere Association. Since he and his wife moved to the neighborhood from Washington, D.C., seven years ago, they’ve seen a huge change. “We’ve really had an explosion: On our block alone there are three new families with kids in preschool or elementary school,” says Susan Warren, co-chair of the Children’s Park Committee. These new city parents have created virtual meeting places, including a couple of vast listservs, where they trade tips on good pediatricians, new baby yoga classes, or child-care co-ops. And of course, they network the old-fashioned way, in school playgrounds or at the library. “It’s like a cross between a dorm and Melrose Place,” says Trisha Coy, of Locust Point. “It’s fun
here. It’s different from anything I ever experienced—there are people knocking on your door, saying ‘Hey, what’s going on?’ There are alley parties! We go to the aquarium, and we ride the water taxi.” Coy and her 2-year-old son (and about thirty other adults with kids) crowded the floor-space at the Light Street branch of the Pratt for the weekly infant and toddler singing and handclapping session known as “Mother Goose on the Loose.” Nearby, two women were discussing a medical article one of them was writing. Others had their planners out and were setting up playdates. The scene is pretty much the same when Mother Goose sessions are held at the main downtown Pratt library and at the Canton branch, where librarian Gloria Bartas works. “It’s amazing to me, the turnout we get in here now,” observes Bartas, who grew up in nearby Highlandtown. “I see a definite trend, like it was when I grew up in the ’60s, where the moms stay home and raise their children. Either their husbands work full-time, or they have flexible jobs or freelance careers. Most like living in this tight-knit community of rowhouses where they can walk to the library, grocery store, church, and park.” Coy had worked in information technology in Oregon before she and her husband moved to Baltimore about a year ago. In the Portland suburbs, the transition to stay-at-home mother had been depressing. Now, her husband is at sportswear-maker Under Armour in Locust Point, which is walking distance from their home, and Coy has discovered that being a parent in South Baltimore is anything but lonely. Okay, alley parties are fine, but ask Coy the morning-after question: “Will you leave for the county the minute it’s time to enroll your son in kindergarten?” Her answer: “Maybe, maybe not.” She plans to check out the local public school, though she’s worried about how good it is. And she worries about crime: “If it’s not safe, well, that’s a concern.” So the big question becomes: Can Baltimore hold onto people like Trisha Coy, who are lingering a bit longer in the city than their parents’ generation did? So far, the new-kids-on-the-block phenomenon is still just a demographic glimmer. The latest census data show the city is continuing to lose population (though much less dramatically, of late). Responding to shrinking enrollment, city school officials are in the process of consolidating students and closing some school buildings. It seems, though, as if the legions of city-loving parents present an opportunity. One of them, Carrie Grochowski, made that point pretty dramatically in February when she stood up before more than six hundred businesspeople at a morning meeting where the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore unveiled its annual report, showing continued growth in jobs, housing, and retail, driven mostly by the young. “I told them, I’m one of those 25-to-34-yearolds, and that I’m a new mother living in Patterson Park,” says Grochowski, an office manager at a downtown dental office. That announcement alone
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was enough to elicit hearty applause. “I asked, What are you going to do to make somebody like me stay around?” She and her husband, who works for the Living Classrooms Foundation, came in 2002, became parents in 2004, and are thinking they’ll send their daughter to Patterson Park Public Charter. “But that takes her only through elementary school. What happens after that? We don’t have the income to send her to private school,” says Grochowski, who worries that city middle and high schools will continue to struggle with academic and discipline problems. Many of her city friends, she says, are thinking about leaving as soon as they get pregnant. But Grochowski, a singer-songwriter who grew up in rural-suburban Salisbury and learned to love the city when she attended the Peabody Institute, doesn’t want to give it up. “What if over the next five or ten years,” she says, “all the people who moved in move out?” One way school officials are trying to allay these fears is by phasing out large middle schools and converting to neighborhood K–8 schools. Seeing education as the make-or-break issue, many of these new families have gotten active in their local city schools or helped form charter schools, among them City Neighbors in Cedmont, KIPP Ujima Village Academy on Greenspring Avenue, Midtown Academy in Bolton Hill, and Southwest Baltimore Charter School on Schroeder Street. And these are just four of the twelve charter schools in the city, according to the Maryland State Department of Education. Rebecca Gershenson Smith of Upper Fells Point became a member of the board of directors of the Patterson Park Public Charter School. A graduate student in literature and the mother of a 3-year-old daughter, Smith came to Baltimore almost two years ago from Ann Arbor with her husband, a Johns Hopkins surgical resident. Initially, they looked at houses around the city and in Baltimore’s northern suburbs in particular, but Smith worried that if they moved there she would “just be sitting inside all day in the air conditioning watching cable TV.” In Baltimore, Smith says, they found themselves meeting “teachers, community activists, photographers, architects, people in film.” Their new neighborhood had all the features they expected— “vibrancy, activity, proximity to shops, restaurants and events, the ability to walk everywhere”—but one aspect really took them by surprise. “Lots of people had little kids,” she says, marveling at the support network created by these young city parents. “When somebody has a new baby, neighborhood parents bring them meals,” she says. “There’s a mom’s book club. We do Moms’ Night Out.” The couple had originally thought they’d “stick it out” in the city just a couple of years. “We thought we might eventually want the whole white-picketfence thing,” she says, “but now we have no plans to leave.” She understands the things that can make city life less-than-charming for parents, like tiny rowhouses and yards or having to park on the street,
sometimes blocks from your door. “To get your child and all their paraphernalia and your groceries into the house can be rough,” says Smith. “If I need to dash out to the market at 7:30 at night, I don’t dare do it—I’ll lose my spot,” she says. Still, despite these obstacles, city living is worth it, says Smith, who chairs the beautification committee of her neighborhood association and helps moderate the SEBaltCityKidsListserv. “It enriches my life and my daughter’s.” Meanwhile, city school officials are hungrily eyeing new parents like these. “The growth in several pockets in the city, the northeast and southeast in particular, is fantastic,” says Eric T. Letsinger, chief operating officer for Baltimore City Public Schools. “As our quality improves, we’re optimistic that more of the parents that represent that growth will send their children to city schools.” Matthew Hornbeck, principal of Hampstead Hill Academy in Canton, can look out his window and see this target market. “Houses right out there are being rehabbed and sold for $350,000,” Hornbeck says one recent morning, looking toward a street of brick rowhouses, just south of Patterson Park. Sometimes, when Hornbeck sees parents with toddlers using the school’s newly renovated playground, he zips out to give them his pitch. He’ll tell them about the school’s improving reading scores, its diversity (58% white, 22% African American, 10% Latino), and how Johns Hopkins doctors and Baltimore Symphony musicians send their kids to his school, which recently turned charter. “Here is where Old Canton and New Canton come together.” The larger issue of maintaining diversity, as these neighborhoods gentrify, is a wrenching one for some of the families coming in, who are, by and large, white and more affluent. “I see it as more of a class issue,” says Stephanie Simms, a founder of the Patterson Park Public Charter School. “People are being displaced, no question, and you are very sorry to see them go,” she says, noting that the school, at least, is one place where long-time residents and newcomers still coexist. Advocates for the poor worry that, amid our enthusiasm over Baltimore’s newer families, we are forgetting the older ones: less-affluent families forced to leave because of rising property values or to stick it out in less-than-optimal circumstances. “Sure, some people are having a pretty nice existence with their fancy strollers and their brass handrails and their exposed brick and good restaurants, but there are other people who are really struggling,” says Ralph E. Moore Jr., director of the St. Frances Academy Community Center, in the Johnston Square neighborhood, which links low-income people with job resources and computer training. Neighborhood activists acknowledge that the revival has only touched portions of the city and that closing the growing gap between rich and poor here is a paramount issue. “There was a tidal wave of disinvestment sweeping north-to-south in this city and we stopped it,” says Ed Rutkowski, executive director of the nonprofit Patterson Park Community Development Cor-
poration, which has been purchasing and rehabbing homes near the park since 1996. “You can’t move ahead and solve the housing problem for anyone until you deal with streets owned by drug dealers and houses all boarded up.” So how does Rutkowski’s group entice today’s families to move into city rowhouses, and stop that wave? “We listen to what the people who have kids tell us they want,” says Dahlia Kaminsky, deputy director, sales and marketing for the PPCDC. “Singles want fancy whirlpools in the bathrooms, but now we’ve got mothers who have to give kids a bath and want a plain ol’ five-foot enamel tub.” One thing they’ve been doing is knocking out the wall between two homes and turning them into large, three- or four-bedroom, 2,000 squarefoot homes. To Grant Heslin and his wife, Charlene, one of these architect-designed “double-wides,” just off the north side of Patterson Park, looked pretty spacious after their sixth-floor walk-up on Manhattan’s upper west side. The double-wide they bought for around $200,000 and moved into in August 2004 also seems to them like a bargain, now that comparable houses in the area are selling for twice that. “It’s really got a great layout for kids,” says Heslin, as 2-year-old Ruby carries her book across the shiny hardwood floor and 6-month-old June bounces in a bouncy chair dangling from an exposed beam. An environmental engineer, Heslin commutes by car to his office at the Inner Harbor. His wife, an educational consultant, has been involved in the nearby Patterson Park charter school. But while the park provides nearby green space, their back patio is pretty much just cement, so Heslin and his neighbors are working to make their yards and alleys greener and safer. Along with painting the cement walls a sea-blue and installing planters, they have, with City permission, installed locked metal gates at all the alley’s entrances. “The object is to turn the alley to more of a usable space, where kids can run around,” says Heslin. It’s all a work in progress. A neighbor was robbed at gunpoint. Heslin once saw a boy walking through the neighborhood with a very large handgun peeping out of his jacket. They got hit hard on their latest tax re-assessment. But inside his cheery home, where the girls’ rooms are decorated in a funky flower pattern and picture books and toys are everywhere, urban troubles seem remote. “I think we’re going to be sticking around for a while,” Heslin says.
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Memoir by the manager portrayed in "Hotel Rwanda"
Paul Rusesabagina An Ordinary Man
by heather harris
courtesy of Adrian Lohmüller
Navigating Urban Space Why isn’t walking a part of Baltimore’s urban lifestyle?
Above: Artist Adrian Lohmüller’s response to the plight of pedestrians in Baltimore City was to create the ﬁctitious and satirical “Maryland Ofﬁce of Public Apology.” The artist, disguised as a city worker, installs a sign with the apology, while a pedestrian crosses the median on Edmondson Avenue that divides Heritage Crossing and Poppleton.
The man in the booth mouthed the words at me: Back up. I looked down at my rolling luggage and the turnstile arm that had fallen through the handle and locked my suitcase to the subway station. I can’t, I mouthed back. Just as I thought I was going to have to make the most asinine phone call of my life— Hello, potential employer? I can’t make my interview because my luggage is stuck in a subway turnstile— an older gentleman lifted my bag and rotated the turnstile arm until there was enough room to ease it out. I had passed this man on the Brooklyn streets that were now over our heads. I was in a hurry and I needed to get around him, so to get his attention I had said, “Good morning. How are you?” and then I had slid past him. “Thank you,” I said now. “You are a very kind man.” He smiled, and I pulled my suitcase onto the next train. It was only ten o’clock in the morning, but it was also August, so I was covered in sweat. I perched on the edge of my seat, flapping the back of my shirt, hoping to dry out in the time it would take me to get from outer Brooklyn to Lower Manhattan. A girl in a black camisole glanced briefly in my direction. Her hair was piled haphazardly on her head and held back by a thick headband. I felt foolish for trying to be polished on a humid summer day and lightly pulled my expanding hair away from my face. When the train stopped at Chambers Street, I tugged my bag up the stairs and out onto the sidewalk. I started to sweat again. I made it four blocks before my pointy-toed stilettos began to feel like miniature torture devices. When I finally made it to the entrance of the building where I was to have my interview, I was sure I looked like the wild woman of Borneo. A quick trip to the bathroom confirmed
my suspicion. I brushed my mop of hair, which had moved into the unflattering shape of a pyramid, applied some lip gloss, and accepted the fact that I would need to wow the committee with competence and personality, because looks were not on my side that day. Well, I got the job. Turns out, everyone on the committee looked a lot like I did that day, probably because they had all gotten to work the same way— mostly on foot. Thus began my five-month stint in New York, a city that walks everywhere, all the time. I walked to the subway station every morning and every evening, along with everyone else in the city (with the exception of the highfalutin, the cabbies, and the tourists, who take most of the credit for the clogged New York streets). I walked to the grocery store and learned how to balance my loads on the way home to avoid stiff shoulders in the morning. I walked to restaurants and museums on the weekends. I walked through the parks and over the bridges on nice days. I walked. And I was never alone. Now I’m back in Baltimore, the town I call home. I missed it. During one weekend visit to Baltimore when I was living in New York, a high school band performance broke out on Thames Street in Fells Point, complete with drum lines and girls with pom-poms, and I thought to myself, I’ve never seen this in New York, and my heart swelled for my quirky little city on the harbor. But back in Baltimore also means back in my car, and I did not miss the urban driving experience. I did not miss wasting time in traffic, the persistent gridlocking on President Street, the unsynchronized traffic lights, the close calls, the screaming at strangers, the being screamed at by strangers. I did w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
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urbanite april 06
From the $200’s
courtesy of Adrian Lohmüller
courtesy of Adrian Lohmüller
Right: A pedestrian crosses Edmondson Avenue (Route 40). “The trafﬁc ﬂow becomes obvious,” Lohmüller says, “as well as the hesitation and danger that is part of the pedestrian’s venture.”
not miss paying for gas and parking. I did not miss sacrificing my health and the health of the planet for a ride. I decided to ask a few of my Baltimore City neighbors, Why don’t we walk? I heard concerns about streetlights and safety, but that doesn’t explain why we don’t walk during the day. Mostly I heard hollow attempts to describe an experience— walking in Baltimore—that no one thought was much fun. So I began to walk the streets in search of the reasons for our aversion. My decision about where to begin walking gave me a clue. As I stood on Lancaster Street, just west of Broadway, and considered my neighborhood and the neighborhoods around it—Fells Point, Upper Fells Point, Little Italy, Harbor East, Spanish Town, and Canton—I found myself ruling out certain routes. I wanted to get over to Little Italy, to hang out in the lively street life that exists there, but I didn’t want to walk up Bond Street or west on Fleet
Street. I wondered why, and then I forced myself to do it. Homes and restaurants and cobblestones LSG_Urbanite_2.875x5.5_CMYK.pdf 1/23/2006 4:17:49 PM gave way to the concrete and idling trucks of the H&S Bakery as I crossed Aliceanna. I smiled at the workers on break, and many of them smiled back. Sidewalks were available most of the way, with the exception of a stretch as I turned on Fleet Street where the sidewalk flattened out to accommodate a row of idling H&S trucks. The sound was intimidating, and the sensation was not unlike crossing a highway. Barren concrete walls surrounded me as I made my way along Fleet toward Exeter. Some were factory walls, some were warehouse walls, many were parking garage walls, but they all hurried me along. These walls said, What are you doing here? You don’t belong here. When I got to Little Italy, I was joined on the street by benches and storefronts, restaurants and barbershops, Sun newspaper boxes and (gasp) other
pedestrians. The sidewalk hadn’t changed, but everything on and around it had. My pace slowed. I stopped to read menus and look for soups-ofthe-day that might take the chill out of my bones. I heard someone say, “Hey, how you doing?” and I turned around. The man was on a cell phone, but he could have been talking to me. I compared the various statues of the Virgin Mary, all in blue, all displayed in street level windows. I squeaked Full of grace in homage to John Waters’ film Pecker. I walked east on Eastern Avenue, past Dego Dame’s (isn’t it interesting when people take control of the names that were meant to hurt them?) and past the gas station at the intersection of Central and Eastern where I keep meaning to take my rattling car. Little Italy ends abruptly at Central, and as I crossed over, I found myself back in the company of cement walls. A fence around a new storage facility held a sign that asked me to cross over to the other side of the street because the sidewalk on that side
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was closed. The sidewalk on the other side ran along a patch of grass that sat between the street and another parking garage. A lot on the far side of the superfluous parking garage lawn was fenced off; a sign on the fence read: No Trespassing— Environmental Remediation in Progress. The cryptic sign seemed well suited to an area that had been inexplicably and unnecessarily condemned to a lifeless existence. An empty Sprite bottle lay on its side in a dusty, abandoned storefront window. Footsteps came up behind me as I continued east, and I turned to see a man who made quick eye contact and then gave me a wide berth as he passed on the left. In the distance I saw Broadway and the bustle of Spanish Town. I wondered what this stretch of Eastern Avenue was considered—Upper Fells Point, I guess. Maybe it didn’t matter; no one seemed interested in claiming it. I came into Spanish Town and gingerly crossed Broadway. When I lived in New York, I would walk confidently into the street when the light signaled my right-of-way. In Baltimore I always look twice. Drivers in this town aren’t trained to look out for pedestrians; we’re just not common enough. I turned right at Ann Street and then again at Thames and walked back toward Fells Point Square. I heard the techno music that pumps out of the After Midnight clothing store. (My favorites are the remixes of Cher songs; they seem to fit the scene best for some reason.) I heard someone laugh in front of Bertha’s and smelled a burger cooking somewhere. It occurred to me that the dead spaces between the living neighborhoods in Baltimore are as quiet as they are colorless—the cement walls that line the streets that run in those spaces swallow sound and smell, as well as scenery. So, why don’t Baltimoreans walk? We don’t walk for a host of reasons: because it’s inconvenient, because of the crumbling sidewalks and barren street-level structures, because the neighborhoods are disconnected, because there’s no effective mass transit to catch, because it’s not always safe, because nobody else does. This is not the case in New York City, not because New York is a better city than Baltimore, but because New York was forced to respond to the pressures of population explosion and facilitate as many ways as possible for people to move around easily. This practical response brought with it an increase in quality of life for many New Yorkers. New Yorkers are surprisingly connected to their neighborhoods and neighbors. They spontaneously cluster on street corners, they know many of the people to whom they give their business, they know when someone new is in the neighborhood, and they watch newcomers for signs that they share the values of the community. New Yorkers free each other’s trapped bags from subway turnstiles. And while Baltimore will never have to respond to the demands of eight million residents, Baltimoreans can choose to reap the benefits of that lifestyle. It is well within Baltimore’s ability to fix the roads and sidewalks, commit to constructing stimulating street-level designs, invest in practical mass transit, and stop wasting the space between established, vibrant neighborhoods. It’s not an extraordinary thing to ask of one’s city, and Baltimore deserves it. ■
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urbanite april 06
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Shoot and Run Using a projector and a milk crate, artist Kelley Bell shines a light on our changing cityscape
Emily Wilson, Luci Morreale, Kelley Bell, and Brendan Howell (left to right) have been projecting an animated raven onto buildings that are slated for demolition or development in an effort to document the changing face of Baltimore.
“I’m not anti-development. I don’t think you can be,” says Kelley Bell, 34, standing in the lobby of the Load of Fun studios, the former home of Lombard Office Furniture turned artist workspace on the corner of North Avenue and Howard Street. The warehouse is a part of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, and it is also the location of Bell’s new studio. Bell, a student in the MFA imaging and digital arts program at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, may not be against development, but she does question how it is being handled in the city. Bell has created an unorthodox way to bring attention to the many changes happening to buildings all over Baltimore. She and her team—graphic designers Luci Morreale and Emily Wilson and electrical engineer and fellow MFA student Brendan Howell—are involved in an art project that involves what Bell calls “guerilla-style projection.” The group travels to structures that are scheduled for demolition or development and then, using equipment perched on the backseat of Bell’s car, projects a short animation featuring a raven. This bird doesn’t have a thing to do with the Ravens, or even Edgar Allan Poe; instead, according to Bell, the raven is meant to function as a “trickster,” the archetypal wise fool of North American folklore—similar to the wise fool often featured in
Shakespeare’s works. It is a figure that seems to be an idiot but is often the only person that can be truthful. Do passersby get it? Often, no—and that’s okay. Since they can’t tell immediately what they’re looking at, people pause and question why the raven is appearing on the building, and this, hopes Bell, leads them to examine what’s happening in the city. There are three different sequences, all created by Bell using the design programs Adobe After Effects and Moho. In one, the raven’s neck becomes a construction crane that shoots up into the sky, and its head becomes a wrecking ball; in another, the bird discovers a quarter and bounces the coin on its feet as the coin grows larger and then crushes the bird; and in the third, the raven paints a picture of itself and then is swallowed by its own likeness. The project, White Light, Black Birds for Baltimore: Trickster Artist Tactics in Urban Spaces, is inspired in part by MobMov (Mobile Movie), a project based in Berkeley, California, that involves projecting films on buildings and inviting the public to watch and listen via their radios (like a drive-in movie theater). Much like Bell’s project, the location of the projection changes each time and the project leaves no permanent mark behind—like a kind of transient graffiti that is both art and activism. The first outing Bell and her crew did took place in November 2005; Bell calls it pure luck. “I was w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
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urbanite april 06
Citizens of humanity
photo by Kelley Bell
Bell projects her animated raven onto the side of a rowhouse in East Baltimore because this house, and all others in a twenty-block area, will soon be demolished in order to make room for the new Johns Hopkins biotech facility. In this sequence, the raven’s neck becomes a construction crane, and its head becomes a wrecking ball that swings back and forth.
driving up 95 and saw that demolition of these oil tanks in Canton had already started, then I drove out to UMBC and got the equipment and drove back down. I got great footage.” Sometimes, though, structures are torn down so quickly that Bell doesn’t have time to document them. She heard that the Chesapeake Paperboard Company building in Locust Point was to be razed, but it was gone before she was able to include it in her project. Bell believes that her experience with these near misses is similar to the way city residents feel about the changing built environment. “Development is something a lot of people talk about, especially creative individuals trying to make a living in the city. But it seems that there’s this feeling of helplessness—‘Well, there’s nothing we can do. People have already made the decisions.’ Unfortunately, in a lot of cases that’s the truth.” The project, which is doubling as Bell’s personal venture and her masters thesis, will include about fifteen outings (projecting on two to three buildings during each outing) in time for Bell’s thesis show this month; she hears about potential projection sites mostly through word of mouth. The project has two stated goals. First, Bell wants to document a city in transition, like the French photographer Eugéne Atget who photographed Old Paris at the turn of the twentieth century. Secondly, she hopes to spark a dialogue within the communities she visits, primarily by getting people to ask questions about what is happening in these areas. On the night that I join Bell and her crew, they are heading out for their fifth expedition. The first stop is the Fells Point Recreation Pier; they aim to project on the building that sits on the pier and was used as a set for the television show Homicide: Life on the Street. The group has chosen this spot, they say, because development of the pier has stalled and the fate of this prime location is uncertain. Even though it’s a Friday night, hardly anyone is out in the near-freezing temperatures. The few people driving by slow down and stare out their windows as the animated raven balances the coin on its talons and is crushed by it. The animation loops for about ten minutes while Howell videotapes it and
Morreale takes digital photos, which document the project and will serve as the exhibit at Bell’s senior thesis show. Normally, the projector is firmly fastened to a milk crate contraption—affectionately dubbed “The Unit”—that also holds a DVD player, wires, and a main cord that runs through a converter and connects to Bell’s car battery. Most of the time, the animation is projected from inside the car, with The Unit securely attached to the backseat, and she leaves the car running so as to not drain the battery. But because parking is so limited here on Thames Street, Bell has to park perpendicular to the building, remove the projector, and manually aim it onto the brick. One man stops to see what the group is doing. He comments, “This is something that would happen in my neck of the woods.” When asked where he’s from, the man replies, “Berkeley, California.” After about ten minutes, the group carefully packs up the equipment, and we’re off to the next site—the neighborhood directly north of Johns Hopkins Hospital, off Broadway north of Fells Point. In this neighborhood, called Middle East, demolition has started to make way for the new Johns Hopkins biotech facility. All of the residents in a twenty-block area were asked to leave to make way for new construction, despite the efforts of the Save Middle East Action Committee (SMEAC), a community organization that formed to represent the neighborhood residents. Here at the intersection of Barnes and McDonogh streets, the rowhouses are dark and empty, their windows boarded up or sealed with cement blocks. The neighborhood is completely deserted except for two men working on a truck by the side of the road. There is an occasional sound of traffic and some voices echo from Broadway. The raven, its body sprouting the crane-like neck, is projected on the side of a rowhouse. Behind us is a fenced-off space, the size of about two blocks, that has already been razed; it is pockmarked with bricks and puddles of water, and brightly illuminated by stadium-style lights. From our vantage point, the high walls of Hopkins seem to tower over the row-
houses. “These houses will all be gone,” Bell says. “We’re saving them in the best way that we can by documenting them.” One man who appears to be a resident of the neighborhood walks toward us from a nearby street, smoking a cigarette. He glances at the raven on the building, then at the group, and then shakes his head, apparently reacting strongly to something he sees, but no one speaks to him. The dialogue that Bell hopes to spark seems elusive. Our third and final stop tonight is Clipper Mill, the site of new office buildings, condos and rowhouses, artist studios, and Urbanite’s own editorial offices. Bell chose to project here in order to highlight the transition of the space from unregulated to legitimate, up-to-code artist space. She maneuvers her car so that the raven, which is painting a picture of itself and then being devoured by it, is projected perfectly from the backseat onto an archway that crosses over the main road through the development. All in all, Bell’s project raises the issue of how communities are shaped by artists and the responsibility communities then have to support them. Artists, she says, revitalize neighborhoods because they initiate change gradually and introduce new, interesting elements, which in turn draw people and capital to an area. Then gentrification occurs and artists are pushed out—like in Manhattan’s Soho—and the elements introduced to the area by artists begin to disappear. “In raising the prices, you kill off a lot of the interest in coming to Baltimore in the first place,” she says. “Gentrification can work when the integrity of the neighborhood is kept,” Bell says. “Are there ways that can be worked out that both developers and artists win?” She plans to continue her work after she completes her thesis. “There are so many good people in the city, doing good things in the arts and in the communities, and some of them are working together to help find solutions. When we work together, there’s so much more that we can do.” Kelley Bell presents her project at UMBC’s Center for Art and Visual Culture on April 13. For more information, call 410-455-3188 or visit www.umbc.edu/cavc. w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
urbanite april 06
What could happen if we treated infrastructure as an integral part of our city’s architecture?
Pipe Dreams B Y
ILLUST RAT ION
WALDR O N
If there was any doubt about the brittleness of Baltimore’s basic skeleton, the second half of 2004 should have erased it. The first thing to go was a 3-foot-wide sewer pipe in West Baltimore, which broke open in June and sent 60 million gallons of raw sewage into the Gwynns Falls. Crews working to clear the clogged pipe inadvertently damaged a nearby water line. That caused an underground flood, which led to a sinkhole opening up in Braddish Avenue—a 45-foot-long chasm that almost swallowed a car. Seven weeks later, a cracked sewer tunnel under Cathedral Street in Mount Vernon created a sinkhole that wouldn’t be fixed until December. In late September, an underground electrical fire erupted near Guilford Avenue and Fayette Street, creating pressure that blew manhole covers an estimated 50 feet into the air. The mess shut down more than one hundred businesses and caused gridlock through much of downtown Baltimore. Finally, in October, a 12-foot-long sinkhole yawned open not in some out-of-the-way side street, but at the corner of Pratt and Eutaw streets, in the heart of downtown. In that five-month span, the vulnerability of the city’s aging infrastructure was on vivid display, complete with spewing sewage, collapsing roadways, and exploding manholes. That is to say nothing of the poor conditions in many of our schools or our ugly-duckling mass transportation system. Instead of being outraged, Baltimoreans seem resigned to the conditions we live in. We have grown used to the pockmarked streets, the crumbling curbs, the water main breaks, and sinkholes. With Baltimore’s financial situation improving, it’s time for the city to not only redouble its infrastructure repair efforts, but also to think in new ways about the possibilities embodied in civic infrastructure. Over its history, Baltimore has tended to value its infrastructure highly, to think of it not just as a necessary function, but also as an opportunity for beautiful, pioneering architectural form. Its drinking water system was an engineering marvel built with respect and affection. For evidence, take a look at the splendid pumping station in Guilford, near Cold Spring Lane. Such structures weren’t built just to house waterworks; they honored the critical role of infrastructure in our lives. Or consider the Carrollton Viaduct, which crosses Gwynns Falls in Southwest Baltimore. It was the first arched masonry railroad bridge in the nation when it opened in 1829 and it still supports railroad traffic today. But too often today, our infrastructure generates more embarrassment than pride. The city’s water system, for instance, had nearly 1,200 breaks in its 3,400 miles of water mains in 2003, according to congressional records. Other cities have far less trouble. Philadelphia, with about the same w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
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It’s time for the city to not only redouble its infrastructure repair efforts, but also to think in new ways about the possibilities embodied in civic infrastructure.
amount of water pipe, had fewer than 800 breaks, while New York, with a far bigger system, averages 550 breaks annually. And the sewer system, one of the last to be completed in a major American city, needs a complete overhaul. “A week doesn’t go by that I don’t get a complaint about a sewer backing up in somebody’s basement,” says city councilman Keiffer J. Mitchell. The ultimate importance of infrastructure became urgently clear last summer in New Orleans. The failed levees created a human catastrophe. Many died; others saw their lives washed away. In Baltimore, it wasn’t a storm that did the damage. Rather, the city has suffered from decades of neglect. “I’ve heard the comment that what happened in New Orleans with Katrina in a thirty-hour period happened to Baltimore in a thirty-year period,” says Tom Liebel, a Baltimore architect who is writing a book about the city’s industrial history. “What you see here is a systematic disinvestment in infrastructure, but also in community.” Like all industrial cities, Baltimore’s ability to take care of its built environment declined along with its population and tax revenues. At the same time, the federal government cut back significantly on the amount of money it pumped into cities. With limited resources, the city struggled to keep its aging infrastructure from collapsing. Even under the best of circumstances, there’s little glory in fixing old things; the inclination is to focus on the new and shiny. Over the last few decades, big money—much of it from Annapolis—flowed into projects like the downtown stadiums, the convention center, and the Fort McHenry Tunnel—important projects but often unconnected to the basic quality of life of Baltimore residents. Other things went unattended. Now, for example, the City must spend roughly $1 billion over several years to fix its sewer system—a project forced on the City by the federal government. The long-overdue project will take care of the system’s major problems although others will persist, according to Guy Hollyday, chairman of the Baltimore Sanitary Sewer Oversight Coalition. The sewer project will also eat up almost a third of the City’s $351 million capital budget next year—with the rest going to water lines, roadways, sidewalks, parks, schools, and a host of other projects. That is more than the capital budgets of some other East Coast cities such as Pittsburgh and Boston, but it is at least $100 million less than what Seattle—a slightly smaller city—is planning to spend. The $351 million figure does not begin to address the total need. The city schools alone need more than $1 billion in repairs. Fixing the infrastructure in an old place like Baltimore presents formidable problems, of course. “It would be ideal if you could lift up all the buildings and fix everything underneath,” jokes Kurt L. Kocher, spokesman for the Baltimore City Department of Public Works. “Meanwhile, you do what you can do.” But what if, rather than just doing what it can, Baltimore started doing things differently? Kyong Park, an experimental architect, says the decay of urban cores— particularly in Detroit, where he once lived—can create a new dynamic. “It’s a perfect scenario in which the balance between the state and the citizens is reconfigured, where the state begins to malfunction and the citizens start to pick up where it left off—snow and garbage removal, the school system, medical services,” he says in the January issue of Metropolis magazine. We see the seeds of that activity here now. The Neighborhood Design Center, for example, gets requests from an increasing number of community groups looking for help to make basic improvements in public spaces and decaying buildings.
“More and more we talk about partnerships and the role that citizens and nonprofit organizations need to play to make our parks better, to improve the schools, to do the kind of things that at one time really were the role of the government,” says Mark Cameron, executive director of NDC. “It’s very positive for people to take that initiative. It gives people a greater voice in terms of what is in fact done.” Community-based groups are doing incredible work in Baltimore, whether it’s the BUILD (Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development) organization’s effort to rehabilitate an East Baltimore neighborhood or the people of Roland Park raising the money to expand and modernize the local library and build a safe playground at the public school. In West and Southwest Baltimore, the Watershed 263 project has brought together government agencies and a host of other groups working to bolster a dozen communities by improving the environment and elements of the infrastructure. That kind of approach may become more common as the city reaps the financial benefit of increased property values and the stabilization of the city’s population. “We suddenly have dollars coming in instead of managing loss,” says Tim Schneid, a real estate analyst for the Department of Planning. “There’s a big difference there. When you see resources coming, you see opportunities.” Most of the city’s money will continue to go to the nuts-and-bolts of putting new pipes in the ground, fixing roadways, and repairing leaky roofs. But some new things are coming—among them a Jones Falls trail connecting Mount Washington and downtown, bicycle-friendly roadway improvements, and a new traffic control system that promises to ease redlight delays downtown. Yet more is possible if the city begins thinking about its infrastructure as more than just utilitarian necessities, but as civic amenities that require fresh, creative responses. Limited budgets can carry more of a bang and create a true impact when infrastructure is incorporated into the architecture of the city as a whole. Los Angeles, for example, has a new 14-mile express bus route that also includes a pedestrian path and a bike lane. In Phoenix, artists Michael Singer and Linnea Glatt were part of the design team for a waste transfer and recycling center completed in 1993. Rather than being an eyesore, the center is inviting to the public and all but celebrates waste disposal and recycling by including a community center inside the plant. (See the article on Michael Singer on p. 50 of this issue.) Technology is also offering possibilities. In New York, Renaissance Integrated Solutions is marketing a method of replacing sewer lines with modern pipes that also carry conduits for fiber optics—a technology that holds the promise of bringing broadband access into every home linked to a municipal sewer system. Could that work in Baltimore? “A variety of people, including artists, can bring some powerful new thinking that will allow communities to visualize pieces of the infrastructure as not just out-of-sight services,” says Nancy Rutledge Connery, who has worked in civic infrastructure planning, research, and finance for more than twenty-five years. Such approaches may seem like a distant dream for Baltimoreans, who would willingly settle for getting the basics right—sewers that don’t back up into basements, flat streets, and better school buildings. Those are indeed the basics any city must provide. But it’s past time that we as a city think big—once again—about ourselves and imagine a new civic infrastructure. ■ w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
trash turnaround B Y
E V I T T S
SCULPTOR MICHAEL SINGER IS CHANGING THE WAY WE LOOK AT WASTE Imagine the real estate ad: Cutting-edge development in the heart of New York City seeks artists for studios with waterfront views, a lush green roof, and an airy glass and steel design. The multiuse building will be shared with community groups, a cultural center, and several thousand tons of garbage ... If you’re Michael Singer, you don’t have to imagine; you’ve already realized it. The above describes aspects of Singer’s proposal for a sustainable city waste transfer plant in Manhattan, which doubles as an educational and artistic center. Singer, a celebrated sculptor whose works are collected by major museums and galleries, has turned his creative energies to the idea of infrastructure. What happens, he asks, if you take behemoth problems like waste treatment and power plants and start thinking about them as beautiful opportunities? Rather than assume their use to be unilateral and static, what if you expand your vision by asking: What can these places be? Singer has now gone from showing at the Guggenheim to designing what has been dubbed the Guggenheim of Garbage. He has revolutionized the function of infrastructure in cities like Phoenix, Prague, and Grand Rapids. In 1993, The New York Times selected Singer’s design of a waste recycling and transfer station in Phoenix as one of the top eight design events of the year. The plant is sustainable, beautiful, and functional, and it cost less than the cumbersome clunker originally proposed by the government. “Everything is infrastructure, it is our lives,” Singer says. “These places don’t have to be ugly.” While design is important, “it shouldn’t just be about making it look good from a distance,” Singer says, “but about how it really interconnects with the surrounding environment, facilities and systems—how it integrates into everyday life. I think this is the challenge for any city right now.” Part of Singer’s success in realizing his integrated designs comes from partnering with a team that includes civil engineers, architects, municipalities, and community members in order to bring these sustainable and sophisticated projects to completion within budget. “The built environment is more than just a building,” Singer says. “It is a collection of systems that have to be considered: social systems, economic systems, cultural systems, environmental systems.” By taking those all into consideration when creating infrastructure, you’re adding value “because you’re not just building a garbage transfer facility,” he says. “You’re building an educational facility, you’re building a cultural facility, you’re building a facility that could regenerate the environment. “Infrastructure can then become an opportunity to create a sense of place and a connection to the larger community.”
urbanite april 06
Right: The design of the “Guggenheim of Garbage” was commissioned by the national nonproﬁt Environmental Defense as a way to show civic leaders in New York City that there is an alternative to polluted and unsightly waste transfer facilities. This building, which includes green roofs and artist space, is more than just a concept: It has been fully engineered and is feasible to build.
Below: At the behest of Trans Gas Energy, Michael Singer helped plan a new cogeneration gas-ﬁred power facility in Greenpoint, Brooklyn with a team of architects and engineers. This concept design overlooks the East River, the New York City skyline, and the 14th Street Con Edison Power Plant. The design represents what Singer calls an “Urban Eco-Sustainable Network,” where the building supports habitat creation, education, recreation, water preservation, and the growth of wildlife and plant life.
rendering by Trever Lee, courtesy of Michael Singer photo by David Stansbury, courtesy of Michael Singer
photo by David Stansbury, courtesy of Michael Singer
rendering by Trever Lee, courtesy of Michael Singer
Michael Singer partnered with artist Linnea Glatt to help transform Phoenix’s Solid Waste Transfer and Recycling Center into a beautiful and functional space (above). Sitting on 25 acres, the 100,000-square-foot building cost less than the city’s original plans and includes amenities like ofﬁces that open onto courtyard gardens and a light-ﬁlled community space (right).
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l u f i t u a e b y t i c e th B Y
J O AN
ILLUST RAT ION
J AC O BS O N BY
H O US T O N
CAN A NEW AND IMPROVED URBAN DESIGN AND ARCHITECTURE REVIEW PANEL BRING BETTER BUILDINGS TO BALTIMORE? In the Department of Planning’s eighth floor meeting room, a task force of civic and architecture heavyweights spent the last several months pondering the future of Baltimore’s skyline as they debated whether it is prudent—or possible—to legislate taste. Among them were two former housing commissioners and several architects, including one of the designers of the Brown Center—the city’s most provocative new work of architecture—at the Maryland Institute College of Art on Mount Royal Avenue. The task force spent many hours searching for a way to inspire developers to build and landscape the highest quality urban designs on what’s left of undeveloped Baltimore. As they debated how much control the city government should have over architectural design, the panorama from the meeting room window was most instructive, with its familiar view northward of Baltimore buildings and landscapes, both sublimely elegant and alarmingly dull. Below them was the newly streamlined War Memorial Plaza. To the northwest rose the majestic Belvedere Hotel. To the east was a dated high-rise for the elderly with sixties-ish circles cut inside the building’s angular outlines. In between was the fortress architecture of Central Booking and quaint signature rowhouses, interspersed with an abundance of post-World War II clunkers. Architect Doug McCoach, a vice president at the architecture and planning firm RTKL Associates, Inc., chaired this best practices task force, which was formed in the fall of 2005 by Planning Director Otis Rolley III—at the suggestion of Planning Commission Chairman w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
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urbanite april 06
Peter E. Auchincloss—to dissect the City’s current process for reviewing design. Rolley asked McCoach to oversee the potential retooling of the Urban Design and Architecture Review Panel (UDARP), an advisory group that reviews architectural plans for major City projects. Originally called the Design Advisory Panel, the group was formed in 1964 to oversee redevelopment of urban renewal areas in the city’s center. Today it has six professionals with expertise in architectural, urban, and landscape design, according to the panel’s guidelines. UDARP can currently weigh in only on signature sites, significant projects that are proposed in renewal and/or conservation areas, master plans, and planned unit developments (a comprehensive development strategy for a large area). The panel may also review projects that require zoning changes or variances, as well as projects requiring final design approval by the Planning Commission. The task force was asked to design new rules that would give the City more influence over development projects “with an eye toward making the process more predictable and give our city better architectural design,” said McCoach. Currently, for example, UDARP has no jurisdiction over Johns Hopkins Medicine’s $800 million expansion with two new hospital buildings on Orleans Street in East Baltimore. Since the project is not located in an urban renewal area, the City had no say in the design. In contrast, UDARP did have oversight of the City-financed Convention Center hotel planned for Pratt and Eutaw Streets. There were several review stages, including one major revision last summer, with some members saying they thought the building resembled a prison. In the future, they hope, the Department of Planning and a revamped design panel can head off such undesirable designs before blueprints are completed. At a task force meeting in January, the group discussed how to rewrite the rules. They debated whether it’s the City’s place to force private developers to adhere to a certain aesthetic. Dominick Murray from the Mayor’s Office of Economic Development, told the others, “I have a great fear of trying to legislate taste.” Caroline Moore, another task force member and chief operating officer of development for Struever Bros. Eccles & Rouse, said, “It’s about good urban planning or design. I don’t think it’s about taste.” As their friendly debate continued, a gentleman sat in the corner, quietly taking notes. He was not a member of the task force, but had come to observe the process in hopes that it would ensure a future of good design. His name is Martin Millspaugh and he spent nearly a quarter of a century overseeing the rebuilding of Charles Center and the Inner Harbor as president and chief executive of Charles Center Inner Harbor Management Inc. His interest in rebuilding cities began in the 1950s as a young newspaper reporter for The Evening Sun when he wrote a series of articles entitled “What is Urban Renewal?” He later went to work for the Charles Center Management Office, the first entity to manage the rebuilding of downtown. It was there that the management office oversaw an architecture panel that was the predecessor of the modern design review panel. It was 1959 when the new Charles Center Management Office announced a national competition for an office building to replace the popular O’Neill’s Department Store on Charles Street. The review panel, or jury, was made up of the deans of the schools of architecture from the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Harvard University, and the University of Pennsylvania. At the time, the idea of building a new office building in bleak downtown Baltimore was considered quite risky. And having a jury choose the architect was a novelty.
“In those days, the public sector was not in the habit of dictating aesthetics,” said Millspaugh. Millspaugh recalls walking down the street, meeting friends who told him, “You guys are out of your mind.” But Baltimore needed new office space and the business community and City Hall wanted to make a bold statement about downtown’s renewal. The jury quickly narrowed down the six candidates to two finalists. One developer was from Baltimore, millionaire industrialist Jacob Blaustein with a design by architect Marcel Breuer. But the jury chose a developer from Chicago, Metropolitan Structures, Inc., with a sleekly realized black building by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, “then considered the world’s greatest living architect,” said Millspaugh. His design, devoid of ornamentation, was very advanced for Baltimore’s provincial taste. And Millspaugh worried that Mies’ “less is more” style would not sell in Baltimore. Blaustein constructed his building—slightly taller than Mies’— across the street. “Both buildings were fully leased just as construction was completed,” said Millspaugh. Within a few years the City added eight more buildings. From that beginning, Charles Center grew with the Mechanic Theater, Hopkins Plaza, and other buildings before the city’s renaissance moved to the Inner Harbor, where Millspaugh worked to ensure that the openness of the harbor was maintained by a frame of mid-sized buildings and nothing larger. Since those years, he and other civic leaders have worried about instances of mediocre architecture coming to Baltimore—though they prefer not to give examples publicly. But with land yet to be developed in the Patapsco River’s Middle Branch by Cherry Hill and Westport, and the old Allied Chemical site in Fells Point jutting out into the harbor awaiting design, there is still time for Baltimore to set an architectural example. As McCoach put it, “The decisions we make today, the citizens have to live with for the next one hundred years.” After looking at best practices in other cities, like Seattle and Charleston, where design review boards play a significant role in fostering good design, the task force developed several recommendations. First, they are proposing that UDARP have a broader authority to review projects, whether or not they are located in urban renewal areas or PUDs. Second, the Department of continued on page 81
Some day developers will know they’ll need a fourstar or five-star architect. It’ll become common knowledge that this is what you expect when you come to Baltimore.
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photo by Enric Miralles and Bendetta Tagliabue
SPANISH LESSONS By
O ck lesh aw
Former MoMA curator Terence Riley on what Baltimore can learn from Spain’s new architecture
Three decades after the end of Francisco Franco’s dictatorship, Spain has emerged as an international hub of architectural innovation, beginning with the infrastructure created for the 1992 Olympics in Barcelona and punctuated by the 1997 opening of the Frank Gehry-designed Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Fueled in large part by the European Union’s investment of more than a hundred billion dollars into Spain’s infrastructure, the country’s most recent wave of creativity is being realized by big name architects as well as virtual unknowns varying in age and nationality. Thirty-five of their diverse projects are the subject of “On-Site: New Architecture in Spain,” an exhibition at New York’s Museum of Modern Art that runs through May 1 and is organized by Terence Riley, MoMA’s former Philip Johnson Chief Curator of Architecture and Design. Each project, from the tapestrylike, undulating form of the renovated Santa Caterina Market to the elegant Rafael Moneo-designed town hall extension in Murcia, represents what Riley calls “the building blocks for cities.” According to Riley, these buildings are as visually stunning as they are integral to the urban landscape. In March, Riley became the director of the Miami Art Museum. As he guides the design of a new building to house the museum’s collection, Riley is focused on American architecture these days, but the lessons taken from Spain continue to resonate with him. Riley spoke to Urbanite about what American cities can learn from contemporary Spanish architecture.
urbanite april 06
How does the Spanish approach to architecture differ from the American approach? Is Spanish culture more receptive to risk-taking in architecture than we are? For one thing, Spain is a very urban country. I tend to think that architecture is really generated by urban conditions. Spanish architecture rarely, if ever, is given a clean-slate kind of site (except in some of the suburban areas, which are less common), so it’s a more intricate thing. There’s more of a sense of history almost all of the time—and I don’t mean that in terms of historical architecture. You’re dealing with territory that has already been defined by past uses, so there’s a lot that gets added into the mix beyond the typical American office park development, which, quite frankly, is always looking for the opposite thing. They are looking for sites with no history, and therefore, no friction. A quarter of Spain’s population lives in cities that were founded by the Romans, so you’re talking about a quarter of the population living in cities that are more than two thousand years old. Because Spain is so urban and because people have been living in cities for so long, they have come to expect certain things that they consider to be associated with urban life. They expect good architecture. They expect good public spaces. They expect good infrastructure. To them, these are not only the joys or the benefits of urban life, but just expectations. In that sense, the government spends the money in those areas in ways they don’t here in the United States.
You’ve often said that much of Spain’s contemporary architecture is defined as much by its form as by its ability to blend with the landscape. What do you think U.S. cities can learn from this approach to design? If we are going to take the president’s call to save energy seriously, Americans had better reconcile themselves with urban living. I think the suburban dream, which was about cheap land, easy mobility, clean air, no crime, and that kind of fantasy, has been replaced by soaring costs, especially related to energy, unbelievable hours spent in traffic, and the realization that the problems that people associated with cities aren’t just the problems of cities; they are the problems of people and they go wherever people go. I really believe in the value of [design] competitions. The other thing is spending more on infrastructure. Another thing is to develop national policies that would encourage energy efficiency by supporting urban living. Should architects in the United States be more involved in developing public policies? Architects aren’t just service professionals who execute the policies set out by others, but architects should and can participate in policy-level discussions, especially about cities. I think it helps, especially if you’re talking about an older American city, to have architects very closely involved in plans for revitalization. Much of the work in the exhibition shows continuity with the past, while also embracing the present, but the connection is not necessarily literal.
In America, [public housing] has become associated with poverty and race, and to this day, it’s hard to find a politician who can talk positively about housing. But if you look in the show, there are a number of projects with very strict requirements that are very highly regulated in terms of things like window space. It’s a type that young architects love to take a crack at, because often the top architects have their pick of projects and they don’t always do public housing. What you get from the younger architects is more determination that somehow even with all the rules there can be a new solution. Many of the architects in the show are early in their careers—some are even in their thirties. There’s no question that groups like Europan, which hosts design competitions for young architects in Europe, have brought about a lot of the creativity we’re seeing there. Why aren’t the perspectives of younger architects more encouraged in the United States? It could change. Again, I think the competition system is a good one. It works against the establishment of fixed ideas getting replicated over and over again. It gives younger architects an actual leg to stand on in terms of their education. What happens so often is you get graduates of the American architecture school who are considered some of the best-trained architects anywhere and they wind up, quite frankly, sitting on their hands for years and years. That really kind of dulls the edge that they might have had coming out of school. Also, a lot of these young designers [in Spain] would not have been so bold without some evidence from the public and the government and the private sector that their innovation was welcome. It’s something that catalyzes.
What I find interesting is that in Spain you have a real sensitivity to history, and that’s not the same as preservation. Do you think that American cities get so caught up in the preservation debate that they lose the opportunity for creativity?
If the culture at large responds favorably, then the young architects will hardly hold back.
Sometimes. What I find interesting is that in Spain you have a real sensitivity to history, and that’s not the same as preservation. It translates into maintenance and ongoing use of historic buildings. It includes adaptive reuse. It’s all got a basis in respect for history, so there isn’t as much straight-out preservation as there is imaginative use of the historical fabric. In our cities, a lot of times, we have already lost so much of the history, or in the case of somewhere like Miami, there isn’t a lot of history, so it really fuels the American preservation movement with a little more inflexibility than the Spanish model.
Which American cities have the potential to be the next Barcelona or Madrid in terms of being fertile grounds for innovative architecture?
Contemporary architecture as we know it often takes the form of grand visual statements, yet many celebrated Spanish architects are known for their humility. What is the value of this subtlety to cities? There are some real icon buildings [in the exhibition], but we tried to also show that this isn’t the only thing that’s happening. The more modest buildings are usually designed to more lofty ambitions: It isn’t about building the building; it’s about building the city. In your exhibition, you show some innovative public housing projects, many of which have been commissioned by local governments or chosen through government-sponsored competitions. What can American municipal leaders learn from these projects?
Barcelona completely remade itself. It had a nineteenth century harbor that cut the city off at the water. It was completely polluted and they used the Olympics as a wedge to redevelop the waterfront and clean up the whole thing. Now people actually live there and swim in the water, which a generation ago, nobody could have imagined. So that’s a great example. I think that Baltimore made the intelligent move of doing the same thing, reclaiming the waterfront through the rehabilitation of the harbor. I see cities like Savannah, Georgia, and the bones are so solid. Savannah was one of those cities that was built so well and planned so well. All it really needs is more wind in its sails and it could really do amazing things. When you think about the cities that have amazing comebacks—South Beach in Miami, Baltimore, Brooklyn—it isn’t necessarily about some innate condition. It’s the will of people. It’s a familiar formula of local people taking action and getting government support and then private sector investment. I don’t know any city that can’t. Every place where there is success, it’s because of this formula, this team of allied interests: the politicians, the local people, and the investors that soon follow. ■
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by kim jensen
The Woman I Left
While many other American novelists continue to explore the safer territory of a character’s domestic life, insulated from the wider political and social landscape, Kim Jensen, an up-and-coming Baltimore writer, looks beyond the individual, and beyond a single nation, to capture the true complexities of love in the modern world. Fearless in both language and scope, Jensen’s debut novel The Woman I Left Behind explores the relationship between an American and a Palestinian exile who, despite their best intentions, discover that there can be no separation between political and personal identity, even in matters of the heart. In this excerpt, tragic events unfold in the childhood of the main character, Sayeed—events that inﬂuence the rest of his life. In the village square, the soldiers came to a standstill in front of Sayeed. They called out to him, Hey, little Arab! The boy said nothing. He just stared them down with a glare in his eye. Dirty Arab! Why don’t you say hello? The soldiers waited and watched the boy. It was seven years after East Jerusalem, including Tel Zahara, had been conquered by the Israel Defense Forces. Already on the hilltops, they had built two settlements—flimsy portable units surrounded by barbed wire. Ancient olive groves, including his grandfather’s, had been annihilated in minutes by monstrous bulldozers. Everyone in the village had lost land. Sayeed, even at his young age, seemed aware that the jeers of these soldiers were not a personal attack, but part of a well-calculated plan. Filthy Arab! Move so we can get some water, one of the soldiers barked out to Sayeed. But Sayeed remained stone-faced. He had decided to stand in front of the well until they were gone. So help him God, none of those soldiers would take one drop of village water. And nothing would make him speak, run, leave, or turn his head away. Another soldier
from the group joined in saying, Hey, little shithead, where’s your mama? At that moment a breeze danced across his hot forehead, and the corner of his lips twisted into a smile as he thought, This water still belongs to me, and so does this wind. No one can steal the wind! As she waited for her nephew Sayeed to come home from school, Aunt Salwa continued to prepare dinner methodically, using her fingernail to clip off the tiny bean stems on both ends, snapping them into inch-long pieces, discarding the scraps in a small bag between her legs. Soon she would fry chopped onions in olive oil with a small amount of meat, just for flavor. Then she’d add the beans, fresh chopped tomatoes, and bharat, a mixture of rich spices. This was her solace: the smell of traditional recipes prepared the same way her mother and her grandmother had done it. As a matter of habit, she always cooked enough for at least six people, in case of guests. As a matter of principle, her door was always open for their possible arrival. Salwa looked up at the wall clock. Sayeed was much later than usual. It was already past three o’clock. Normally he came home from school, had a small meal, and then headed out to play with his friends. She was constantly worried about him. She’d told him probably a thousand times not to speak to or even look at the Israeli soldiers who patrolled the streets. They are just looking for an excuse to beat or shoot someone. Don’t give them an excuse, she had warned him, not a thousand but a million times. It’s the sounds you remember when recalling something you would rather forget. The sounds and the smells come first, then the image or words whispered on the inside of your ear. The sound of the door opening. A glass falling and shattering on the ceramic tile. The scent of perfume, or the pungent odor of fruit left too long on a hot day. For Salwa, it was always the sound of sheets flapping in the wind that echoed through her mind just when she thought she had forgotten the past. That sharp wounding noise remained with Salwa in the inner ear, even on windless summer afternoons.
When war broke out, Salwa had spent the whole day at Yusuf ’s family’s tiny flat. In the evening they heard on the radio that the fighting had spread to all the villages on the West Bank too, north and south. She panicked, worried about her family, but the radio kept insisting that a victory would soon be theirs. The shelling was so intense, she knew that she had to stay in Jerusalem for the night, maybe longer. After many hours of sitting up with the family, she finally went to lie down in the one sleeping room. Tossing, turning, filled with restless images, listening to the storm of jets passing overhead, she halfslept on a blanket on the floor. It was just after dawn when Salwa was awakened by an abrupt noise. She sat straight up and opened her eyes with a start. A bed sheet that someone had forgotten outside was flapping against the window. First the sheet made a loud cracking sound. Then it trilled with a rippling clamor. She immediately saw the haunting sight of the white sheet whipping against the glass. At that moment she was more terrified than during the previous day’s sirens and bombings. This eerie sudden awakening was ominous. She imagined her mother’s face in the window behind the sheet. I must go home immediately. She remembered the ancient army rifle that her father had hanging on his wall, a souvenir from the revolt of the ’30s and then ’48. She imagined that his having this gun was probably more of a danger than not having it. She knew her father—he would certainly try to use it before giving up his house and town. She jumped up and practically slammed the window where the sheet was still flapping. It defied common sense to run out now, but she had made up her mind. She went into action, straightened her clothes, and went to tell Yusuf goodbye. He was brooding at his desk to the sporadic sound of a blast in the vicinity. She came in quietly. And without sitting down she leaned over, kissed him, and said, I’m going to try to get back home now, quick as I can. Goodbye. I’ll be ﬁne. Before he could stop her, she ran out of his room and straight out the door. The cool morning air hit her in the face, and it felt, just for that instant, good to be outside. The streets immediately before her were deserted. She didn’t see any other people or soldiers around. Every few minutes, however, the earth shook with deafening explosions that she prayed would stay away. As she made her way toward the Damascus gate, she saw more and more Jordanian w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
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soldiers. Then, as she approached the gate, she saw that the soldiers there were actually engaged in a battle. She had to argue with two of them who didn’t want to let her through. She told them that she had to go home to her family in her village. They scoffed at her and told her that she’d never make it alive, but they finally let her pass. As soon as she got outside, she couldn’t believe what she saw. Jordanian soldiers’ bodies were scattered about. Right by the Eastern Gate was a civilian bus charred by a bomb and the people strewn like debris, all dead. Could this be true? How could so many people have been killed in one day of fighting? Right down the road she could see several Israeli tanks firing straight at the walls of the city and jeeps moving rapidly toward the Old City. She ducked out of sight of the oncoming troops and ran up a side street that seemed safer. Seeing that it would be impossible to go on the main Ramallah road, she decided to go the back way, over the mountains, toward her home. Skirting the city wall, heading northwest, she went through the suburbs of North Jerusalem—all of it was already occupied. Not one Arab soldier was to be seen. Soon she was in the hills, walking along the goat paths that she knew well. When she looked down toward the main road below, she saw a whole battalion of Jordanians scattered along the road. Some of their vehicles were still burning and smoking. They had obviously been attacked from above. Her heart sank, and she began to run as fast as possible toward Tel Zahara, over stones and rocks. What would she find when she got there? Fear and nausea grabbed at her stomach and throat as she ran toward her village. As she came down one of the last hillsides, she spotted a small flock of sheep grazing without their shepherd. The animals, white and newly shorn, were alone on the mountain, some grazing or bleating, some wandering in circles. It was a scene that she would never forget, the sight of that flock of sheep lost above the road strewn with bloody corpses. When she finally reached the hill next to her own village, she looked down at the houses in the dim light. The sight that greeted her brought her to her knees. Tel Zahara was surrounded by several tanks, jeeps, and soldiers on foot—she couldn’t see everything, but it was a siege. She had never imagined such a swift and terrible defeat. It seemed that not only was her village coming under fire, but the Israelis were firing from Tel Zahara on Arab units across the way. She quickly calculated who was armed in the village, possibly three or four homes. Some of the older men, including her father, still had old rifles and some ammunition left over from the British days. A few of the young men had joined the Jordanian military, but were not present. She knew that the Jordanian soldiers who were supposed to protect them were mostly lying dead on the roadside. She wanted to run down and tell her neighbors to surrender because she could see from this hill that the situation was impossible. Crouching behind a rock, she watched and listened. There was an exchange of gunfire. Then silence. Then more gunfire and screaming. A few small explosions and some smoke rising from somewhere inside the village. She couldn’t make out what was being screamed, but it seemed desperate and
frenzied. After several minutes, she heard a harsh voice shouting, as if commands were being given. Tanks and jeeps started moving quickly into the village. From where she crouched she could see that the Israelis were going street by street, shooting their rifles down alleys, into homes. She watched them moving their vehicles quickly into the square. It’s then that she broke into a run, heading down, darting behind shrubs, rocks, and olive trees. By some miraculous stroke of luck, no one seemed to notice her scrambling down the hill, taking cover when she could. When she reached the edge of her neighbor Im Azme’s paddock, she hopped the stone wall, went around the house, and ran down a small alley. Slipping in the back door of her own house, she immediately saw her brother, Hanna, and her father standing by the front window, both with old rifles in hand, taking potshots out the window. She ran into the back bedroom and found her mother, her sisterin-law, and Sayeed huddled behind some furniture. She collapsed on top of them hugging them all, especially her nephew. Baba, she called out to her father, Throw the guns out the door and surrender. I saw the Jordanians dead on the road. It’s a failure. A complete failure. There is no army coming. You’ve got to surrender before they burn this village to the ground. As if glued to whatever destiny would hand him, Sayeed had somehow come to understand, without planning or thinking about it, that this day by the well would be decisive. There would be no in between for him anymore. No running, like his friends, who scattered like chaff in the wind at the sight of the army. He had never consciously planned to stand up to them. But for some reason he didn’t have it in him anymore to act fearful of soldiers, whose smell alone filled him with disgust. The soldiers made a move to surround Sayeed, who still refused to budge. One of them was a young Polish kid. He took a step toward Sayeed and looked down into his face. So what’s wrong with you? Sayeed still offered no response, but glared out of two angry eyes shaded by a forest of dark brow. Baba, Salwa begged, for God’s sake! Stop it. Throw down the riﬂe, it’s hopeless. The village is already occupied. She ran from the bedroom out into the living room. Her father was standing by the window; so was her brother. Pushing the loose corner of his checkered kufﬁyeh away from his face, her father lifted the ancient gun, carefully taking aim at something or someone out on the street. Then he fired and ducked back. Within seconds a group of five or six soldiers stormed the door, spraying the room with bullets as they rushed in. Salwa dropped back behind the couch and covered her head. When she lifted her eyes again, she saw her father collapse. Hanna rushed straight toward the soldiers, who grabbed him, holding him at gunpoint while he thrashed about, trying to free himself. When Halima heard her husband’s screams, she rushed out to the living room. She paused at the
door. First she saw Hanna being held by three soldiers. Then she looked over and saw her father-inlaw dead on the floor. That’s when she lost her mind, shrieking, Let him go. Let him go. Salwa told her to calm down and get back in the room, but the woman was raving, Leave my husband alone. Don’t you dare hurt him. She rushed at the soldiers, clawing them, battering them with her fists. One of them, an officer, drew a small pistol from his belt, put it to her head and shot twice. With the same pistol, he made a brusque gesture toward the corner of the house. The soldiers led Hanna to the corner and forced him to kneel down next to the wall. The officer walked over and shot him too, execution style, in the back of the head. Then they all left as quickly as they had come. In the bedroom, Sayeed was wrapped in his grandmother’s arms, behind the bed. He kept whispering to his grandma, What’s happening? I’m scared. And she pressed her lips against his ear telling him, Don’t worry, darling. Everything’s going to be all right. Everything’s going to be all right. But when she heard Salwa calling out in a strange voice that was barely human, Keep Sayeed in the room, Yumma. Keep Sayeed in the room, she knew something was wrong. She knew that something terrible had happened. Something horrible and irreversible. Though the older woman held onto Sayeed as tightly as she could, she couldn’t stop him from breaking away from her grip. He ran out and went straight to his mother, whose eyes were still open, staring up at the ceiling. A trickle of blood seeped from her mouth. The minute Sayeed collapsed on his mother’s chest, Salwa scooped him into her arms and held onto him tightly. Outside they could hear the sounds of shouting and screaming, tanks rumbling through the narrow streets, and the smell of smoke that lingered for the next thirty years. The Polish soldier took another step toward Sayeed and in broken Arabic said: You know there are things you don’t understand. Sayeed looked at him intently. The soldier continued, Did you know that this well will soon run dry? The soldier paused and went on. We’re pumping all the water through our neighborhoods and then back down to you. Fish mai, he said in Arabic, gesturing by crossing his hands in the air. No water for you. Then he paused and looked straight into Sayeed’s eyes saying, So here, drink this. Turning deliberately, he spat into the bucket that sat on the ground next to the iron pump. As soon as the soldier spat into the water, Sayeed lashed out. Tears leapt to his eyes as he lunged and grabbed the soldier’s head with both hands. Pulling back and forth uncontrollably, he screamed, I hate you. I hate you, yanking handfuls of hair out with each convulsion. The skirmish was over as soon continued on page 82
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by paul rusesabagina
A N O R D I N A RY M A N An Ordinary Man is the autobiography of Paul Rusesabagina, the hotel manager whose heroic acts during the 1994 Rwandan genocide inspired the 2004 ﬁ lm Hotel Rwanda. It was written with Tom Zoellner and is published this month by Penguin. The excerpt printed below is taken from Chapter 8.
aking up before the sunrise has been my habit ever since I was a boy. I seem biologically incapable of sleeping in. Before the killing started that predawn quiet was one of my favorite times of the day. I would slip out of bed gently, so as not to wake Tatiana, and go out into the yard and putter around at various tasks. There was a radio on the outside ledge and I would listen to the news. This was one of the only times in the day I would have all to myself. During the genocide I yearned to have one of those quiet mornings in the yard, when the news was just soccer scores and road closings instead of incitements to murder and lists of the dead. I still woke up in the hour before dawn, in a room jammed with people, and I craved that time when I was all alone. So I developed an early-morning ritual of visiting my favorite spot in the whole hotel, on the roof, with the whole of the city of Kigali spread out before me. The hotel was built on the slope of Kiyovu Hill and the panorama is gorgeous. Even in the midst of war and death this aerie of mine had a peaceful aspect if you didn’t look at any spot too closely and focused just on the hills and the sky. To look at the streets for longer than a few seconds was to see homes with broken windows, wrecked vehicles, roadblocks, and corpses everywhere. Better to focus on the distance than the details. There is a saying in Rwanda: “The elephants fight, but it is the grass that suffers.” Caught between the armies, we were the grass. When I came here at night I could see the flashes of gunfire and the red tracer bullets whizzing across the sky. But early mornings were calmer, the mortar shelling quiet and the popping of gunfire only occasional, heralding not a clash between troops but the killing of a lone victim or his family. These mornings on my roof, with the sky melting to blue from purple, I took the time to prepare myself for what I knew was coming. I was going to die. I had done far too much to cross the architects of the genocide. The only question would be the exact time, and the method of my death, and that of my wife and our children. I dreaded machetes. The Interahamwe were known to be extremely cruel with the people they chopped apart; first cutting tendons so the victims
could not run away, then removing limbs so that a person could see their body coming apart slowly. Family members were often forced to watch, knowing they were next. Their wives and their children were often raped in front of them while this was happening. Tutsi wives went to sleep next to their Hutu husbands and awoke to find the blade of a machete sawing into their neck, and above them, the grimacing face of the man who had sworn to love and cherish them for life. And Tutsi wives also killed their husbands. Children threw their grandparents down pit toilets and heaved rocks on top of them until the cries stopped. Unborn babies were sliced from their mothers’ wombs and tossed about like soccer balls. Severed heads and genitals were on display. The dark lust unleashed in Rwanda went beyond friendships and beyond politics and beyond even hate itself—it had become killing for killing’s sake, killing for sport, killing for nothing. It raged on, all around the hotel, on the capital’s streets and in the communes and in the hills and in every little spidery valley. There was a stash of money in the hotel safe. The money was for a last bribe, something to pay the militia to let me and my family be shot rather than face a machete. Seven time zones away, in the United States, the diplomatic establishment was tying itself up in knots. Everybody wanted to avoid saying a certain word. A Pentagon study paper dated May 1, 1994, sums up the prevailing attitude. Be Careful. Legal at State was worried about this yesterday—Genocide ﬁnding could commit [the U.S. government] to actually ‘do something.’ It is not as though there was an information blackout. By the end of May the broadcasts of the nightly television news and the newspapers in America were full of accounts of mass murders and bodies floating down Akagera River toward Lake Victoria. But even with this incontrovertible evidence the U.S. government would not let itself admit that what was happening was a genocide. The official U.S. State Department phrasing was nothing less than bizarre: “Acts of genocide may have occurred.” When spokeswoman Christine Shelley was asked how many acts of genocide it takes to equal a genocide she did a clumsy dance.
“The intentions, the precise intentions, and whether or not these are just directed episodically or with the intention of actually eliminating groups in whole or in part, this is a more complicated issue to address,” she said. “I’m not able to look at all of those criteria at this moment and say yes, no. It’s something that requires very careful study before we can make a final determination.” The peculiar avoidance of the word genocide was for a reason. UN member states signed a treaty in 1948 threatening criminal penalties for the leaders of any regime found to have conducted an extermination campaign against a particular religious or racial group. The United States dragged its feet, fearing the encroachment of a world government telling it how to act. It was not until 1986 that the U.S. Senate finally ratified the agreement. If U.S. officials actually spoke the word out loud they might have been morally and legally compelled to act under the terms of the 1948 treaty. Few officials in Washington wanted that with a midterm congressional election around the corner. Everyone in the Clinton administration was mindful of the disaster in Somalia that had occurred the previous October, when eighteen Army Rangers were killed in the Black Hawk Down incident that seemed to symbolize everything that could go wrong with peacekeeping missions. Even though our situation was radically different in origin and nature, anything that called for a commitment of American troops to Africa was anathema in the halls of the U.S. State Department. And, of course, there was no natural resource in Rwanda that anybody cared about either—only human beings in danger. In the early morning of April 23 I went to bed at around 4 a.m. I knew nothing but blackness for two hours and then I felt my wife pushing me. “There is someone on the phone that wants you,” she said. A man whom I’ll call Lieutenant Mageza came on the line. “Are you the manager?” he asked. “Yes. What is it?” “I have an order from the Ministry of Defense for you to evacuate the hotel within thirty minutes,” he said. I did not wash. I did not even put my pants on. I ran five flights up to the roof and looked down w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
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at the street. The militia had the place completely surrounded. There were hundreds of them holding spears, machetes, and rifles. It would be a killing zone here in an hour. There was only one thing I could think to do: Get on the phone with somebody in the Rwandan Army who outranked the lieutenant and could order him to rescind his evacuation order. I pulled out the black binder and started calling all my generals. I was still phoning for help when a knock came at the door from a reception clerk. Somebody wanted to see me out front, he said. I started to dress, thinking it was probably the last time I would ever put on a pair of pants or button a shirt. I went down to the reception area to meet Lieutenant Mageza. I was surprised instead to see a very short man wearing the insignia of a colonel on his shoulder and assorted colorful medals on his chest. “I have been asked to evacuate the hotel,” I told him. “The plan has been changed and this is why I’m here,” he said. I knew then that one of my phone calls had worked. I thanked the colonel profusely. “Sir, you have saved lives today,” I told him. “I am only doing my job,” he told me curtly, and walked away. I knew this peace was fragile, and so I decided to switch from ass kissing to bluster. I telephoned the Diplomates Hotel and asked for Colonel Théon-
este Bagosora, one of the leaders of the genocide, who was staying in Room 205. “Colonel,” I said in my most officious voice, “I am sorry to disturb you. I have received an order from the Ministry of Defense to close down the Mille Collines, and as the general manager of all Sabena properties in Rwanda, I must therefore also close the Diplomates.” “Who has given such orders?!” he screamed at me.
There is a saying in Rwanda: “The elephants fight, but it is the grass that suffers.” “I do not know; they were relayed through a lieutenant. He said his name was Mageza.” He was silent for a minute. “Well, that order has now changed.” “Colonel, we can come to a compromise,” I told him, as if I was the one who had the power to dictate terms. “I will not close the Diplomates. But I need
water over here. Can you please send us back the water truck you took away?” “Yes, yes,” he said impatiently. “There is another thing,” I told him. “There are a group of people staying in the manager’s house of the Diplomates. They are valuable employees. We need them over here. Can you please see that they arrive safely?” “Yes, fine, good-bye,” he said, and hung up. Within the hour a red Toyota pickup pulled up to the Mille Collines. Inside were the neighbors I had not seen since the day their lives were purchased with francs from the hotel safe. A truck also arrived to refill our swimming pool and we had fresh water to drink for the first time in weeks. It was courtesy of one of the vilest proponents of genocide that Central Africa has ever seen. Somewhere I could hear my father laughing. Reprinted by arrangement with Viking, a member of Penguin Group (USA) Inc., from An Ordinary Man by Paul Rusesabagina and Paul Zoellner. Copyright © 2006 by Paul Rusesabagina and Paul Zoellner.
Paul Rusesabagina will be reading from An Ordinary Man at the CityLit Festival on April 8 at the central branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. For more information, call 410-274-5691 or go to CityLitProject.org.
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Above: UltraTouch insulation, which is made from scraps of denim, contains none of the irritants found in traditional insulation and does not cause itchiness.
Denim never seems to stop giving. It’s one of the reasons we love it. From jeans to jackets to shirts with pearly snaps, denim is a fabric for all seasons, and now it doesn’t end with fashion. It can also help keep your house warm on chilly nights. For the last several years, denim has been recycled to create an environmentally friendly and safe insulation for private homes, universities, and corporate offices. One brand leading the way is UltraTouch, created by the Arizona-based company Bonded Logic. Made from recycled post-industrial denim, UltraTouch is a natural cotton fiber insulation that contains no chemical irritants and, unlike traditional insulation, does not cause itching when handled, making it low maintenance and ideal for do-it-yourself home installation. As the denim is manufactured into insulation, each fiber is treated with a boron-based retardant that not only protects it from the threat of fire but also resists pests and blocks the growth of fungus and molds. And unlike traditional insulation, it is formaldehyde and resin free. UltraTouch is a Class-A Building material that meets or exceeds the American Society for Testing of Materials requirements for commercial and residential batt insulation. It is also manufactured with patented technology that creates a three-dimensional infrastructure that reduces noise—always good for those with heavy feet and loud speakers—and can be used for ceilings, interior and exterior walls, and between floors. Jerry Weston,
Bonded Logic’s sales and marketing manager, says the insulation can be installed without protective clothing or gear. Sometimes referred to as blue jean insulation, UltraTouch isn’t actually made from blue jeans, but from the denim scraps and clippings leftover from the manufacture of jeans. “The denim comes from brokers who get it from the denim manufacturers,” Weston explains. “The fiber is post-industrial scrap and not post-consumer waste.” One of the secondary environmental benefits of using the recycled material is that it diverts potential landfill waste. Weston couldn’t say how many pairs of jeans it would take to insulate a mediumsized, three-bedroom house, but he did say that of the total denim that goes into one pair of jeans, the amount of scrap collected for the insulation adds up to about 7% per pair. Although denim insulation has been around for more than a decade, it’s only in the last few years that UltraTouch has started to receive significant press and praise. UltraTouch was named #1 Hottest Product of 2003 by Qualiﬁed Remodeler and Design/ Build Business magazines. Also in 2003, Bob Vila chose UltraTouch as the insulation for his EnergyWise house built in Palm Springs, California, and the product was featured extensively at BobVila. com. UltraTouch has also been featured on the Home and Garden Television Network’s series American Home 2005. w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
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©2006 Citigroup Global Markets Inc. Member SIPC. Smith Barney is a division and service mark of Citigroup Global Markets Inc. and its affiliates and is used and registered throughout the world. CITIGROUP and the Umbrella Device are trademarks and service marks of Citigroup Inc. or its affiliates and are used and registered throughout the world.
courtesy of Bonded Logic, Inc.
Sometimes referred to as blue jean insulation, UltraTouch isn’t actually made from blue jeans, but from the scraps and clippings left over from the manufacture of jeans.
For all its benefits, UltraTouch will cost you approximately 30% more than regular batt insulations. Weston explains that it is more expensive to manufacture, in part because of the technology that provides better acoustic ratings than traditional insulation. He also points to the absence of harmful irritants when explaining the cost. When it comes down to it, Weston says, UltraTouch is simply a healthier product for you and the environment. So what about those old jeans that have become too distressed to wear? Bonded Logic and Polo Jeans Company teamed up in 2005 to give old jeans a home—literally. Polo conducted a National Denim Drive in support of their G.I.V.E. Campaign—Get Involved. Volunteer. Exceed. The drive targeted college campuses, although anyone was allowed to donate. The goal of the National Denim Drive was to collect old jeans for Bonded Logic to convert into
UltraTouch for insulation in Habitat for Humanity homes. The 2005 drive was so successful that Polo is considering holding another drive in the near future. Currently, there are no distributors of UltraTouch in Baltimore. The closest distributor is Capitol Building Supply in Gaithersburg and Washington, D.C. But with denim insulation’s growing popularity, that will likely change soon. John Donnelly, customer interaction specialist for Bluehouse, Baltimore’s earth-friendly home store and cafe, says, “Whereas it isn’t something we carry in the store, it’s certainly a product that has always intrigued me. As we move more into the building end of green homes, it’s definitely something I’d like to work with.” And he adds, “When I go to build myself, I plan on using it. I think it’s the sort of thing that if more people knew about it, they would see that it would be a challenge to find a reason not to build with it.”
Feeling like a wandering Jew this Passover? Shalom Baltimore can show you ways to discover where you ﬁt in Jewish Baltimore by: • Helping you ﬁnd a Passover celebration • Connecting you to resources • Showing you around town • Introducing you to new people • And much more To receive a FREE Welcome Home Kit call 410.356.1661 or log on to www.shalombaltimore.org.
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urbanite april 06
by roberta brandes gratz
photography by chris turner
photo courtesy of STScI
Against the Tide In a sea of bureaucrats and outside experts, New Orleans residents start to rescue their own communities
Above: Signs posted on homes all over New Orleans—like the “No Bulldozing!” posters provided by the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now—show how residents are ﬁghting to reclaim their homes.
“Pick a block and just do it,” advised Dennis Livingston, a Baltimore carpenter who works with communities to rebuild their neighborhoods and to remove lead paint, mold, and other pollutants from houses. “If you fix one block and make it beautiful, neighbors will see what can be done and start following the pattern. If you don’t create the model of how to do it, you will be sunk.” Livingston delivered this advice last November at a New Orleans rebuilding conference held at Louisiana State University in Baton Rouge. The conference was organized by the Association of Community Organizers for Reform Now (ACORN) to gather ideas for rebuilding the crippled city. Livingston, among others, emphasized the importance of getting people back into their neighborhoods and reconnected to their communities, and reviving the networks that sustain lives, especially for people of low and moderate income. Livingston suggested that more trailers could be parked in driveways and on empty lots around a neighborhood to house displaced residents working on their homes, and that the upper floors of empty schools where flooding only occurred on the ground level could be used as temporary housing. “You won’t learn what you need to do by simply describing the problem,” Livingston added. And yet, in the months since Livingston made his suggestions, official strategy proposals and onerous restrictions have made this grassroots rebuilding approach as difficult as possible. Governmental
policies have emerged that would displace thousands of property owners from redeemable homes, accelerate deterioration of mildly damaged structures, and displace thousands of residents anxious to return. The debate over what to do with New Orleans is leaving the most affected citizens out of the decision-making process. Distant planners, designers, and developers have declared that they know what is best for residents without consulting them. Inspectors of questionable competence have deemed houses beyond repair while all manner of experts are arguing over whether neighborhoods should be rebuilt at all, without understanding the strength of authentic, long-evolving communities. The family enclaves, the social networks, the historic attachments to property—not visible in the physical structures—are being ignored. But New Orleanians are resisting official discouragement, slowly but surely, one house, one family, one block, one neighborhood at a time. And they are doing it with the extraordinary help of dedicated not-for-profit organizations that are rallying teams of volunteers from schools, churches, and communities around the country. National organizations like ACORN and Common Ground are joining forces with college students and scores of church groups to assist residents in different ways. As of early March, ACORN alone has cleaned out close to 750 houses in the critical neighborhoods of the Ninth Ward, Gentilly, Lakeview, and elsew w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
THE MURPHY FINE ARTS CENTER “Kiddie” C.A.T.S. Performing Art Series for Children presents
Peter and the Wolf Friday, April 21 Saturday, April 22
11 AM & 4 PM
For group sales,call 410-433-5383 or the MFAC Ticket ofﬁce 443-885-4440
The Morgan State University Fine Arts Department presents
Directed by Shirley Basﬁeld Dunlap
March 30 - April 2 Various Times For group sales, call 443-885-3625 or the MFAC Ticket ofﬁce 443-885-4440
BUSINESS MOVES FAST. Build business and management skills critical to your success.
Theatre Morgan presents
If you want to advance your career or start your own business, but you’re not ready to commit to an MBA, consider the Johns Hopkins Business Transitions graduate certificate.
April 20-23 • Various Times Directed by Jan L. Short Tickets for this production available through Theatre Morgan Ofﬁce 443-885-3625
In one year of part-time classroom and online study, you can acquire financial, marketing, and management expertise essential to staying in step with today’s competitive business world. Learn with a cohort of working professionals—just like you—through problem solving, case studies, and career mentoring with senior executives.
Symphonic Winds The Morgan State University Symphonic Band
Directed by Melvin N. Miles, Jr.
Who should enroll?
Sunday, April 23 - 6:00 PM
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Business moves fast. So does your opportunity to enroll. Classes begin in June, so contact us today for more information.
Tickets available at all Ticketmaster o u t l e t s , t i c k e t m a s t e r. c o m , T i c k e t m a s t e r c h a r g e - b y - p h o n e ( 4 1 0 - 5 4 7 - S E AT ) , a n d the Murphy Fine Arts Center ticket office (443-885-4440).
You Can’t Arrive Unless You Know the Destination The Murphy Fine Arts Center 2201 Argonne Dr. 443-885-4440 www.murphyﬁneartscenter.org
urbanite april 06
Professionals not ready to commit to an MBA. Recent college grads. � Career changers. Entrepreneurs looking to strengthen business skills.
Johns Hopkins Business.The MBA and more. GRADUATE DIVISION OF BUSINESS AND MANAGEMENT SCHOOL OF PROFESSIONAL STUDIES IN BUSINESS & EDUC ATION
Visit www.business.jhu.edu/transitions or call 1-800-GO-TO-JHU.
If in co at
where. ACORN staff have guided beleaguered evacuees through the bureaucratic morass that is FEMA, helped them fight the insurance companies trying to pay less than policies provided, connected them with legitimate contractors who won’t overcharge them to rebuild, and organized major demonstrations to open up unwarrantedly closed neighborhoods. ACORN has also gone to court to prevent demolition without homeowner consent. Locally, the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans has provided generators for homeowners in historic neighborhoods where the City has not yet brought back electricity. They have held rebuilding workshops for interested residents, distributed work supplies, and assisted in rebuilding individual structures. Skeptics might ask why residents would do this without assurances that the levees will be rebuilt properly. Why, when more hurricanes will come?
bottom-up, step-by-organic-step approach is the only regeneration process that works in an enduring way. It works differently in each and every community, depending on the social, physical, and economic character of that community and the circumstances of destruction. This process is vibrantly visible in New Orleans today. This winter, on one Gentilly block, five FEMA trailers were parked in homeowner driveways, a sign of real progress. But of the five—all delivered on December 5—one was operative. The remaining four were installed on cinder-block footings, but electrical and plumbing was not connected, and the keys were still held by FEMA. “By the time they give me access,” one musician homeowner said as he was fixing up his mildly flooded, raised shotgun home, “I’ll be back in my own house.” He was doing it himself, undeterred.
New Orleanians are resisting official discouragement, slowly but surely, one house, one family, one block, one neighborhood at a time.
Xbox 360 Presents
Sat., April 15 6pm
CHRIS BROWN "Run It” “Yo (Excuse Me Miss)”
Featuring Baltimore’s own
BOSSMAN Why, if insurance and government funds are not covering the full cost? Why, when the government will not yet guarantee that the house or, even worse, the neighborhood, won’t be razed altogether? There are thousands of “whys,” but if you haven’t lived in New Orleans where hurricanes and flooding are a fact of life and if you haven’t been displaced from your lifetime home by an overwhelming disaster, you need to rethink the question. The overall answer is: It is a matter of individual decision. Fairness dictates giving people choices in face of the reality that they know better than anyone else what it right for them. Fairness dictates honoring their energy and commitment, and respecting their decision. In New Orleans, thousands are either following or trying to follow a modified version of Livingston’s prescription. In so doing, they are repeating a tried-and-true pattern illustrated in regenerated neighborhoods all over the country from Baltimore to Portland, from Savannah to Pittsburgh, from the South Bronx to Cincinnati, from Boston to Detroit. Successful urban neighborhoods grow organically and are self-generated—not developer-built. In city after city, examples abound of citizens taking back the streets, occupying and renovating deteriorated and abandoned housing, turning rubble-strewn lots into parks and playgrounds, and repopulating once vibrant neighborhoods and regenerating that vibrancy in the process. This
In the historic Holy Cross section of the Lower Ninth Ward where three feet of water flooded for only twenty hours, residents were only recently able to start moving back in as this area was one of the last to regain some utility services, like electricity and water. This delay in residents’ return probably did as much damage as the brief intrusion of water. Now, house after house is approaching livability. This is one of the storied neighborhoods, rich in colorful shotgun houses, camelbacks, Creole cottages, many built by the fathers and grandfathers of today’s occupants who own them mortgage-free. At the modest New Israel Baptist Church in the Ninth Ward, the sense of hope was profound. Built in 2002 of cedar and decorated in purple, gold, and white, this modest Saint Claude Avenue church was cleaned by ACORN volunteers. The organ and every last pew had been destroyed. But now, with donated chairs, the church has reopened and is beckoning the flock home. Pastor Douglas Haywood and his wife, Althea, were in telephone contact with all four hundred of their scattered parishioners. “Knowing the church is reopened gives them hope,” Pastor Haywood says. Some who thought they would not return are now doing so. “Lively, diverse, intense cities contain the seeds of their own regeneration,” Jane Jacobs wrote forty-five years ago in The Death and Life of Great American Cities. This is true of New Orleans today, if leaders would just allow those seeds to be sown. ■
with Jive Records™ Artist
“I’m N Luv” “I’m Sprung”
DON’T MISS OUT! All Seats $25
Tickets available at all Ticketmaster o u t l e t s , t i c k e t m a s t e r. c o m , T i c k e t m a s t e r c h a r g e - b y - p h o n e ( 4 1 0 - 5 4 7 - S E AT ) , a n d the Murphy Fine Arts Center ticket office (443-885-4440).
You Can’t Arrive Unless You Know the Destination The Murphy Fine Arts Center 2201 Argonne Dr. 443-885-4440 www.murphyﬁneartscenter.org w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
CORRADETTI glassblowing studio & showroom 410 243 2010 2010 Clipper Park Rd, Suite 119 Baltimore, MD 21211
www.corradetti.com Visit our beautiful NEW studio in historic Clipper Mill, Hampden.
Old Fashioned Goodness in a Bag
Otterbein’s Bakery Celebrating 125 years of cookie making in Baltimore
Try one. You won’t believe it’s not homemade. www.otterbeinsbakery.com 410-265-8700 74
urbanite april 06
Mention this ad for 10% off a glassblowing workshop or any retail purchase this month.
MUSIC PianoCelebration Shriver Hall Concert Series Johns Hopkins University and the Baltimore Museum of Art April 7–April 9
BOOK Timothy; or, Notes of an Abject Reptile Verlyn Klinkenborg Alfred A. Knopf, 2006
In Verlyn Klinkenborg’s imaginative new work, a tortoise named Timothy escapes from an eighteenth century English garden and its human minders by walking “through the holes in their attention.” Eight days later Timothy is caught and returned. The owner of the garden, an amateur naturalist, determines that the motive behind Timothy’s escapade is either hunger or lust. Why does it never cross the human mind, Timothy asks, that animals may be driven
We all view the piano with a different kind of nostalgia: Some would rather not rehash the memory of enduring 45-minute lessons with the old lady down the street. Others are grateful for the piano lessons of childhood because they learned rhythm from a metronome and music appreciation from the hours of practice. But regardless of one’s personal experience, almost everyone can enjoy the performance of a talented pianist. Since 1965, the Shriver Hall Concert Series has featured chamber music concerts for the Baltimore community. The series has hosted more than two hundred concerts, featuring both younger performers and world-class musicians. Every few years, a different musical instrument is emphasized. To mark its fortieth season, the series presents a festival celebrating the most popular instrument of all time: the piano. PianoCelebration will host some of the world’s foremost piano scholars and pianists to lecture, perform, and exhibit during this threeday event. The festival includes four main concerts, three of which feature the legendary pianists Krystian Zimerman, Leon Fleisher, and McCoy Tyner. Tyner’s
appearance marks the first-ever jazz concert to grace the series. Lectures are planned to complement the performances. Topics include everything from the piano in modern culture to the art of piano making. Other highlights include 14-year-old piano prodigy Kit Armstrong and a brunch with pianist and piano historian David Dubal. Cornell music professor Malcolm Bilson will give a combined lecture and recital, performing on period instruments, such as the kinds of pianos Mozart and Schubert would have used when composing. PianoCelebration begins at 5 p.m. on April 7, with events taking place at either the Shriver Hall Auditorium at Johns Hopkins University or at the Baltimore Museum of Art Meyerhoff Auditorium. Tickets can be purchased by individual event or as a complete package; reduced-cost student tickets are available for most events. For more information or to purchase tickets call 410-516-7164, or visit www. shriverconcerts.org for a complete schedule of events.
by the same inexplicable forces as human beings? By joy? Sorrow? An instinctive longing for home or yearning for freedom? Naturalists seem determined to record “How the nightingale sings. Pitch of the notes. Melody of the song. Structure of the voice box. But never fully the nightingale’s why.” The inspiration behind Klinkenborg’s quietly comic novel is the real life and works of English naturalist and curate Gilbert White, author of The Natural History of Selbourne, published in 1789. Within this treatise, and in his letters, White mentions a tortoise, Timothy, which lived in his garden for many years. Klinkenborg turns the tables on science by having Timothy narrate his own life story, thereby producing a singular, part philosophical, part poetical, meditation on the human condition from nature’s point of view. Human beings are, Timothy argues, “strangely impervious to the level gaze of a swallow or a bumble bee.” Our total self-absorption, our conviction that we are superior to all other life forms, tempts Timothy to consider having a quick a word with White, just to test his reaction. “My voice would shatter his human solitude.” He refrains, because “the happiness of his breed depends upon it.” Despite measuring him, calibrating him, plunging him in a tub of water to find out if he is amphibious, and carting him to the village butcher twice a year to suffer the indignity of being weighed, upturned in the scales, and despite this “curiosity amok,” White fails to realize that Timothy is, in fact, a she, not a he. Her name, Timothy contends, was “a foolish assumption, a giving in to alliteration.” Timothy, in turn, is completely underwhelmed by the human animal. Ill-suited for the terrible
English climate, they are clothed in “what they scab together from the world. Fleece, hide, feathers, scales, and shell all denied them.” Their vertiginous state alarms him; always teetering on the edge of a fall, they live “in a prison of choices,” with “reason in place of a good nose. Logic instead of a tail.” He watches their comings and goings, their flirtations and arguments, suspecting, from his vantage point under the asparagus, that “humans of breeding age can copulate from almost any direction.” He is astonished, most of all, by human striving and human vanity. “If a cabbage were human, it would aspire to become a lettuce,” he contends, watching their helter-skelter scurryings, living “such long lives at such terrible speed. And to get no further than if they had lived more slowly.” For a tortoise of Mediterranean descent, Timothy has an astonishing grasp of the English language, an enviable knowledge of Greek myths, the ability not only to remember past histories unexperienced but foresee the future, and direct access to Gilbert White’s writings. Klinkenborg’s conceit is so delicious, however, that the reader willingly suspends disbelief. With the exception of Timothy’s great escape, this is a book in which nothing apparently happens, and yet, if one pays close attention, in which everything happens. The shell of the real Timothy is preserved in London’s Natural History Museum, an outcome that the fictional Timothy anticipates with a dry resignation, giving a final, gentle, environmental admonishment to us all.
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“One of Baltimore’s Best Restaurants”
Classic Northern Italian cusine Steaks & Seafood Open Sundays 4 pm-9 pm
–Baltimore Magazine, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004
Tuesday night half-priced wine night Wednesday night is half-priced martini night
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Baltimore, MD 21230
1104 Kenilworth Drive, Suite 500 Towson, MD 21204 p: 410-337-2886 f: 410-337-2974 The Glass Factory 241 E. Fourth Street, Suite 102 Frederick, MD 21701 p: 301-668-8677 f: 301-668-8664 www.rubeling.com
“ I N T I M AT E SURROUNDINGS”
Robert Kacher Spring Wine Tasting and Dinner Saturday, April 8, 2006, 7 - 9:30 p.m. $35
Join us as we sample Robert Kacher’s spring wine line-up! Menu Chicken Tenderloins with a Tarragon Mayonnaise - Roasted and Marinated Sweet Peppers and Sweet Onions - A Salad of Hearty Greens, Apples, Radish, and Shallots Lentils with Petit Vegetables - Fish Stew Mariniere - Chocolate Espresso Pots de Creme
Reservations must be made and paid for in advance as space is limited.
www.wineunderground.us PLEASE MAKE RESERVATIONS FOR ALL EVENTS. 410-467-1615 4400 EVANS CHAPEL RD. BALTIMORE, MD 21211 20% off cases of wine straight or mixed.
urbanite april 06
BOOK Adapting Buildings and Cities for Climate Change Sue Roaf, David Crichton, and Fergus Nicol Architectural Press, 2005 Smart & Sustainable Built Environment J. Yang, P. S. Brandon, and A. C. Sidwell, eds. Blackwell Publishing, 2005
MUSIC Wilderness Vessel States Jagjaguwar, 2006
If architecture is, as Goethe famously claimed, frozen music, might we then wonder if it is bound to change as global temperatures rise and bands of ancient ice begin to thaw? I mean this in all seriousness, for as evidence of global warming continues to mount, a growing number of urban planners and designers have begun to think acutely about the possibility of more environmentally responsible architecture. And while the results have varied widely—it is, after all, a young field, and one often unsure about its audience—two recent books on the subject stand out as pressingly relevant reading for anyone interested in green architecture. Adapting Buildings and Cities for Climate Change adopts an odd tone; it somehow manages to be both perky and apocalyptic as it enumerates growing crises stemming from global energy consumption and condemns recent building techniques as manifestly irresponsible. Slickly produced, the book is organized into chapters that support overviews of possible scenarios—rising sea levels, or increasingly destructive windstorms—with jarring facts (Shanghai is subsiding 2.5 centimeters each year due to a depleted water table). And while the authors can seem enthusiastically pessimistic—reproducing a map that assumes a radical 100-meter rise in sea level—they convincingly detail the importance of renewable energy sources and a return to intelligent architectural designs that heat and light with the sun and cool with the wind. Smart & Sustainable Built Environment, on the other hand, offers a ground-level look at recent research into sustainable development. Thirty essays by scholars, architects, and engineers from various nations treat a wide and satisfying range of specific top-
ics. Especially engaging—in light of recent squabbles between the United States and China over permissible levels of emissions—is a meditation on the real difficulties of prioritizing sustainability in a region, such as southern Latin America, that is characterized by relative poverty and unregulated construction methods. Some of the essays are rather technical, but nonetheless illuminating: For example, one accents the sharp financial advantages of autonomous, decentralized appliances in rural settings, where the cost of central gridding can be prohibitive. But the book’s most striking aspect is the sheer diversity of technologies and ideas on display; although the term sustainability has only circulated, in this context, for thirty-five years, it’s clear that viable, responsible options do exist. It’s also clear that while theory and practice may still commonly diverge, they will soon need to be reconciled—and emphatically. As one of the essays in Smart & Sustainable notes, conversations about sustainability often refer to time frames in very vague terms. And yet, several of the other essays in the same book are centrally concerned with meeting the very real, and very concrete, timetables of the Kyoto Protocol (a treaty in which industrialized nations agreed to limit greenhouse gas emissions). The pressure may be on to start discussing sustainability in practical and immediate terms as 2010 now looms as something of an ultimatum. These two books offer a number of ideas that may help designers to meet that ultimatum, and to preclude later, more severe ones.
Baltimore-based band Wilderness is a good example of the rock-n-roll community-building that record label Jagjaguwar has been trying to achieve. It’s the same label that produces Oneida, a Brooklyn experimental noise-rock outfit that has caused near-riots at their New York shows by playing hour-long repetitions of the same searing guitar riffs. Or take Okkervil River, another Jagjaguwar band, which uses a country-folk palette to paint pictures so disconsolate that listening to their records all the way through is like a sharp dose of barbiturate desolation. It’s a label that pairs artists with like artists under the same motto—that rock should be heavy, heady, contemplative, minimalist, and profound. Vessel States is this somewhat mysterious band’s second record. Somewhat mysterious because they don’t reveal much about themselves in interviews, and because they sing jarring, abstruse lyrics such as, “Are we so far ahead of this future … / Drink the breath of death you see you see / Immortal amortality …” (from the song “Last”), that tend to repeat certain curious phrases over and over again until it seems like some sort of attempt at subliminal programming. The instrumental parts are slightly less curious: circular, melodic guitar riffs played with twangy reverb, cymbal-heavy drums, and lots of bass guitar harmonies for color. Vocalist James Johnson pronounces each phrase like a frantic town-crier, with a
voice like a higher-range version of Ian Curtis of Joy Division (whose song “Wilderness,” coincidentally, is as vague and cyclic as your average Wilderness song). The record starts with the contemplative “The Blood Is On The Wall,” in which Johnson explains: “Human contact, over my head.” “Gravity Bent Light” begins with a demonic, groaning chorus of “hallelujahs” that is gother than anything I’ve heard recently—just undeniably satanic. “Fever Pitch” establishes itself as a slow drag of a headbanger before Johnson’s voice cuts through with his solemn intonations. The waltz-time “Death Verses” would be good accompaniment to a healthy session of staring off into space, with plodding, smoky melody and heavy bass. You get the idea—all signs point to drugs. But to call Wilderness just another stoner rock band would belittle how interesting the band sounds and how broad a capacity for emotional expression they demonstrate. And within the Baltimore scene— rich with both the mysterious waves of “psych-folk” bands like Arbouretum and The Anamoanon and with the dissonant visions of the experimentalists at the Red Room and on HereSee Records—Wilderness is a gutsy synthesis of various cutting-edge styles and experimental techniques.
—Robbie Whelan w w w. u r b a n i t e b a l t i m o re . c o m a p r i l 0 6
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urbanite april 06
what i’m reading
by susan mccallum-smith
side dish to Flaubert’s tale, Flaubert’s Parrot ilustave Flaubert followed his 1857 potboiler lustrates what happens when one talented writer is Madame Bovary (the original desperate housewife) inspired by the melody of another, and, like a fearless with a very affecting short story in 1877 entitled A jazz player, improvises into the stratosphere, risking Simple Heart. A very, very slim volume (attractive some very high notes. to my waning attention span), it examines the life Another work containing an homage to a literof Félicité, a humble servant with an extraordinary ary forebear is Nicole Krauss’ The History of Love. capacity for hope and empathy. It’s not easy to write The sentimental favorite of many 2005 “best of ” a great story about a good person (the devil does booklists, Krauss’ story follows the parallel journeys tend to have the best tunes), yet Flaubert manages of a young American girl searching for her namesake it. After her father dies, her mother dies, and her sisand the heartbreaking love affair of a Polish refugee. ters scatter, Félicité is seduced and then abandoned (Krauss is married to wunderkind Jonathan Safran by her lover. She becomes the maid of a Madame Foer, author of 2002’s Everything Is Illuminated. Aubain, whom she serves loyally for the rest of her Wonder what they talk about over their frosty flakes days. As the years advance, Félicité’s beloved nephew in the morning?) As their stories intertwine, Krauss dies, then her mistress’ favorite child, then her misreferences the life and work of the Polish magicaltress herself passes away, and then, Lord help us, realist Bruno Schulz. Schulz, the likely literary heir to Félicité’s parrot, a creature she adores more than any Summer Camp 06 - Urbanite Kafka and Gogol, was shot by an SS officer in 1942. other, dies. Rather than finally giving in to complete 9.125 He left behind hints of his wasted potential in two despair, Félicité repositions the parrot in the center x 2.625 0106.094 sublime collections of short stories, The Street of of her life (with the help of the village taxidermist) Crocodiles and Sanatorium Under the Sign of the and it comes to symbolize for her the mystery and Hourglass (published in 1934 and 1937 respectively), majesty of God. thankfully available in English translations. When Not surprisingly, some of Flaubert’s contemread in conjunction with Krauss, they allow us to poraries were horrified by this metaphorical link experience, again, the jazz of the unfettered human between a stuffed bird and the Resurrection. Such imagination. irreligious content didn’t spawn any cartoons, as far If I had not been given Are Men Necessary? as a as I’m aware, but it did inspire Julian Barnes’ excelgift, the book jacket alone would have persuaded me lent novel from 1985, Flaubert’s Parrot. A worthy
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to buy it. The cover of Maureen Dowd’s examination of gender relations has a trashy, noirish quality: A strawberry blond in a red dress with an improbably curvy behind reads on a train, oblivious to the shifty glances of the other (male) passengers. The book itself is not quite as shapely as either its jacket or its author (Ms. Dowd would not find that a derogative comment, trust me), as it fails to build toward any major conclusion. It’s not so much an argument as a rant, albeit a witty one. Judging by some reviews of Dowd’s reductive lipstick feminism, many have taken her tongue-in-cheek cheekiness oh, so seriously. Not only do we seem to be losing the battle, sisters, we seem to be losing our sense of humor. One of the more startling revelations made by Dowd (whom I assume wears red stilettos and a bullet-proof vest) is that, despite dizzying advances in equality, a scientific study has proven a woman’s attractiveness to men still decreases in direct proportion to an increase in her IQ. Therefore, take my advice: When you are considering what to get your teenage daughter for her next birthday, forget that early nose job or those preventative Botox injections and book her, instead, for a mini lobotomy. Go on: Give the little dear a “head start,” or she’ll never get a date for the prom. —Susan McCallum-Smith is Urbanite’s literary editor.
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The City Beautiful continued from page 55 Planning should get involved in the design process early on and rate each project according to its importance. Placing a project in one of three categories will determine how much oversight the design gets. When a project first comes to the table, the planning department’s professional staff will determine a project’s significance. Only the planning staff will review minor projects. More significant projects will be reviewed by UDARP, with recommendations going to the Planning Commission. Major projects will be reviewed by UDARP, as well as a peer review panel of national experts, before being sent to the Planning Commission for final design approval. The task force’s recommendations (not officially adopted as Urbanite goes to press) “will level the playing field” said McCoach, by having significant architectural designs reviewed at some level by the City to advise developers on how their plans should fit in context with the streetscape and surrounding neighborhood—even before designs are drawn. With early intervention, UDARP will be less likely to later have to ask a developer to scrap designs. While recommending a widening of UDARP’s scope of review, the task force decided it was not necessary to increase the panel’s authority, such as giving it the power to kill a project if designs don’t meet the City’s standards. It will remain a body that strictly makes recommendations to the Planning Commission, which is the City board that approves the development projects. The key to a successful new process, the task force said, is getting the Department of Planning involved very early to assure developers and architects understand the City’s demands, not only for high quality architecture, but for integrating their projects with the surrounding neighborhoods—and that includes getting feedback from community leaders. The City would also provide developers and architects written design guidelines—modeled after Seattle’s criteria—to reference. “At the end of the day,” said Rolley, “the earlier we’re allowed to have access to the ideas, the sooner we’re able to influence in a positive way to push for the highest quality design.” As the City gets more involved in architectural designs at the ground floor, Baltimore’s reputation for demanding high-quality design will hopefully grow, he said. Some day, Rolley added, developers will know they’ll need “a four-star or five-star architect. It’ll become common knowledge that this is what you expect when you come to Baltimore,” he said. McCoach noted that the city of Columbus, Ohio, has made a name for itself as a city of fine architecture through an aggressive approach to design. “They have attracted world-class architecture. It’s the identity of the place. Some places have sports, but Columbus has great architecture.”
In Baltimore, said McCoach, the glass, multi-angled Brown Center at MICA epitomizes how high Baltimore can aim. It is an example of striking modern architectural design that “establishes an identity for the school and for the Mount Vernon Cultural District,” he said. One of the Brown Center’s architects, Steve Ziger, is also a member of the task force. Ziger said the secret to the MICA building’s success was not just the talent of the architects, but also the vision of their client. “Fred Lazarus [MICA’s president] and the board demanded excellence. They wanted this to be a signature, sculptural, modern building that spoke to their mission of creativity and excellence,” said Ziger, whose firm Ziger/Snead designed the project with architect Charles Brickbauer. Just as Millspaugh recalled the early days of optimism over Baltimore’s renewal, Ziger thinks that hopefulness has resurfaced today. He agrees with Caroline Moore’s view of “taste” versus “good urban design.” “Truth is, it’s not about personal taste as much as it is a reflection of the City’s goals and aspirations,” he said. If the City wants to bring more activity to the street, architects should be advised to design a building that invites pedestrians, with wide sidewalks for cafes and retail shops at street level. “Good design invigorates a city with activity. Empty lots and blank walls at the street level sap the vitality from our city,” said Ziger, acknowledging that Baltimore has more than its share of blank walls. However, he said, “You can fill in the gaps and create street-level retail, and still end up with an ugly building. How do you prevent that? One way is you get the very best people you can at every level who are committed to and demand design excellence,” he said. That includes the mayor and “those who support economic development by believing that design excellence is a key component of sustained economic development, rather than feeling that design excellence gets in the way of it,” Ziger said. A well-designed building, he said, “is an economic engine because it draws people to an area.” The problem is getting Baltimoreans to believe this. “Very often we don’t believe we deserve the best. There’s a certain satisfaction with second best here,” he said. He and the other task force members hope that will change. “Architecture reflects the values of its society and every culture gets the architecture it deserves,” said Ziger. “Baltimore deserves the very best.” ■
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The Woman I Left Behind continued from page 61
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Salwa had stopped cleaning beans now and was sitting with her eyes closed, her head leaned back, her head gone back into lost days and hours. She knew that there was nothing she could do to turn back time. … A homeland, gone. A brother, a sister, gone. … She didn’t stir. She clamped her eyes shut. For once, the beans sat uncooked in front of her on the table. She had held everything together. She had worked the bakery alone for three years, then sold it when her mother died. She had given herself over to the task of sumood. Steadfastness. When she heard the news about Yusuf being martyred in Jerusalem with his father, she had given herself over to a vow: never to marry, to remain faithful, not just to him, but to her family and her people, and especially to their city, the city of prayer. Now she sat with her head back and her eyes clamped shut. Until she heard the voices of the neighbor children calling her name from outside, Ya Aamt! Ya Salwa! Aunt Salwa! They rushed into her open door with worried faces. And she knew immediately. She jumped to her feet saying in a hoarse whisper, Sayeed.
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as it started. The others immediately surrounded the pair in a swoop, bashing Sayeed on the head with the butts of their guns. Throwing him to the ground, they kicked him a couple of times for good measure. Then without saying a word, they picked him up easily and threw him into their jeep. Three of them restrained him. One pointed a gun into the boy’s face. One drove north on the main road. By this time there were a few neighbors coming out of their homes and shops. Some had witnessed the end of the confrontation and had come running. But they were too late. The jeep was already driving away, raising a cloud of dust behind it. They had seen a few confrontations like this before. They thought, as they ran towards Salwa’s house, that the soldiers would take Sayeed in for questioning, rough him up a bit, then release him.
—This is an excerpt from the ﬁrst chapter of The Woman I Left Behind, published this month by Curbstone Press. Kim Jensen has lived and taught in California, France, and the Middle East. Her writings have appeared in a wide variety of publications including Al Jadid, Rain Taxi Review of Books, Poetry Flash, and the Boston Book Review. In 2001, she won the Raymond Carver Prize for Short Fiction. An editor for The Baltimore Review, Jensen also teaches writing and literature at the Community College of Baltimore County. Jensen lives in Baltimore with her husband and their two children, Ahlam and Besan. She will read from her debut novel at the Central Branch of the Enoch Pratt Free Library on April 25 at 6:30 p.m.
43 Shoot and Run For more information about guerrilla art projections, visit www.guerilladrivein.org. The Mobile Movie group website is www.mobmov.org; the website includes a kit for replicating their project in your neighborhood (www.mobmov.org/inabox.php). A September 29, 2004 City Paper article discussed the community meetings held about the fate of the Recreation Pier in Fells Point (www.citypaper.com/ news/story.asp?id=9155). Wide Angle Community Media (www.wideanglemedia.org) assisted the citizens involved in the Save Middle East Action Committee. Kelley Bell’s website is www. cakeweek.com.
67 House of Blues The website for Bonded Logic is www.bondedlogic. com. To purchase UltraTouch home insulation, visit Capitol Building Supply (Gaithersburg: 301-921-9207; Washington, D.C.: 202-554-9190). Bluehouse in Inner Harbor East carries a wide range of earth-friendly items for your home (1407 Fleet Street; 410-276-1180; www.bluehouselife.com). Read more about The Polo Jeans Co.’s 2005 Denim Drive at their website www. polojeans.com.
79 What I’m Reading Our literary editor included the following books in this month’s column: The Street of Crocodiles by Bruno Schulz (originally published in 1934; Penguin Classic, 1992); Sanatorium Under the Sign of the Hourglass by Bruno Schulz (originally published 1937; Mariner Books, 1997); The History of Love by Nicole Krauss (W.W. Norton & Company, 2005); Are Men Necessary? by Maureen Dowd (G.P. Puttnam’s Sons, 2005); Madame Bovary by Gustave Flaubert (originally published in 1857; Penguin Classic, 2002); A Simple Heart by Gustave Flaubert (originally published in 1877; New Directions Bibelot, 1996); and Flaubert’s Parrot by Julian Barnes (originally published in 1985; Vintage International, 1990).
courtesy of Michael Singer, photo by Edwin Walwisch
31 The Next Baby Boom To find out more about Stroller Strides activities, visit www.strollerstrides.net/baltimore. To join the SEBaltCityKidsListserv, contact moderator Rebecca Gershenson Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org. Author and futurist Joel Kotkin discusses his take on urban life at www.joelkotkin.com. The website for the St. Frances Academy Community Center is www.sfacademy.org. For a list of charter schools in Maryland, go to the Maryland State Department of Education website at www.marylandpublicschools. org/MSDE.
For more information on Michael Singer’s sustainable and innovative designs, turn to page 50.
coming next month: A Look at Baltimore’s contemporary art world with curator and guest editor Andrea Pollan
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Shinique Amie Smith Untitled A Burberry scarf? Fabric and ribbon? On canvas? And that calligraphic stroke? Yes, this piece, which seems to lift off the canvas, is the work of a young artist who received both her bachelorâ€™s and masterâ€™s degrees from the Maryland Institute College of Art and who is now showing her work in New York and Los Angeles as well as Baltimore.
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2006 52 x 52 inches Acrylic, collage fabric, and ribbon on canvas. Private collection, courtesy of the artist.
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