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Public Involvement in Urban Freeway Planning: The Story of Baltimore, 1944-1983

Public Involvement in Urban Freeway Planning: The Story of Baltimore, 1944-1983. Heather Strassberger Baltimore Metropolitan Council. National movement towards urban freeways.

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Public Involvement in Urban Freeway Planning: The Story of Baltimore, 1944-1983

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  1. Public Involvement in Urban Freeway Planning: The Story of Baltimore, 1944-1983 Heather Strassberger Baltimore Metropolitan Council

  2. National movement towards urban freeways • During WWII, most major US cities conceived plans for urban freeways to alleviate building congestion and facilitate ongoing growth in automobile traffic • Baltimore was no exception, as civic and business leaders envisioned a highway system that would move traffic efficiently, attract business, and replace some of the land uses they saw as less desirable • Local civic organizations promoted the freeway plan through propaganda materials

  3. Better Baltimore Committee

  4. 1942 Advisory Engineers Report • First freeway plan for Baltimore • Developed by ad hoc committee of city staff and local consulting engineers • No public outreach, not widely publicized

  5. 1944 Robert Moses Plan • After the city planning commission weighed in on the first plan in 1943, a consulting team lead by Robert Moses was hired to give the plan more cachet • The report made relatively minor modifications to the original plan, and also endeavored to make the case for why an extensive system of limited access freeways through the city was needed. • Directly addressed slum clearance, suggested housing projects alongside freeway to house displaced residents

  6. Quotes from Moses • “The city car is an intrusive and in many respects disquieting gadget. We shall nevertheless have to live with it, get the most out of it and make it our servant. This cannot be brought about by mere grudging accommodation of car users. The modern city artery must be built for every man, woman, and child on every conceivable errand, for driver and pedestrian, for native and visitor, for tradesman and professional, for old and young, for work, rest, and play.”

  7. The Moses Report • Prescription for changes to federal and state laws and policies that would need to change to facilitate the highway system • Did not include public involvement, although it included pre-emptive strikes ridiculing potential critics’ arguments • Included “incidental improvements” such as recreational facilities, to be constructed along with the highway using same funding • Project garnered major press attention, public debate over the merits began.

  8. Various city, state, consultant plans, 1943-1957

  9. 1960 “Harbor Route”

  10. Expressway Consultants’ 10-D Plan, 1961 Essentially commissioned as feasibility study/fed mandated review of city engineers’ work Led to significant changes that greatly increase controversy, most notably moving Harbor Route to south side and proposing a bridge that would level the Federal Hill landmark and connect across harbor to Fells Point

  11. 10-D Plan adopted • Adopted by Planning Board January 24, 1962 • Public Hearing held January 30, 1962 • Over 1,000 people attended hearing, most from the working class white neighborhoods in East Baltimore • Meeting ended “in a shambles… like the city’s entire highway problem.”

  12. Condemnation • City issued condemnation order for properties in ROW of 10-D plan in 1966 • Three major neighborhoods targeted: Harlem Park, Fells Point, Federal Hill • USDOT Created the same year • A number of neighborhood groups organized against various portions of the plan: Society for Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point • As opposition built, city obtained grant to create Urban Design Concept Team

  13. Early Opposition • Each neighborhood focused on their own interests • Different races and ethnicities rarely collaborated • Primary issues were loss of homes, cultural assets (historic landmarks, parkland, cemetery) • Environmental impact, justice, impact on overall city economy or future transportation were not identified as concerns

  14. Urban Design Concept Team • Largest federal transportation planning project ever undertaken at the time • Demonstration project to create model for addressing community impacts • Led by architects, planners, sociologists • Tension with engineers on team, who were not used to other disciplines having so much involvement in a highway project

  15. Preservation Society became well versed in new Historic Preservation Act, legal options Fells Point became first designated historic area under act, Federal Hill followed shortly after Then Governor Spiro Agnew signed preservation declaration without understanding ultimate impact on highway plans Tactics also included promoting the target neighborhoods to other residents: Fells Point Fun Festival began in 1967, continues today Opposition Grows

  16. “Baltimore’s Domestic Viet Nam” • Major Oppositions Groups: • Preservation Society (Fells Point, Federal Hill) • SCAR (Southeast Communities against Relocation) • RAM (Relocation Action Movement) • VOLPE (Volunteers Opposed to Leakin Park Expressway) • MAD (Movement Against Destruction – citywide, multiracial coalition)

  17. UDCT • Culmination of five years of work, controversy, internal and external challenges • Involving the public was a primary mandate • Sociologists, political scientists gave lectures to community groups about “social aspects of transportation” • Extensive interaction with neighborhood associations, anti-highway groups • Ultimately became so controversial, some team members were throwing objects during another contingent’s public presentation • City eliminated public relations arm of team, stating that planners had overstepped bounds as professionals

  18. UDCT Final Report, 1971 • Settled on alternative that preserved Federal Hill, still went through Fells Point, Harlem Park, Sharp-Leadenhall, Rosemont • Despite efforts to include community, opposition crystallized after release of final report • MAD organized more aggressive elements of the various opposition groups

  19. The war continues • The 1970’s featured continued public outcry over the plans, growing price tags, and repeated law suits under NEPA and the Historic Preservation Act • A court ultimately ruled Fells Point had to be avoided due to its historic district status. • In 1977 the Condemnation Order for Fells Point was lifted. Residents who had been renting their homes back from the city couldn’t afford the sale prices now that the homes were “historic” • Plans to construct a tunnel under the harbor to bypass the historic district were too costly • The Jones Falls Expressway and several large urban boulevards were constructed • In 1983, Mayor W.D. Schaeffer formally announced the end of construction of the city’s freeway system

  20. The Aftermath: Fells Point • Although no highway was built, the process led to a dramatic change in character from a working class Polish enclave to a gentrified tourist attraction

  21. The Aftermath: Federal Hill • Plan to level park cancelled in 1971 • Like Fells Point, Federal Hill is now a primary tourist destination and trendy residential/commercial neighborhood • Sharp-Leadenhall was severely impacted by I-395 stub freeway

  22. The Aftermath: Harlem Park • A portion of the planned I-170 was constructed, dividing the neighborhood and creating Baltimore’s infamous “highway to nowhere” • The area has continued to lose population and suffer dramatic urban decay

  23. Today • Partial interstate system • I-395 and I-83 dead end into wide boulevards with significant bicycle and pedestrian conflicts • Building activist movement to remove “Highway to Nowhere” and part of I-83 • “Reconnecting West Baltimore” plan for bike/ped improvements in Harlem Park

  24. Lasting Impacts of Process • Most of city’s most valuable properties were once part of proposed highway footprint • African American neighborhoods in West Baltimore continue to struggle w/impacts • Organizational structure developed to fight highway now supports events, promotes city • Many concepts popularized by UDCT form the basis of modern day community impact analysis

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