If you had never been to Baltimore City and I blindfolded you and dropped you off at the shops at Canton Crossing, upon taking off the blindfold you would rightfully assume that you were in a suburb far, far away. An asphalt parking lot would span out in front of you, without any direct pedestrian path to reach your typical suburban shops including Target, Ulta, Harris Teeter, Five Below, and Old Navy. If you were to turn yourself 180 degrees, you’d see the cluster of historically significant, former breweries redeveloped into architecturally interesting apartment and office towers mixed in with a handful of mostly-local shops and restaurants. These buildings are all connected on an urban street grid paired with walkable paths where residents walk their dogs, push strollers with babies, and hold hands with their other halves.
As a follow up to my post praising the redevelopment of Baltimore City’s Brewers Hill neighborhood, this post discusses the starkly suburban shops at Canton Crossing and the phenomenon of suburbanized cities. In other areas near the Port of Baltimore, the urban design and architecture of each neighborhood reflects the industrial history and branding of the city while attracting professional and commercial industries which provide sustainable job opportunities. Light industrial activity at the Port continues to support jobs even as residential and mixed-use development encroaches upon industrial zones. Two of the Port’s marine terminals sit within a mile radius of Canton Crossing in East Baltimore. Within Brewers Hill, a number of employers in health-related industries provide a growing number of jobs for residents. Closer to the Inner Harbor and Downtown areas, neighborhoods benefit from what some are calling Baltimore’s renaissance.
Judith K. De Jong, a Professor of Architecture at the University of Illinois at Chicago, states that architects and urban designers do not appear to understand the recent suburbanization of urban centers. In her book New SubUrbanisms, she identifies four of the most notable areas where urban design has become increasingly similar to suburban design:
- Prioritization of car-friendly streets and parking,
- Conversion of duplexes into large single-family estates,
- Development of former light industrial zones to accommodate big-box stores, and
- Creation of public-private partnerships to manage parks and open space.
The reason for this merging of suburban and urban designs fits into the philosophy that failure eventually leads to success. In hopes of creating the ideal community, architects, designers, and planners are attempting to combine all of the things people love about suburbs and urban centers, while omitting those elements which have driven people out of each. By bringing the suburbs to the city, Baltimore may see developments like Canton Crossing as a way to reverse its decades of population decline which was lead by mass migration from cities to suburbs. Some may interpret Baltimore's actions as ignoring basic urban planning and sustainable design principles in order to appease the lifestyle needs of suburbanites - a potentially short-sighted solution that does not serve long-term sustainability for the city.
What are examples of suburbanization in your city? Why do you think this phenomenon is happening, and do you think it is a step forward or a step back for urban planning?
Credits: Images and maps by Jade Clayton. Data linked to sources.