Baltimore's Inner Harbor Poised to Kick Out Millennials
Thirteen million visitors a year come to the Inner Harbor. The city has much to gain if it puts its physically active young professionals out front on display. By playing at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore Beach Volleyball helps create a desirable healthy active image for the city. Instead of being celebrated, Baltimore Beach’s millennials are getting kicked off-stage.
The Inner Harbor has been home to Baltimore Beach Volleyball (BBV) for eleven years. BBV has 2500 weekly participants, plays games seven days a week from May to September. It draws players who are 87% millennials, or adults between 20-34, 88% single (in case you’re looking), and 37% come from outside of Baltimore City, according to Todd Webster, who runs the league. BBV has been touted as the largest inner-city metropolitan league on the east coast, hosted games for the International Olympic committee, and become a permanent stop on the Toyota Pro Beach Volleyball tour. Baltimore ought to give BBV the proverbial keys to the harbor, instead there are plans to boot the volleyballers from the Inner Harbor to Swann Park. This is an unambiguous demotion to a low visibility location two miles to the south in the shadow of Interstate 95.
The city of Baltimore, Waterfront Partnership, and Greater Baltimore Committee recently released The Inner Harbor II (IH2 ) plan , which looks at ways to improve open space around the harbor. It proposes replacing BBV’s courts and an existing park as well as the Pride of Baltimore memorial with a subterranean parking garage topped by an oval grass lawn and a small sand “destination.” How this lawn will be programmed is unclear. The plan will cost $40 million, though parking revenues will likely offset some of these costs.
Baltimore leaders have concluded that the Inner Harbor and Rash Field needs a refresher. But the results of a citizen survey say about the area suggest that residents prefer more local retail in the area and want to address the lack of activity in some parts of the harbor. The plan does not ignore those concerns, but its bigger proposals do overshadow them.
There are good ideas in the plan, like the pool barge. But unfortunately, leaders are rushing to start with Rash Field, a controversial and expensive part of the plan. How did the architects choose a grass oval lawn and sand lot for the top of the garage? How is the proposed lawn not redundant with West Shore Park and grassy Federal Hill?
Baltimore and the Inner Harbor planners would benefit if they mixed-in some of the affordable ingenuity demonstrated by Janette Sadik-Khan’s New York City project portfolio. Her matra: “Do bold experiments that are cheap to try out.” She loves to talk about how Times Square was successfully transformed with lawn chairs and paint. All urbanists should view her Ted Talk.
Instead of replicating park-like amenities that already exist, there are ways to provide things citizens asked for and retain an existing draw, all at a much lower cost. Beach volleyball could be an anchor and destination for the area with the addition of local food and beverage vendors, water features, specialty kiosks, seasonal activities, and tables overlooking the courts. The space could also accommodate other activities like bocce, ping pong, yoga, zumba, stationary bikes, and kayaks.
Meanwhile, the Rash Field garage is not only expensive, but unnecessary with the existing 45,000 parking spaces in downtown Baltimore. Has the city studied the possibility of valet parking service operating from the visitors’ center as an alternative? A valet service might make better use of existing parking capacity, be more convenient for visitors, and provide jobs. To increase access, extend Charm City Circulator coverage to more neighborhoods. Creating a safe network of cycle-tracks to serve bicycles and bikeshare, which will launch this July, on the bike-unfriendly roads ringing the Inner Harbor would help.
In addition, building the parking garage will disrupt a public space for up to two years of construction. The view from Federal Hill is a very photogenic spot, and a popular site for locals and tourists. A parking facility isn’t enough of a compelling reason to take this space away when smaller changes would have a much shorter and disruptive effect on the area.
This plan also would have an impact on the city’s millennial community. Many young professionals seek healthy and active social amenities. The data shows clearly that millennials are driving Baltimore’s growth more than any other generation. For young professionals, Baltimore Beach Volleyball is arguably the Inner Harbor’s top draw. Unceremoniously kicking them out will not be viewed charmingly by this opinionated generation.
Millennials heavily populate nearby neighborhoods and have brought new life to the city. Why not ask them to help program the harbor?
crossposted at Greater Greater Washington
Jeff La Noue is the chief writer for the urbanist blog Comeback City. Jeff has an undergraduate degree in Economics from St. Mary’s College of Maryland and a Masters in Community Planning from the University of Maryland-College Park. Jeff’s urban insights come from research, reviewing best practices, and on-the-ground observation. Jeff lives in Baltimore’s Jones Falls Valley. La Noue ...