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To boost downtown Baltimore, get rid of its downtown jail

Baltimore's downtown jail is a source of blight and a physical barrier between the city center and some of its most impoverished neighborhoods. Could moving it help heal the city?

Baltimore's jail seen against the city skyline. All photos by the author.

The city's existing penal facility is a forbidding, sprawling 27-acre campus between the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus (JHMC) and downtown. It consumes vast amount of acreage on potentially lucrative real estate. Surface parking, blight, bail bonds, and strip clubs are the jail's only neighbors.

Most cities have sensibly relocated their prisons away from their economic centers. Moving Baltimore's jail from downtown was a pie-in-the-sky idea until Maryland began planning to sink over $500 million into demolishing and rebuilding the jail in place. Instead, what if the state spent the money to move the jail out of downtown entirely, freeing up the land for more constructive uses?

Looking west from the jail towards Mount Vernon Square.

City Marketing 101 says you shouldn't put your jail as the welcome mat to your downtown or your top research hospital. By doing so, Baltimore sends the thousands of people coming to visit, to work, or to invest a grim reminder that the city immortalized by "The Wire" houses lots of dangerous people.

The jail's current location may be convenient for visitors and employees. It's transit-accessible, and the criminal courts are nearby. But if you consider the land's far greater potential, relocating the jail to Jessup, home to several other prisons, or abandoned industrial zones are better options.

Moving the jail presents Baltimore with many opportunities. Opening up space between downtown and Hopkins, the nation's #1 hospital, could create synergy between the hospital and area businesses, or drive investment to Jones Town, the long-stalled redevelopment of Old Town Mall, or the array of surface parking littered about. Some land could even become a park to serve downtown residents.

Moving the jail could help spur the revitalization of Old Town Mall.

Meanwhile, the surrounding property would be more attractive to investment without a prison to repel more promising development. And in any scenario, redevelopment could generate jobs for the city, while retaining existing prison jobs elsewhere. Portions of new revenues from development could support other investments, like jobs for youth.

We should be cautious about building costly new prisons. America must find a way to reduce its world leading incarceration rates, while preventing violent crime. Locally, Baltimore's recent prison issues are certainly as much about management as with the aging physical facility.

Improved training and wages for prison guards and personnel would be astronomically cheaper than constructing new facilities. However, at some point, new facilities are going to be built. Good money should not be spent on a misplaced location.

Relocating large prison facilities from downtown is not only not unprecedented, it is common. New York City's main prison is an island in the East River. Indianapolis mayor Greg Ballard is now leading a plan to relocate its jail out of downtown. Aaron Renn explains how doing so could be a "game-changer" by eliminating multiple barriers to redevelopment.

Maryland is projected to add a million people by 2040. Baltimore needs to position itself to capture a portion of this growth. Adding dozens of acres available for development adjacent to the city's most prominent employers, as well as I-83 and the subway, is a promising opportunity.

The Department of Corrections is only looking at ways to build a new jail, but that shouldn't limit the thinking of top decision-makers in Baltimore and at the state level. There are innovative ways to reduce incarceration, provide opportunity, and remove barriers to Baltimore's economic potential. Rebuilding the jail in place should not be a rubber stamp. If other cities understand this, Baltimore should too!

Crossposted at Comeback City.

Jeff La Noue is a project and sustainability planner in Baltimore. He has an Economics degree from St. Mary's College of Maryland and a Masters in Community Planning from the University of Maryland-College Park. Posts are his own viewpoint and do not necessarily reflect his employer. Jeff also runs his own urbanist blog, Comeback City


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Most cities have sensibly relocated their prisons away from their economic centers.

Dunno about that. I live next to the old DC jail in Lorton. That jail certainly did not move away from it's economic center.

Furthermore, instead of hiding a jail, why not work to reduce the size of a jail by preventing crime and work with smarter (or shorter) convictions? The US still incarcerates more people than any other country. Surely, that's not a #1 to be proud of.

Also, jails can be so much prettier. Here's the one in my hometown, far far away.

by Jasper on Jan 27, 2014 10:37 am • linkreport

It is interesting that they chose to close and demolish Jessup's prisons, which are far outside Baltimore and are investing 500 million in Baltimore's downtown jail. I would have thought going the other way would have made more sense.

by Richard on Jan 27, 2014 10:57 am • linkreport

[i]Dunno about that. I live next to the old DC jail in Lorton. That jail certainly did not move away from it's economic center.[/i]

Didn't it? The economic center in that case would be DC. Last time I checked, Lorton isn't in DC, unless something has changed that I don't know about.

by Mike B. on Jan 27, 2014 10:58 am • linkreport

LA also has a big county jail near Union Station that is inhibiting redevelopment in that section of downtown.

by 202_cyclist on Jan 27, 2014 10:58 am • linkreport

I don't the jail is what is really inhibiting growth in least that area. Hopkins Hospital is just in a really bad area of doesn't have its self-contained transit stop for a reason.

Further, if a jail is an automatic freeze on growth, why then hasn't the Arlington County jail deterred growth along the RB corridor?

by TBurger on Jan 27, 2014 11:05 am • linkreport

@ Mike B:Didn't it?

Lorton is and was not the economic center of DC. The DC jail moved *towards* its economic center when it was tossed out of Lorton.

@ 202_cyclist:a big county jail near Union Station that is inhibiting redevelopment

Yeah, those pesky prisoners. If only they c/would move!

by Jasper on Jan 27, 2014 11:06 am • linkreport


Of course, unfortunately, we need jails but they should not be located in walkable, transit-accessible, areas.

by 202_cyclist on Jan 27, 2014 11:17 am • linkreport

I think there may be some confusion about a jail vs a prison, both wrt to baltimore, and to Lorton.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 27, 2014 11:25 am • linkreport

"Relocating large prison facilities from downtown is not only unprecedented, it is common."

Sentence doesn't make sense.

by jorge on Jan 27, 2014 11:26 am • linkreport

In Minneapolis, Minnesota, Hennepin county built a jail in 1999 that is directly across the street from the large historic Minneapolis City Hall. Since some cities have morphed into tall buildings with many parking lots, having a jail built on a former surface parking lot doesn't seem like that bad an idea. In addition, the prisoner transit costs, between the courthouse[which is kitty corner to this jail] is negligible. Hennepin County Public Safety Facility

by Bill the Wanderer on Jan 27, 2014 11:30 am • linkreport

Lorton Prison has not held any prisoners since 2001. The development surrounding the former grounds continues with new subdivisions, schools, and senior living facilities all nearby. The other part of the grounds is a park with walking/mountain biking/equestrian trails.

I can't imagine any of this development happening if the prison were still operating.

by CyclistinAlexandria on Jan 27, 2014 11:34 am • linkreport

Actually, the old prison is probably the most awesome building in downtown Baltimore. There are plenty of examples of jails and prisons that work just fine....Chicago has a federal prison in the South Loop next to the L near some very high end properties. Atlanta has one downtown and the area seems no more /less dead than the rest of downtown. Cleveland built a new one downtown when they redid the court complex in the 70s and it doesn't seem to have affected nearby development which has reshaped an old warehouse district.

Baltimore has two problems downtown---one is that the various downtown districts and landmarks are pretty dispersed--Penn Station isn't close to much of anything. Lexington Market isn't close to Inner Harbor or Mount Vernon Square (I've hiked from both to get a good crab cake on occasion) and there is a slow march of redevelopment linking the Hopkins campus to Fell's Point and downtown without touching the jail. Charles center probably makes movement around the downtown seem more rather than less difficult.

The other problem is that not much is happening downtown and the dispersion doesn't help. Conventioneers in Inner Harbor probably don't hike up to the Walters very much. there aren't high profile vents that draw people from around the region to explore Baltimore.

Next, someone will write a column suggesting that "the Block" be demolished or the that the strip club licenses be revoked. Doing that would kill what little life there is in Downtown Baltimore, but it will appeal to a certain kind of self-styled reformer.

by Rich on Jan 27, 2014 11:35 am • linkreport

Rich + 1,000
The buildings are amazing, although sadly to hear that Baltimore would consider razing such a beautiful complex would be truly criminal. Move the jail if that's what you think is best, but please don't wreak that pile of stone.

by Thayer-D on Jan 27, 2014 11:57 am • linkreport

The buildings are amazing, although sadly to hear that Baltimore would consider razing such a beautiful complex would be truly criminal. Move the jail if that's what you think is best, but please don't wreak that pile of stone.

The castle and the silver roofed black stone are striking and hopefully can be preserved for all time. The concrete block with the small square windows by the freeway could be gone tomorrow and I wouldnt shed a tear.

by Richard on Jan 27, 2014 12:07 pm • linkreport

The political battle over where to put the replacement would be immense (assuming it had to stay in Baltimore.)

There are plenty of dead end neighborhoods on both the East and West side that would be more appropriate places - but would those impoverished communities cry foul?

really that whole stretch to the East of 83 is a block (along with 83 itself) to spreading revitalized neighborhoods. In addition to the jail and the Juvenile Justice Center, you also have the Post Office stopping Little Italy from spreading North and Mount Vernon from spreading east.

by Tom A on Jan 27, 2014 12:12 pm • linkreport

Camden, New Jersey recently removed a large jail from its downtown waterfront on the Delaware River, directly from Philadelphia. The site is being redeveloped to take advantage of its prime location.

by Garden Stater on Jan 27, 2014 12:22 pm • linkreport

I think my favorite solution has always been repurposing/redeveloping (depending on the aesthetic qualities of the prison in question). See Boston's Liberty Hotel, formerly...the Charles Street Jail.

by LowHeadways on Jan 27, 2014 12:26 pm • linkreport

The problem with a city jail is, it's going to be in the city. A county or state has more leeway to relocate it. In the case of DC or Baltimore relocating it could be tricky because it will require uniting parcels to create a site big enough and inevitable and understandable pushback from the new neighbors. However, from a fiscal point of view this does seem like a no brainer, I suspect politics often rule the day on this kind of thing.

by BTA on Jan 27, 2014 12:45 pm • linkreport

One of the more interesting reuses of an old prison in Philadelphia...

by A. P. on Jan 27, 2014 12:46 pm • linkreport

"Of course, unfortunately, we need jails but they should not be located in walkable, transit-accessible, areas."
Then how are visitors supposed to reach them?

by ceefer66 on Jan 27, 2014 12:50 pm • linkreport

You can certainly make a case for them not being downtown or on top of a train station, but they definitely should be transit accessible.

by BTA on Jan 27, 2014 12:54 pm • linkreport

How about decriminalizing marijuana for starters. Then get rid of all non-violent drug possession charges and instead set up drug re-habilitation centers somewhere else. Lastly, let's take all the mentally ill patients out and house them in separate facilities. We'd cut the population in half, and then tear down all the crap buildings like the one at the to of this story. Barbed wire roof lines will never be cool.

by Thayer-D on Jan 27, 2014 1:05 pm • linkreport

Noting the likely huge disparity of numbers and other factors, may I suggest looking at Arlington's courthouse/jail as a model? One can easily pass by that building a bunch and hardly ever notice that it's a county jail and it's surrounded by fancy condos (and an unfortunate parking lot).

Yes, Arlington has way less of a crime problem but their jail/location doesn't inhibit the local area at all.

by Drumz on Jan 27, 2014 1:23 pm • linkreport

Most moronic site for a jail. River views up there with neraby $800K condos and yachts parked on the river.

by lou on Jan 27, 2014 1:44 pm • linkreport

"Of course, unfortunately, we need jails but they should not be located in walkable, transit-accessible, areas."
Then how are visitors supposed to reach them?

Definitely needs to be transit accessible, but the question is what quality of transit. Does the prison need high capacity transit with 5 minute head ways? In a city like Baltimore which only has one heavy rail line, one light rail line, and 2 commuter lines, areas served by high quality transit are few. Should the prison be located within easy walking distance of the heavy rail line and the main commuter rail hub?

by Richard on Jan 27, 2014 1:52 pm • linkreport

Note well

this is not just the Baltimore City Jail, but includes the Metropolitan Transition Center, which is a Maryland prison, and has been since 1811.

Jails are run by cities and counties and typically hold people awaiting trial, and need to be located close to court houses. Prisons are for convicts, are run by states, and do not need to locate near court houses. AFAIK there are no prisons in operation in northern virginia, and certainly none in Arlington.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 27, 2014 2:06 pm • linkreport

Let's just move the prison part. What they really ought to start with is demolishing the expressway right there. That's an urban moat that kills everything around it. Maybe if they have the right of way could build a sweet light rail service. Boy would that piss of suburban Baltimore though!

by Thayer-D on Jan 27, 2014 2:58 pm • linkreport

Let's just move the prison part. What they really ought to start with is demolishing the expressway right there. That's an urban moat that kills everything around it. Maybe if they have the right of way could build a sweet light rail service. Boy would that piss of suburban Baltimore though!

End the freeway there, at the prison? When it currently just ends 2500ft south of there? to what end? Just to open up development there?

Put a light rail there? For what, 2500ft? There is plenty of room there for an additional light rail, the problem is that where do you take the light rail from there? The current blue line roughly parallels 83 until it is downtown, so removing 83 to put in a light rail line wouldn't really add much.

I would rather see the Baltimore red line get it's funding, as it can fit in the 140 median, which is a perfect ROW that was specifically designed for transit, than take out 83 put in an second, entirely redundant north south line.

by Richard on Jan 27, 2014 3:49 pm • linkreport

this is not just the baltimore city jail, but rather a huge complex of multiple state and city correctional entities, including the state's death chamber which has no use anymore, and a facility where the state houses federal detainees under a contract with the US government. two buildings in it are very beautiful and historic, but the rest is squat and ugly and could be done away with. all told, the area taken up by these buildings and their attendant parking lots is something on the order of like 80 acres. that's the size of an entire neighborhood, it's comparable in size or even smaller than the white flint redevelopment that's written up in the post immediately above this one.

i can't think of another state corrections facility in maryland that isn't out in the boonies somewhere, and as for finding enough land that won't have neighbors protesting it for the city part, baltimore has plenty of fallow industrial land with no residents for miles around, particularly in the former residential neighborhoods of fairfield or wagners point. i don't know what kind of environmental remediation would have to be done to make those areas fit for human habitation again, but i'd say it's worth looking into.

by burgersub on Jan 27, 2014 3:53 pm • linkreport

It is a beautiful building, I can't believe they would get away with tearing it down.

by BTA on Jan 27, 2014 4:03 pm • linkreport

Don't forget that this is the site of the Baltimore City Detention Center, the same as a county jail, but unlike the 23 county jails in that it is run by the State of Maryland, not the municipal government of Baltimore. Because it is effectively the "county" jail, I believe it must be located inside the corporate limits of Baltimore City - I don't think it can legally be moved to the Jessup area of Howard and Anne Arundel Counties.

by C P Zilliacus on Jan 27, 2014 5:42 pm • linkreport

Don't forget that this is the site of the Baltimore City Detention Center, the same as a county jail, but unlike the 23 county jails in that it is run by the State of Maryland, not the municipal government of Baltimore. Because it is effectively the "county" jail, I believe it must be located inside the corporate limits of Baltimore City - I don't think it can legally be moved to the Jessup area of Howard and Anne Arundel Counties.

Capacity could have been moved to Jessup, and as others have pointed out, there are a lot of places in Baltimore proper that are not downtown. Hawkins Point is in Baltimore and empty

by Richard on Jan 27, 2014 6:01 pm • linkreport

You speak of moving the jail to Jessup; but fail to mention how employees get to Jessup. This seems to be a common practice on here about talking about moving something somewhere else but not about how employees of whatever is moving would get there.

How about talking about moving a building and such then talk about the ways employees would be able to get there by transit, driving etc. I don't recall anyway to get to the Jails in Jessup from Baltimore via transit. So you either add more cars to the road, or have people that lose their jobs due to not being able to get to the new location.

by kk on Jan 27, 2014 7:47 pm • linkreport

Marc Camden line has poor service but by the time any if this happens service will probably be tolerable at least on weekdays.

by JimT on Jan 27, 2014 8:30 pm • linkreport

@ JimT

How do you get from the Marc the station there is no buses that goes to the Jessup station or most Marc stations for the matter.

by kk on Jan 27, 2014 9:41 pm • linkreport

We should reopen Lorton, and all the local DC and MD prisoners should be sent there. Because VA is for prisons.

by NE John on Jan 27, 2014 10:28 pm • linkreport

Jails and prisons are a type of location that should have transit service, but need not be on a frequent line or have a dedicated rail stop. A fixed-route bus once or twice an hour during visiting hours and at warden shift changes should be enough to adequately service a correctional facility.

by Zmapper on Jan 27, 2014 10:53 pm • linkreport

Wow. I usually agree with the new urbanism ideas promoted by GGW, but (particularly as someone who works on criminal justice issues in my day job) I felt that this post reeks of exactly the kind of NIMBYism that GGW decries in other contexts -- not to mention a good dose of class myopia and a failure to recognize that this jail is occupied by people who come from that very city.

It's true that a jail isn't attractive like a restaurant or coffee shop, but the people stuck inside there benefit greatly if the jail has good access to transit (for people visiting incarcerated friends/family) and proximity to the local courthouse (making it more convenient for both the prisoners and their attorneys, who are almost all public defenders struggling with huge caseloads). The suggestion that the Baltimore City Jail ought to be razed and relocated to Jessup, or to an industrial area without this kind of access, is incredibly offensive.

Moreover, I find it telling that the post twice repeats the idea that we should reduce incarceration, when the suggestions it makes are likely to actually WORSEN that very problem: Isolating Baltimore's prisoners in faraway places that are more difficult for families to reach using public transit is flatly inconsistent with the goal of reducing Baltimore's incarceration rate. Research done on family contact and recidivism pretty much unanimously shows that the more contact that prisoners have with family members during their term of incarceration, the less likely they are to commit other crimes when they return to the community. Perhaps the author should consult some of that research before equating "reducing incarceration" with "moving incarceration out of the places where I can see it from my doorstep."

by CT on Jan 28, 2014 12:03 am • linkreport

so you guys think that inmates and their families, (who probably don't visit them everyday), and corrections employees (whose average profile i don't know but if they're anything like baltimore city police officers they probably live in harford county or pennsylvania and drive to work anyway; this supposition seems to be supported by the large parking lots on the south side of the complex that have already been referenced several times here), respectively, deserve good transit connections more than the thousands of free people that could live and/or work every day in the centrally-located space the prison complex currently occupies, or in neighborhoods beyond it where its redevelopment could catalyze their own improvements?

let's remember, this is baltimore we're talking about, not dc. our transit is pretty crappy to begin with for everybody, and just because the jail is near downtown doesn't mean it's easily transit-accessible for everybody now, depending on where they are starting from. for some people, the locations i suggested could even make it easier for them to get to it. the fairfield site is 1.5 miles (along roads, 0.5 miles as the crow flies) from the 64 line and as someone said a shuttle could be provided, or god forbid state agencies could coordinate for such a large undertaking and maybe actually change a bus line or two to accommodate the project. this location would probably be more convenient than the current one for all of south baltimore and a lot of the portions of southwest baltimore in the patapsco/caton avenue corridor. the hollander ridge site is right on pulaski highway and is already directly served by the 35 and 44 lines and would be more accessible to a lot of people in northeast baltimore. and these are surely not the only sites that could be considered, just my personal ideas as a layman whose interest has been piqued by this proposal and not as any kind of actual stakeholder beyond being a baltimore resident.

as far as proximity to courthouses is concerned, inmates are taken to the courthouse in a van now, they are not walked or escorted on the bus, and the two locations i've suggested would bump a 5 minute van ride up to maybe a 15 minute one. this is baltimore, not dallas or los angeles or whatever, even our relatively far-flung, isolated locations are not THAT far-flung.

regarding the state facilities, name me another state correctional facility in maryland that is in the midst of an urban area. western maryland is not in the middle of downtown cumberland. roxbury is not in the middle of downtown hagerstown. eastern is not in the middle of downtown salisbury. why are the prisoners housed in baltimore special that they need to be located there? do you even know for a fact that they are all from baltimore? for all i know, some of their families might have just as hard a time visiting them because they actually live in like waldorf or something.

as far as NIMBYism goes, or the fact that the people in the city jail are by and large city residents, do you think the residents who exist there NOW enjoy living in the shadow of the jail? the area immediately north and east of the prison complex is residential, populated largely by poor and minority residents, with lots of crime and blight. what do you think it does to their psychological health or recidivism rates to grow up in the grim shadow of the institution that is in many ways emblematic of their problems, that their teachers and other authority figures fully expect them to wind up at? do you think those neighbors are really into the fact that instead of investment and stability seeping over from successful mount vernon/midtown (literally one block away), most of the city's investment in the area has been largescale demolition of historic, albeit decrepit, housing? sure, the expressway is probably partially to blame for a lot of their problems as well, and i'd personally love to see that sucker torn down also. but there are other examples in the city of development spreading from successful areas to transform neighboring marginal areas in spite of having to cross the expressway, such as midtown to station north/old goucher, or hampden to woodberry.

these critiques you guys have brought up seem well-intentioned, but they also seem like overlooking a bigger picture, and also seem like they've been made by people that aren't really that familiar with baltimore and the specifics of its situation. that seems to happen a lot with the commentariat here when baltimore is mentioned. i guarantee you that if you asked some random person on the street in baltimore about the "blue line" they would have no idea what you were talking about, or maybe think you were confusing us with DC.

by burgersub on Jan 28, 2014 9:03 am • linkreport

This post rates as one of the more ridiculous pieces I have read on GGW.

AWalkerInTheCity: So glad you pointed out the differences between a jail and prison, as I am not sure this writer is aware of such things, and the fact that the Baltimore City Detention Center (it is not the "Baltimore Jail") acts as both. It is a minimum security prison, jail, and where more violent offenders who require medical attention are sent temporarily.

Wonderful responses, CT and burgersub!

I have been inside this facility with my students and spoke with those incarcerated and staff (yes, likely some were involved in the recent scandal). It was a very difficult, surreal, and exhausting experience. The Arlington Jail is like a day spa compared to this facility and, indeed, the Arlington facility fits well into the neighborhood. I agree with those expressing concern about what moving the facility would mean for family members visiting those who are incarcerated. Wouldn't the pseudo-urbanist response at least be to build light rail and bike lanes to a new facility?! (Sorry David and kind readers...this piece is infuriating in its lack of awareness.)

The Baltimore facility is out-dated and in desperate need of repair. Imagine for a moment a line of cell blocks facing those beautiful but terribly old windows. There is nearly no heat and nor insulation in that section of the facility. It was spring and very cold inside. The more modern areas are reserved for inmates living in large rooms with rows of bunk beds. The Baltimore facility has an execution chamber too, though it has not been used recently. My students entered that area and were given an explanation of the process. I waited outside the area, anticipating my sweet, do-gooder, crying students to emerge. Outside we were shown the exercise area, a garden, and where hangings once took place in the yard.

There are many neighborhoods in Baltimore in need of attention. The area east of JHU medical center is being redeveloped and has been far more violent than the section around the detention center. I am concerned that this peuso-urbanism favors place and capitalism (without questioning principles of capital nor emphasizing equity) over people and families.

by Marie on Jan 28, 2014 10:04 am • linkreport

A quick follow-up: the Baltimore City Detention Center is one block from the elevated I-83. Just north of the facility, the highway turns north-northwest and follows the railroad tracks line. The author not so surprisingly failed to include of photo of that view. The highway alone marks a major divide in the neighborhood.

by Marie on Jan 28, 2014 10:15 am • linkreport

Marie, You made some great points and have brought some needed perspective on an issue many of us don't know enough about when speaking aboutthis facility. But your concern "that this peuso-urbanism favors place and capitalism (without questioning principles of capital nor emphasizing equity) over people and families." needs some clarification.

This facility is in a city, and as such it's a question of urbanism, whether you believe it to be peuso(pseudo?) or not. Part of the problem seems to be the campus like size in a smaller scaled neighborhood and the subsequent psychological message it sends. Also, the plain razor topped buildings are just plain depressing, something many neighborhoods in disrepair struggle with. You seem much more aware of the problems and possibly how to deal with them, but attacking the urbanist perspective when dealing with an urban prison seems misguided.

There are indeed many neighborhoods in Baltimore in need of love, but could you explain how the "principles of capital, and "equity" would play into helping downtown Baltimore improve? Thanks.

by Thayer-D on Jan 28, 2014 11:19 am • linkreport

You speak of moving the jail to Jessup; but fail to mention how employees get to Jessup. This seems to be a common practice on here about talking about moving something somewhere else but not about how employees of whatever is moving would get there.
How about talking about moving a building and such then talk about the ways employees would be able to get there by transit, driving etc. I don't recall anyway to get to the Jails in Jessup from Baltimore via transit. So you either add more cars to the road, or have people that lose their jobs due to not being able to get to the new location.

The Camden MARC has a station at Jessup. The station was in use when the Prison was built and has been continually operated during it's entire life. It might not had service at all hours, but then, no transit in Baltimore runs at all hours.

by Richard on Jan 28, 2014 11:53 am • linkreport

How do you get from the Marc the station there is no buses that goes to the Jessup station or most Marc stations for the matter.

The station is 1500 feet from the Prison, guards can walk or the Prison can run a bus to the prison when the train leaves/arrives. Certainly closer than the Baltimore prison is to anything.

by Richard on Jan 28, 2014 11:59 am • linkreport

The jail probably needs to stay, the prison parts don't. Buses are the most common transit to prisons in this country afaik.

While I 83 is an issue, we have a bit of a circularity problem = its not worth removing I83 while the prison is there, and its not worth moving the prision while I83 is there.

Probably best answer is keep the jail, and put it in the historic part, renovated, while tearing down the rest and shrinking the total foot print - then look into converting I83 into an urban boulevard. Oh and as others have suggested, use pot decriminalization to reduce the total number of prisoners.

Given the need for funding of social services in the City of Baltimore, I would suggest anything that improves property values (and thus tax revenues) is of benefit to families and people in Baltimore.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 28, 2014 12:03 pm • linkreport


well, the part about the jessup station is right, but the baltimore prison is a comparable walking distance from penn station even closer to several bus lines. i thought that was the whole point of this discussion, that despite its prime location, the surrounding neighborhood remains a slum in part because of the presence of the prison complex itself.

by burgersub on Jan 28, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

Thayer-D: Thanks for the spell check. It is true that Baltimore is in need of tax paying residents. City taxes are quite high for the services delivered and, like middle class families in other cities, the education system remains a barrier to staying after families are formed. Many folks head to the county quickly. While JHU brings jobs and goods and services to the city, its non-profit status means that many city parcels are not on the tax rolls.

My main concern with the type of urbanism expressed by the author is that it seems to reflect a position in which anti-poverty efforts are corollary to development, simply add-ons or wishful consequences--a type of trickle down economics for progressives--rather than making such anti-poverty efforts at the center of urban development. This then begs the question: who is development for? If low-income housing and additional supportive services are not a part of that equation I have to wonder.

Many neighborhoods have changed in the city without any major outlays from the government including Hampden, the area around the Homewood campus of JHU, and Patterson Park (with its wonderful Creative Alliance and summer park camp-out), which is sandwiched between Fells Point and the JHU hospital area. There is also new development in Brewers Hill, the location of the iconic Natty Boh sign, near Canton. Frankly, I often wondered who could afford to live in the Waterfront Canton condos. The Harbor East development with new restaurants, movie theatre, hotel, and the Whole Foods, between the Inner Harbor and Fells Point, may have have received tax abatements. About 10 years ago a friend bought a Baltimore condo on a credit card and now the properties in that neighborhood are slowly improving. In addition, the model of contiguous development (similar to DC) that the author of the piece supports, is not always what is in the best interests of the residents of the entire city.

Finally, some have mentioned Lorton. Before that facility closed there were attempts by advocates of the incarcerated to keep it functioning, as a human rights preservation issue. Now most families must travel to North Carolina to visit inmates from the District of Columbia.

As an aside, a note on a conversation with our tour guide, the warden... One of my students asked a very respectful question about whether condom distribution was permitted at the Baltimore facility as an HIV prevention, public health measure. The warden very sternly said that there was no sex happening there. R i g h t. A year later the scandal broke in which it was reported that inmates had fathered children with female prison guards.

Hiding poverty and ignoring the criminalization of race will not alleviate Baltimore's problems.

burgersub: The surrounding neighborhood is not a slum. Charming and atmospheric?--no. But not a slum.

by Marie on Jan 28, 2014 2:45 pm • linkreport

An old WaPo article about the closing of Lorton and the consequences for DC residents:

by Marie on Jan 28, 2014 2:55 pm • linkreport

@ Richard

How do workers get to their shifts on weekends? I guarantee all employees at the jail don't drive I bet some take buses, or a combination of buses/subway/lightrail.

When i think about a development I consider all things the people who work, live, visit a place but also how it will effect others who are nearby.

Many times on here people don't go into detail about transit. All they think about is new development nothing about the transit around the area. The only transit I really hear about on this site is a separate Blue Line, Orange Line or the Silver line when there is a delay. Never is there anything about specific bus routes that serve popular locations such as malls, airports, hospitals, arenas/stadiums, or shopping districts which also needs to be looked at or how to improve bus service in an area by talking about where buses go and so fourth.

by kk on Jan 28, 2014 3:00 pm • linkreport

I don't know if Baltimore has inclusionary zoning as DC does, but its also my strong impression that unlike DC, Baltimore still has lots of housing affordable to low income individuals. I can't see having low income in every renovated neighborhood as the same priority there that it is here. Yes, there is renovation in some parts of Baltimore. So? I'm not sure your point. There is still far too little for the City's fiscal health. I am certainly a liberal (I support social services that enable the poor to benefit from growing tax revenue) but I think that development is, basically, for the folks who pay the prices to live in it. When someone sells a car, or a suit of clothes, we don't question that its done for the benefit of the purchaser. I'm not sure why that needs to be so for housing.

Anti-povery efforts need to be funded - thus they always ARE going to be collaries to tax paying activities. Unless you are going to make a revolution and seize the assets of the rich. I wouldn't hold my breath on that one.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 28, 2014 3:06 pm • linkreport

i don't think the author's lack of mentioning affordable housing measures in this piece means that they are against it. this piece seems like it was written just as a call to state officials to even consider relocation and redevelopment here, not necessarily telling them exactly what they must put there. it's a conversation-starter, not a set-in-stone comprehensive plan.

also, i think whether johnston square or the somerset homes are a "slum" is a semantic question that depends on the individual expressing the opinion. by most measures they are not successful or stable neighborhoods.

by burgersub on Jan 28, 2014 3:29 pm • linkreport

AWalkerInTheCity: Baltimore's housing is affordable by middle class standards but not for low-income families. The housing stock is also quite old. Let's please not kid ourselves into thinking that middle- and upper-income families do not receive government transfers and are somehow only paying the way for others. First, that is called government. But also, DC metro is largely a subsidy for the middle class and the mortgage interest tax deduction is a government transfer that removes more money from the federal treasury than the entire HUD budget (all of public housing, all housing choice voucher and site based section 8 programs, etc.). Invisible forms of "welfare" for the middle class are significant.

burgersub: Relocation and redevelopment means selling the land to a developer. In many instances doing so is a public good. I am not sure this is one of those cases. The Sommerset Homes property is close, but so are the Baltimore Basilica and the Peabody School, though on the other side of the highway. I think the Johnston Square apartments is a tax credit property and not public housing. I can see the developers now pushing to get the detention center parcel sold and then it will be a quick road to demolition for the public housing nearby.

by Marie on Jan 28, 2014 4:14 pm • linkreport

i thought it would have been understood based on my and others' comments here that nobody was calling mount vernon a slum, what an absurd idea.

i still can't seem to understand what you are actually arguing here. you seem to be saying that because some random internet blogger's big idea cannot guarantee that the direct beneficiaries of the idea will predominantly be low income people, that this whole discussion is not even worth talking about. is that correct?

by burgersub on Jan 28, 2014 4:29 pm • linkreport

My impression was that there was considerable housing in east and west baltimore that is affordable to low income families - certainly its not being priced out by middle and upper middle income families. In fact some is vacant. It may be that poor families do not pay enough rent to cover the cost of maintenance, but I don't know thats an issue that has to do with the issues of gentrification, displacement, and inclusion that I thought you were referring to.

Second I never said there are no subsidies in the system, and am open to addressing things like tax code provisions that subsidies housing for the affluent. I do not see what that has to do with the desire to address the impact of a prison on discouraging redevelopment.

It does seem that you think the prison preventing redevelopment is a good thing, as you believe nearby public housing would be lost and that affordable units would not be replaced. I am really not in a position to address that, and I fear we have too few people here familiar with the supply of affordable units in Baltimore, the impact of HUD policies in Baltimore, etc to adequately discuss it. I do not think by broadly attacking market provision of housing you have clarified your thinking for us.

by AWalkerInTheCity on Jan 28, 2014 4:39 pm • linkreport

Marie, there is so much "affordable housing" in Baltimore that every year a couple thousand more rowhouses fall into the ground or are demolished for lack of demand and use. And the public housing stock is dangerous and decrepit (not to mention its isolating, institutionalizing, stigmatizing, prisonlike operation and physical layout!), so I'm all for its demolition.

Baltimore has no "affordable housing crisis" - in fact, 95% of its housing is below median MSA home value, and the city is only ahead of Detroit and Tulsa in its rate of gentrification:

Burgers and Walker, I too find Marie's vague arguments hard to parse. But then this is what passes for most "Great Society 2.0" thinking these days - repackaging failed Great Society 1.0 experiments and notions in 21st-century pop-advocacy jargon.

by Marc on Jan 28, 2014 5:24 pm • linkreport

Loving the energy in this dialogue.

Marc: The research you cited above is a measure of gentrification, not housing affordability. The researcher is using MSAs so the data includes Baltimore City, as well as Columbia and Towson. He is trying to parse how lost-cost census tracts have fared in relation to the total change of all tracts in that MSA. Therefore, in Baltimore, a high percentage of low-cost tracts have not changed much. Again, this is different than "affordability," which measures housing cost compared to income.

Interesting that you view "home value"--hence, home ownership--as a marker for affordability. $500 a month in TANF is not going to qualify someone for a mortgage.

The federal government uses the following to understand housing affordability--those paying 30% of income for housing:

This fact sheet helps paint a more accurate picture of affordability:
The data is broken down by Congressional districts though, and Baltimore is carved up (6D covers most of the city but also west), so still not quite accurate, but you will see how many households are considered "severely burdened."

by Marie on Jan 28, 2014 8:25 pm • linkreport

Thanks for the more detailed info! Nevertheless, the '30% of income for housing' threshold is just as vague a determinant of "severe burden": one may live in a cheap exurban house but pay a lot in transportation; one may also live in a more expensive inner-city house and pay less for transportation, for example.

Given the utter ineptitude of public housing agencies (Baltimore's in particular), the simple inability of public housing to scale up to meet its purported need (this isn't a Vienna "social housing" nirvana), and the distortions in rents that housing vouchers induce, I don't see how any further public intervention will solve the "affordability" problem.

Indeed, I'd argue (as you did wrt hidden suburban subsidies) that FHA/HUD involvement, in conjunction with Euclidean zoning, has induced the perpetual postwar "affordable housing crisis" we face today. Layering on more governmental programming to counter the distortions from previous layers, as your posts implied, will probably continue to make things worse for the poor.

But this is a huge tangent from the post's topic. Why should poverty programming be front and center in every urban redevelopment project? (as it was from the 1950s to the 1970s with catastrophic results)

by Marc on Jan 28, 2014 9:58 pm • linkreport

As an interesting aside, it's worth noting that Baltimore's 19th century rowhouse builders once managed to profitably supply "affordable housing" in a pattern that today's affordable housing advocates should envy: modest rowhouses were mixed in among larger ones via mid-block alleys (or what we'd today call "inclusive zoning"), and the ground rent system, though abused in the late 20th century, did put homeownership within reach for the working class. True, there were sanitation and safety shortcomings, as documented in The Baltimore Plan, but today's code enforcement can make even the most modest rowhouse livable, as seen in the alley streets of Fed Hill, Fells, and elsewhere.

Rather than airlifting in any more insta-ghettos, I think more effort should be put into removing obstacles to the private proliferation of modest housing (i.e. this already occurs in some regions via mobile homes - and though they aren't ideal, they're leagues ahead of public housing!).

Rigorous code enforcement could help maintain decent living conditions in such housing. After WWII, for example, Baltimore "slum-cleared" much of its alley housing, when repairs and upgrades could have been enforced. (And in time, many "slums" can do this upgrading themselves, as Jacobs noted, unless their maturation and improvement is stifled by redlining.)

by Marc on Jan 28, 2014 10:17 pm • linkreport

Prison architecture need not be a scar on the urban landscape.
Here is one in Clayton, MO (a suburb of St Louis) that is not unattractive.

And as relatively large centers of employment and visits, prisons are a good fit for dense urban areas.

by Eric on Jan 29, 2014 4:11 am • linkreport

Marc: I appreciate the thoughtful response. I had a good laugh at your previous Great Society 2.0 comment because in the past I have accused people of racism 2.0. We have, indeed, strayed far from the original topic.

These old industrial cites are very poor. I often sway between thinking that we need to unlock money from gov and the one percent and get it into the economy to the idea that government should do far more to support large businesses for job creation. We have a major imbalance between workers and jobs in many geographic areas in the US.

In terms of housing, I am not convinced that the private sector is willing to step in to provide affordable housing, and certainly not low income housing, but the potential is there for more modest housing options. Condos for 1.2 people seem to be all the rage and the best way to eek out the most profit from the least square footage. I share with you an uneasiness with FHA, though likely for different reasons. Go to my irregularly updated website (which you can find on my name here), then "More" and "Fun Stuff" and you will see an old article posted.

by Marie on Jan 29, 2014 4:16 pm • linkreport

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