Greater Greater Washington

Public Spaces


Beach volleyball in the Inner Harbor? Not for much longer

For 11 years, Baltimore's Inner Harbor has played host to a beach volleyball league, which helps present a healthy, active image of the city to the 13 million people who visit the harbor each year. But instead of being celebrated, the league's getting kicked off-stage.


Baltimore Beach Volleyball's home in the Inner Harbor. Photo from BBV.

Baltimore Beach Volleyball (BBV) has 2500 weekly participants and plays games seven days a week from May to September. 87% of its players are millennials, or adults between 20 and 34, 88% are 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, an out-of-site, out-of-mind 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 plan, which looks at ways to improve and expand open space around the harbor. It proposes replacing BBV's field 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 offset some of these costs.


The Inner Harbor 2 plan would displace Baltimore Beach Volleyball, as well as the Pride of Baltimore memorial. Image from the plan.

Baltimore leaders have concluded that the Inner Harbor and Rash Field need a refresher. But the results of a citizen survey 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 doesn't ignore those concerns, but its bigger proposals do overshadow them.

There are good ideas in the plan, like a 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 the garage? How is the proposed lawn not redundant with the similar West Shore Park and grassy feel of 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 mantra: "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 amenities that already exist, there are ways to provide things that citizens actually want and retain an existing draw, all at much lower cost. Beach volleyball could become an anchor and destination for the area with the addition of local food and beverage vendors, water features, specialty kiosks, and tables overlooking the volleyball 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. 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 an important public space for up to two years of construction. The view from Federal Hill is a very photogenic spot, and a popular site for tourists and visitors. An unnecessary parking facility isn't enough of a compelling reason to take this space away when smaller changes would have a much shorter and less 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?

A version of this post appeared 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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Why do American designers love grass so much? Most of the time, its not used.

by JJJJ on Feb 17, 2014 11:25 am • linkreport

The need for parking there is the most suspect. Especially since they're trying to make things eco friendly overall. And they decry unsightly parking lots in other spots near the inner harbor but it seems like it'd be better to use those and not spend so much digging in a spot that would need a lot of extra support (it being on/near landfill literally right next to the water).

The report itself doesn't talk about transportation anyway except to note that it's important to have connections to the streets surrounding IH and the pedestrian bridge (that I do like).

And if Volleyball is already working pretty well there then I don't see why they need to be kicked out for a random open space that's already next to several nice parks. Notably, the giant fort literally across the street.

by drumz on Feb 17, 2014 11:25 am • linkreport

Ever since I saw the Inner Harbor II plans I have been questioning the removal of the Volley Ball beach for a while. Indeed there is enough grass and parkland on that side of the harbor and the beach certainly is used. The best part of the proposal is the peds/cycling bridge, but otherwise a lot of it looks like spending money to spend money.

Hate the term "millennial." Gen Y is so much cleaner.

by Richard on Feb 17, 2014 11:29 am • linkreport

Is this Baltimore coverage going to be a regular thing?

Are you on Skyscraper City, Jeff La Noue?

by selxic on Feb 17, 2014 11:34 am • linkreport

Is this Baltimore coverage going to be a regular thing?

Why not? Baltimore is part of the Baltimore–Washington metropolitan area, and making is greater makes Greater Washington greater.

The site is called Greater Greater Washington, not Greater Greater District-alone-and-there-be-dragons-beyond-the-Beltway-aka-the-end-of-the-world.

by Jasper on Feb 17, 2014 11:41 am • linkreport

I was hoping for a yes or no, Jasper. I'm not against occasional Baltimore coverage.

You know I would love more coverage outside of a few areas in and around DC. I would hate for that coverage to primarily be about another very different city with unique issues that is 40 miles away when areas such as where you live (~15 miles from DC) are overlooked.

by selxic on Feb 17, 2014 11:59 am • linkreport

They might as well replace the volley ball field with a Popeyes and a diabetes clinic.

by SJE on Feb 17, 2014 12:06 pm • linkreport

You know I would love more coverage outside of a few areas in and around DC. I would hate for that coverage to primarily be about another very different city with unique issues that is 40 miles away when areas such as where you live (~15 miles from DC) are overlooked.

On one hand, it is true that Baltimore is very different. It has its own issues, that is true. But to ignore it is a mistake. It is the largest city in Maryland, and if it were a suburb of DC would be far and away it's more important. With 3 highways and 2 rail lines it is a bedroom community for many a DC worker.

Considering the amount of press Clarksburg gets on this site, Baltimore needs just as much or more. If you go towards Baltimore the same distance that Clarksburg is from DC you are basically at Baltimore's inner beltway, 695.

by Richard on Feb 17, 2014 12:23 pm • linkreport

At the same time, I would think that if you specifically want to see an area or item covered, why not write articles to ensure their coverage? The site certainly seems open to it.

Regarding the original article, I've given up trying to decode the prevailing thinking in Baltimore. I surmise this has mostly to do with perceived revenue that they feel the garage would provide which the current field does not, but I agree with the author in failing to see the legitimate need.

by A. P. on Feb 17, 2014 12:29 pm • linkreport

Regarding the original article, I've given up trying to decode the prevailing thinking in Baltimore. I surmise this has mostly to do with perceived revenue that they feel the garage would provide which the current field does not, but I agree with the author in failing to see the legitimate need.

If I do drive to Baltimore, I often park up the hill in the Fed Hill neighborhood or further down key highway. There isn't that much demand for parking there. There is not no demand, but I am not sure there is enough for anything major. Now if the southern harbor develops into something, then maybe yes parking is necessary, but I really doubt there will be. (of course I don't build parking garages for a living, so what do I know)

by Richard on Feb 17, 2014 12:35 pm • linkreport

Of course, there WAS a lot of room for more development, but they put a huge football stadium there.

by SJE on Feb 17, 2014 12:43 pm • linkreport

@A.P.

At the same time, I would think that if you specifically want to see an area or item covered, why not write articles to ensure their coverage? The site certainly seems open to it.

It's true. We're always interested in posts about parts of the region we don't cover and contributors interested in writing about them. In fact, that's how I got started writing for GGW in 2009, because I wanted more coverage of Montgomery County.

As always, if you'd like to write for us, here's how you can do it.

by dan reed! on Feb 17, 2014 12:49 pm • linkreport

@ selxic:I would hate for that coverage to primarily be about another very different city with unique issues that is 40 miles away when areas such as where you live (~15 miles from DC) are overlooked.

I would hope that some coverage from Baltimore would expand the vision from the people who think DC is no large than NW, the Beltway is the end of the civilized world, and Tyson Corner is truly the end of the world.

Also, I live more than 20 miles from DC. But I am happy to see that GGW has found someone to follow VA politics. This is good.

Baltimore is interesting because while it is a very different city, it has also great similarities with DC. The city also made some very different choices in the past. It is interesting to see what we can learn from Baltimore.

by Jasper on Feb 17, 2014 12:59 pm • linkreport

I'm not against occasional Baltimore coverage.
This may have been missed by a few. I simply asked "is this Baltimore coverage going to be a regular thing?"

by selxic on Feb 17, 2014 1:00 pm • linkreport

Where are the breakfast links today?

by TyGr on Feb 17, 2014 1:32 pm • linkreport

@selxic - I totally agree. What about areas that are even closer to DC (within 5 miles) and have a hard time even making the Breakfast Links here?

by Thad on Feb 17, 2014 1:33 pm • linkreport

What about areas that are even closer to DC (within 5 miles) and have a hard time even making the Breakfast Links here?

Are you submitting them as linktips?

http://greatergreaterwashington.org/tip/

by Jasper on Feb 17, 2014 2:45 pm • linkreport

Yes, I am.

by Thad on Feb 17, 2014 2:54 pm • linkreport

@Jasper

If we are expanding to talk about Baltimore what about Frederick, Waldorf, Laurel, Lexington Park, Bowie, Columbia, Odenton, Annapolis, or Hagerstown ; I bet the first 5 have more residents that travel to DC on a regular basis than Baltimore does.

by kk on Feb 17, 2014 3:04 pm • linkreport

If we are expanding to talk about Baltimore what about Frederick, Waldorf, Laurel, Lexington Park, Bowie, Columbia, Odenton, Annapolis, or Hagerstown ; I bet the first 5 have more residents that travel to DC on a regular basis than Baltimore does.

Frederick is 50% further away and 1/10th the size
Lexington Park nearly 100% further away and 1/50th the size
Hagertown 150% further away and 1/20th the size

Bowie, Waldorf and Odenton are suburbs of DC
Laurel is so close it is tough to differentiate it from DC metro

Columbia is a suburb of Baltimore.

All of them however a much smaller than Baltimore. Baltimore has more DC commuters who take mass transit than Lexington Park has people full stop.

Annapolis is slightly closer than Baltimore, and is not really a dedicated suburb of DC or Baltimore. It is though 1/20 the size. Of course it being the state capital, it will get as much press as Richmond gets.

DC is a metro area of 5 million people
Baltimore has 3 million people
when you add them together though you only get 7 million, as 1 million people are somewhere in between caught in both orbits. That is more than you can say of any of these other places.

by Richard on Feb 17, 2014 3:30 pm • linkreport

@Richard

Population of the place means nothing what about where do the people go I would bet about 75% of DC & Baltimore full time residents haven't been to the other city in the past 6 months (not including driving through the cities to reach somewhere outside of their borders).

by kk on Feb 17, 2014 6:38 pm • linkreport

@ Richard

All of them however a much smaller than Baltimore. Baltimore has more DC commuters who take mass transit than Lexington Park has people full stop.

Again how many live in Baltimore City not Baltimore County; I bet the majority of Baltimore City residents work in Baltimore or just outside of the borders of the city in or around the following areas Towson, White Marsh, BWI, Arundel Mills/Live Casino, Hunt Valley or Owings Mills.

I doubt more than 15% of Baltimore's resident work in DC, Prince George's, Montgomery, Alexandria, or Arlington or the same for these listed places and Baltimore.

Also the majority of people in Southern Maryland probably work in DC or the counties that border it and perhaps Annapolis. If most of the people of a town, city, etc work in another place that place might deserve a mention once or twice since they have an effect on the area in terms of traffic or money spent during business hours (breakfast, lunch)

by kk on Feb 17, 2014 6:50 pm • linkreport

GGW has covered Baltimore before. And likely will again. It has it's own identity and yet has a lot of close ties to Washington. It's a paradox but it's there all the same.

Meanwhile, read the overall plan. It's got a lot of good things but removing the volleyball courts in favor of parking and an empty field would be a mistake. That's a lesson that could apply in any city in a similar situation.

by Drumz on Feb 17, 2014 7:19 pm • linkreport

Again how many live in Baltimore City not Baltimore County; I bet the majority of Baltimore City residents work in Baltimore or just outside of the borders of the city in or around the following areas Towson, White Marsh, BWI, Arundel Mills/Live Casino, Hunt Valley or Owings Mills.

I doubt more than 15% of Baltimore's resident work in DC, Prince George's, Montgomery, Alexandria, or Arlington or the same for these listed places and Baltimore.

Baltimore city has 600,000 people. The county, another 800,000. With those numbers, even 15% is larger than Lexington Park.

As I was saying though, the MARC Penn line has a 20,000 daily ridership. Camden another 5,000. Roughly half of those people are boarding at downtown Baltimore stations and going through to Union Station. ~12,500 DC commuters from Baltimore which is more than Lexington Park's population. Most of those people that board at the downtown stations are from the city, as if you lived in the county you would board at a county station or drive.

If the Transit mode share is 10-15% you are talking about a lot of DC bound commuters from Baltimore.

Or you can just go out and look at 95, 295 and 29 during rush hour. 8 lanes each way packed pretty solid. 4 times the capacity of 270 from Frederick or Route 5 from Waldorf. Yes there is some through traffic, but not much. Beyond Baltimore on the way to Philly there are only 3 lanes each way and they are pretty empty during rush hour.


Also the majority of people in Southern Maryland probably work in DC or the counties that border it and perhaps Annapolis. If most of the people of a town, city, etc work in another place that place might deserve a mention once or twice since they have an effect on the area in terms of traffic or money spent during business hours (breakfast, lunch)

The majority of people in Southern Maryland do not work. That is not to suggest they are lazy, they are either children, elderly or housewives. As with most places, the % that work and thus might commute is a low percentage.

by Richard on Feb 18, 2014 9:55 am • linkreport

I'll take more Baltimore coverage over more snow shoveling coverage.

by alexandrian on Feb 18, 2014 11:43 am • linkreport

Whatever, I'd definitely rather hear more about Baltimore (especially now with weekend Penn Line service) than about notorious car-infested hellhole, Everwhere-in-Virginia-outside-Arlington.

by LowHeadways on Feb 18, 2014 12:37 pm • linkreport

I'm with you, alexandrian.

After all of that, neither of my questions were answered.

by selxic on Feb 18, 2014 12:44 pm • linkreport

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