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Baltimore plans to replace beach volleyball with a parking garage

Over the past 11 years, beach volleyball has become an unlikely success in Baltimore's Inner Harbor, drawing young adults for clean, athletic fun. But as the city moves ahead with plans to replace the volleyball courts with a parking garage and rooftop lawn, typically unengaged millennials are fighting back.

Fun in the Baltimore sand. All images by Katie Howell Photography.

Under Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, Baltimore hasn't poured a lot of public resources into sexy projects, focusing instead on keeping the city afloat and the books balanced. That's why it was surprising when the visionary Inner Harbor 2 Plan emerged.

The plan's headliner is an iconic bike/pedestrian bridge across the harbor. Other smaller complimentary projects, like adding stationary exercise bikes, food kiosks with outdoor seating, kayak ports, bike share, playgrounds, more beach, or a pool barge, would collectively make a big difference.

But there's been pushback to a proposal to build a $40 million, 500-space parking garage, which would replace the volleyball courts where the Baltimore Beach Volleyball league has operated since 2003, as well as a memorial to the Pride of Baltimore, a sunken clipper ship.

The garage, which would have a rooftop lawn, appears to be the very first project out of the gate, causing the Inner Harbor 2 plan to get off to an unpopular start for many. Millennials, often criticized as a demographic for being politically absent, are expressing their unhappiness about losing a popular recreational area for a parking garage.

Volleyball supporters have written at least five letters to the Baltimore Sun over the past month advocating for the beach at Rash Field and noting its ability to draw young people. An unscientific poll from an earlier post I wrote in February received over 850 votes of 900 total for keeping beach volleyball.

Rash Field could use some improvements, but the many smaller projects in the Inner Harbor 2 plan could give the space the punch the city is looking for. Todd Webster, owner of Baltimore Beach Volleyball has been willing to help pitch in, if he could secure a multi-year lease for the league.

Beach volleyball is a social attraction for Baltimore.

A parking garage isn't what will make Rash Field and the Inner Harbor a better place. There are many cheaper ways to make Rash Field better without displacing Baltimore Beach Volleyball or the Pride of Baltimore memorial. Doing so would not only be in keeping with the city's bent for fiscal responsibility, but it could also free up money for projects that are truly a game-changer for the Inner Harbor.

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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Glad to see some engagement. It's really not that hard to find parking at the Baltimore Inner Harbor's many nearby garages, so implementing one here on this limited real estate seems like a flaw in what is otherwise a nicely focused plan - certainly a better quality of life aspect than that Gran Prix.

by Lord Baltimore on Aug 19, 2014 11:14 am • linkreport

Baltimore probably has hundreds to thousands more spaces than the city realizes. Have they tried to do an inventory?

The difficulty is probably more about access rather than a sheer lack of spaces. But even if that was the case I have a hard time seeing a case for putting a garage in that location anyway.

by drumz on Aug 19, 2014 11:18 am • linkreport

Aside from existing parking inventory, why in the name of all that's holy would you build a parking garage on prime waterfront property? Build a big box to block everyone's access to and view of the water. Brilliant.

by RDHD on Aug 19, 2014 11:23 am • linkreport

I'd love to see a citation for "typically unengaged millennials." Unengaged in what, and as opposed to whom? The way it is written it sounds like lazy stereotyping.

by Joe on Aug 19, 2014 11:31 am • linkreport

@RDHD - seriously. Thats unbelievable.

by TomA on Aug 19, 2014 11:32 am • linkreport

The parking garage will be sunken with a roof top lawn and other good features like a small beach and pool barge. That doesn't make the parking garage a good idea, but water views will be preserved.

However, Baltimore has built multiple garages on the waterfront in other places. While not prime waterfront, the new casino built a huge garage on the water. Here is a post about other waterfront or near waterfront parking garages in Baltimore

by Comeback City on Aug 19, 2014 11:37 am • linkreport

Aside from existing parking inventory, why in the name of all that's holy would you build a parking garage on prime waterfront property? Build a big box to block everyone's access to and view of the water. Brilliant.

It's going to be subterranean, so wont block any view. Instead it will flood.

by Richard on Aug 19, 2014 11:39 am • linkreport

The more I look at the inner harbor plan the more I do not like it.

The bridge, the best part of the plan, isn't even shaping up to be very useful. It will go from the rusty scapler to pier 5, making a nice loop for tourists who want to walk around the inner harbor, but poor for people who want to walk from Fed Hill to Harbor east, little italy, or other points east.

The bridge should go from the waterfront promenade directly to harbor east, not to pier 5.

by Richard on Aug 19, 2014 11:41 am • linkreport

Doesn't the ped bridge part of the plan connect this part of the Inner Harbor with a lot of parking? How full is that parking?

by MLD on Aug 19, 2014 11:49 am • linkreport

Who has ever gone to Baltimore and had issues finding parking? There must be more parking spaces than people at any given moment.

by JJJJ on Aug 19, 2014 11:51 am • linkreport

Doesn't the ped bridge part of the plan connect this part of the Inner Harbor with a lot of parking? How full is that parking?

The ped bridge goes to Pier 5, which is right next to Pier 6 which has a parking garage.

by Richard on Aug 19, 2014 11:56 am • linkreport

Who has ever gone to Baltimore and had issues finding parking? There must be more parking spaces than people at any given moment.

My guess is...clueless tourists

by Richard on Aug 19, 2014 12:01 pm • linkreport

"Typically unengaged millennials are fighting back."

I thought it was trendy to report that millennials are more civically engaged. You know, except when we are lazy.

by richie on Aug 19, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

Although I am not that familiar with Baltimore since I am not a local, I have been to Baltimore twice recently, in June for the ASMS conference at the Convention Center, and earlier this month on a stopover down to Richmond. I can only speak for myself, but in June, I got between Penn Station, my hotel on Fallsway, and the Convention Center either on foot and public transit with ease. The second time, I drove, and I had no difficulty finding parking underneath the Renaissance Hotel, right on the IH (although it was a Sunday). On both visits, it seemed to me that there were parking garages about every other block. What there was not a lot of, especially near the Lexington Market, was a lot of street activity. Based on my admittedly limited experience, I personally am unconvinced that there is a need for more parking for IH or convention guests, and the ample parking supply doesn't appear to have done much good for the local businesses. If anything, the sidewalks, especially on Pratt Street,are what need to be expanded.

by R. Hale on Aug 19, 2014 12:10 pm • linkreport

I'm going to give some of the current design of the Inner Harbor praise since nobody else has -
I like the fountains, the air is cooler near to them. I think the field next to the fountain should be a lot friendlier to people coming to enjoy the space, however, neither are the barrier bars.
The skyways between the Convention Center, snaking around the hotels, going into the IH are very nice. Able-bodied like the views and the places to take selfies, and so do those in wheelchairs.
I know some want to break them up to make it more "walkable" and dense, unaware that "walkable" has been already achieved.

by asffa on Aug 19, 2014 12:32 pm • linkreport

R. Hale - Baltimore wants to expand on their ability to host conventions, because without doing that, they'll be losing larger ones like Otakon, and millions of dollars to the city.
(I'm not suggesting certain plans and designs are smartest choices)!bGfsyV

by asffa on Aug 19, 2014 12:47 pm • linkreport

@Joe - I think there are a lot of ways the case could be made, but take voter participation rates as an example. See figure 3, here:

Anecdotally, however, I'd say the comment is true. And I say this as a so-called 'millennial' - I am 27. When I have attended public meetings or comment sessions, I'm hard pressed to ever find any peers under 30 in the room. I wouldn't attribute this to 'laziness' - in my experience, few of my friends are engaged in planning issues because they don't feel a sense a permanence about their current location and living situation. Few have any idea how long they will live in a particular city or area. As a result, they don't feel the need to invest heavily in shaping the outcomes of local decisions, as more often and not they won't be around to benefit from them.

I'm sure there's plenty of exceptions, but that's just been my experience.

by Ross on Aug 19, 2014 1:06 pm • linkreport


"My guess is...clueless tourists"

What do you mean I can't park directly outside this store? And now you want me to go down this one way street to a garage? Ill never find my away back!

by JJJJ on Aug 19, 2014 1:50 pm • linkreport

"Typically unengaged millennials are fighting back."

I thought it was trendy to report that millennials are more civically engaged. You know, except when we are lazy.

As with most things, it's not that simple. Millennials are highly engaged in following the news, and in certain forms of activism. Microloans to Africa, ect. When it comes to little private projects or NGO engagement, millennial are highly engaged. When it comes to more traditional forms of civic involvement- in this case, engagement with government, whether local, state, or national, Millennials have abysmal engagement rates. We also suck in terms of things like broad civic groups- stuff like the Boy/Girl Scouts, community sports leagues, basically stuff that brings people from all different walks of life together. We tend to form homogenous little groups, and don't get exposed to outside experiences or ideas.

I'm a millennial, but I run counter to trend on a lot of things. Puts me in a good place to spot them and their effects. I'm dead on the trend in others. But the civic engagement one is one that worries me. As much good as these little NGO and sustainable business projects do, they can never create the sorts of systemic changes that governments can, and that disengagement scares me. A lot. And it does exist. As for the broader implications of the decline of broad civic interaction, I already see the effects of that. There are (from my prospective) an astonishing number of people of my generation who are completely incapable of understanding the validity of multiple perspectives on any given issue. They have largely avoided contact (not just through their actions- this civic stratification has been going on for a while now, but millennials were raised during a time where it was more pronounced than ever before) with people significantly different from them, so they can't quite grasp that the experiences of others are significantly different from theirs, and often don't understand how to reconcile different points of view. I was in the Scouts for years, and got exposed to a lot of other ideas and a lot of people who came from very different backgrounds. As I've gotten older, I have very much begun to appreciate the importance of this.

Anyway, this is getting to be way too long a post. But short answer: In the area of government engagement, millennials suck. Especially on the local level- if we vote, it tends to be for President (observe the drop off in youth participation between 2008 and 2012. We participate in local politics at lower rates than young people of previous generations. I'm rather guilty myself). It's nice to see something like this where us young folks realize the importance of local government.

by Zeus on Aug 20, 2014 2:57 am • linkreport

@asffa: in my experience, the problem with otakon isn't parking, it's the fact that every street within a half mile of the harbor shuts down due to the complete gridlock. it isn't clear how encouraging more cars to come and park would address that issue. (note that even during otakon, I was easily able to find parking on the other side of the harbor [once I got past the gridlock])

by Mike on Aug 20, 2014 8:11 am • linkreport

I find it hard to believe that millennials can be any worse at seeing multiple perspectives than the generations that currently drive our politics and media. We live in an age of extraordinary divisions, and that's not on millennials.

Is there any evidence that millennials participate in local governance at lower rates than other generations? Anecdotally, the numbers of civically engaged young people seem higher than ever.

by David R. on Aug 20, 2014 8:22 am • linkreport

Correction: is there any evidence that millennials participate in local governance at lower rates than other generations did when those generations were still young?

by David R. on Aug 20, 2014 8:23 am • linkreport

Does dissolving the political bands that have connected one continent to another count? Here are the ages of some Founding Fathers when the Declaration of Independence was signed, which was of course only after several years of activism:

Thomas Jefferson: 33
James Madison, 25
Betsy Ross, 24
Alexander Hamilton, 21
James Monroe, 18
Aaron Burr, 20
Marquis de Lafayette, 18
Gilbert Stuart, 20

by JimT on Aug 20, 2014 9:05 am • linkreport

Yes, and here are the ages at which people are eligible to run for elected office:

Senator: 30
Representative: 25

I'm not sure what your list is supposed to demonstrate. Only one of those people, Jefferson, signed the Declaration. Glibert Stuart was a painter, Betsy Ross a seamstress, the Marquis de Lafayette a non-citizen army officer (and one of the youngest generals in US history).

That aside, this is still at the level of anecdotes rather than evidence that supports sweeping claims about whole generations.

by David R. on Aug 20, 2014 11:18 am • linkreport

All things considered, an underground parking garage is not a bad idea. It gives people a place to put their cars with minimal disruption to city life. But couldn't they just put the volleyball courts on top of the garage? That would seem like the win-win solution.

by Confused on Aug 20, 2014 11:20 am • linkreport

</>"Typically unengaged millennials are fighting back."

Pretty young things representing!!

by Fischy (Ed F.) on Aug 20, 2014 12:08 pm • linkreport

"Yes, and here are the ages at which people are eligible to run for elected office:"

Which makes even MORE sense when you realize when those people made the contributions that they're known for, rather than "this is how old they were when an event they were unconnected to happened."

Thomas Jefferson: 33 - only one of these guys that signs the Declaration of Independence, does so at the age the Constitution later figures is a good age for someone to be a representative in the government.
James Madison, 25 - Enters national politics at the age of 29, writes the Constitution at 36.
Betsy Ross, 24 - Might have made some flags.
Alexander Hamilton, 21 - We're not even sure what year he was born. Becomes Congressman at 31 (or 29), commanded light infantry before that.
James Monroe, 18 - Enters politics at 24, makes his splash at 36 when appointed Minister to France.
Aaron Burr, 20 - Enters politics in 1784 at 28, runs for vice president at the age of 40.
Marquis de Lafayette, 18 - A general in an age where it wasn't unusual for relatively young men to have high ranks. Washington was commander in chief of all the colonial forces in Virginia at 23, no prior military experience at all.
Gilbert Stuart, 20 - Painted a picture of George Washington.

by Another Nick on Aug 20, 2014 1:30 pm • linkreport

I bet it was a millenial who first posted a Gilbert Stuart portrait to Facebook.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 20, 2014 1:42 pm • linkreport

Barbara Mikulski was 35 when she was elected to the City Countil - I cannot find a good time line for the battle over the harbor bridge, but it seems to have climaxed around 1968, when she was 32.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 20, 2014 1:48 pm • linkreport

The discussion about the ages of people involved in founding the US seems totally off track; the term "millenial" does not refer to a general age range, but rather to a generation of people born in specific years, I think starting about 1980. So what other people did at young ages is pretty irrelevant, since the term millenial doesn't apply to them at all. The phrase "typically unengaged millenials" in the post does not refer to young adults generally, but specifically to people born after 1980.

by Joe on Aug 20, 2014 1:54 pm • linkreport

@Another Nick: the important part isn't the age, it's the "Marquis".

@Joe: I think it was meant as a counterpoint to the argument that Millenials are no less engaged than people of a similar age in other eras.

by Mike on Aug 20, 2014 2:01 pm • linkreport

The phrase "typically unengaged millenials" in the post does not refer to young adults generally, but specifically to people born after 1980.

Right, but the argument is that they are less engaged than other people today, which is the wrong comparison. Young people have always been less engaged than older people - is the Millennial cohort any less engaged than other groups of young people have been?

by MLD on Aug 20, 2014 2:03 pm • linkreport


well, thats complicated.

but that was a national issue, and of course one that personally impacted boomer males who were draft eligible in a very dramatic way. And in many ways the period from 1960 to 1974 was a one off - the IMMEDIATELY succeeding cohort was attacked for not being as activist, and the early boomers themselves were attacked for turing away from that kind of involvement. The boomers were also involved in the civil rights movement in various ways, and in the budding enviro movement - but you can find some pretty good parallels among millenials for that, I think. As to local involvement, specifically local govt involvement, I think its fair to say MOST were not very involved. The nature of the young who are relatively transient, and issues with housing tenure are probably a big piece of why poltically active young focus on national issues, and when they are involved in local issues, its more direct volunteering than politics and zoning hearings and stuff like that. So I would say there are a lot of parallels between millenials and boomers - perhaps in some ways they are more similar than either is to the less activist cohorts that came between, or who preceded the boomers. Perhaps that should not surprise, as the millenials are largely the children of the boomers. The biggest difference of course is that whether its national or local activism, that of the millenials is very heavily exercised via social media that simply did not exist 40 years ago. I am not sure anyone, even the millenials, fully understands the implications of that.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 20, 2014 2:16 pm • linkreport

correction "period from 1965 to 1974"

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Aug 20, 2014 2:18 pm • linkreport

Millenials Mary and Joseph were also pretty unengaged in politics as young adults, as far as we know. But two of their children were very active.

by JimT on Aug 20, 2014 2:25 pm • linkreport

Mike - Otakon isn't leaving because of parking, though it wasn't ideal. It's leaving because its outgrown the capacity of the Convention center. But that's been a warning to the city about their limitations - Baltimore doesn't really want to lose their conventions and millions to the city. They want to build capacity to have more
( And if I lived near beach volleyball, I'd be sad to see them have to go. )

by asffa on Aug 20, 2014 3:52 pm • linkreport

asffa: I agree that they didn't leave because of parking, but the post you replied to said the same thing, and you seemed to argue with it. I guess we're all agreed that Baltimore focusing on putting in more parking instead of doing something relevant and substantive is a bad idea.

by Mike on Aug 21, 2014 7:08 am • linkreport


In terms of voter turnout, Millennials (2004-2012 elections) seem about the same as others.

by MLD on Aug 21, 2014 8:34 am • linkreport

putting a garage right on the water has got to be among the stupidist of uses of waterfront property.

by Tina on Aug 27, 2014 9:45 am • linkreport

Mike, Tina wow, yes agree with you both

by asffa on Aug 27, 2014 10:01 am • linkreport

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