Rethinking and Rewriting Plans for the Future

Nov 5, 2013

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says the Transform Baltimore process is being driven by people. The process is reflecting a nationwide trend among urban planners giving new attention to cities that are pedestrian friendly and transit oriented.
Credit P. Kenneth Burns / WYPR

Baltimore is following a national trend in urban planning that aims for a pedestrian friendly city with development designed to take advantage of public transit lines.

That trend is showing up in Transform Baltimore, the first update of the city’s comprehensive zoning plan since 1971.

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says the effort is more than just a zoning update. It’s a way to “make us more competitive when it comes to job growth” while preserving what makes Baltimore unique—“the character of our neighborhoods.”

The mayor says the process, which began in 2008, is being driven by people as opposed to planners.  “When you hear that a lot of the millennials aren’t even getting their driver’s license because they want to rely on public transportation, they want to rely on bikes; they want to rely on being able to live in a walk-able community,” she says.

A walk-able, transit-oriented community, which is not a new idea, has been receiving new attention in the last 10 years, according to Eric Zeemering, assistant professor of public policy at the University of Maryland Baltimore County. He says that cities are in many ways returning to what made them successful more than a century ago.

“If we look at the historic roots of our cities around the United States and around the world, cities that are strong often provide good places to live that integrate work, life and entertainment,” says Zeemering.

He says zoning codes have been pre-occupied with keeping uses separate; residential here, commercial there, industrial and recreational uses elsewhere. But people have changed their expectations. They don’t want to get in their cars and “drive to seven separate locations during the course of the day,” he says, adding that Baltimore will benefit from thinking of ways to keep residents from spending less time in their cars.

Mayor Rawlings-Blake says it is like the city council’s Land Use and Transportation Committee will consider hundreds of amendments to the plan before sending it to the full council. She said she hopes the process will be complete before they start work on the fiscal 2015 budget.