Q&A: Thomas Stosur, city planning director, Baltimore

Four city planners, four different plans for the future. In a bonus series to our special package on the built environment, we ring major U.S. cities to find out what's next. Today's subject: Baltimore.
Written by Stacy Lipson, Contributor

Four city planners, four different plans for the future. 
As an addendum to our inaugural special package on the built environment, SmartPlanet take the pulse of what's going on across the United States -- through the eyes of four planners in cities across the country.

For the fourth and final edition of our four-part miniseries, we check out what's going on in Baltimore.

Thomas J. Stosur is the director of the Department of Planning for the city of Baltimore.

SP: Are you expecting any growth in Baltimore?

TS: We’re expecting 10,000 new families to Baltimore city in the next decade. Our population is 620,000 people in city limits, with a region of three million. At our peak, back in 1960, we were had 950,000 residents. New census information shows that we lost roughly 30,000 in population in the last decade, which is not terrific news.

But we feel we're turning the corner and are poised for growth. If we get 10,000 families [to move here] that would probably translate into a population increase of 22,000 people. It’s big goal that we've set.

SP: What kind of changes are you making to increase the possibility of more residents?

We have a number of items to increase Baltimore's attractiveness. First and foremost, our rewrite of the zoning code. This is the first time we're rewriting the code since 1971. The city and the region has changed so dramatically; a complete re-write will put more emphasis on keeping our historic neighborhoods [intact]. It's underway now and will be introduced to the legislature in early 2012.

What the new code does is recognize and celebrate the fact that we're not the suburbs, and that we have a rich texture, with a variety of buildings and uses that are crammed together. Mixed development can attract new families who might be tired of the suburbs, who want a more urban, metropolitan experience. We want to encourage transit use and walking.

Basically, we’re working to overhaul the "rules of the road" of development for Baltimore.

No surface parking lots will be allowed in the new code. Right now, you may get a developer who buys a property, and decides how to use it. If they don’t have economic use for the property, they can tear down a building, and put a parking lot on the spot. The developers can collect revenue from the parking lot. Our code will prohibit that from happening.

We have 100-year-old buildings in Baltimore -- a great variety. They can be creatively renovated for offices or studios. We have three different Charm City Circulator bus routes operating downtown.

Our free shuttle service operates eighteen hours a day, every fifteen minutes. Ridership has been tremendous. We predicted our first year would be 300,000 riders; now it’s a million riders.

We also have 76 miles of new bike lanes. The Bicycle Master Plan was developed by the Department of Planning in 2006, and since then, the city has installed 42 on-street bike lane miles. Zipcar [car-sharing pods] have also been introduced in the city of Baltimore.

Overall, we would like to reduce traffic congestion in the city. We finally have tools in place to not be so auto-dependent.

SP: What else are you working on?

We have a redevelopment project in the southeastern Camden neighborhood. There’s an old Exxon site that has been mitigated and mediated for environmental concerns. We'll be getting a second Target store within city limits, along with a new grocery store and a bunch of smaller shops.

There's also a new investment, under-utilized, in the Remington neighborhood: a former auto dealership. It's being changed to a mixed-use site. Other kinds of variety will be offered, in the form of shopping and restaurants. It’s a big boost -- we're a little bit retail-starved, and it's finally being rediscovered in many neighborhoods.

The downtown area is our fastest-growing residential neighborhood in the past decade. Residents have doubled from 1,800 to over 4,000. We have a healthy rental market downtown, and we’re working to get more retail.

Illustration: City of Baltimore Department of Planning

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