The Canton neighborhood in southeast Baltimore has been one of the hottest communities in the city during the last decade. The neighborhood has thrived in part because of the ability of residents to walk to bars and restaurants around O’Donnell Square and the urban atmosphere created by streets lined with brick rowhomes.
But recent developments along the community’s Boston Street corridor have been criticized for being too suburban in nature. The massive Shops at Canton Crossing have become a convenient example of what some see as a shift in development patterns aimed at taking advantage of new residents flocking to the neighborhood.
“I’m disappointed in the development at Canton Crossing, not that it was developed, but in the architectural style of Canton Crossing. It ended up looking too much like a suburban shopping mall,” said Councilman James Kraft, who represents that area of the city.
The neighborhood’s transition hasn’t gone unnoticed. Last September, the City Paper, in it’s annual Best of Baltimore addition, lampooned the neighborhood as “Best New Suburb.” Baltimore’s alternative weekly slammed the “endless parking lot” with businesses like Chick-fil-A, Target and Old Navy.
“…the neighborhood has finally completed its metamorphosis from a uniquely blue-collar urban neighborhood to “OMG, TARGET!!!” gentrified sameness,” the paper wrote at the time.
Not everyone believes the suburban style of development in the neighborhood is such a bad thing. Sean Davis, chairman of Urban Land Institute Baltimore, said much of the development along Boston Street was dictated by allowable land use and reflects what potential tenants demanded.
“I live in Harbor East, and my wife and I are delighted that we now have the Targets and Harris Teeter that are there, and many of the shops that are there, so we don’t have to drive out to Baltimore County to take care of some of those shopping needs,” Davis said.
Attitudes toward transportation in that section of the city also reflect a more suburban mindset.
Just last week, Merritt Properties LLC proposed an extension of its existing health club at Canton Crossing as well as the construction of a new office building. At the center of the proposal was the need for more parking at the development, the extension of the health club includes a garage with 315 parking spaces, and the office building would include a garage with 350 spaces.
Robb Merritt, president of Merritt Properties, provided anecdotal evidence of the car as the dominant transportation for the neighborhood. Following a hearing for the new project before Baltimore architecture review panel he estimated that about 85 percent of the parking’s club members live within a mile radius, but nearly all the members drive to the gym.
“We’re trying to secure the parking for the fitness facility. Right now that is a challenge in all of Canton, I believe. So the parking garage was the first element we designed,” Merritt said.
The area’s more suburban outlook on transportation is also reflected in many neighbors’ opposition to the proposed $2.9 billion Red Line light rail line that is planned to run down Boston Street. Kraft said the neighborhood’s car-dependent nature is also fueled by the fact that many residents moved to the city from the suburbs, so their default setting is to get around by driving. But he also argued that Baltimore in general is dependent on cars because of inadequate mass transit.
“One of our greatest failures as a city is to provide a way to move people rather than cars. There is no way to get around in Baltimore unless you have an automobile, particularly if you want to travel any distance and get there in a reasonable amount of time,” Kraft said. “Which necessitates this additional parking because there is no parking in Canton.”
But the biggest issue for residents in the neighborhood isn’t whether a more suburban-style development is positive or a negative, or whether it’s creating more transportation problems. Sean Flanagan, president of the Canton Community Association, said neighbors just want infrastructure issues addressed because more development is coming to the neighborhood.
“Canton’s in constant change, it seems like, and I think people are adapting to that and what our identity is,” Flanagan said.