Recently, I attended a crowded meeting in which the citizens of Patterson Park roasted and grilled the City Health Department and the Parks and Recreation Department for their plans to install 96 parking spaces in Patterson Park ("Rawlings-Blake calls for park study group," Oct. 3). The plans sounded as if they were conceived by suburbanites who are afraid of cities at night and would never live in Baltimore.
All of their assumptions about city life and the reverence we have for Patterson Park were completely un-informed. It is unfortunate that city government has no idea of what is attractive about Baltimore or why there has been a radical upturn in the tax bases of Federal Hill, Fells Point, Canton, and the neighborhoods around Patterson Park. The city suffers a collective amnesia over the historic lost battles over pavement, parks, and neighborhoods that have occurred in Maryland over the last 50 years.
In 1954, plans were approved to fill in the C&O Canal that runs along the Maryland side of the Potomac River so that an interstate parkway could be built. Among those opposed to turning the canal over to automobiles was Supreme Court Justice William Douglas. He challenged the press to join him in an eight day, 185-mile hike from Cumberland to Georgetown. The press coverage was enough to kill the idea and preserve the canal. This eventually created a strip of mansions along the Potomac that pay some of the highest residential real estate taxes in the state.
In a nation blessed with remarkable national parks, the second most heavily visited is the C&O Canal National Park. It is close to densely-populated centers, is incredibly beautiful, but also prohibits all vehicles other than bicycles or golf carts driven by the Park Service.
Sen. Barbara Mikulski made her political name by successfully fighting approved plans to install an 8-lane interstate that would have run through Federal Hill, across a bridge over the harbor, and through Fells Point and Canton. It would have made these run-down, working-class neighborhoods some of the least attractive in the city, as well as ensuring that the harbor would have remained too unattractive for Harbor Place to be built.
Baltimore has reaped hundreds of millions of dollars in taxes from the improvements to these neighborhoods and through the residency the tens of thousands of young educated professionals who have moved to the city. Yet Baltimore hasn't the foggiest idea of why they are here.
At the meeting, we were informed that anyone living within a half-mile of the park would certainly never walk home at 9 p.m.. They would drive to the park and the drive home again, not realizing that such walks are standard procedure and that there are no parking spaces available that late. These city officials seem to think that we all want to drive and live like the inhabitants of Columbia. It would never occur to them that if we want to do so, we would live in Colombia, pay lower taxes, have better schools and a less sluggish police department.
Baltimore's plan to motorize Patterson Park has been prompted by the loss of a $1 million federal handout due to a drop in population. If the plan goes through, it will degrade the neighborhoods and insult those who live near the park and use it extensively in the belief that the present minor use of vehicles will soon be discontinued, in accordance with the agreed Master Plan of 1998. If implemented, the city should count on accelerated population loss and lower future federal handouts.
Jack Reilly, Baltimore