Sustainability at the Heart of the State Center Project

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State Center, as it stands today, can be a very foreboding place, especially at night after thousands of state employees have vanished at the end of a work day.

After hours, the sprawling complex is like a ghost town except for a sporadic trickle of people who ride the subway at night. And during the winter months, icy winds howl through the chasms created by the two main office buildings adjacent to each other near Eutaw Street and Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd., making the complex seem that much more desolate.

The current incarnation of State Center is the exact opposite of what the small army of people who want to make the futuristic 28-acre urban wonder known as The State Center Project envisions. The State Center Project planners and the nine neighborhoods connected to it say they want to literally breathe life back into the community.

“Currently, State Center is not very active or vibrant,” said Matthew D’Amico in an interview posted on the State Center Project website. D’Amico is a principal with the Design Collective, a company of master planners and architects who have been working on the State Center Project for several years.

“In terms of the community it’s not perceived as being a very hospitable or a very safe place. Even though there are workers there during the day time, on weekends and evenings it’s not a very attractive or welcoming place,” D’Amico added

Indeed, much of the current State Center acreage is devoted to parking lots and after 5 or 6 o’clock in the evening virtually all activity ceases, which in the minds of many effectively walls off the nine neighborhoods connected to the complex from downtown Baltimore.

“The nine neighborhoods that surround State Center don’t walk through it very often, certainly not evenings or weekends,” D’Amico said. “They don’t walk through State Center to Mt. Vernon; they don’t utilize the transit as much as if it was a safer and more vibrant more attractive place,” he added.

D’Amico and the other members of the State Center team maintain making the project sustainable for people was a vision shared by them and the residents of the connected neighborhoods. “So, part of the design – and this comes from the neighborhoods not just the team working on this – is to re-introduce the historic street grid,” D’Amico explained.

“Bring back the neighborhood character and fabric of the buildings with ground level retail, with activity on the streets, with retail spilling out on the sidewalks, cafés spilling out on the sidewalks. So, that it becomes a very vibrant and active and spontaneous street life that attracts people and makes a place much safer.”

But, a huge part of the State Center vision is not just human sustainability – making the living experience of the nearby residents healthier and more enjoyable – but, the sustainability of the city itself.

“The redevelopment of State Center, located in the heart of Baltimore City, embodies the fundamental principles of sustainable development,” said Caroline Moore, founding partner and chief executive officer of Ekistics, LLC the managing member of the State Center development team.

“It will add density and diversity to an underutilized single use property that has an abundance of existing infrastructure – utilities, roads, transit, buildings, and adjacent business areas and communities already there that would benefit from greater use and activity,” Moore explained via e-mail. “State Center enhances these resources by filling in the missing pieces needed to tip a struggling area into a vibrant resilient mixed use community, where people do not need (or even want) to drive to get where they need to go or do what they want to do.”

Specifically, Moore’s team has laid out a comprehensive plan to utilize green concepts that will hopefully help unburden the city’s ailing infrastructure. “We will use local building materials, recycle waste materials and conserve new energy consumption by implementing smart building designs,” Moore said. “State Center is a place where you can reduce your negative impact on the larger world while not even really knowing you’re doing it. You live better in a way that allows others to live better too. It’s the ultimate in smart growth creating a smart way to live in a world smarting from sprawl.”

Moore contends the first five year phase of the 15-year three-phase State Center Project will “meet the United States Green Building Council’s (USGBC) Leadership in Energy and Environment Design (LEED) Silver level.

“In addition to improved energy and water performance, the LEED metrics also improve performance for CO2 emissions reduction, indoor environmental quality, and the impact of materials,” Moore said.

“In addition to energy efficiency, the State Center project will employ water efficiency and water quality measures to reduce water usage and storm run-off including rainwater harvesting and storage for toilet and landscape use, green roofs, and low-flow plumbing fixtures. … These measures will help improve water reaching Chesapeake Bay as well as reduce demands on the potable water system.”

However, Moore said one of the most important green aspects of phase one of State Center is the direct impact on the quality of life of the people in the community. “One of the greatest environmental benefits of State Center phase one is the redevelopment of urban parking lots into vibrant places for people,” she said. “With its walk-able mix uses, great transportation linkages (Light Rail, Metro, Zip Cars, buses) and improved pedestrian and bicycle connectivity, State Center will help link the adjoining neighborhoods.”