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Towson Circle III: Three Ideas to Improve Community Support

The open-space Towson Circle III project is an opportunity to get the community involved, long after it opens in 2014.

As news continues to evolve regarding the revitalization of downtown Towson, most recently the , I keep thinking that there is a real disconnect between the development and the community.

This "Look What I've Done For You Lately" approach of building bigger and more lucrative projects in Towson is burying the beauty of what makes Towson unique in the first place.

It is nearly impossible to get that "old-town feel" of one-way streets and local businesses when it is overshadowed by mega-theater complexes and big-box shopping developments.

That's like saying, "I'm going to build a Walmart to bring in the out-of-community traffic, but their lower prices and one-stop shopping experience will make the rest of Towson a nice place to drive through on the way back home." Building big doesn't mean that the locals are going to benefit necessarily from the increased traffic coming in to Towson.

I'm not against the development; I just think that the gap between "big draw" and "local feel" is widening with each new project, simply because we are missing the opportunities to make the community more a part of the revitalization. Towson Circle III, with its open-space plan, gives us a chance to change all that.

I offer three initiatives that I think would diminish that gap and allow both groups to support each other.

1. Create a stretch of stores at Towson Circle III just for local businesses. I think this is something that is sorely missing from the Avenue-style projects. Allow small, Towson-based businesses the chance to open up or move their stores to the new Circle, and reduce their rent accordingly. Offer small business owners the chance to set up kiosks or even rolling stands that feature products from their Towson store, thus enticing shoppers to head over to the local district and spend some time walking along Allegheny, Chesapeake, and the other store-lined streets. As more of these Avenues pop up, a local strip of stores, reflecting the culture and history of that smaller town, would bring a refreshing merger of old with the new, giving local owners a chance to be a part of the revitalization, and not a discarded afterthought.

2. Offer free or reduced parking rates to the local communities. If we are revitalizing the community, and we want more of our community residents to patronize these newly developed projects, entice us by providing Towson community parking permits or even coupons that we can use—not just at Towson Circle III, but at all the county-owned garages in Towson. Isn't it common sense that, if you let us save a few dollars in parking, we are more likely to stay local and spend much more money in our Towson-based businesses?

3. Provide opportunities for local artists to perform. Towson is rich with artists and musicians of all ages. Towson Circle III could instill that local feel by allowing local artists from schools and small community groups to perform and make some money. As a result, local foot traffic would increase, making the latest addition to Towson the strongest yet when it comes to appreciating and integrating the local talents unique to our area. 

In the past, community involvement has meant little more than making decisions about how a new development can blend in with the existing look and feel of Towson. Let's make this more than just a cosmetic interaction and build a plan that is going to involve the Towson communities in a meaningful and sustaining manner.

Rus VanWestervelt is a local writer, photographer, and educator. A graduate of both Towson University and Goucher College, Rus currently teaches undergraduate and graduate courses in writing.

This post is contributed by a community member. The views expressed in this blog are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of Patch Media Corporation. Everyone is welcome to submit a post to Patch. If you'd like to post a blog, go here to get started.

Buzz Beeler January 29, 2012 at 05:12 PM
Russ, I would say that you are painting a picture with words and the problem with that approach is it's a visionary one. I grew up in Towson and my mother still lives there. I worked that district for a portion of my police career. I will say, without reservation, that Towson is not the same and has destabilized over the years. Supplementing my police career, I worked both for the Sun and News American which required defining the distinction between reality and perception. Both of my endeavors required dealing in facts. Here are some of the issues that I believe are impacting Towson in the form of destabilizing the future of that area. Development for developments sake is not the answer. If it was then Mayor Schaffer's vision and development of the Inner Harbor would have been a key indicator to the city's revival and it has not achieved that. In fact the reality is quite the opposite. You and I can agree on this issue in development is not the panacea, however you mention issues that require development, e.g. "Create a stretch of stores at Towson Circle III just for local businesses.", and "Offer free or reduced parking rates to the local communities." http://www.wbaltv.com/news/5376692/detail.html My life experiences growing up and working in Towson coupled with what I see, tells me that Towson is facing some serious issues that will require strong leadership and a little less brick and mortar. People issues are more pressing.
Rus Vanwestervelt January 29, 2012 at 06:59 PM
Ah, visionary, Buzz.... Yes. My ideas are just that. Possible solutions to contribute to a tighter community that, naturally, would reduce crime and re-stabilize the area. The link you provided from 2005, on Baltimore being ranked among the top 10 dangerous cities, cites a problem that will continue if we don't find ways to tighten the community net. If we have more people invested in their neighborhood, our people issues will begin to improve. Development is not the panacea, as you state. However, the community can use projects like Towson Circle III in a way that is going to strengthen relations between businesses, citizens, and the local schools. If it is going to be built (which it is), I say we do everything possible to get the community involved in longstanding and meaningful ways.
Buzz Beeler January 29, 2012 at 09:52 PM
Russ, look at where we've been and look at where we are going. The points you make are valid and yes they are visionary. The point I'm making is that the reality of these visions often don't meet up to the vaunted expectations. You fail to see the migration and its impact, the vacant store fronts, not only in Towson but the whole county as well. Look at the finical issues in the county and a good word to describe that situation is dire. The school budget is $24 million in the hole. http://soetalk.com/2011/08/15/4217/ The county SS budget has increase significantly and continues to rise. The issues you allude to will only increase the strain on the county's resources as revenue continues to decline, a comment echoed by the county executive. On top of that the county is requesting an additional $70 million in school funds. That is why I used the example of the Towson Mall which is right next to a condo development - downgraded to apartments, that are not renting. This is a revealing poll and it reflects the current direction of this nation. Reality vs. perception. http://www.rasmussenreports.com/public_content/politics/mood_of_america/right_direction_or_wrong_track The amount of taxpayers funds spent on these issues is staggering. The results are evident in these austere times. The housing is a perfect example of my premise. The concept was based on providing everyone with a house despite the fact they could not afford it.
Bart January 29, 2012 at 10:08 PM
Russ, I think your suggestions are great. And Iive here, full time 24/7/365.
Buzz Beeler January 30, 2012 at 01:00 AM
Suggestions are great, results are often different. Did you read the budget like I suggested? With all the issues impacting Towson I would expect more than a two sentence reply. You never did get back to me over my last queries.
johnny towson January 30, 2012 at 03:03 AM
Rus, I believe in your vision. Your 3 suggestions would contribute to a “tighter community that would reduce crime and re-stabilize the area” and “strengthen relations between businesses, citizens and the local schools.” The community’s interests are a vital link, and, they currently are the missing link. Towson would greatly benefit from a visionary developer committed to the community. One that is able to understand the community, its history and status, and innovate ways to help close the gap. This is a tall order for an investor and developer to find the motivation (and morality) to innovate solutions that will inherently have more risk vs historical and current practice: local stores v national chains, prioritizing the arts, and free customer parking not at the mall or grocery store. Tall orders aside, this is exactly the type of thinking absent from Towson’s recent history. “Good enough” is no longer acceptable; including both private enterprise and the government. Leadership is paramount and government’s role is to help nurture, not own, the relationships between the innovators, visionaries, investors, government and our citizens. There is no exclusive solution, but rather a collaborative common sense process that incorporates bricks and mortar and great ideas. If we are to fix our Towson, we must first stop the same decision making process and behavior that helped create its problems. A new vision is needed, and so is its visionary.
Buzz Beeler January 30, 2012 at 03:50 PM
A visionary articulated in reality. Thoughtful and well constructed. This is the kind of development Towson needs. All is not built with brick and mortar. I spook to some retired cops who worked Towson for much of their careers and they spoke of the reality of what is and what could be. They don't see much in the way of what is, just what was. The uncommon denominator in this whole equation are people, which are the building blocks of any endeavor.
Buzz Beeler January 30, 2012 at 05:38 PM
Russ and Bart, another perspective. An eye opener. http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2012-01-08/news/bs-md-backstory08-20120108_1_allegheny-avenue-investment-building-towson-skyline
Rus Vanwestervelt January 31, 2012 at 12:23 AM
Thanks, Buzz, for the link to Melissa Schehlein's book. I need to check this out. And thanks, Bart and Johnny Towson, for the supportive words and contributions to this thread. I am grateful that all of us are on topic here, as I believe that's the only way we're going to make a real difference here in Towson. I'm thinking that part of what keeps us "stuck" is focusing on the RE-vitalization of an area that needs to concentrate on working with what we have in Towson presently. Small business owners continue to try to make it in downtown Towson despite the high rent and the empty storefronts that line York Road. We have major development projects on the fringes of downtown. We have aging communities (and ones that are in the midst of a generation rollover) that are a major fixture in all corners of Towson. We have several rental developments (some successful, some not) and townhouse communities that have just been built or are currently being constructed. Everywhere you look, there is transition. This is it. This is what we are given. We need to focus on the present, reward the small businesses that have invested their energies into Towson, and acknowledge the communities that are here right now. I hope many Towson advocates will be able to attend Councilman Marks' meeting on Thursday, Feb. 2, at the Perry Hall Public Library at 7 p.m. http://towson.patch.com/blog_posts/marks-citizens-on-patrol-could-improve-public-safety
Buzz Beeler January 31, 2012 at 01:11 AM
Russ, the best to you. You are and educated gentleman. It's not only Towson facing these issues, we all are. They're on the east side, the west side, in every corner of our existence. Quality of life as they say. I see the citizens on patrol in Campus Hills. What a great program. Russ, I don't know what the answers are. I do know that these issues are complex and that leadership is charged with attempting to address them in the - now here is where it gets tricky, best interest of the citizenry. One learned individual said that Towson has always been a business community and in the evening they all go home. He said at night it was the bar crowds that moved in and little else. He mentioned if the one theater did not work out the issues facing the new one could be daunting. In the end, those of us who have a vested interest will have to wait and see, the optimum word being see, with our own eyes how this works out.
Beverly January 31, 2012 at 02:27 AM
Hello; let's wake up to a little reality now. What is Towson first and foremost? A College Town! Who makes up the majority of patrons in the Towson Area? College Kids! What business establishments in Towson are not in the red? Bars, liquor stores, sub shop type restaurants. What University is ranked really high on the party hardy scale? Towson University. Who has priced good stores OUT of towson? The local government. Why? Well, let me see.....I'll be darned if I am going to pay to park just to shop. It's bad enough that I have to pay to park at the Baltimore County government offices just to do research--then pay for that research dearly. By the way, Baltimore County is the only county I have to pay to park other than Baltimore City. The others counties...ALL FREE! I have lived in Towson for 38 years. I can remember, Stebbins Anderson, (what a unique and fun store that was); Towson Bootery, Towson Theater, Finklesteins, and some very nice atmospheric restaurants. All of those stores were right on the York Road strip. ALL GONE. The bars and still there!! And if you want to get your palm read, plenty of places. My prediction for the Towson Circle III. Fascinating at first, then a bomb! They better not disturb the Towson Family's Cemetery!!!!
Buzz Beeler January 31, 2012 at 05:08 AM
Beverly, you raise some good points. At one time I worked with my major's office assistance (not sure on the title) and she was president of the Towson Community Association. The interesting part is that lived far enough away that you would think the college issues would not have impacted her area of the woods. WRONG! They had a myriad of problems related to the college crowd. I am not familiar with the current situation but most of the officers working the Towson Precinct will probably back you up. I do know it created housing problems in the surrounding communities, a culture clash if you will. I would say you should know from living there for the last 38 years. Growing up I can remember plenty of parking at Towson Plaza, Hutzler's Dulaney Valley Shopping Center and plenty of off road parking in the heart of Towson. The college was small and the students laid back. Now they have their own police force. That should tell you something. The issues you speak of are complex and I don't think there are any easy answers.
Dale January 31, 2012 at 01:45 PM
I work on the TU campus. There are over 20,000 students. A campus police force is necessary to accomondate the student population, just as they have at UM and any other large learning institution. I also live in the area and can say that problems with students are not what they used to be. The University is a plus for Towson.
Buzz Beeler January 31, 2012 at 02:03 PM
Dale, I related to the fact that I was not privy to the current situation with the issues. I will say the problems I and the community leader were relating to occurred well after school was out. The party scene starts when the sun goes down. They actually had buses picking up bar patrons on certain nights regarding various promotions. My reference to the TU police force reflected in what used to be to what is. I am out of the loop now, but I have not heard about the student issues like I used to.
Bart January 31, 2012 at 02:50 PM
I am a long time resident of Towson, and have raised a family here. It is a great place to live, and is getting better all the time. The student problem was far worse 5+ years ago, but has improved as of late. Yes, there were indeed "Party Busses" especially on Thursday nights. To their great honor, the Towson Police Dept. worked dilligently to end the practice. For a while there, it was a game of "cat and mouse" with the busses, after the communities chased them off their streets, and the private chartered busses hid behind office buildings to pick up. David Marks has worked hard to open a productive dialog between TU and the Community, and things are pretty smooth. Things will never be perfect, students will be students, but TU has started making the students accountable for their behavior off campus, has rolled back TigerFest, and has formed programs to make the students more of a positive influence in the community. There will always be bad apples, but they are now in the distinct minority.
Buzz Beeler January 31, 2012 at 04:41 PM
Bart, that is always an effective way of reaching these students. You said the key words which is - "accountable for their behavior off campus." I think a lot of these students realize the sacrifice their parents are making in giving them the opportunity for a good college education and do not want to jeopardize not only the opportunity, or their parents money. Then you have the competition factor among college students occurring in the job market which sets the tone in the importance of their education. That is positive step for Towson. http://www.8newsnow.com/story/16592105/teens
D Schmid February 07, 2012 at 07:41 PM
I live in Towson. When the weather's nice you cannot walk past the planters in front of Barnes & Noble without being stopped by someone asking for money. The area in front and back of the Rechter Theatre, as well as the entire block on that side of the street, is littered with cigarette butts, and along Delaware Ave. you'll find lots of empty plastic cups and the aroma of stale beer, plus empty liquor bottles. I can't open my windows in the evening when the weather is nice because of the loud music and yelling from the patio area in back of the Rechter. If it's bad where I live at the Ridgely, imagine what the people at Virginia Towers endure. The other theatre failed, why will a new one be any better? You couldn't walk past there in the evenings without being harrassed by the crowd that hung out front. From what I read, theatre attendance is way down. I don't know anyone who goes to the mall at night. When I first moved into the area I thought how nice it was that I can walk to the mall. If I do, I make sure I leave before dark. I wish the new development well but I have serious doubts about the success of the project. I love Towson and am very sad at what it has become.
D Schmid May 02, 2012 at 03:01 PM
I said I would not go to the mall after dark, now after the couple was robbed last week at 7:30 pm, I will not go during the day. It chills me that I walk down the same garage stairs where the gunmen fled.

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