Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Poised to kick out Millennials

Baltimore Beach Volleyball poised to be asked to leave this location

Baltimore Beach Volleyball poised to be asked to leave this location

Thirteen million visitors a year come to the Inner Harbor.  The city has much to gain if it puts its physically active young professionals out front on display.  By playing at the Inner Harbor, Baltimore Beach Volleyball helps create a desirable healthy active image for the city. Instead of being celebrated, Baltimore Beach’s millennials are getting kicked off-stage.

The Inner Harbor has been home to Baltimore Beach Volleyball (BBV) for eleven years.  BBV has 2500 weekly participants, plays games seven days a week from May to September. It draws players who are 87% millennials, or adults between 20-34, 88% single (in case you’re looking), and 37% come from outside of Baltimore City, according to Todd Webster, who runs the league. BBV has been touted as the largest inner-city metropolitan league on the east coast, hosted games for the International Olympic committee, and become a permanent stop on the Toyota Pro Beach Volleyball tour. Baltimore ought to give BBV the proverbial keys to the harbor, instead there are plans to boot the volleyballers from the Inner Harbor to Swann Park. This is an unambiguous demotion to a low visibility location two miles to the south in the shadow of Interstate 95.


IH2 Phase I will trade Baltimore Beach Volleyball for a $40 million parking garage and what is depicted in the rendering

IH2 Phase I will trade Baltimore Beach Volleyball for a $40 million parking garage and what is depicted in the rendering

The city of Baltimore, Waterfront Partnership, and Greater Baltimore Committee recently released  The Inner Harbor II (IH2 ) plan , which looks at ways to improve open space around the harbor. It proposes replacing BBV’s courts and an existing park as well as the Pride of Baltimore memorial with a  subterranean parking garage topped by an oval grass lawn and a small sand “destination.” How this lawn will be programmed is unclear.  The plan will cost $40 million, though parking revenues will likely offset some of these costs.

Do the dollars allocated for IH2 efficiently address the issues highlighted in the Citizen Survey?

Do the dollars allocated for IH2 efficiently address the issues highlighted in the Citizen Survey?

Baltimore leaders have concluded that the Inner Harbor and Rash Field needs a refresher.  But the results of a citizen survey say about the area suggest that residents prefer more local retail in the area and want to address the lack of activity in some parts of the harbor. The plan does not ignore those concerns, but its bigger proposals do overshadow them.

There are good ideas in the plan, like the pool barge. But unfortunately, leaders are rushing to start with Rash Field,  a controversial and expensive part of the plan. How did the architects choose a grass oval lawn and sand lot for the top of the garage?  How is the proposed lawn not redundant with West Shore Park and grassy Federal Hill?

Baltimore and the Inner Harbor planners would benefit if they mixed-in some of the affordable ingenuity demonstrated by Janette Sadik-Khan’s New York City project portfolio.  Her matra: “Do bold experiments that are cheap to try out.”   She loves to talk about how Times Square was successfully transformed with lawn chairs and paint. All urbanists should view her Ted Talk.

Instead of replicating park-like amenities that already exist, there are ways to provide things citizens asked for and retain an existing draw, all at a much lower cost. Beach volleyball could be an anchor and destination for the area with the addition of local food and beverage vendors, water features, specialty kiosks, seasonal activities, and tables overlooking the courts. The space could also accommodate other activities like bocce, ping pong, yoga, zumba, stationary bikes, and kayaks.

Meanwhile, the Rash Field garage is not only expensive, but unnecessary with the existing 45,000 parking spaces in downtown Baltimore.  Has the city studied the possibility of valet parking service operating from the visitors’ center as an alternative? A valet service might make better use of existing parking capacity, be more convenient for visitors, and provide jobs. To increase access, extend  Charm City Circulator coverage to more neighborhoods. Creating a safe network of cycle-tracks to serve bicycles and bikeshare, which will launch this July, on the bike-unfriendly roads ringing the Inner Harbor would help.

In addition, building the parking garage will disrupt a public space for up to two years of construction. The view from Federal Hill is a very photogenic spot, and a popular site for locals and tourists.  A parking facility isn’t enough of a compelling reason to take this space away when smaller changes would have a much shorter and disruptive effect on the area.

The view from Federal will soon look a lot like this

The view from Federal Hill will soon look a lot like this

This plan also would have an impact on the city’s millennial community.   Many young professionals seek healthy and active social amenities. The data shows clearly that millennials are driving Baltimore’s growth more than any other generation.  For young professionals, Baltimore Beach Volleyball is arguably the Inner Harbor’s top draw.  Unceremoniously kicking them out will not be viewed charmingly by this opinionated generation.

Millennials heavily populate nearby neighborhoods and have brought new life to the city. Why not ask them to help program the harbor?


crossposted at Greater Greater Washington, Rustwire, and Sustainable Cities Collective


Administrator and writer for Comeback City

9 Responses to Baltimore’s Inner Harbor Poised to kick out Millennials

  1. Pingback: Beach volleyball in the Inner Harbor? Not for much longer – Greater Greater Washington | Quick & Fast Sports News

  2. Pingback: MARTA Expansion Could Help Reverse Atlanta’s Legacy of Segregation |

  3. Jeff says:

    Baltimore’s approach to urban revitalization reeks of the 1980’s (I mean literally. They’re trying to do the same exact thing they did in the 1980’s, just, again). Baltimore needs to build on its natural assets: Endless amounts of dense, walkable, “charming”, urban rowhouse neighborhoods. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the city (and are mature enough to get beyond “lol the wire”), Baltimore is truly one of America’s most urban cities. It has exactly what millennials want. It sustained minimal freeway damage thanks to Barbara Mikulski, and experienced very little slum clearance of its historic housing stock. With some concentrated effort to improve public transportation and reduce crime, it could absolutely experience the same renaissance we’re seeing in other American cities. Baltimore doesn’t need downtown “novelties” to attract suburbanites to gawk around before zipping back up the freeways. It is a real, urban city, and if it plays its cards right, can revitalize on that alone.

  4. Pingback: Baltimore's Inner Harbor Poised to kick out Millennials | Comeback … |

  5. yyyass says:

    It says to me that the planners didn’t spend any of their fee surveying how people are actually using the area, much less applying cost-benefit analysis to it. They just started laying out their dreamscape as to what they would design if they could design an urban panacea. Most architect urban panacea fantasies don’t include beach volleyball – but they should. Look at most architect-designed fantasy houses, parks, etc…typically devoid of the things that actually make them viable for PEOPLE, but not their portfolios.

  6. Bob says:

    It is absolutely wonderful to run by the beach area at Rash Field regularly and see it being used for volleyball. It gives the spot a major lift and puts the city in a healthier light. A decade ago, the field was also turned into an ice rink, in the winter bringing scores of people again to the harbor for a fun activity. I was hoping an ice rink would be incorporated into the planning; it should be. To turn Rash Field into some kind of sheep meadow (Nothing wrong with green, mind you.) that will have no particular purpose, and shoo the volleyball players away would do a great disservice to the city. Please think about the people who live around here!!!

    • Torn 2 Peaces says:

      I, too, would love to see an ice rink & an outdoor roller rink near by the Harbor. If leaders want a happy, healthy community, that’s what they’ll do.

  7. Ben Groff says:

    If anything, I think they should expand the beach, clean the water, and let me swim in the harbor. I want to walk out of my NW row home in my swimming trunks, sunglasses, and beach chair, hop on the subway, step off at Charles Center and go to the beach!

  8. Torn 2 Peaces says:

    We need a ferris wheel there along with the carousel AND the beach volley-ball area. I can’t think of anything more obnoxious & less charming than a parking garage! As a homeowner in Federal Hill, I am very upset by this prospect. I know my family, who visits from out of state, would not appreciate it, nor would my nearby friends, who come to walk & enjoy the restaurants.

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