Baltimore

This mid-Atlantic city, too often ignored compared to its larger neighbors, is quickly emerging as a hub for social enterprise and innovation.

image courtesy of flickr user Brett Gullborg

BALTIMORE IS TOO OFTEN PORTRAYED AS A CITY WITH INTRACTABLE SOCIAL PROBLEMS -- WE SEE IT AS THE NEXT MAJOR HUB FOR SOCIAL ENTERPRISE AND INNOVATION.

  • History of Innovation

    The B&O Railroad is laid in 1828, establishing Baltimore as the hub of American railroading and innovation, connecting the city to all major markets in the Midwest.
  • 1830

    “The brand new enterprise attracted many inventors, tinkerers and others who dreamt that the spark of a new idea could be developed into an innovation that brings fame and riches. This was the cutting edge technology of the mid nineteenth century.” Matt Fenton, ASCE Library
  • 1830-1920

    Baltimore's population increases from approximately 80,000 to 558,000. Baltimore becomes a burgeoning place as a result of railway, iron and other heavy industrial commitments. Developers build houses and businessmen set up manufacturing facilities and warehouses.
  • 1900

    The city responds to the same urban crises as Chicago, New York and Boston. The 1904 fire burns 70 blocks of the downtown area to the ground. This prompts industrial reform and Baltimore begins to model itself after other American metropolises.
  • 1830

    “The brand new enterprise attracted many inventors, tinkerers and others who dreamt that the spark of a new idea could be developed into an innovation that brings fame and riches. This was the cutting edge technology of the mid nineteenth century.” Matt Fenton, ASCE Library
  • 1930s

    The city grows by annexing new suburbs from the surrounding counties. Neighborhoods begin destabilizing after WWII and redlining and blockbusting ensues during the 40's and 50's. Historically white neighborhoods become black within a very short period of time.
  • 1950

    The city’s population tops out at 950,000. White flight begins and the population inside the city limits steadily declines. Urban renewal ideas, such as an east-west expressway that cuts through the city manifest and eventually devolve, creating displacement and division of neighborhoods.
  • 1957

    Bethlehem Steel plant on Sparrow’s Point becomes another key economic engine for the area. It churns out more than 8 million tons of steel in 1957 making it the most productive plan in the world. Two years later employment peaks at over 30,000.
  • 1960-1970

    White Southerners who came to Baltimore by the thousands during World War II permanently alter the city’s political landscape. Southern whites build on existing racial restrictions in Maryland to approximate the customary lines of demarcation further south.
  • 1970

    Disinvestment and the failure of public housing projects spiral downward. By 2000, one in four residents in West Baltimore neighborhoods have left, and East Baltimore experiences even higher rates of vacancy. Poverty levels spike and median household incomes drop.
  • 1971

    Innovative non-profits like Humanim contribute to the origins of the city’s social enterprise movement. The organization now offers a portfolio of varied social enterprises which offer job employment while simultaneously addressing social and economic problems through market-based solutions.

BALTIMORE TODAY

Rapid growth in innovation is changing the way entrepreneurs share knowledge and collaborate.

ENTREPRENEURIAL CONNECTIVITY

Hackathons, incubators, accelerators and coworking spaces have emerged, demonstrating demand for space that fosters connectivity between sectors.

RECENT GROWTH

Because this emergence is hard to quantify, we started tracking it visually. Mission-driven startups and entrepreneurial programming emerging over the last 30 years is listed behind the timeline. Growth in the last 10 years seems to be exponential, energizing individuals and organizations across the city and region.

Could we hack a vacant downtown building to support this emerging landscape?

6 key drivers

While downtown offers a rich array of cultural institutions and close proximity to public space and transit, the area has one of the highest vacancy rates in the city. The area will soon have a large number of  residential units available and the mayor has an initiative to bring ten thousand  families back into the city. The city is also investing in a massive initiative to rebuild crumbling public schools. We paired these variables with recent growth in innovation and entrepreneurship to develop our proposal. Our research and design process centered around these six drivers.

  • BUILDING STUDY

    Before deciding which building to hack we first studied downtown building stock, documenting changes in building form, function and occupancy over time.
  • BUILDING STUDY


  • BUILDING STUDY

    An article published April 8, 2014 reported office vacancy rates in East Baltimore (Harbor East, Fells Point and Canton) at 12.45% — reporting downtown's rate at just over 20%, the highest in the area.
  • BUILDING STUDY

    The team decided to focus on the old mercantile building in Hopkins Plaza, a 21-story commercial office building that's now 95% vacant.
  • BUILDING STUDY

    The building sits in the center of downtown with ideal access to transit and other downtown amenities.

the challenge:

Downtown has the ingredients to become a thriving economic engine, but lacks concentrated entrepreneurial energy.

solution: triple hack

Our team set out to explore what a vertically integrated entrepreneurial pipeline could look like in 2 Hopkins Plaza. We’re proposing a building that’s part school, part entrepreneurial hub and part work space for medium-large sized tenants.  National foundations are investing millions of dollars into social innovation programming and urban education, but rarely are these two integrated from the outset by design. We foresee tremendous value in a vertically integrated pipeline that offers experiential learning, non- traditional career paths, mentorship and accelerated exchange of social capital.

  • Plaza + Community Space

    This area embraces the building’s immediate access to transit foot traffic. The plaza space would offer a storefront and showcase space for some of the innovation happening in maker and co-working spaces throughout the building. This area could also be connected to surrounding retail currently being developed, as well as a transit intervention to engage a broader audience and promote inclusivity.
  • Entrepreneurial High School + Lab Space

    Every entrepreneur we interviewed emphasized the power of mentorship. Placing students a few floors below start-ups and more experienced entrepreneurs shortens the gap between mentor and mentee. Partnership with the private sector could be facilitated through programming, but we also wanted to explore alternative school structures. In Chicago IBM, Cisco, Microsoft, Motorola Solutions and Verizon are partnering with “high-tech” public high schools to develop curricula, mentor students, provide summer internships and guarantee every student who graduates a “first-in-line” job interview. Demand for this type of public-private partnership is emerging in Baltimore. “Ultimately we want to see employers, students and teachers all learning and collaborating on a multitude of projects.” - Tom Sadowski, Director of the Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore.
  • Co-working, Incubator, and Maker Space

    These spaces will foster innovation, creativity, and making with an entrepreneurial focus. These floors will be highly open, social and collaborative, supported by designated exchange spaces for serendipitous knowledge sharing. Local entrepreneurs rely on networks and emphasised the need to work across sectors. Programming would hinge upon a broader community engagement process.
  • Larger tenant space for established start-ups

    In an effort to develop a vertical pipeline that grows entrepreneurship, we allocated space for larger, more established start-ups. This upper level space will offer growing firms larger real estate, while allowing them to remain connected to younger entrepreneurs. This level also offers opportunity to explore innovative funding models for the building. Co-working and makers spaces often struggle financially; an issue that could be stabilized or protected by premium upper level space.
  • Exchange Space

    These spaces intentionally interrupt surrounding spaces to foster interaction between different user groups. We recognize students, entrepreneurs and visitors to the space won’t interact without a continuous flow of programming, but we believe design has an important role in supporting cross-pollination.

downtown assets + demand for shared space

  • demand for shared space

    SocEnt Baltimore accumulated data, indicators and information about the social enterprise community in Baltimore. This is data provides insight to the demand for shared space, and is used to develop strategy for better convening, connecting and growing this ecosystem.
  • where do you currently work?

    SocEnt Baltimore accumulated data, indicators and information about the social enterprise community in Baltimore. This is data provides insight to the demand for shared space, and is used to develop strategy for better convening, connecting and growing this ecosystem.
  • desired services

    SocEnt Baltimore accumulated data, indicators and information about the social enterprise community in Baltimore. This is data provides insight to the demand for shared space, and is used to develop strategy for better convening, connecting and growing this ecosystem.
  • desired amenities

    SocEnt Baltimore accumulated data, indicators and information about the social enterprise community in Baltimore. This is data provides insight to the demand for shared space, and is used to develop strategy for better convening, connecting and growing this ecosystem.
  • what sectors do they work in?

    SocEnt Baltimore accumulated data, indicators and information about the social enterprise community in Baltimore. This is data provides insight to the demand for shared space, and is used to develop strategy for better convening, connecting and growing this ecosystem.
  • DOWNTOWN ASSETS

    Downtown Baltimore is the most significant economic asset withing Baltimore City and the region, supporting a diverse range of office-based and retail business, educational institutions, major healthcare and research employers, and government offices.

Community engagement and collaboration with outside experts has tremendous value, and heavily influenced our proposal. We assembled a brain trust of local leaders in entrepreneurship and education to help us understand the needs and desires of  students, entrepreneurs and other users of the space. Thought partners thus far have included directors of incubators, entrepreneurs using shared work space, teachers, students, economic development leaders, social designers, MBA students and others stakeholders in the social sector.

  • MULTI-DISCIPLINARY DESIGN THINKING

    We reached out to MICA's Social Design masters program to bring in a fresh set of eyes that represented a range of disciplines. The students were encouraged to poke holes in our proposal and test design thinking methodologies that could push our ideation further. We asked the team to focus on 1 - how the building could support young, emergent entrepreneurs, and 2 - how the space could best draw public support for these younger entrepreneurs and start-ups.
  • MULTI-DISCIPLINARY DESIGN THINKING

    Two incredible meetings with the Social Design studio helped us push our proposal forward. We asked students to organize information and unanswered questions onto a wheel we’ve been using within the office explore issues surrounding social, economic, and environmental impact. The wheel breaks down these three issues into twelve sub categories. As students populated the wheel with post-it notes, they were able to visualize knowledge gaps and identify areas to explore further. The social designers then spent the next few days around the project site, asking questions, ideating, and eventually presenting findings back to our office.
  • MULTI-DISCIPLINARY DESIGN THINKING

    Their final pitch focused on core values, programming, mentorship, and cohesion, and reviewed three main ideas: the Nest, the Hub, and the Mentorship Model. The Nest challenged us to design an environment fostering intense learning and prototyping, in which knowledge could transfer vertically between all tenants. The Hub honed in on the building’s immediate access to transit, recognizing some of the city’s de facto socioeconomic and racial segregation. They recommended the plaza become a storefront and showroom, prompting interaction with the varied demographic seen in transit users. The Mentorship Model prompted us to think about how corporate partners could interact and collaborate with the space. As the pitch wrapped up, students discussed funding models and economic sustainability. Our team and office left energized about the potential of the space and the project as a whole, illuminating the value of multidisciplinary thinking.

Our proposal is complex, and involved a lot of stakeholders, but we’re thrilled to be connected to this emergent community of entrepreneurs.  While we’ve engaged a lot of audiences, we know we’ve only scratched the surface, and look forward to future work that could help support this growing landscape. “Baltimore has all of the pieces of the puzzle to rethink our approach to social services and business. Now we need to begin putting them together.” – Rodney Foxworth, social justice advocate, community builder and grassroots grantmaker.

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