Consultants awarded Black Hats and White Hats for their work on Baltimore’s highway plans


Figure 1. The 10-D plan for the harbor crossing at Federal Hill, in effect 1961 – 1973

Consultants in 2023 – how will your work look in 50 years? In a presentation to the Baltimore Chapter of Lambda Alpha International, Evans Paull put Baltimore’s highway planners to this test: how did their 1960-1975 vintage plans stand up to the test of time?

“a bunch of thugs… evil, evil people.” J. E. Greiner Co. manages to earn the blackest hat of all the consultants, partly because they authored the highway alignment (pictured above) that we have dubbed the “Future Investment Prevention Program” – it would have gutted Federal Hill and (later named) Harbor East. However, Greiner truly earned their black stripes by: 1). Working to undermine the substitute plan for the Ft. McHenry alignment; 2) (allegedly) bribing former Governor and Vice President Agnew; 3). spying on their fellow consultants in the Urban Design Concept Team; and 4). Lynching George Nilson, the attorney for the Leakin Park advocates – he was thrown off the case due to Greiner’s underhanded tactics. Stew Wechsler, one of the leaders of the highway protesters, called Greiner “a bunch of thugs… evil, evil people.”

Working Class Historic. At the other end of the spectrum, clearly in the White Hat corner, we have Robert Kerr of the Urban Design Group, who was hired by the city in an attempt to discredit the historic designation of Fell’s Point. However, Kerr instead backed the designation. Quoting Stop the Road, “Kerr found that, of 354 structures, 76 percent were of “primary,” “exceptional,” or “major” consequence for preservation. Kerr finely articulated the case for preservation of Fell’s Point as a representation of working-class life, saying, “Who is to say that there is less dramatic and human value in the record of the manner in which the average citizen or artisan or mechanic lived out his life than in the artifacts, objects and setting associated with the great events and moments of human history?”

The Ft. McHenry coup d’état. But for the motherload case study of a consultant working against the interests of their clients (and earning a star-spangled white hat for their efforts), we nominate Nathaniel Owings and Stuart Bryant of the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings & Merrill (SOM). Owings essentially engineered a coup d’état when his plan for the Ft. McHenry harbor crossing was adopted despite his entire oversight group favoring the pictured harbor crossing at Federal Hill. Bryant earned his white stripes by (as his overseers succinctly phrased it) “aiding and abetting the enemy.” SOM took extreme heat, endured a $600,000 delay in reimbursements, but they won the battle for the soul of Baltimore. This is a story that you just have to read to believe that it actually happened.

Paull’s presentation to Lambda Alpha is here


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