Visions for a Sustainable City:
Owings Mills, MD

Copyright (c) 1995 by Michael Stern, all rights reserved.Unless otherwise noted, items published by the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities are copyrighted by the authors and may be shared in accordance with the Fair Use provisions of U.S. copyright law. Redistribution or republication on other terms, in any medium, requires express written consent from the author(s) and advance notification of the publisher.


This project uses the emerging edge city of Owings Mills in Baltimore County, MD as the focus of a case study of urban design in the suburban context, and in particular, the reconsideration of the urban form of the edge city. Edge cities are the latest evolution of the dispersal and decentralization of American urban form into multiple centers of retail, office and residential developments concentrated around highway interchanges surrounding an older central city.[1] Perhaps the best example of the edge city in the Virginia area is Tyson's Corner, outside of Washington, D.C.

Owings Mills, because of its peculiar preconditions of transportation, development and ecology has the potential to serve as a positive example of what the developing urban entity of the edge city could be. It is equally poised, however, to become yet another example of the placeless wasteland of isolated buildings, parking lots and despoiled waterways that is rapidly becoming the normal condition of the American landscape.

Commercial Strip Development near Owings Mills

A particular focus of this study was the development of design proposals that address the growing realization that natural systems and urban systems need to be seen as a whole continuum that must be treated in a complete and coherent manner.

Metropolitan Baltimore--project site highlighted

Owings Mills contains a unique set of circumstances that make it potentially valuable as a model of the "sustainable city". In one relatively concentrated area it contains all the necessary functions of a viable city: industry, commerce, residences and a highly developed transportation and water infrastructure, including mass transit, all directly adjacent to a complex and fragile aquatic ecosystem.

Aerial Photograph of study area, courtesy of Air Photographics, Inc.

What is missing, and this study hopes to provide, is a model whereby all these attributes can be coherently organized into a city that is designed for pedestrians as much as it is for automobiles and as sensitive to the needs of natural systems as it is to those of people. The goal is to produce specific design solutions that integrate urban and natural systems into a habitable public landscape.


From the outset the intentions of this project have been collaborative and as a result a great number of participants have contributed to it and I would like to thank them for their efforts.

Jack Dillon, David Field, and Pat Keller of the Baltimore County Department of Planning and Zoning and Rocky Powell of the Baltimore County Department of Environmental Planning & Management have been very supportive throughout the long process of developing this project. At the design charrette at Owings Mills the participation of the local land developers was crucial to understanding the project and Terry MacHamer in particular was tremendously helpful in organizing and funding the charrette.

Neal Payton of the Catholic Unversity of America, his design students and the students of my own design studio were all a crucial part of the Web-based collaborative experiment of this project. Through them we were able to develop graphic depictions of alternative development scenarios for Owings Mills.

Kris Karlsson and Dan Ancona, research assistants for the entire project were quite literally the co-authors of this report and their combinations of energy, inquisitiveness and dedication made the work possible. Joe Eades and Keith Robbins were other student assistants who made significant contributions.

All of the staff of the Institute for Advanced Technology in the Humanities were, of course, the only reason this report got done at all and Christie Stephenson, Digital Image Librarian was extremely helpful in facilitating image scanning, whether in a crisis situation or not.

Michael A. Stern, Assistant Professor of Landscape Architecture, School of Architecture, University of Virginia. E-mail at:

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Copyright (c) 1995 by Michael Stern, all rights reserved.
Last Modified: Wednesday, 14-Jul-2010 13:49:08 EDT