Please help me learn to love Baltimore and find the beauty in it.
posted by alopez to Society & Culture (10 answers total) 12 users marked this as a favorite
A year ago my partner I moved to Baltimore from a beautiful European city of similar population, where we did not own a car, could walk to nearly everything in a vibrant city center, and take public transit everywhere else. The city streets were alive and bustling. I loved walking in the city, and I loved being in close proximity to my work, beautiful parks, and lovely architecture. We like food (and mainly cook at home) and I loved being a few blocks from high-quality butchers, cheese shops, bakers, greengrocers, and markets -- I could simply pop in to a shop on the way home if we needed something. I fell in love with this city.
Then I found a job in Baltimore. We moved to Hampden because I can walk to work, and it is a charming neighborhood. But apart from my job, and the Avenue, there is literally nothing else to walk to, as Hampden is bounded on all sides by boring suburbs, highways, urban decay, and an impassable ravine. It's almost like living in a small town of a few thousand people. I'd love to be able to walk to a decent grocer, but the local Giant is, frankly, repellent -- there seems to be little great food in the city in general. The public transit sucks. We own a car and drive places, but I profoundly hate driving -- we drive so much on the weekends that I feel like I'm living in the suburbs. We've made an effort to explore different corners of Baltimore, and there things we like about it -- Belvedere Square, Lexington Market, Waverley Market, AVAM, Federal Hill Park, Fells Point, harbor promenades. But the city does not move me at all. Pretty much every decent neighborhood in Baltimore has the same problem -- it's a small, isolated pocket amidst crumbling, depopulated ruins. For instance, Mount Vernon is beautiful, but there are no decent grocers, and there is little street life. I don't know any place from which I could go on a four-mile ramble through the city and then take a bus home. I feel trapped and alienated here, and walking through the decrepit, nearly abandoned city blocks every day is driving me to depression. There's beauty in decay, but I often feel like that's the only kind of beauty there is in Baltimore.
Baltimoreans are rightly proud of their affordable housing, the passion of local sports fans, the arts scene, the music scene, and the quirky bars, and those things are great, but they're not what I'm looking for. The problem is that I'm middle-aged, and while I appreciated those things in my twenties, and still do to some extent, they aren't that important to me. A friend recently described Baltimore as "a young person's city", which really rang true to me. I like funky, kitschy, and weird in small doses, but it often seems as if that's all there is here, and what I'm really longing for a place that is just plain beautiful and inviting.
I'm not looking to exactly replicate my old city -- there are many cities that I've lived in or been too that have similar qualities, and I feel like there are many different places that would make me happy. Where is that place in Baltimore? I'm more or less resigned to the fact that in order to live someplace I love I'll have to commute to work, most likely by transit through the Charles Street corridor. But where? Is there a place in Baltimore that is walkable, beautiful, alive, and delicious? I sometimes think about moving to DC (a city we know well and enjoy). We can afford it, but I know the commute would be miserable and we'll save a great deal of money by living in Baltimore. I really desperately want to like Baltimore, but I don't know where to look. What am I missing?
[One more thing -- we like the people here and don't look down on our neighbors. It feels strange to have to add this disclaimer, but many Baltimoreans (and Hampdenites in particular) are extremely defensive of their city and seem to immediately dismiss anyone who would even consider living in DC as arrogant scum. I don't hate Baltimore; I am simply looking for a way to love it on my own terms.]