Is Baltimore That Bad?
October 5, 2010 9:38 AM   Subscribe

What is it like to live in Baltimore as a mid-20s professional couple?

Currently, my SO and myself live in Seattle and we love it here. We love the little coffeeshops, the walk-ability, and the urban-lifestyle. The *only* (admittedly major) problem with Seattle is that it is nearly impossible to for me to find work here (I am currently a grad student).

Jobwise, Baltimore is the perfect city for both our careers. The city is home to a major institutions where I could easily find work and commuting distance to a company that would love to hire my SO.

However, after hours and hours of research online, the general consensus seems to be that living in Baltimore is horrible and dangerous. For every positive comment about Baltimore, there are two dozen negative ones. Furthermore, any positive comments comes with a "but...". I get the impression that anyone that lives in Baltimore just wants to move as soon as possible. Is Baltimore really that depressing?

Here is my question: What is it really like to live in Baltimore as a mid-20s professional couple?
posted by LudgerLassen to Travel & Transportation around Baltimore, MD (38 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
My brother-in-law and his wife are in your age group and live in Hampden and like it. Hampden is an up and coming neighborhood apparently. Still mostly on the up.

But they really like it.

They were also able to buy a house even though my sister-in-law is the only one currently working, so there's that, too.
posted by zizzle at 9:42 AM on October 5, 2010

I can't answer your question directly (I don't live in Baltimore) but having spent plenty of time in both towns, I think Seattle is far better. There might be some small pockets of Baltimore that suit your needs but they'll be just that: small pockets.
posted by arimathea at 9:45 AM on October 5, 2010

I moved to Baltimore a year ago from NYC because my girlfriend is going to grad school at Johns Hopkins. Baltimore has a lot of problems and many people that come here for grad school or whatever reason do not like it. Please be aware that one out of ten people in Baltimore is a heroin addict. That creates its own problems.

However, I really love it here. There are always interesting things going on and people are extremely friendly. There are bad areas of town but unless you are selling drugs or planning to take over drug territory, you are fine.

Check out Hampden or Mount Vernon.
posted by josher71 at 9:46 AM on October 5, 2010

I've lived in both Seattle and Baltimore, and yeah, they are WAAAAY different. Not so much with the cute coffeeshops and walk ability. You can walk and bike but many more people look at you crazy for doing so.
posted by josher71 at 9:48 AM on October 5, 2010

How "walkable" is the good neighborhoods? Meaning, can I walk from my apartment to a nice little coffeeshop in the morning?
posted by LudgerLassen at 9:48 AM on October 5, 2010

Baltimore is awesome. Lived there for a year, grew up outside of it. Yes, there are places where it's dangerous, but it's affordable, it's fun, and you can afford a nice row house somewhere. Walkability will be dependent on the neighborhood you settle in, though I'd recommend a bike and maybe a car. There aren't so much "dangerous neighborhoods" as dangerous pockets of neighborhoods. Hampden, to take the example above, is great and on the up and up, but there are still parts of it you wouldn't want to walk through at night--but these will be pretty obvious to you. I loved Baltimore and still do, but then again, I hated Seattle (though I only visited). I live in Brooklyn now FWIW. I would live in Baltimore again if the situation was right.
posted by johnnybeggs at 9:50 AM on October 5, 2010

josher71: What do you mean by "Not so much with the cute coffeeshops and walk ability."? Do you mean Seattle and Baltimore are not so different? Or do you mean Baltimore does not have cute coffeeshops and walk ability?
posted by LudgerLassen at 9:50 AM on October 5, 2010

I used to live in Federal Hill, and I liked the neighborhood a lot and never worried about safety issues. Hampden and Fells Point were also possibilities, which I also liked quite a bit. All these are what you would call "walkable" neighborhoods, of which Baltimore has many: it's an old-style city full of ethnic neighborhoods, and its urban planning and zoning reflects that pre-auto-age origin.

I would say that, socially, I had a harder time in Baltimore than I do in DC, which I why I ultimately moved back to DC. Your concerns sound like they're more about the danger and "horribleness" of the city, and this couldn't be further from the truth (though it depends on the neighborhood).

Baltimore is really good for allowing you to live a city-lifestyle on a lower budget: there's no way I'd be able to afford a nice rowhouse in a vibrant, popular neighborhood in DC, but it's easily possible in Baltimore.
posted by deanc at 9:50 AM on October 5, 2010

In Hampden where I lived I could wake up and walk to a coffee shop, no problem. Probably Mt Vernon too. Baltimore wears its problems on its sleeve and a lot of people like to talk about how dangerous it is to live there, but really, it's kind of a boast, knamean?
posted by johnnybeggs at 9:52 AM on October 5, 2010

I am less concerned about getting robbed and more concerned that everyone drives everywhere for safety.

We lived in suburban city for six months and I HATED it. I hated having to get in my car to get a quick coffee and to have the streets devoid of pedestrians.
posted by LudgerLassen at 9:56 AM on October 5, 2010

I have friends who live in Baltimore. One rented in Hamden, the other bought a house and while it is still in Baltimore city proper, it is not in one of the central downtown areas. They both like it a lot and to my knowledge haven't personally been impacted by the crime and violence. However, without knowing what field you're in, I'd make certain that you both could actually get a job here. Both of my friends have to commute into DC and they hate that part, but can't find jobs, or at least jobs that pay a living wage, in Baltimore. Don't underestimate how sucky the commute to DC is. If you do find jobs, note that the pay will most likely reflect Baltimore's lower cost of living, rather than falling in line with what you'd expect to make living in a major urban center along the Northeast Corridor.
posted by kaybdc at 10:04 AM on October 5, 2010

It's been a really long time since I was there but I also remember pockets. Driving was preferred at times to get between fun neighborhoods as you had to traverse some less "nice" areas to move between them. Transit was not particularly awesome - if you could afford a car you drove and didn't take the buses. A friend who lives there feels that it really has gentrified a lot and become expensive but maybe not in comparison to Seattle. Maybe there is someone who lives there now who can comment.
posted by oneear at 10:08 AM on October 5, 2010

Everyone doesn't drive everywhere for safety. That's crazy. I lived in Upper Fells Point for four years. I walked everywhere (including several excellent coffee shops!) and, with a little common sense, felt perfectly safe. I got by without a car for about eight months with no problem. Fells Point, Federal Hill, Mt. Vernon (one of the great urban spaces in America, IMHO), Hampden, Harbor East, Locust Point, Canton, Charles Village, Bolton Hill, and Mt. Washington would all fit your needs just fine.

Baltimore has none of the 25 most dangerous neighborhoods in the country, for whatever that's worth.

While most of the city neighborhoods are perfectly pedestrian friendly, people certainly do drive to get from one part of the city to another (mass transit isn't a strong suit, but is improving). The good news is that the traffic isn't bad at all. You can get anywhere in town in 15 or 20 minutes by car if you need to. Just stay out of the burbs.

I found it to be a great city, with vibrant cultural life and cool people. There's nothing corporate- or artificial-feeling about the city, and it's way edgier and more interesting than other big cities I've spent time in.
posted by GodricVT at 10:11 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

A few years ago, I lived in DC, my best friend lived in Baltimore. I didn't have a car and I would regularly take the train up to visit her in Fells Point, then Federal Hill. Both neighborhoods were very walkable, most times I was there we never got in a car at all and we were still able to go to coffee shops, great brunches, shopping, dinners, etc.

I'd recommend you HAVE a car, because public transport is not too widely used and pretty scary the few times I used it, and there are plenty of great neighborhoods you'll want to get to. But as long as you pick the right place, you will be able to walk to get your coffee, see other pedestrians, etc.
posted by coupdefoudre at 10:11 AM on October 5, 2010

On preview, should have read your post more carefully. Just noted that it looks like your S.O. has a job offer. But what stood out to me was The city is home to a major institutions where I could easily find work. Do you think this or do you know this? And if you were thinking specifically of Johns Hopkins, for an expensive private university, they pay crap (at least the libraries do and get by with as many para-professionals as possible).

However nthing that Hamden is totally walkable. Lots of nice cafes, restaurants, and coffee shops (which are impressively all independent. I'm sure they're there, but in the few times that I've been to Baltimore, I don't recall ever seeing a Starbucks). There are some nice funky boutiquey type stores as well. My fave is a shoe and chocolate shop; seriously what a genius combo! And there seems to be a pretty healthy arts community there as well if you're into that kind of thing.
posted by kaybdc at 10:14 AM on October 5, 2010

We would definitely have a car (probably two), but we really like to relax by walking to get some food or a drink.
posted by LudgerLassen at 10:15 AM on October 5, 2010

I grew up in Baltimore and hated it, and generally tell people not to bother visiting it. That said, I you make your own life/fun/etc anyplace you live, and while that's a bit harder in Baltimore than in other young urban cities (current San Francisco denizen here), it is totally possible.

Walkability: I haven't been to Seattle, but I know something I like about San Francisco, and find very comforting, is that I feel like I could, if I wanted or needed to, walk quite a distance from one area/neighborhood to another and not feel horridly, horridly unsafe. I didn't feel that in Baltimore - it's more that there are some good areas that you can walk around in, and you can live in one of those areas. "Pockets" as mentioned above seems right on the money.
posted by needs more cowbell at 10:16 AM on October 5, 2010

I moved to Baltimore eight years ago as half of a mid-20's professional couple and have loved Baltimore ever since.
Hampden and Fells Point are good "city neighborhoods." My favorite neighborhood is Locust Point out by Ft. McHenry. Lots of walking (corner bars, coffee shops, restaurants, parks) and the peninsula makes is a contained environment (not so much riff-raff.)
posted by Acton at 10:16 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

kaybdc: It is not Hopkins, and I know that I could get work.
posted by LudgerLassen at 10:20 AM on October 5, 2010

Needs More Cowbell: I am familiar with San Francisco. In your mind, what San Francisco neighborhood is most similar to a good Baltimore "pocket"?
posted by LudgerLassen at 10:22 AM on October 5, 2010

needs more cowbell, how long has it been since you've lived there? I lived in Baltimore in the mid-90s and then again a decade later. It's a totally different city now. There's food. And art. Hard to believe, I know.

One other thing, I know you're not worried about the employment, but many of my friends live in Baltimore and work in DC. They take the MARC train- it takes about an hour and isn't really a big deal. If either of you were to work in downtown DC I'd think the train would work just fine as long as you lived near downtown.
posted by GodricVT at 10:33 AM on October 5, 2010

Commuting to DC might be in my future (in 4-5 years) but after reading some things online I am confident it would not be a problem (I have done a much longer commute for years).

The thing we are trying to figure out is if Baltimore is a place we could actually like to live in.
posted by LudgerLassen at 10:37 AM on October 5, 2010

I live in DC and we considered living in Baltimore. The idea of Baltimore really appealed to me. I saw that movie with Jennifer Aniston and liked the idea. I spent time in Fell's Point and Federal Hill. I spent more time there. I hate it. I really hate Baltimore. I started feeling trapped and all these people were always like, "Oh, but it's up and coming and it's so great, etc. etc." And I even tried to like it. I went into the idea fully ready to embrace it.

At the end of the day, it's not great. And you might think twice about commuting to and from DC from there. MARC can be unreliable, as can WMATA in rain and snow. It's one of the unhappier commuting areas in the nation (I read this somewhere in Forbes or BusinessWeek and it's one of the few things I'll stand by). The weather in the summer is hot and humid and last winter was the worst I ever experienced outside of New England. Not just cold, but truly miserable in terms of quality of living. The summer was really horrible. The humid climate and sun combined can have a pretty awful effect on skin. The electrical outages are more frequent int his part of the country and nobody plans to do anything to fix it anytime soon (as far as I know).

People here also aren't the friendliest -- they are generally transitional. It doesn't make for a particularly happy area. Unemployment in Baltimore is terrible.

I would not leave Seattle, if it were my choice.
posted by anniecat at 10:55 AM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

I think Baltimore has gotten a bad rap in part because of TV shows like The Wire, which, from what I've heard is a realistic representation of a small part of Baltimore. But that doesn't mean that all of Baltimore is like that.

That having been said, if your primary interest in a city is its walkability, and you're interested in the east coast, then I would look at Washington, DC, Philadelphia (to a limited extent), New York, and Boston. Baltimore doesn't spring to mind as a walkable city. Sure, there are parts of it that are walkable (as mentioned above), but not all of it is walkable, and I'd think you would have to rely on a car more than you would in those other cities.
posted by dfriedman at 11:01 AM on October 5, 2010

There's food. And art.

Every gritty, struggling city is pushing how much food and art there is. Providence does it, Durham does it, even some WV towns market their artsiness while everyone who lives there drives around with NOBAMA stickers on their cars.

but many of my friends live in Baltimore and work in DC. They take the MARC train- it takes about an hour and isn't really a big deal.

It's not a great option. They probably got used to the misery. It was a long commute for me to work from DC to DC. It was a slog and it was no fun. The platforms can get insanely congested. MARC doesn't run on Saturdays. This whole area is horrible with cars and more cars. People living between DC and Baltimore experience some misery due to the truly terrible commute that theoretically should only take a little while.

There's something deeply wrong with transit in this area, MARC, WMATA and highways, so I wouldn't count this as a small thing. It's a mess out here and there are angry and grumpy and unhappy people here like nowhere else I've seen yet.
posted by anniecat at 11:03 AM on October 5, 2010 [2 favorites]

I would not attempt to commute from Baltimore to DC. If you're going to go to Baltimore, then live/work/socialize in Baltimore. Pick one city or the other. Otherwise, you'll find a lot of your life spent in a car or on a train traveling between those two cities.

Another thing is that I think Baltimore might be easier, socially, if you work for a university or some other large institution where there are lots of people who live near you that you can meet and share your interests/lifestyle. Living in DC, I could put together a social life in the city that had nothing to do with my workplace, which was (and is) out in the suburbs. I had a much harder time doing that in Baltimore: it has a lower proportion of young professionals who move to Baltimore than you would find compared to DC or Boston or NYC, and thus there are fewer openings in the social scene. But maybe this is less of a consideration for you since you live with an SO.

That said, anniecat's statement of, "There's something deeply wrong with transit in this area, MARC, WMATA and highways," really resonates.
posted by deanc at 11:10 AM on October 5, 2010

I'm in my mid 40's, moved to Baltimore about 3.5 years ago from Detroit. Sold my car immediately. Currently commute to DC via MARC.

Everyone above is right. I adore Baltimore, find it very walkable, love the friendliness of the people and the small city vibe. I enjoy the weird participatory arts stuff. There is a lot of good food around, fun festivals in the summer, and the buses aren't bad.

I also know people who hate living here. If you don't have experience living in a real urban area and know how to read streets for safety, it can look a lot scarier than it really is (I live in a neighbourhood with a pretty bad rep, but feel quite safe there and love it). There are neighbourhoods you couldn't pay me to live in (Canton, Hampden, a few others).

I'd highly recommend coming for as long a visit as you can. Ride the buses. Walk around. Talk with people. Hang out in coffee shops (including Red Emma's). There is a really nice hostel on the southern edge of Mount Vernon. Either you'll fall in love or you'll run screaming in horror.
posted by QIbHom at 11:23 AM on October 5, 2010

I would just add a couple of things, having moved to Baltimore in early '06. It can at times be a hard city to love, because it's not really trying to win you over. It just is what it is, and you either really take to it or hate it. There seems to be little middle ground.

The other thing I've found to be very helpful is to look closely at the people who feel passionately one way or another about Baltimore. What kind of people are they, and what's their background? That'll often tell you a lot. (I tend to look at the people who trash it, and find certain common threads among them. But I'll stop talking now, so that I don't step on any toes.)
posted by CommonSense at 11:47 AM on October 5, 2010

As far as walkability goes, Walkscore is a useful tool for comparing addresses/neighborhoods against your current address.
posted by Grafix at 12:09 PM on October 5, 2010

I lived in Baltimore for a few years while my wife attended Hopkins. I thought I was going to hate it, having grown up and lived on the west coast my whole life. Turns out, I loved it. It's a great, fun city, with lots to do and see. As a home-owning transplant, I felt like it was a city of transplants who all had an active and vested interest in making it a better place to live.

We lived in SE Baltimore (Highlandtown or "Upper Canton" or "Brewer's Hill" in Realtor-speak) and while somewhat gritty, we generally felt safe and walked far and wide. There are some very bad parts of town, but as long as you stick to the southerly areas, I think you'll find it's a great place to live.

I can't speak to the DC commute personally, but there are definitely lots of people who do it.
posted by maniactown at 12:24 PM on October 5, 2010

Can't recommend Walkscore for Baltimore. It can't tell the difference between a bodega and a full sized supermarket, for one thing. Also seems to use a lot of stale data.
posted by QIbHom at 12:31 PM on October 5, 2010

I'm 29 and I currently live in Baltimore (Hampden). I'm originally from Texas, but I've lived all over the east coast (NYC, VT, etc) and it took me living in Hampden to not hate Baltimore. It's a great little village-y neighborhood with more bars / coffeeshops / groceries then you can throw a stick at. I can walk or bike to most of the city from here and only really keep my car around for commuting to work (in the county) and hauling my dog around. That said, there's also a neighborhood up near the county on Harford Road called Lauraville that's becoming Hampden 2.0. It's not as dense, but it's still decent and getting better all the time.

The social thing isn't bad here. I've made dozens of new friends over the past year, you just have to be proactive about it.

Feel free to MeMail me with questions.
posted by youcancallmeal at 1:37 PM on October 5, 2010

I'm in my early 30s and lived in Baltimore for about 8 months two or three years ago. I loved it! I lived in Fells Point, which felt very similar to my Queen Village neighborhood in Philly. There were lots of restaurants (various cuisines and price ranges) within two or three blocks from my apartment as well as several coffee shops and a yoga studio across the street. There are certainly places you wouldn't walk around late, but that's true of any city, and I never had the need to go to any of those areas.

What dfriedman said about The Wire is true... I watched the entire series on Netflix after I moved back from Baltimore - never saw any locations I recognized.
posted by jshort at 2:37 PM on October 5, 2010

Originally from Portland, I lived in Baltimore from '98 - '03, in my mid 20's without a car. As somebody mentioned above, the city layout is walkable because the city came to be long before the car. I found many neighborhoods to be walkable and even walked between neighborhoods happily (during the day-time). But at the same time, there was a reason I only lasted roughly 5 years there. I never seemed to make any real friends and was tired of being seen as some sort of hippy because I wanted to recycle and eat whole wheat bread. On the other hand, every time I'm back there for a visit, I get all achy and miss it. When I fantasize about chucking my current life and "running away" Baltimore is where I imagine I'd go. I think you'll find that many people have similar mixed feelings about Baltimore. So don't rule it out at all. But you might want to visit first, and think of moving there as an experiment. It's all right to come back to the west coast if you've given it 5 years and it still hasn't "taken".
posted by dipolemoment at 3:54 PM on October 5, 2010

I lived in Baltimore for a year and a half, and I hated it. I talked to a lot of people who love it about why they love it, because I was surprised at how much I hated it and wanted to figure out what made people love the place.

I won't say that John Waters movies are documentaries, because obviously you can live in nice parts of Baltimore without crazy people and that's a tired old thing to say. However, there is a certain kind of aesthetic in his movies that feels very Baltimore to me. I am not super great at characterizing this, but think: Diners. Wackiness. Loving the crazy in people. An appreciation for the cheap and tacky and, most definitely, the kitschy. Faded glamor.

That, to me, is the essence of why Baltimore and I didn't jibe. I don't really appreciate much of that stuff, though I know some people do and I can see some appeal in the abstract. But if you do, that's the spirit of Baltimore.

Personally, I think it's a sick city, that something at the heart of it is just unwell, and everything there felt that way to me--and I lived in a decent area, with a Chipotle and a B&N within walking distance. But that's me, and I am aware that some people don't think that way. I think my experience is strongly colored by having a job where I worked with the public, by which I mostly mean some of the sickest and the craziest, and I am not a social worker, just a library assistant. So I know my opinion is skewed. But that stuff about the aesthetic, I think that's real.

Good luck making your choice!
posted by hought20 at 4:25 PM on October 5, 2010 [1 favorite]

P. S. The intimation upthread that the background of people who do or don't like Baltimore tells you something important has made me vow to stop implying bad things about people who don't like Durham. Because, really, good lord.
posted by hought20 at 7:53 PM on October 5, 2010

I lived there for a year (and plan to move back next year). Baltimore is great if you're interested in the arts and experimental music. There is a lot of warehouse space available and it's not hard to get by on very little money. There is also an incredible arts community that thrives on collaboration. I think it is an amazing place to be a young artist or musician in that regard. My friends there put on plays and lectures and play in bands and run galleries in their bedrooms and paint murals and so much more. There seems to be a festival every month: Whartscape/Artscape, Transmodern, High Zero, the Maryland Film Festival and countless others. There are cute coffee shops and several farmers' markets. There is the Free School and Book Thing. I love Baltimore and everybody I know loves it, too. However, there are a lot of dangerous pockets and you do have to keep your guard up. I have lived in Portland and Brooklyn; Baltimore is very different from those places. The important thing is to not live in fear of your community. Go out and get involved in your neighborhood and you'll probably be much happier (and feel safer) about your decision to live there. I served for a year at a domestic violence agency and taught art workshops to at-risk youth for fun. Those experiences helped me connect to the city more.
posted by pinetree at 8:00 PM on October 5, 2010

I moved to Baltimore in 2003 and have lived in Locust Point, Hamilton/Lauraville, and now in Hoes Heights, which is a tiny tucked away patch of former farmland at the intersection of Roland Park, Medfield, and Hampden. I love it here. And I don't wear rose-colored glasses; I've been assaulted, followed, called 911 more than I'm comfortable with, had some truly terrible neighbors, and lived where the police helicopter flies low and often.

Will Baltimore suit you? Hard to know based only on the info you've given. "Mid 20s professional couple" desiring coffee shops and walkability could translate to at least a dozen different neighborhoods within the city--and like in most big cities, each neighborhood has its own unique personality.

For example, Hampden was a nearly all-white enclave of millworkers along the Jones Falls until the mills stopped production. It still has bars that have drunk patrons standing outside smoking at 6:30am, even though they likely did not just finish a graveyard shift, at least not in manufacturing. Meth and accompanying prostitution are a relatively isolated but very visible problem in Hampden. White teen moms hang out with their babies and pit bulls in front of the Royal Farms at midnight on a Friday. Hipsters in embarassingly tight pants, bad haircuts, and Vans haunt the thrift stores. Hampden has a mix of real artists (because the real estate was cheap until recently) and quasi-yuppies/hipsters who just want to be near artists in their daily life but don't want to live in Station North along the east side/west side drug trade route. Most of the bars here are patronized largely by original blue collar Hampdenites, while most of the restaurants here are frequented by the artists/hipsters. There are quirky places to shop, meaning that you can pick up some Jeffrey Campbell shoes and a Vosges bacon bar in the same block that you can get a very good cup of coffee or shop the best imported beer selection in the city, but the more upscale shops don't last long. People do not go to Hampden to buy Vera Wang (via Form, which moved). It's very, very walkable within Hampden and between Hampden and its surrounding neighborhoods. There's a movie theater, a couple of grocery stores, dry cleaners, doctors' offices, blah blah blah. You will not find a Starbucks in Hampden.

But that's just one neighborhood's personality. To get a picture of others, try Live Baltimore. I'm guessing based on the little info you gave us to go on that you might be interested in the following neighborhoods, all of which have profiles there: Fells Point, Canton, Federal Hill, Locust Point, Mount Vernon, Charles Village.
posted by ImproviseOrDie at 7:35 AM on October 6, 2010

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