Never comin' back here/'Til the day I die
September 20, 2006 7:40 PM   Subscribe

How has Baltimore changed over the past 15 or 20 years?

Better or worse? Safer or more dangerous? More or less racial tension, poverty, etc?

I've recently heard strongly conflicting opinions on the current condition and direction of the city, and have been wondering what the situation is now.
posted by dilettante to Society & Culture (17 answers total)
Well, change has certainly been compartmentalized . . . Certain areas, namely the Harborplace, Canton, Fells Point, etc. have been successfully developed and cleaned up. Downtown has now become a really desirable place to live, and many middle and upper class people who fled to suburbia years ago are now coming back to the city. However, there are many areas of the city that have been quite blighted and are more violent and dangerous than ever. There has always been a degree of racial tension in the city, and, I'm not sure that any real significant headway has been made in that.

That being said, I really think that B-more is undergoing it's renaissance right now. A thriving restaurant and dining scene, tons of sports enthusiasm, expanding business around the harbor, housing/condo/hotel growth, and the growing biotech industries have had the city making lots of improvements to its image.

I base all of this on my experiences as a native Baltimorean, and, though I now live in Philly, I go back at least twice a month to visit or do business. My upper-middle-class experience in the city probably gives me a little skewed perspective, so take my evaluation with a grain of salt.
posted by galimatias at 7:52 PM on September 20, 2006

And there's been a possible break in the light pole theft situation.
posted by Wet Spot at 8:08 PM on September 20, 2006

So, we've got an optimist and pessimist view, both from natives now living in Philly.

Admittedly, I don't go home often, but when I do, I'm shocked at how Philly has improved and Baltimore degenerated in the last 5-10 years. Because in Balto., I see very nice restaurants with lots of patrons, especially in Fells Point, but no-one actually walking around (i.e., folks visit a restaurant, but not the city itself. Eerie how few people are out in the evenings.) Lots of overpriced condos in borderline neighborhoods, but a lot of pessimism on how these condos are going to be work out in 10, 20 years, when their value as an investment property may not have come to fruition.
posted by desuetude at 8:17 PM on September 20, 2006

Hopkins student here. The immediate area around Homewood campus (part of Charles Village) has undergone (and is undergoing) major renovations. A brand new residence hall (with commercial space housing the new campus bookstore) has been built, and a couple blocks over, new condos are under construction, bringing with it new commercial space as well. It's actually starting to look like a miniature college town, though there is still a bit of a ways to go.

Most of the city seems pretty dodgy once the sun goes down. I hear the area around the Hopkins medical campus (East Baltimore) is still not a great place to take a nighttime stroll.
posted by roomwithaview at 8:35 PM on September 20, 2006

City Paper (Baltimore's alternative weekly) announced recently that Baltimore has "made it" in some way because we now have an American Apparel shop. Take that as you will.

I've lived here for the past 15 years, but I was 8 when I moved here, so my perception is probably kind of skewed. On the whole, I feel like we're on an upswing, though I don't think there's been any lessening of racial tension.

Personally, I'm hoping Kweisi Mfume (who just lost his bid for Democratic Senate candidate) will run for Mayor in 2007--I think he would help Baltimore get its act together in ways that Mayor O'Malley hasn't.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:45 PM on September 20, 2006

roomwithaview: I'd be hesitant to take a daytime stroll around the Hopkins campus . . .

desuetude - I agree with you on the fact that Philly has taken a more "wholistic" approach to improving the city while Baltimore has had a more "targeted" approach to specific areas that draw tourism and money. Yes, it is still very much a city where people go to their destination and then go home; you won't see people walking around in the evenings through much of the city. Harborplace and Federal Hill are two exceptions but are certainly not the rule.

I think some of the underlying cause of Baltimore's economic rift lies in the fact that there is a quite insufficient public transportation system to really open up some of the emerging job markets and career opportunities for people inside the city. Baltimore also has a police department that tends to get itself a little more negative press, too, whether from mysterious inmate deaths or police brutality. As a whole, I am supportive of Baltimore's law enforcement, but there are quite a few bad apples that keep making appearances in the papers.
posted by galimatias at 8:46 PM on September 20, 2006

galimatias - I've never felt unsafe walking around the (immediate) Hopkins medical campus, and I'm a short white chick. (I probably wouldn't walk around in the adjoining neighborhoods, though, or wouldn't feel so safe.)

Are you all only considering the downtown area proper or the entire city limits? There are areas within city limits where people walk around. I think things are looking up for some of the neighborhoods with single-family or semi-detached houses--not downtown but still part of the city.
posted by needs more cowbell at 8:59 PM on September 20, 2006

I know that TV shows hardly ever reflect reality (and certainly not "reality shows"), but the truly excellent The Wire, has for the past three seasons examined the port system, the police system, the drug problem, racial hostility and in this season, the political system, all with a truly grim ring of authenticity
posted by Neiltupper at 11:11 PM on September 20, 2006

Native Baltimoron here -- though I moved away about 25 years ago. I grew up in the city. My grandparents and cousins lived in Hampden and we lived about 5 miles away. My aunt still lives in Hampden and my sister is in the suburbs. I sent my aunt a present last week and told UPS not to leave it outside due to a potentially "bad neighborhood." She told me that I was nuts. There are occasional "incidents" but all in all things are OK.

Growing up in the 1960's Hampden was working class and pretty darn redneck (i.e., racist). Most folks were blue collar families with steady jobs. Homes were mostly row homes and were moderately priced. There were poor folks also, especially as a result of a vicious cycle of teenage pregnancy. My cousin was part of that. There were lots of kids getting free lunches in school too. There were race related fights and tension at the local public schools (Robert Poole) -- no doubt related to bussing and such (Baltimore had its share of race riots). All in all, though, I always felt that the area was pretty safe -- speaking as a white kid.

Hampden has undergone some major gentrification since then. There were no antiques stores (!) down on the Avenue (the 36th street shopping area) when I was a kid, that's for damn sure. And nobody was shooting movies there or using the area for TV shows. House prices have jumped (I looked up my grandparents former home in the city's property tax database and was shocked at its value). My sister and I have to laugh at the yuppiefying of little Hampden. I doubt that racism has disappeared, not at least while some of the old timers are still around. But Hampden is a much more attractive place to visit and live.

And yes, the Inner Harbor area and nearby Fells Point and the like have dramatically changed. That waterfront area used to be nothing -- until the Rouse Company built the Inner Harbor complex (they also did Columbia, MD and I think Faneuil Hall in Boston and Chicago's Navy Pier). The four big department stores had all closed downtown and moved to the suburbs. You didn't stroll around downtown at night for the most part. There was plenty of crime.

Now downtown is popular again. You've got hotels, restaurants, the aquarium, the inner harbor shops, Camden Yards (the Orioles) and the light rail. More folks choose to live down there (yes, I know there were always folks down there like in the Mt. Vernon area near the Peabody music school and the art school and such).

Would I stroll around downtown Baltimore at all hours without a thought? Hell, no. Would I stroll around the Charles Street - Wyman park area near Johns Hopkins University at night without a care in the world? Nah. Downtown JHU hospital area late at night? Nope. Remnigton? Fuck no. There are plenty of sketchy areas left.

Would I be willing to live in the city if I had a decent job there? Sure. Baltimore is a great city. I've learned to appreciate its "charms" since I've moved away. But its not without its problems -- as is true for most cities these days.

BTW, there was a "famous" non-fiction book dealing with poverty, crime, drugs and race in the 1960's (?) down on North Avenue in Baltimore. I had to read it in Sociology class. If anyone can think of the name, it's well worth a read.
posted by bim at 6:40 AM on September 21, 2006

Well, as others have said, it's a mixed bag. I only moved to Baltimore about 5 years ago, but I grew up in DC and came to Baltimore fairly frequently. My view may also be a bit skewed because I work with indigent HIV patients in Baltimore, so a lot of the progress that I see seems kind of cosmetic to me.

There are certainly changes, many areas of the city have improved and gotten safer and cleaner in the past several years. The problem, then as now, is that there really aren't jobs here to support the working class and (non)working poor. White or black. To the extent that there are jobs, they're frequently out in the counties and hard to get to if you don't have a car.

There are still whole streches on both the East and West sides that look bombed out. Baltimore still has a HUGE heroin problem (~10% of the trafficking and using in the country), backed with an HIV infection rate that rivals anywhere in the country. There's a high murder rate and violent crime is rampant, although this can be smoothed over a bit because it's mostly black on black crime, or poor on poor crime, associated with the drug trade, so being a middle class white person in Baltimore isn't all that dangerous.

There has been a real boom in real estate, and the concommitant service industry flourish that goes along with that. There are many neighborhoods that have become quite nice to live in and are safe and clean. Many of them have been listed, Fells Point, Canton, Charles Village, Hamden. A lot of that feels a bit like boom by fiat, though, with high housing prices making it seem as if there is more change going on then there probably is. Two recent cases in point, a cop was just shot in Patterson Park, a neighborhood where there's been a lot of "growth," with nice big row houses selling for ~400k, concerts in the park, dog walking and The Arts etc. It's true, all of that stuff is there, but there's still an active and flourishing drug trade just north of the park--not everyone got the progress memo. Similarly, in Waverly, which borders on tony Charles Village on one side, and even tonier Ednor Gardens on the other, a new Giant and Blockbuster opened last year. The area seems to be going through a revival, but the manager of the Blockbuster (whose brother is a Baltimore detective) was shot dead during a robbery last week. In many ways B-more is still block to block.

The schools are literally a nightmare.
posted by OmieWise at 6:43 AM on September 21, 2006

I almost forgot. Baltimore has the dubious distinction of being at or near the top of the list for its STD rate! Nice.
posted by bim at 6:48 AM on September 21, 2006

One last story before I run to work.

My sister and her family live in Ruxton. It's a very well off area which I beleive is just ouside the city limits.

According to my brother-in-law (not that he was condoning it), when they built the light rail there was no stop in Ruxton due to racism. Folks in Ruxton didn't want to make it easy for black folks to get to the area. Never mind that are black folks that have to trudge out there to do housework. So racism is still alive and well in Baltimore.

But then these "tricks" like the rail stop thing are by no means unique to Baltimore. Oy.
posted by bim at 7:02 AM on September 21, 2006

Concerning the Ruxton thing, it's generally accepted that several more affluent neighborhoods blocked light rail stops from downtown. But I think to equate it solely with racism is a little simplistic. Pretty quickly after the light rail went into service rumors circulated about how it provided a way for criminals to get from the inner city to the suburbs. The reality is that apart from an increase in car thefts due to unattended light rail park and rides, there hasn't been much increase.

However the real problem with the light rail is that it doesn't go anywhere. I think the idea was to parallel I-83 so that people didn't have to drive into the City. But most people don't approach the City from that direction anyway, so the only time it is used is to avoid paying for parking at baseball games.
posted by electroboy at 9:36 AM on September 21, 2006

bim, in Baltimore's case it may be racism or it may just be that the MTA is incredibly stupid. Case in point: the lightrail goes straight past the Greyhound bus station, but there is no stop within walking distance.
Their new (and, IMHO, overly optimistic) slogan--"now we're getting somewhere" says a lot.

Years ago some group proposed a design for a train/metro system which featured a central hub with spokes emanating from it, towards various suburbs. It seemed like a great idea to me, but nothing became of it--none of the city's transportation initiatives plan to do that sort of thing.
posted by needs more cowbell at 12:29 PM on September 21, 2006

needs more cowbell,

Here's the original plan for the subway, if you're interested. I've heard there's going to be some expansion, but no details as of yet.
posted by electroboy at 2:40 PM on September 21, 2006

Sure, electroboy and needs more cowbell, it may be a combination of things. God knows that there are always major problems siting things power plants and power lines and such. There may very well be some NIMBY stuff going on too -- as well as plain old incompetence. So, point taken.

BTW, this Ruxton discussion reminded me of a an interesting story about Robert Moses -- the "master builder" of highways, parks and a lot of other things for many years in New York City. Even though we're talking about MD, its an interesting historical footnote.

In particular, when building up the Jones Beach area on Long Island, Robert Moses deliberately made it difficult for buses (as in poor black folks being bussed to the beach facility) to reach the prime beach area and its parking lots easily. He made the bridges too low for buses to pass under. Yikes.

That's not real nice.
posted by bim at 4:40 PM on September 21, 2006

electroboy - that's neat, thanks! I *think* the plan I remember was slightly different. It was something designed and proposed by a citizen's group (not part of government), and it was illustrated in a pretty multi-color map on their website, circa 2001.
posted by needs more cowbell at 6:57 AM on September 22, 2006

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