Sunday, July 26, 2015

Back in the Orbit

As the Baltimore born writer and cartoonist Tim Kreider recently commented in his quite cynical piece in the New York Times ("My own private Baltimore"): many "fail to achieve escape velocity. The gravitational pull of Baltimore them back in" they can't leave its orbit. Of course Kreider had managed to make it as far as New York and now felt infinitely superior to his high school buddies still hanging out in the same Baltimore dive bars with a-by Manhattan standards incredibly cheap- can of Natty Boh in front of them.
Tim Kreider cartoon (NYT)

So I have been pulled back as well over a distance of 1800 miles that took me three and a half days to cover by car but only less than three hours to return by plane. Boom, back in B'more, it's lazy summer heat, the sound of cicadas and Dan Rodricks' columns. Instead of the Rockies it is Appalachia again or better, the Chesapeake. Back to grousing about Mosby, Batts, Blake and Young, not exactly rock stars. Back from seeing the final touches being put on Denver's new airport rail line and a Governor who created FasTrack, one of the most ambitious rail transit plans in the country to one who has the most retro transportation ideas in America. 

The journey to Columbus, Indianapolis   St Louis and Kansas shows, Baltimore is not unique. Yes, it is the only bigger city so set on crabs that they come in buckets and are piled into the middle of a table, the only place that may give Natty Bo cult status even though it tastes like Milwaukee's Best, it may be the only one with a Hon Parade and a pink flamingo the size of a dinosaur mounted to a building front, but it is remarkably similar to any of its brethren in so many other ways:

The inferiority complex that comes from shrinkage and industry bleeding. The naive belief to be different and unique, comes from the culture of not looking much beyond the nearest freeway interchange.
"Just move to San Francisco already…"
For months, these words dominated a photo on my Facebook fan page. The phrase is spray-painted on a wall near Fountain Square.
For years, it summed up my relationship with Indianapolis. I would stubbornly tout ideas about urban living and encourage difficult conversations about race and income inequality, and then certain, more traditionalist, Hoosiers would tell me to shut up and move away. (IndyStar columnist Erika Smith in "Why I am leaving Indianapolis")
We are not the only place with an inferiority complex nor with a yellow-clad safe and clean team sent out by a Downtown Partnership (see Kansas City), we are not even the only ones with a kinetic sculpture race (see Kensington), not the only ones with historic public markets (see Columbus, Indianapolis, St.  Louis and Kansas City), not the only ones with a rising crime rate (see St Louis),
shrinking St Louis
not even the only ones where bicycle enthusiasts deck out their bikes in lights and ride through city streets to have a party (see Cruiser Rodes in Denver).  All US cities have some type of come-back, convert industrial buildings to lofts or bars (As cool as Baltimore's American Can, Parts &labor or Woodberry Kitchen, Denver's The Source old foundry conversion beats it all. Millennials and artists are flocking to places even like St Louis although there is no MICA. Urban farming, cool urban supermarkets, art walks and street festivals, bike lanes, bike-share, free bus circulators, hackathons, food trucks, gay pride parades and independent weeklies with a "Savage Love" column can all be found almost anywhere in the same way as a Holiday Inn, a Starbucks or a CVS are ubiquitous. Yes, folks, it's a race out there, and the speed in which each city adopts each other's "best practices" is mind numbing. 
I wanted to cry when I hopped off a plane, reactivated my iPhone and got a slew of news alerts about Gov. Mike Pence skirting questions about whether the law would allow discrimination against gays and lesbians. I cringed just thinking about how Indiana was engaged in such a backward debate. (Indy Star columnist Erika Smith about the "religious freedom debate")
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Many Baltimoreans want to cry, too, especially after finding themselves in a state that considers the motto "open for business" innovative and actively pursues an agenda that was already dated when Reagan was President, Donald Schaefer jumped into the seal pond and U2 topped the music charts.

Another Natty Boh, please!

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

If it consoles, Indianapolis has the same problem with a Governor who is way more conservative than the city and pretty much pushes "no" as his agenda, read this editorial in the IndyPost of 7/24/15

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