Thursday, February 11, 2016

Baltimore's comeback neighborhoods (Part 1)

People around the globe now know Sandtown as a neighborhood in Baltimore that doesn't work very well. Sandtown joined the company of Watts, LA, the Bronx , NY and the Paris banlieues.

The problem is that many residents of the Baltimore metro area have bought into a notion that all of Baltimore is a failed place. Harford County even banned field trips to the City. Even worse, many City residents themselves wallow in despair about how bad things are. Not to fall into phony boosterism but to keep a clearer perspective, a list of Baltimore communities that work well may be in order to show that Baltimore is not only an example of failed urban policies and de-industrialization blight but that the City is well underway of re-inventing itself as a vibrant post-industrial city with a new kind of authenticity.

And I am not talking about the glitter in Harbor East or historically affluent communities of Roland Park, Homeland, Oakenshawe, Cedarcroft, Guilford and Mount Washington, or the more recently affluent neighborhoods of Federal Hill/Riverside, Otterbein, Fells Point, or Canton here (to name only a sampling) but about neigborhoods that 10 or 20 years ago were struggling, communities that have experienced a significant turn-around.

The approach is anecdotal and not scientific, it is incomplete and one can debate what really constitutes turnaround or comeback. Nevertheless, scouring through Trulia "heatmaps" of home values, Live Baltimore neighborhood descriptions and indicator maps compiled by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicator Alliance (BNIA) at the University of Baltimore and my very own explorations, I came up with a list that became too long for one article.

So here is part 1 in no particular order. I like to begin with Pigtown, also known as Washington Village, because it is one of the more integrated and diverse come-back neighborhoods and a beacon for the proof that revitalization is not limited to communities dominated by whites.

Baking Bread owner Kimberly Ellis (Baltimore SUN)


Like many Baltimore stories, the revival of Pigtown is not a fairy tale with a straight trajectory of success. Progress has been slow in coming, there have been set-backs and even today the balance is somewhat perilous. But there are great signs of stability. The redevelopment of the former Koppers Foundry site just south of the B&O museum is already more than a decade old. It brought new residents to the area, a prerequisite for the revival of the commercial strip along Washington Boulevard. The participation in the national Main Streets Program has helped as well to manage and strategically place new businesses in the corridor which include a consignment store run by Senator Catherine Pugh. The area is bordered by Carroll Park and the Mount Claire community to the West, Ridgely's Delight to the east and barre Circle to the north, all communities of relative stability.
It's one of the most diverse neighborhoods in the city, socially, racially and economically. It lies in the shadows of downtown's skyscrapers, the city's ballparks, the glittery new Horseshoe Casino and the University of Maryland. It has easy access to I-95, 295 and public transportation.
"Our location is so great, but people might drive by and not know that we're right here. We're just a block off MLK," said Ben Hyman, executive director of Pigtown Main Street
In the last seven months, at least seven new businesses have signed leases to open along the neighborhood's small commercial district, where vacancies have been the norm for years.
In addition to Ellis' Breaking Bread restaurant, two new boutiques for men have moved to the strip. Around the corner on Carroll Street, Shakers, a new wood-paneled cocktail bar, opened in May. A gourmet food market called Culinary Architecture is in the works to launch this winter. HomeFree-USA, a housing nonprofit, had its grand opening last week.

"People are starting to notice Pigtown," said Ellis, 44. "You have this whole re-emergence of life."
Pigtown has limped along in the shadow of the stadiums and Inner Harbor, frequently eyed by investors as a next frontier despite some problems with crime and violence fueled by the drug trade. And like many neighborhoods in the city, its most visible sign of struggle was the commercial corridor, where many buildings were boarded up for years. (Natalie Sherman, SUN)

Ridgely's Delight

Ridgely's Delight is a small quaint historic community of devoted urbanists who have succeeded in stabilizing and reviving the community for some time. The 107 apartment unit Sailcloth Factory on Fremont Avenue facing Martin Luther King Boulevard was one of the earliest adaptive re-use conversions in Baltimore. A building at 337 Fremont is still awaiting conversion. The former Church and later vacant rec center called Lions Club took many attempts but eventually also became new apartments, many of the tiny rowhouses on streets like Dover and Portland are lovingly restored. Below a story about a small store re-use that is typical for the community spirit in Ridgely's Delight.
“We moved in on May 2, and the protests that got violent were on April 27,” Mount says. ...we had a few days to be involved in the ‘community unity’ efforts happening in Ridgely’s Delight before we had the chaos of moving in!” Mount quickly immersed herself in the community, joining the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance, where she’s served as the director since September. With money in the budget for an office space, she could have leased something formal downtown, “But I didn’t want to do that. I want people to come to us, not just for the events and workshops.” Instead, Mount jumped at the opportunity to lease what used to be the Sidewalk Espresso Bar in Ridgley’s Delight. “It was in this coffee shop [in the fall of 2014] that my husband and I decided to move to the city,” says Mount, a Ph.D. candidate at George Mason University.Now, the newly established Community Blend—which opened last Thursday—offers a space for young families to hang out. They offer free coffee and tea for DBFA members (which non-members are welcome to enjoy too after a suggested donation of $5) and a play area for children. Mini armchairs, vibrant walls and towering shelves filled with picture books and toys dominate the shop. (Mount’s son, Liam, is almost two.) “It’s a space where people can meet organically and learn from each other’s experiences.” There’s even room for a small office space for Mount and DBFA staffers.The new DBFA space also serves as a venue for workshops and private events. Mount and the DBFA aim to “show families all of the resources that are in the city. Help them navigate the public schools and find where they can go when you want to do something fun,” she says. “I want to work with all sorts of diverse families.” (Baltimore Style)

Station North, Greenmount West, Barclay

Station North, Greenmount West and Old Goucher communities were long amid the list of places that many considered "a basket case". But strong community will, dedicated stakeholders and institutions brought about a transformation that is astounding. The ingredients include the Central Baltimore Partnership, the creation of an Arts and Entertainment District, socially minded property owners and Universities such as MICA, Hopkins and UB willing to collaborate, the Housing Department willing to buy and invest and enlightened funders and developers such as TRF, Jubilee and Telesis. The area is on the way of becoming a model for a type of "gentrification" that does not displace residents or spit out pioneering artists as soon as "the market" begins to kick in.
For decades Greenmount West has been marred by crumbling, vacant rowhouses and drug-fueled crime. Now, as economic development in recent years has begun to fulfill the promise Turner remembers, the community is grappling with what gentrification, Greenmount West-style, will look like. (NextCity)


Mostly white working class Hampden was for many years a posterchild of many things Baltimore: quirkiness, parochialism and and good dose of bigotry. Today, it is a posterchild for a desirable very livable and walkable community with a decent school, a great main street ("The Avenue") that has remained quirky and unique and has become also a bit more integrated. The area continues to transform, most notably through the large Rotunda mixed use development that many see with mixed feelings, half looking forward to all tyhe new shops and the movie complex, half fearful of over 700 new renters and their traffic.


Highlandtown's turnaround is driven by new immigrants mostly from Latin America just as the original community was driven by immigrants from Italy, Poland and Germany. The area was also helped by the managed revival of Patterson Park and the community around the Park and the strong market of the Canton area (Brewers Hill) relentlessly pushing north. To the east and somewhat isolated sits Greektown, a very stable immigrant community which, too has seen an influx of development pushing up from Canton. Like Station North, Highlandtown is a designated Arts and Entertainment District and the re-use of the long vacant Patterson Theatre as an arts hub of the Creative Alliance has played a major role in revitalizing Eastern Avenue, a ever more vital commercial street with many small local stores, tiendas and ethnic restaurants and one of the busiest branch libraries of the Eunoch Pratt system. The long vacant former German restaurant Haussners will be razed and a new mixed use building built in its stead.

Comments, suggestions, critique and neighborhoods stories are welcome as well as suggestions for additional come-back communities to cover. For part 2 I have the following tentative list:

Harford Road/ Lauraville
Reservoir Hill
Locust Point
Charles North
Seton Hill
Butchers Hill-Patterson Park
Union Square

Lessons learned from comeback neighborhoods and from those who did not come back (yet) should inform the mayoral race.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA


Trulia home price heat map
Live Baltimore
City Data
BNIA Community Profiles

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