Tuesday, February 14, 2017

Its not all black or white in Baltimore's neighborhoods

The incredible discrepancies and inequalities between Baltimore's poorest and its richest neighborhoods has furthered an idea of Baltimore as rich white areas and poor black areas, a striking narrative that has some truth but isn't the full story.

For example Pigtown, a neighborhood that made it on the front page of the SUN on Monday, because it has again two competing community associations. That is a replay of a period when one faction wanted to name the historic southwest community Washington Village after the community's spine, Washington Boulevard. The other wanted to keep the more proletarian name Pigtown. It won out except in the brochures of real estate agents. Pigtown will soon proudly display a large pig as part of a 36 foot steel weather vane placed on the gateway into the community at Martin Luther King Boulevard.  The artist: Rodney Carroll who has made sculptures for cities across the country. He is a local pioneer who established his residence, studio and workshops in a couple of old warehouses in Pigtown where he also maintains a sculpture garden.(Here about the history of the name).
Gateway sculpture made by Rodney Carroll. A pig at 36' (SUN photo)

Fears of gentrification and the desire for revitalization were behind that battle and have been close cousins in Pigtown for decades. Successful small redevelopment projects at the fringes have stirred hopes of revitalization when Barre Circle, Roundhouse Square on Pratt Street, and Mount Clare Square  have gone on the market in the 1980s and 90s. The largest game changer came in shape of the Koppers site, an industrial
the pig as a weathervane (model)
brownfield that stood vacant after a fire had gutted the old foundry's warehouse in November of 1987. The site sits right next to the B&O museum and its redevelopment was a story of starts and stops, just as the story of the entire community.  In 1994 local developer Lisa Worthington first won the vote of the community for her development proposal (with my firm ArchPlan as the architect in collaboration with Peter Doo architects) and then pulled the plug on her development proposal. She was followed by a team with Otis Warren. But he, too withdrew when the site cleanup cost ruined his pro-forma after large concrete foundations were discovered. Finally, five years later, Camden Crossing, a 144 unit townhouse development really began to happen. Critics complained that the townhomes were out of scale, out of style and out of the price range of Pigtown.
Camden Crossing: Oversized townhomes

Each time Pigtown boosters thought  the neighborhood had turned the corner and each time others thought the community gentrified too much and would lose its quirky character and poorer residents. In spite of the new residents the commercial strip on Washington Boulevard long remained a pretty sorry affair with many vacant storefronts until the shops were managed by a Main Street organization. A coffee shop was a trail blazer, then Senator, now Mayor Catherine Pugh added a popular consignment store, and lately a whole wave of new stores opened up. Now two associations are at the old debate again. But the story of Pigtown is not one of white versus black.

What is usually lost in the debate is that Pigtown is one of only six communities in Baltimore where neither white nor black residents are the majority population. No ethnicity has a clear majority. The other five are: Brooklyn, Curtis Bay, Downtown/Seton Hill, Greater Charles Village/Barclay, Highlandtown and Patterson Park.

Another indicator for diversity is the "diversity index", defined by the Baltimore Neighborhoods Indicator Alliance (BNIA) at the University of Baltimore as:
the percent chance that two people picked at random within an area will be of a different race/ethnicity, whereby the number does not reflect which race/ethnicity is predominant within an area. The higher the value, the more racially and ethnically diverse an area 
Pigtown scores a proud 61.2 with only a few communities having a higher diversity ratio. Those include the Southeast (73.4), Patterson Park and Highlandtown each score the highest with 77, Charles Village/Barclay (67.8) Westport with 62 and Midway with 61.8, which is also the value for Little Italy. Not surprisingly, Sandtown Winchester has the lowest diversity factor with 7.3. (BNIA 2014 data).
Baltimore's ethnic composition

There is no law that says that diversity is necessary for economic recovery but the statistics strongly suggest that those communities that have a healthy diversity factor have a much higher chance to recover. Even the very wealthy communities of Roland Park, Guilford and Homeland don't have the extreme segregation characteristic of the poorest communities. (Their index is around 40). From the list of high diversity communities Patterson Park, Highlandtown, Charles Village/Barklay, Southeast and Little Italy are all stable or come-back communities. The newest neighborhood is downtown and its diversity ratio is encouraging as well: 68.8.
Poverty distribution in Baltimore (source: VCU report 2012)

The narrative of the "white L" and the "black butterfly" describing the shape of the map showing the ratio of black population is too simple. It is more accurate for the black butterfly wings (largely African-American communities on the east and west of downtown) than it is for the White L in the center. Attracting a diverse ethnicity is good for economic development, retail and services. Preserving the status quo or fear of newcomers isn't helpful if added opportunity is the goal. Pigtown is also proof that economic development doesn't have to mean displacement of blacks: The share of African Americans in the community grew from 49% in 2010 to 53% in 2015.


Klaus Philipsen, FAIA


Baltimore SUN 2005, Pigtown history and development
Baltimore SUN 1994, Koppers Site Redevelopment
Baltimore SUN 1999, Camden Crossing,