Tuesday, February 1, 2011

Case Study 2.0: Baltimore

Moving clear across the country to the east coast, my second case study is Baltimore. This is a city which hasn't enjoyed favorable sentiment for many years, a fact reinforced by popular tv shows such as The Wire. Neither is this sentiment helped by statistics, with a murder rate seven times the national average, despite lessening since the early 90's. But this focus on the negative belittles what was once the nation's second largest city, for there are still a lot of rarely reported positives aspects of the city, not least its many fantastic neighborhoods.

For historical photos of Baltimore, see the previous post

I owe a great debt to Baltimore for opening my eyes to European style architecture and urban design in the US. In watching a movie set in the city (can't remember what it was), there were scenes featuring many fine row houses or row homes (as they're known in the US, compared to "terrace" in the UK), which I had not previously seen anywhere in the US outside of Manhattan and had assumed to have been demolished long ago. But before me I was seeing not just a few streets of intact terraced housing, but entire neighborhoods. In fact, Baltimore has the most row houses of any city in the US. I was heartened by the movie's portrayal showing the homes as aspirational residences for up and coming young professionals, not just the moneyed elite or fragments of a long gone era. One plus for Baltimore's less than stellar reputation is affordability. A three storey row house in good condition in a good neighborhood can be bought for $300,000, or multiple times less than somewhere like Brooklyn or Georgetown, and a laughable amount for most Europeans. No wonder so many people commute to DC from Baltimore, with Penn Station in Baltimore being within easy walking distance from many homes. The city guarantees an attractive urban lifestyle to those who would otherwise be priced out. 

Baltimore is a city with a rich and varied history and like many large cities on the east coast, has suffered greatly in the years following WWII. Founded in 1729 as a port city for the tobacco trade, it later served as a railroad hub for goods being transported westward. Much as other cities in the US, Baltimore lost much of its population when the shipping industry lost its prominence and subsequent urban renewal brought in highways. From a post-WWII high of nearly a million people, just 640,000 live in the city today, and about 2.7 million in the metro area. It was not so much white flight to the suburbs that drained the city, but middle-class flight, as many well-to-do black people also moved out. Today, Baltimore has a few very nice neighborhoods, ringed by many not so nice, ringed by many suburbs. Nice neighborhoods often abut the sort of places you see in The Wire and admittedly crime is higher as a result. But as most who live in the city will tell you, crime isn't a huge issue if you avoid dark alleyways and use common sense, or so I've read.

The four neighborhoods I'll be looking at are:

2.4  Mount Vernon
2.5  Conclusion

Be sure to click on each to view the full case study.


Bolton Hill

Rowhouse Vertical Perspective
flickr : taberandrew
Filled with several blocks of elegant brick rowhomes, many consider Bolton Hill to be the most beautiful neighborhood in the city. It's undoubtedly the safe choice for those looking to live in a historical, quiet neighborhood within walking distance to Penn Station. 

This neighborhood thrives on the presence of John Hopkins University, one of the country's most recognized universities. Many students and professors live in the early 20th century housing. 

Federal Hill Rowhouses
flickr : easal
Really two neighborhoods, Federal Hill and Otterbein share a common past, as both were in danger of being lost forever to the construction of I-95. Luckily they survived and today offer many fine rowhomes after emerging from gentrification. Federal Hill in particular has experienced something of a rebirth.

Mount Vernon

the OTHER washington monument
flickr : absentmindedprof
Once home to the city's wealthiest residents, Mount Vernon still has an affluent reputation and hosts many of the city's cultural institutions. Closer to downtown than the other neighborhoods, it also hosts plenty of businesses and is generally livelier in the evening hours. 

I might have a fifth Baltimore case study showing singular images of a few other neighborhoods but not full blown case studies. As a further departure from my San Francisco posts, I don't find it necessary to label just about every single image with the street name. I don't think my readers really care about the specific street. The point of this blog is not, after all, a street-by-street tour guide, but rather to show examples of successful streetscapes. You can always check the file name of an image to get the street or explore the neighborhood on your own via Google or Bing.