Monday, February 21, 2011

Case Study 2.5: Conclusion

From now on I plan to do concluding posts for my case studies, not just to sum up the feature neighborhoods but also to showcase a few images of areas which have commendable streetscapes but perhaps not universally so. I hope my Baltimore case studies have shown a different side of the city from what one sees on television. I'm not going to deny the serious issue of crime in Baltimore (the statistics speak for themselves), but there's much more to the city than that. It's one of the most historical cities in the country with beautiful architecture throughout. For the most part, the neighborhoods I've shown are on the low side of crime, helped in part by active neighborhood associations which have encouraged residents to renovate their homes and streets and cultivate a sense of community. And yes, they are relatively affluent areas, full of young people who choose to live an urban lifestyle. 

Hopefully my case studies will prevent at least some people from choosing the suburbs. The more people stay in cities, the greater the tax base and hence the greater the services. As I started researching Baltimore, I came upon an article in the Baltimore Sun about the city's property tax rates, which are twice as high as the surrounding county. San Francisco was in a similar situation years ago and took the risk to lower taxes. Subsequently, the population of the city shot up drastically and they were getting more from taxes than ever before, despite the lower rate. Today, hardly anyone would recognize the crime ridden city San Francisco once was, and the city is able to offer the full gamut of amenities. Good public transport, competent government which listens to residents, etc. I'm confident Baltimore too can get out of its doldrums, if they are serious about it. 

Without further ado, some of the other nice streets in Baltimore.

Riverside (sometimes called Federal Hill South)

Fell's Point

Overall my favorite neighborhoods in the city are Bolton Hill and Federal Hill. I had expected to like Mount Vernon a great deal more, but unfortunately that part of town didn't meet my expectations. When all is said and done, however, Federal Hill has my vote for best neighborhood. Bolton Hill is undoubtedly a great example of inner city living, but its elegant architecture and well-maintained streets cannot make up for the lack of amenities. It's simply not as walkable as Federal Hill, which has a wide variety of shops, restaurants, and other businesses in the vicinity. Not to mention Federal Hill Park, the waterfront, and closeness to downtown. Sure it's got a few rough patches and looks a bit unkempt occasionally, but the good far outweighs the bad. It is, for example, one of the few inner-city neighborhoods that can be considered a good place for a family.

I'm looking forward to a renaissance of sorts in Baltimore. There are still many streets in the city with beautiful historic architecture just waiting to be revitalized. Just as Federal Hill was close to ruins in the 70's, homes on the verge of collapse, so too can these other streets be renovated, cleaned-up, and made habitable. It really doesn't take much. A bit of tree planting, widening sidewalks, cleaning up and repointing brickwork, and showing full support to local small businesses. Many cities have successfully brought areas back to life by offering homeowners or owners-to-be micro loans to kick start development. And that horrible grey formstone has to go.

A bit of a break from case studies now. Next up Boston, Philadelphia, or perhaps Toronto? We'll see.