The City Beautiful

rowhouse db

So, what does a better city look like? And why haven’t we gotten there yet? Some books to fuel the discussion.

Photo by: Doug Birch

Some American cities have never had it so good.

New York, written off in the late 1960s as a basket case, is thriving as an urban paradise for hedge fund managers and real estate moguls. Some of the city’s grittiest neighborhoods have been claimed by the artsy, the hip and the chic. Likewise, for various reasons, Boston, Washington and San Francisco have become the preferred addresses of the winners in America’s winner-take-all economy.

“The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited,” by Richard Florida, Basic Books, 2012, $28.99.
“The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” by Jane Jacobs, Random House, 1961, $16.00.
“Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City,” by Antero Pietila, Ivan R. Dee, 2010, $28.95.

- All of these books are available at THE IVY BOOKSHOP, 6080 Falls Road, Baltimore.

While much of America has struggled with downsizing and outsourcing and offshoring, these lucky zip codes zoomed ahead.

So what separates the haves from the have-nots among America’s great cities? And of urgent interest to Brew readers, what’s the best way for a metropolis like Baltimore to reclaim some its lost greatness?

Richard Florida, best-selling author and columnist for The Atlantic, has become famous as the man with the plan for urban development in second tier cities, a way to compete with the big boys for the fastest-growing new industries and the young, hip and affluent professionals they employ.

In “The Rise of the Creative Class,” published in 2002, as well as this year’s “The Rise of the Creative Class, Revisited,” Florida argues that the most vibrant cities are those that attract bohemians, gays and ethnic minorities.

Developer Bryan Liles at Civic Hack Day in Baltimore.

Web developer Bryan Liles at Civic Hack Day in Baltimore. (Photo by Fern Shen)

That’s because the best educated, most creative members of the workforce are thought to want to live in diverse, culturally rich places that provide them the freedom to be quirky. This “Creative Class,” includes IT professionals, college professors, engineers, artists, writers and actors, so-called “knowledge workers” of every stripe.

The idea has become enshrined in popular culture and Florida’s books are best sellers, inspiring cities to build bike paths, skateboarding parks and hiking trails. (Including Baltimore: in 2003, then-mayor Martin O’Malley brought Florida to town to talk about his ideas.) Cities are trying to figure out how to edgify their nightlife and cultural attractions, lure artists and their fellow travelers, encourage ethnic and cultural diversity and embrace “authenticity” – like boutique shops, farmers’ markets and locally-brewed beers.

So far, so feel-good. But Florida ventures a little further, challenging some of the canonical doctrines of redevelopment, including efforts to lure outside businesses using tax breaks and zoning concessions.

“It makes no sense to use precious public funds to lure companies from state to state or even across national borders: research shows those efforts typically cost more than they are worth,” Florida writes in “Rise…Revisited.”

Cities should find something that they do better than anyone else, not waste time and money striving to become the next Silicon Valley, Route 128, Research Triangle Park or Las Vegas. Cities, he argues, need to find a unique economic niche that they can export. And to do that, they need people with brains, energy and vision. Hence, the creative class.

The Baltimore Rock Opera Society describes its nordic-themed, metal-infused performances as "face-meltingly-fun."

The Baltimore Rock Opera Society says its Nordic-themed, metal-infused performances are “face-meltingly-fun.”

The soft spots in the argument are easy to find. Conservatives complain that Florida encouraged cities to squander money on amenities when they could be cutting taxes. Critics on the left point  out that the creative class is just another name for white yuppie gentrifiers. But the biggest challenge to Florida’s ideas may be the Great Recession, which reversed the dynamic at the heart of his theory. Instead of jobs chasing young talent, even hipsters are chasing jobs.

Ten years ago, Florida predicted that the workplace would become less rigid, hierarchical and intolerant. But for many wage earners, the opposite is happening. People are working harder under more inflexible conditions, as their employers strive to maintain profit margins in the face of globalization and the IT revolution.

While some of Florida’s ideas are intriguing, they too often come padded with platitudes and buzzwords, so many that reading one of his books can feel like sitting through a six-hour infomercial.

The Pope of Trash and the Governor of Maryland (aka director John Waters and Martin O'Malley) at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Station North Arts District. (Photo by Jay Baker for MDGovpics, Flickr)

The Pope of Trash and the Governor of Maryland (aka director John Waters and Martin O’Malley) at the 10th anniversary celebration of the Station North Arts District. (Photo credit MDGovpics)

Cut to the chase and look at the last chapter of “Creative Class…Revisited.” Everyone, we learn, is a member of the creative class – the way that all children are above average. He challenges readers to recognize they are “the leaders of twenty-first century society” – apparently there are no followers — and proposes a “Creative Compact” committing society to “invest in developing the full human potential and creative capabilities of every single human being.”

This isn’t thinking, its sloganeering.

Still, there is a lesson here somewhere for Baltimore. And maybe it’s this. When it comes to the eccentric and the outrageous, the city has been a market leader for at least two centuries. From Edgar Allan Poe to Henry Louis Mencken to John Waters, Baltimore has produced some of America’s most original artists and thinkers. Now all we need to do is figure out how to turn the city’s bohemian street cred and eccentricity into a post-industrial economy. And there’s no doubt that will take a lot of creative thinking.

“The Death and Life of Great American Cities,” by Jane Jacobs

Reading Jane Jacobs’ classic 1961 critique of 20th century American urban planning is bracing, intoxicating even, 51 years after it was first published. After her death in 2006, her New York Times obituary says she “changed the way people view cities,” and that is certainly so. For Jacobs saw that the successful city, like a coral reef, provides the habitat for life in all its bewildering diversity, complexity and energy. It requires neighborhoods filled with a mix of homes, shops and offices, of interests and incomes, religions and backgrounds, of old buildings and new.

Many mid-century American planners and architects, who were busy building steel and glass towers surrounded by lawns, despised the city’s jumble, juxtapositions and diversity. Jacobs argued that this was what distinguished the exciting big city from the boring suburbs, where most of the country’s growth was concentrated.

Howard Street shoppers, 1966. (Maryland State Archives)

Shoppers at Howard and Lexington streets, 1966. (Maryland State Archives)

Her views may seem like common sense today, because they have become the conventional wisdom. But at the time, when cities were busy building high-rise low-income housing projects and bulldozing downtowns to accommodate heroic-scale projects like Baltimore’s Charles Center, it was revolutionary stuff and helped inspire the revolt that canceled plans for a freeway through Fells Point.

In a way, it remains revolutionary. Cities, like other governments, are run by politicians who are too often beholden to big money. And big money likes big projects.

A scene from this year's Baltimore Book Festival. (Photo by Fern Shen)

A scene from this year’s Baltimore Book Festival. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Charles Center, approved in 1958, before Jacob’s book appeared, was a classic urban renewal disappointment. It razed a huge swath of downtown and replaced it with sterile towers facing sterile plazas. Not only did it not become a magnet for growth, the areas around it promptly declined.

The solution? City fathers – and most were men – decided to raze the old waterfront and build Harbor Place as a tourist destination. Harbor Place was successful, for a while. But Jacobs warns that places built mainly for tourists eventually lose their appeal. Harbor East, another large-scale property redevelopment scheme with a more sophisticated mix of retail and residential, has also been weakening the Inner Harbor.

The latest attraction meant to create excitement at Baltimore's Inner Harbor, a Ripley's Believe it or Not. (Photo by Fern Shen)

The latest attraction meant to create excitement at Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, a Ripley’s Believe it or Not. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“The economic rationale of current city rebuilding is a hoax,” Jacobs wrote. “…And the increased tax returns from such sites, accruing to the cities as a result of this ‘investment,’ are a mirage, a pitiful gesture against the ever increasing sums of public money needed to combat disintegration and instability that flow from a cruelly shaken-up city.”

Most of the lasting growth in the city has come in the micro-scale rebuilding of older areas spared wholesale demolition and redevelopment. Yesterday’s slums, in some cases, at least, have become today’s historic districts.
While she was writing the book, Jacobs and her family lived in a three-story row home at 555 Hudson Street in New York’s West Village, then on the fringe of a declining area. Click on Google maps and take a look at one of the most famous streets in American architecture – the 500-block of Hudson Street in Manhattan the.

Memorial left at Jane Jacobs' house, 555 Hudson Street, in New York.

Memorial left at Jane Jacobs’ house, 555 Hudson Street, in New York. (Credit:

Stand, virtually, in front of Jacobs’ three-story red brick townhouse at 555 and note the mix of buildings, the street life, and in particular the generous width of the sidewalk – Jacobs recommended building generous, 35-foot-wide ones, the better to accommodate pedestrians, gossiping neighbors and children at play.

This was the stage for Jacob’s famous ballet of school kids, shoppers, merchants, commuters and once, at least, a guy in a kilt with a bagpipe, who played out in front of her home every day. The place should be a national shrine.


“Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City,” by Antero Pietila,

Antero Pietila, a shrewd and tireless journalist who irritated Baltimore mayors and Soviet leaders during his long career as a reporter for The Sun, reminds us in his carefully-reported 2010 book, “Not in My Neighborhood,” that America’s cities are not just victims of bad design and ill-advised real estate development schemes. They have been warped by America’s largely-ignored history of racial bigotry and anti-semitism.

Greenmount Avenue which, as you go north, becomes York Road, one of Baltimore's starkest racial dividing lines. (Photo by Doug Birch)

Westward view off Greenmount Avenue which, as you go north, becomes York Road, one of Baltimore’s starkest racial dividing lines. (Photo by Doug Birch)

Pietila’s book describes how restrictive covenants, redlining, blockbusting and predatory lending were used between the 1880s and World War II to keep blacks and Jews out of many communities. This crusade was aided and abetted by the city’s most powerful politicians as well as its most important newspaper, The Sun. Before World War I, Pietila describes how The Sun waged a nasty and at times hysterical campaign in favor of segregation, at one point running a headline warning “Negroes Encroaching” in an article about black families moving into the white side of Pennsylvania Avenue. Other cities had segregated neighborhoods, Pietila notes, but in 1910 Baltimore became the first to use government legislation to achieve systematic, citywide racial separation.

After Baltimore’s segregation law was invalidated in 1917, segregation became part of the standard real estate contract. (Maryland ACLU)

After Baltimore’s segregation law was invalidated in 1917, segregation became part of the standard real estate contract.

At the time the New York Times said the Baltimore law “may be said to mark a new era in social legislation.” That turned out to be a gross understatement. Cities across the country followed suit. Baltimore, home to the country’s largest population of free blacks before the Civil War, became a leader in ostracizing and marginalizing its African Americans.

For 34 years, Baltimore’s trend-setting segregation laws held. Then during the Christmas holidays of 1944, Pietila writes, a black resident somehow moved from east of Fulton Avenue to the west side, the racial dividing line for west Baltimore’s black district. This single event –  an American citizen moving from one part of a city to another — marked the beginning of the end of the city’s racist housing practices. But it also led to three decades of social upheaval, block busting and white flight. “Neighborhoods would be devastated and the entire metropolitan area redefined,” Pietila writes.

Jacobs discusses race, briefly, but in parts of “Death and Life” appears to take racially segregated neighborhoods for granted. For the most part, she focuses on improving life for urban middle class whites rather than blacks. Florida sees racial diversity as an important factor in attracting creative young people, and points out that Americans are increasingly of mixed racial background. He sometimes seems to take America’s evolution toward a multi-racial society for granted.

By the 1940s, the rise of Hitler’s Germany had helped make theories of racial superiority repugnant to most Americans. Segregation’s grip in America was weakening. Pietila quotes the Swedish social scientist Gunnar Myrdal who, in 1944, wrote: “Not since Reconstruction has there been more reason to anticipate fundamental changes in American race relations, changes which will involve a development toward the American ideals.”

But it’s probably too early to claim that the U.S. has entered a “post-racial” era in urban geography, even after the election of Barack Obama. No one talks much about segregation anymore, but it has never gone away.

Baltimore Artscape crowd 2011. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Baltimore Artscape crowd 2011. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Pietila points out that in 2008, the year of Obama’s election, more than half of blacks lived in areas that were more than 50 percent African American, while more than two-thirds of whites lived in places where blacks made up less than five percent of the population.

There is no doubt the American city is becoming more diverse, both through immigration and intermarriage. But can we rely on demographics alone to heal the country’s centuries-old racial divisions? In the struggle for equality, there are still battles to be fought even if the old dividing lines have been erased from the maps.

These books, and many more on related topics, are available at
6080 Falls Road
Baltimore, MD.


Meanwhile, here are some of the events The Ivy is hosting in October.

Tuesday, Oct. 9, 6 p.m.: An evening with Dr. Kevin Manning, president of Stevenson University. Manning kicks off the 2012-2013 season of Stevenson’s Baltimore Speaker Series. This year’s speakers will include President Bill Clinton, Jeannette Walls, Erskine Bowles and Vicente Fox.

Tuesday, Oct 16, 6:30 p.m.: Robert R. Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County will discuss his new book “Curious Behavior,” a guide to the origins to the baffling quirks of Homo sapiens, including hiccups, coughs, yawns, sneezes and other undignified non-verbal outbursts.

Be sure to check our full comment policy before leaving a comment.

  • GMan

    Not that I’m spitting anything new here, but Baltimore, Detroit, Cleveland, New Orleans and other tough-luck 21st Century cities were built on 150 years of industrial economics. And that’s threw all facets. Factory jobs, government education that got you to about your 16th year and then spit ya out to work the port, a one-party machine politik that supported those workers, etc. These entities held power for a long, long time, so when the economies shifted, mid-sized industrial towns were left in the dust in favor of cities that thrived on information and trade economies. San Fran pioneered Silicon Valley, D.C. with the Federal Government, New York and Chicago for their culture and trade economies, etc. They didn’t become these cities, they were just the cities with the right mix at the right time. 

    One of Baltimore’s (many) problems is that, for good or ill depending on who you are, there is no dictatorial hand pushing the agenda in one direction or the other. We’re a hodgepodge of power; a city offering one of the stronger political voices for the working poor and working middle-class while simultaneously placating the gentrifiers and the developers courting them. I doubt Baltimore’s political and population breakdown will allow that dynamic to change swiftly. D.C., San Fran and New York were readying for the new economy and its gentrifiers, and thus marginalized minority communities. The working poor and working middle-class has strength here though. The last mayoral election spoke to that, with the “new economy’s” candidate falling to the third position. I’m expecting this particular battle to wage another 50 years. 

  • Chris Merriam

    Great piece and insightful comment by Gman. Pietila’s and Jacobs’ books are two of my favorites; Florida has some decent ideas, but he’s hard not to get tired of quickly.

    The poor vs. middle-class dynamic here is interesting. I find that the poor and those who (claim to) represent them sometimes oppose things that in my opinion everyone should want–bike lanes, safer streets, better transit, more commercial development–because they’re seen as being “for white people” or middle-class people. The fear of gentrification here is very strong, and frankly I think it’s overblown.

  • Gerald Neily

    Doug Birch gives us a fascinating examination of three urban observers – Jacobs on vitalization, Florida on marketing and Pietila on social engineering. What a vivid contrast between Richard Florida’s “infomercial sloganeering” and Jane Jacobs’ timeless principles, many of which still apply as much to ALL income strata today as they did fifty years ago. But in Baltimore, Jacobs is still roundly ignored as Baltimore tries to live up to the “creative class” hype in its thin waterfront veneer. Jacobs’ prescriptions also avoid the social engineering schemes of both the horrible past, documented by Pietila, and the present, such as EBDI and “inclusive zoning”. GMan, how you can say “there is no dictatorial hand” in Bmore? The Brew finds it almost everywhere.

  • Antero Pietila

    I thank my buddy, Doug Birch, for this article and the nice things he said about my book.
    “Molodyets!” as they say in our beloved Moscow. (Translations vary: What a good chap, the British would say). 

      Two comments.

         Alan Ehrenhalt develops some of Richard Florida’s themes further in his new, The Great Inversion: and the Future of the American City, which posits that flight to the suburbs has ended in New York, Chicago, Washington, D.C. and some other cities (but not including Baltimore). Instead, growing numbers of well-to-do are moving back to those cities, hoping to enjoy their urban amenities and cut the increasingly horrendous commuting times. This, he says, is reintroducing the European urban pattern where the well-off tend to live in the cities and immigrants and the economically struggling in the suburban high-rise ghettoes. Think Paris and the North and West Africans.

      My real point concerns Jane Jacobs and her take on Baltimore. 

      The deification of Jane Jacobs has gone to such extremes that we in Baltimore conveniently forget that she actually praised the Charles Center, which went against many of the design features that she championed and became famous for. “Center Plan Again Praised,” The Sun headlined a story that reprinted June 10, 1958, an article she had originally written for the Architectural Forum. “The design means the Center will be less a ‘projecdt’ than an integral, continuous part of downtown,” she wrote. That, of course, bull. The Hamburger store built a hideos overhang store on Fayette that walled in the Center. So did overhead walkways that have since been demolished.

      Jane Jacobs was a great lady. But at the time she was living in Bolton Hill. Must have been something in the Baltimore water.  Of Jane Jacobs it may be said what someone said of Doris Day when she was doing her good-girl teases of Hollywood: “I knew her before she became a virgin.”

    • Gerald Neily

      Jane Jacobs lived in Bolton Hill in 1958? Wow, I had no idea! Bolton Hill is no Greenwich Village, so when she moved up there and wrote her book within the next year, she must have seen the urban world through entirely new eyes. It doesn’t sound to me like a good girl tease. D+L of GAC must have been a sudden epiphany, not a long studied process. Meanwhile, Bolton Hill developed a siege mentality about that time with the JFX/Mount Royal destruction and eventually led to the North Avenue, Linden Avenue and State Center destructions, from which we still have not recovered. (According to the recent State Center development hype, what Jacobs would call “cataclysmic money”, that was happening in the ’50s too but actually it was still a whole decade away.) So Charles Center was just part of the pattern.

      • baltimorebrew

        Ok it’s about time for Baltimore’s Robert Kanigel, who is writing a biography of Jane Jacobs, to weigh in! fs

      • Antero Pietila

        As far as I know, she stayed with friends in Bolton Hill for three-four months. Hope Robert Kanigel will pitch in.


  • Archphips

     Antero is blaming Jane Jacob’s for apparently saying something nice about Charles Center in 1958. That may be surprising, especially if we look through today’s lens where Charles Center looks to be anti urban because it doesn’t treat Charles Street well. But at the time, after a time of stagnancy and o investment in the city with rampant suburbanization everywhere else, Charles Center was a truly progressive attempt of economic development, and the much maligned plazas behind the buildings connected by second story walkways all the way down to the Inner Harbor were thought of as extremely pedestrian friendly amenities. At the times the streets were still clogged with streetcar, cars and people and it was hard to predict that soon Baltimore would be so de-populated that we would not be able to support busy sidewalks even on Charles Street. Separation of peds and cars in a city was probably a bad idea, but that is 20/20 hindsight. With retail, federal offices, theatre and corporate headquarters and, alas, even preservation, Charles Center was an urban approach similar to what many European cities did at the time. Charles Center put Baltimore on the map before the Inner Harbor and in that it may have staved off even more drastic decline. Who knows. Of course, today we know that a mere downtown focus was wrong also. Jane Jacobs was probably aware of how much the “fathers” of Charles Center were focused on quality and what they thought of as urbanity. Marty Millspaugh then heading up the Charles Center Development Corporation and a man of great integrity lives to tell us about it. Of course, I was still a boy then and witnessed urban renewal in German cities from across the handlebar of my bicycle, much of it much worse than Charles Center.

  • Antero Pietila

    This may be a bit off-topic, but I have to vent. Yesterday we lightrailed to Lexington Market, wanting to be tourists for a day.

        It was shocking. The whole dysfunctional population, including lots of nodding addicts, had descended on that once-”world famous” market where an ear-shattering rap band was performing inside. We got our food and decided to walk to Center Plaza, Baltimore’s attempt to imitate Manhattan’s Bryant Park. Alas, all chairs were there piled onto tables and locked, making eating there impossible. All this made me think of the incredible challenge that is ahead in efforts to revitalize the area. 
         Not having been on virtually all-boarded-up Lexington for a while, it was interesting to see the staging in preparation for redevelopment. The whole cluster of buildings around the New Theater is now demolished and vacant; ditto for the old Trailways terminal. The future home of Everyman Theater on Fayette looks good, with the facade having been cleaned. Those are the least of the challenges.

        The major challenge involves people. Today’s LexMkt, such as it is, relies primarily on the food-stamp clientele. When Bernie Berkowitz headed the authority, he and his people  talked about the trickiness of trying to respond to the changing clientele — when, it was hoped, more apartment dwellers started patronizing the market. At the time, several stall spaces were intentionally kept vacant because the authority wanted to attract a bagel shop, a premium coffee vendor, etc. However, on the basis of what I saw yesterday,  LexMkt may rely even more on the food-stamp clientele than before.

         Now on to Jane Jacobs. I am not blaming her, only pointing out her championing Charles Center. The points Archphips makes — he can run but cannot hide under pen names! — are all valid. In fact, coming from Finland in the 1970s, I thought Charles Center was quite European in its concepts. It also worked much better than today, for reasons detailed below.

        What we see today is not necessarily what used to be. Aside from the hideous Hamburger overhang across Fayette, there were attempts to bring in commercial vibrancy and street life. The retail wing on Baltimore street adoining the Mechanic had some real magnets, including the main American Express office in Baltimore. It had popular eateries, etc., although this fact is difficult to envision because all those spaces are empty today. Also, Hopkins and Center plaza were in far better use. Ethnic festivals were held there. I also remember hearing both Count Basie and Duke Ellington there in free concerts that attracted good crowds. Later, in the early 1990s, Hopkins Plaza was the scene of a weekly African-American smooth-jazz event which drew thousands who dressed up for the occasion.     What happened? I’m not sure. But I suspect that Peter Angelos’s fingerprints may be evident here in killing some of that acticity. Because at one point, after he bought the Marconi name, he talked about reopening that famous restaurant at the street level overlooking Center Plaza.  He was much interested in micromanaging the surroundings.  We should summon the witnesses — from Jay Brodie to Laurie Schwartz to talk about this.   Of course, that was at the time when the Marconi name still was remembered and had some commercial value. Today hardly anyone remembers.

    • Gerald Neily

      Thank you, Antero. Not off-topic at all. I suspect that the big difference between the 1958 Baltimore Jane Jacobs and the 1959 New York version was that she gained a good dose of healthy cynicism. “Life and Death” bristles with lessons that good intentions and “progressiveness” that Charles Center embodies are not enough and even harmful. Most Baltimoreans still have not learned.

  • Robert Kanigel

    I’m maybe half way through the research for my biography of Jane Jacobs and I can that I hadn’t heard of Jacobs living in Bolton Hill in 1958, much less for 3-4 months.  Tell me more!  Her article in Architectural Forum on Baltimore, “New Heart for Baltimore,” appeared in the June 1958 issue, so it’s certainly likely that she visited Baltimore earlier in the year.  But it’s inconceivable that her boss, Doug Haskell, would have let her disappear for that long; and she didn’t begin her leave of absence from the magazine, to write Death and Life, until the Fall. 

    Her piece on Charles Center in Forum was generally complimentary, but made some sense in light of her ideas:  “The site is in the very heart of downtown, not on its fringes, and it is to be re-used for precisely the things that belong in the heart of downtown — offices, entertainment facilities, a hotel, stores, a transportation terminal…” 

    But remember, too, that Jacobs herself realized in time that some of the projects and architectural approaches that she had championed or at least reported on uncritically in the pages of Architectural Forum, hadn’t worked the way they were supposed to work.  Indeed, this realization — that old, long accepted ways had malignant effects on cities — was, I think, one of the root sources of the book’s energy; she herself felt deceived by the canonical urban planning ideas that had long been making the rounds. 

    What’s so appealing about Jacobs is that she saw as much, and said it.

  • James Hunt

    Doug Birch wrote “… This was the stage for Jacob’s famous ballet of school kids, shoppers, merchants, commuters and once, at least, a guy in a kilt with a bagpipe, who played out in front of her home every day. The place should be a national shrine. ..”


    I dunno. If someone played a bagpipe in front of my house everyday, I’d kick his arse.

    On the other hand, Lexington Market seems fine to me as it is. The addicts are there ’cause the treatment centers are there, and the treatment centers are there ’cause UMMC is there and a huge number of bus lines, plus light rail and subway converge there. Not too many addicts with cars. The NOI guy won’t sell me a pie ’cause I’m lily white, but there’s still lots of good food in the Market.

    Anyway, the neighborhood generally has a lot of recommend it. The Mass in Latin at St. Alphonsus is otherwordly, as the liturgy should be. G. Krug and Sons are still banging away at the forge further up Saratoga Street, and Poe is still in repose at Fayette and Greene.

    In time, the “Bromo District” moniker will replace the “Westside” one; UMMC will figure out how to reach addicts where they are instead of having the addicts flood the ‘hood; and the yuppies and buppies will rule the streets.

    And that’s all I’ve got to say about that.

    • Gerald Neily

      Lexington Market isn’t “fine”. It’s in survival mode, just like most of its clientele. The surrounding area is also trying to just get by despite decades of abuse from the city (and MTA) but it’s losing the battle.

      • James Hunt

        Gerry –

        Don’t blame just the city or the MTA … the Market Center merchants association has been involved every step of the way in every redevelopment scheme.

        The market may be in “survival mode” but that’s because the market is going to reflect it’s “market” … and the natural market for LM right now is people who are, themselves, probably in “survival mode” or close to it. Food is relatively inexpensive, there’s seating and bathrooms available, and entertainment most days.

        Aside from being a hub for addicts getting treatment in the nearby, tt seems to function the “third place” ( for a decent chunk of black West Baltimore, especially since the old West Baltimore Street shopping district became the BioPark.

        At any rate, the market has been through numerous demographic iterations (and a fire), and within our lifetimes we’ll probably be lamenting its transformation into a yuppie haven.

  • Unellu

    So James Hunt is bullish on Lexington Market and Gerald Neilly is bearish.  Hunt’s comment portends an eventual takeover of the market by the predictably dull, yuppie conformist crowd.  Better the pimps, prostitutes and addicts than the pretentious, highbrow yuppies for Hunt.  For A Pietila, nostalgic for those times when this area had great cultural events and eateries, and for Gerald Neilly, the deterioration of the market and its environs, now a magnet for the impecunious and the downtrodden of Baltimore, spells gloom and doom.  In my opinion there has to be a place where the poor can congregate and have fun.  Why is the gentry all that desirable and do they not also suffer from the fallibility and foibles of the poor?  AIDS, MRSA, snot in the nose, shots in the arms with their favorite narcotics, fraudulent activities galore, dissensions, hostilities, murder plots, jealousies and repugnant behavior–you get the drift–the gentry in the gentrification process are at their sins everyday, almost with the same vigor as the openly revolting poor.  We are a rundown society across the classes.  And the jazz that Pietila speaks of was the invention of bohemian Blacks, many of them addicts and drunks, from the deep South.  The rich and middle class trip over their vices with class and the poor blare their chicanery on loudspeakers.  Urban renewal is a hoax that glorifies the artifice of the so called “classy folks”.  It displaces and dispossesses the have not and woos the haves.  American urban renewal, I am thinking, will eventually follow the Brazilian model–yuppies and richies in walled urban centers and the poor in peripheral ghettos, left to die in the own vermin.  Now that’s the kind of urban renewal we can all do without.      

    • Gerald Neily

      Here’s the bottom line, Unellu. Baltimore needs Yuppie dollars to function. That’s the difference between having a Safeway that’s open in Canton and boarded up in the Mount Clare “food desert”. The social engineers try to mix a few poor folks with the Yuppies through low income housing quotas in very specific developments such as EBDI. The Jane Jacobs method is to eliminate these overt class distinctions through fine-grained organic development instead of what she called “cataclysmic money”. Sure, areas will spring up anyway on their own; her beloved Greenwich Village is now too expensive for the poor and even middle class. But at least the income strata are not overtly labeled and confined to specific “walled” areas (as you say). In Baltimore, these specific areas are blatant. There are the obvious Yuppie areas such as the waterfront and there is everywhere else, all of which suffer. In the Superblock, the social engineers tried to invoke “Inclusionary Zoning” to keep a few poor folks in, but as the rest of the city goes down, this will end up merely academic. This needs to stop.

    • James Hunt

      Unellu wrote: “… So James Hunt is bullish on Lexington Market and Gerald Neilly is bearish. Hunt’s comment portends an eventual takeover of the market by the predictably dull, yuppie conformist crowd. Better the pimps, prostitutes and addicts than the pretentious, highbrow yuppies for Hunt. …”


      What the …?  Why are you dismissing the many, many decent people who frequent the market as “pimps, prostitutes, and addicts”?

  • Unellu

    James Hunt–I am not dismissing them–I think they too deserve their place in the sun and thanks for your tongue in cheek (where you firmly keep your tongue pressed most times, it seems to me).

  • Mark Adams

    Lexington Market diluted the quality of its merchants and the authenticity of its atmosphere when the market was expanded during the Schaefer years.

    Antero’s observations about the nodding addicts at the Market is on point. They travel to the market from the University of Md’s drug programs. They sell their meds. I have been told that the re-sale market for suboxone at Lexington Market is much easier for addicts to navigate than the legitimate programs. It’s a sad thing to see. It’s hard to fault the addicts. When they need something for heroin withdrawal, they need it.

    Drug treatment creates a public policy dilemma. Addicts need access to meds, but wholesale outpatient programs create a definite blighting effect on surrounding neighborhoods. U. of Md has its cluster, there’s one on North Avenue where Gay Street turns into Belair Road, and another on Maryland Ave in South Charles Village.

    I don’t think Jane Jacobs contemplated large groupings of addicts as components of an organically developing city. It’s a different kind of pedestrian life than she envisioned.  I am sympathetic to addicts’ needs, but I wouldn’t want to have to live near one of their programs.

    • James Hunt

      Mark Adams wrote; “Lexington Market diluted the quality of its merchants and the authenticity of its atmosphere when the market was expanded during the Schaefer years. …”


      As they say on Monday Night Footbal: “C’mon, man!” How does adding bathrooms and places to sit and a big honkin’ stained glass cow head  ”dilute authenticity”? The cow is pure Baltimore weirdness, Schaefer style.

      At any rate, you’re right that no one wants to live near where addicts are getting treated. Or “treated,” in some cases.

      Anyway, the grumbling about the market neighborhood goes back a ways. It was all I could do to persuade my rugby teammates to take a British team we were hosting to the market in 1988. Once there, of course, Brits and Yanks had a great time and a great feed. Towson U’s rugby alumni have a reunion there every December.

  • Unellu

    By the way James Hunt I didn’t say that decent people are not going to Lexington Market, or that the addicts or the pimps who go there may not themselves be decent.  I merely said that you–Hunt–are not turned off by the hoi polloi–which you are not by your comment and you should not be–and when you look down at Antero Pietila’s comment just below yours you will see he bemoans the degradation of the market and its frequenters and he does not see in its current state anything to redeem it.  Different strokes for different folks and different perspectives.  I actually don’t see anything earth shatteringly horrible about pimps, prostitutes and addicts.  I only said it seemed to me that you did not favor the yuppies over the salty ones who frequent the market now.  I also accept that among the people who go to the market there are many decent folks from West Baltimore and if you read my comments more carefully, you will notice I don’t exactly think that the clean cut middle class or the high brow rich are one up in the decency department when compared to the poor.  You took one sentence out of context  and went off with “what the….”.  I hope you comment was tongue in cheek and not a quick retort to a misread.  I notice you went straight for the sentence with your name in it.  Should I say predictable but disappointing?  Read my whole post please.       

  • Gerald Neily

    Unellu, “fine grained organic development” is simply my 2012 shorthand for Jane Jacobs’ 1959 prescription, which is the antithesis of superblocks, mega-projects, walled communities, public housing compounds, etc. Jacobs does not address race identity or intermarriage much and neither do I. When I say “yuppie dollars”, please put the emphasis on the dollars. I used a basic non-hoity-toity Safeway as my example. Perhaps Mark Adams said it better.

    Maryland is the most affluent and liberal state in the world’s most affluent country, which should put Baltimore’s concomitant economic failure in focus. There are also plenty of affluent blacks (dare I say yuppies or buppies?) who would like to be a part of Baltimore’s economy too but have moved out as well. Where to put all these people? Baltimore was built for 300,000 more people than it holds now, and that doesn’t even include the abandoned industrial and office sites that have been turned residential. The poorest neighborhoods have the most abandoned houses. Many more of the poor would like to move out if they could. There’s plenty of room for everyone.

  • Unellu

    Baltimore’s economic failure is not inconceivable in the world’s richest nation and in one of the country’s richer states.  The recession has been an equal opportunity destroyer.  I am not saying there is no space for everyone in Baltimore but revival of blighted areas by an influx of yuppies may not result in successful urban development. 

    My son lives in San Fran and at one time he lived in a better section of the Mission District.  During the year he stayed in that area he saw the number of homeless grow and the poverty and hunger in the middle of the tech splendor, disturbed and shocked him.  The techies were mostly narcissistic and preoccupied with their own startling start ups and venture capital adventures.  They didn’t seem concerned that stark contrasts to their own successes lay within walking or touching distance. 

    I have seen this in India–where the middle class jump over the dead bodies of beggars to get to their respective destinations, impervious.

    And guess what?  My daughter lives in Boston–she says that city, despite the great Harvard University and so called diversity, hides in its bosom, an unshakable Boston Brahmin mentality.  Boston is still segregated and the yuppies have not changed that. 

    Yuppies are the ivory tower types.  They want to be left alone to tweak, and maximize their rabid ambitions and their REM sleep is crowded with dreams of big tech discoveries that will take the country by storm and fill their storm drains with requests for buy outs from even bigger techies.  (Does not happen often.) There is nothing wrong with that per se but knowing a few of these techies personally, I can say their one track mind does not permit them to vest any energy in their communities or in others. 

    So NY has these techies.  Whoopty doo!  And you know what happened in NY?  The techies priced the teachers, the policemen and the firemen out of the housing market.  I believe the city of NY– I may be wrong–constructed a subsidized housing complex just for its teachers, taking affordability into consideration. 

    NY, SF and Boston, where the creative class supposedly hustles and bustles, may make those cities trendy, but those cities are hiding their lopsided development under the gloss and glitz of yuppism–it’s in the perception, not in the reality, that yuppism has become a good thing.

    There is also another unhappy secret about the yuppies,  When they’re finished with their bar hopping, philandering and endless bragging they marry, become dull and move next to mama in the suburbs to breed.  They are not reliable dollar sources for cities.  They don’t make the poverty go away.  They can’t reduce the homelessness, the anarchy, the desperation or the crimes.  Their gentrification is a mirage.  In this country, we have to stop whitewashing the abject poverty in our cities with yuppism.             

    • James Hunt

      Unellu wrote: “…  [Yuppies] don’t make the poverty go away.  They can’t reduce the
      homelessness, the anarchy, the desperation or the crimes.  Their
      gentrification is a mirage.  In this country, we have to stop
      whitewashing the abject poverty in our cities with yuppism.


      Gentrification may be a mirage, but the mirage pays a fair amount in non-mirage property taxes and all the myriad other taxes the city levies.

      Nothing will make poverty go away. The 1st century itinerant Jewish carpenter/rabbi said we’d always have the poor with us, and He was right. I’d be happy to introduce you to a lot of yuppies doing yeoman’s work trying to alleviate the misery the poor face.

  • Antero Pietila

    I invite all doubters to tour LexMkt. It is the worst I have ever seen — and I have been in this burg since 1969.

     I used to live six blocks from The Corner at Manroe and Fayette. Believe you me,LexMkt isn’t a place I would recommend today to any tourist. Not necessarily because anything bad would happen but because outsiders would find the atmosphere sordid and threatening. On Saturday, it was not a place where I wanted to linger.

    • James Hunt

      Antero Pietila wrote: I invite all doubters to tour LexMkt. It is the worst I have ever seen — and I have been in this burg since 1969.


      I dunno. I’m there a lot so maybe I just don’t notice it as much. Frog in water being raised slowly to a boil and all that.

      Two anecdotes that support your point (1) a few years ago I picked up a couple of visitors from Santa Fe sitting patiently at the bus stop by Ft. McHenry. This was before the circulator was running and I knew they’d be there forever waiting for the MTA, so I offered them a ride into downtown. They mentioned an interest in going to Lex Market and I (of course) heartily recommended it. I dropped them off and headed over to meet a friend for lunch at Sascha’s on Charles Street. Walking back to the Franklin Street garage, I saw the same couple sitting in the Pope John Paul II Prayer Garden at Charles and Franklin, eating their lunches from Lexington Market. “There’s a lot of energy there!” they told me, leaving unsaid that they weren’t comfortable eating there but adding that they wandered through downtown until they found a place to sit. (2) More than a decade ago at the height of the Battle to Save the West Side, I led a marathon walking tour of the West Side from Mt. Vernon to Camden Yards. Had a spirited group of 30 or so in tow. It was interesting that in Mt. Vernon and around the UM Medical campus, the group would be stretched out over a block or so as we walked. Near Lexington Market, they huddled together tightly. Make of it what you will.

      Sometimes places, like people, have to hit bottom before there’s a will to make things better.

  • Doug

    My review gave the wrong publication date for Jane Jacobs’ “The Death and Life of Great American Cities.” It was 1961, not 1959. It’s fixed in the current incarnation. You bet I regret the error.

  • Unellu

     James Hunt,
    We may always have the poor with us but now it is a case of, “We will always have more, more and ever more poor with us!”  I don’t believe the itinerant Jewish Rabbi who loved the poor and made the rich in his parable the ones who cannot pass through the eye of a needle (?) would approve of the catapulting numbers of poor.  The yuppies I know are too preoccupied with their quota of Starbucks drinks and pastries and their frothy dreams about mega techie treasure chests to worry about community involvement.  I am glad you are rubbing shoulders with the ones who are doing yeoman work for the poor.  Look, we have to get more people working, we have to get manufacturing back to the US, we have to put an end to corporations firing people unceremoniously without any benefits after years of employment, like Germany and the Netherlands we have to retrain our blue collar workers–and find them jobs.  We have to bring respectability back to all professions and we have stop pretending the techi class all by itself can save us.  We have seen the enemy and that enemy is us.  Every profession is being enervated.  So the techies create codes, they create quantum computers, they can store up millions of bits and bytes or may be even capture oceans of info within subatomic particles–but someone has to repair and maintain these marvelous inventions–someone has to manufacture them–someone has to keep the robots moving when they get arthritis and someone has to build, repair and maintain our shelters–make the machines that keep us going–we can’t let the Chinese be our labor force–we need our own labor force.  The knowledge economy too will crumble without a well trained labor force.  The working class has to regain its primacy.  Baltimore used to be a working class city.  It has been bludgeoned to death and now it thinks it can resurrect itself through bioparks and reams of computer codes written by the techies for companies that can boast they sell smart phones with three million applications.  Surely Hunt you don’t subscribe to that insanity.  By the way when you talk about the yuppies who work with the poor, you are not talking about M&T bank employees I hope–they like the Pharisees have been praying loudly and boasting in TV ads about their community involvement.  Ah the rich!  They will salve their conscience and subdue the poor with their generosity.  Don’t forget even poverty obliteration is big business in this country.  I say don’t give charity to the poor.  Bring back the jobs that will make them rise like you O fat cats!        

  • Westside resident

    Is “gentrification” bad? Attracting people with some coin in their pocket and perhaps some novel ideas to start up businesses in the city wouldn’t be per se a horrible thing. Rising property values mean increased property tax revenue for the city to provide services for all citizens. I believe if gentrification is countered with some thoughtful policies on the location of affordable housing we can have a win-win.

  • Groffb

    Is anyone trying to clean up LexMkt? I go to school at U of M and park in the garage when I don’t ride the Light Rail. I would gladly volunteer a few hours every now and then to help if someone organized it. 

    • Gerald Neily

      Groffb: Yes, someone is “trying to clean up LexMkt”. Downtown has no lack of bigtime organizations with big professional payrolls aimed at lining up hundreds of millions of dollars. They don’t need your pro bono. But their idea of a “clean up” is not the same as yours. It’s big time demolition, fumigation and reconstruction.

      Westside: “Gentrification” has simply become a pejorative term but one shouldn’t have to apologize for simply reminding us of the law of economics that sufficient income and land value is needed to make the city work. Also, the city has loads of “affordable housing” but even the poor don’t want to live in it so it has increasingly been abandoned.

      • Groffb

        Mr. Neily – Are you saying that is what inevitably will/must happen to the property and structures? Does no one see value in starting with just giving the place a bath? I suppose grime/trash is just not really the problem and it would be pointless and/or impossible to execute a ‘clean up.’ Coincidentally, a U of M e-mail came to my inbox today from the School of Social Work about their ‘community building’ initiatives for the market. I’m curious – what’s your opinion of the U of M as a west side ‘neighbor’?

        • Gerald Neily

          Downtown landowners pay a special tax surcharge on top of the already high city rate for clean-up, public relations, coordination, etc. by the Downtown Partnership. There’s also dues to the Greater Baltimore Committee for businesses to promote the city and especially downtown. They have all kinds of bigtime plans and programs including for Lexington Market. You may want to get involved with them but I don’t think it would make sense to start an independent group. Admittedly, I don’t know much about their day to day workings but they always seem to be active and visible with the media and public. In my opinion, U of M is a great west side neighbor.

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  • March 24, 2014

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