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Dumped on, Baltimore deconstructs the debate

A Washington writer's travel story elicits some snark – and some soul-searching.

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On this downtown Baltimore mural, a slogan? A command? A wish?

Photo by: Fern Shen

Snotty as it was, did that recent Washington Post travel piece by writer Marc Fisher (“In Baltimore, finding more than just true grit”) hold up a mirror to Baltimore?

We’re not talking about the piece itself so much as the conversation it has generated among commenting readers about:

• whether Baltimore actually is “all that”

• whether our kitsch is overdone (“after a while you’ve seen enough toilet seats and Elvis pictures glued on cars”)

• what makes a good city

• whether we have “a gigantic chip on our shoulder”

• whether Mr. Fisher is best dealt with crudely (“Smug @$$w1pe of a Yankees fan”) or with a little fancier diction but the same sentiment, like:

Pageant contestants, 2011 Honfest. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Pageant contestants at the 2011 Honfest. (Photo by Fern Shen)

“Oh DC, Baltimore is the glass of blistering liquor we wish we could throw in your face,” wrote Alchemiholic. “I worked in DC for six years but nothing – not even the 2.5 daily hours of commute time – ever enticed me to live there. Your culture of transience and bloodless hierarchy is as chilly an institution as any of your museums, and only fractionally as interesting.”

Anyway, in addition to the comments on our website, we took a spin through the 250-plus comments at the Post and found some passionate defenses of our hometown, some salty let’s-get-real rejoinders from crime-weary residents and visitors, reflections on race, poverty and survival, plus other interesting stuff. Here are some highlights:

HIPPER THAN HIPPER-THAN-THOU

One commenter was annoyed by how Fisher first finds Station North’s “early-stage gentrification,” “strangely alluring,” and enjoys the free music at the Bohemian Coffee House, but then, lest he end on anything but a superior note, declares it “a bit precious,” adding “it’s a relief to step outside, walk around the corner and exchange greetings with a couple of guys lying on the pavement.”

Homeless people on the sidewalk aren’t a decoration to make your bobo quasi-hipster self feel a sense of ‘relief’ in a certain area. One doesn’t ‘people-watch at Lexington Market”’– unless by ‘people-watching’ you mean ‘observe blatant open-air drug trading, use, and addiction.’ -Onivoy

The commenter is also irked by Fisher’s mention of a satirical Onion headline, “Baltimore Looking for Safer City to Host Super Bowl Parade.”

Not just a joke. A 15-year-old kid was stabbed to death during the Ravens’ so-called ‘celebration.’ Were you even aware of that? – onivoy
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CRIME, RACE AND “OTHERIZING”

Baltimore is a city of (white) islands, interconnected by routes through some of the worst urban blight in the US. Blocks and blocks of abandoned and crumbling row houses cover vast areas of the city. As much as Baltimoreans are proud of their city, it is hard for an outsider to understand why. When I take clients and visitors through the city, this is the first thing they notice. Maybe the residents have gotten used to the conditions in their city, and chose to ignore the obvious. - maus92

Just like DC, Baltimore is full of people (of all races) who have opted to stay/move there, and who are fighting to keep the city alive and vibrant, and to rebuild from the damage done by decades of depopulation, economic struggle, an epidemic of drugs and violence, and countless other struggles. If you look more closely, you’d see that there are quite a few black as well as white ‘islands’ in the city, and that many neighbourhoods are liveable pleasant places. Baltimoreans don’t ‘ignore the obvious’ – they talk all the time about the struggles of many parts of the city, and agonize over the best strategies to deal with it. And their pride in the city, in the sheer miracle of survival against odds, is the only viable option other than giving up and moving out.
- Terje1

Blissed-out Artscape 2011 crowd cheers Baltimore Rock Opera Society as they launch into their big, manic, metallic closing production number.

Crowd applauding Baltimore Rock Opera Society at Artscape 2011 (Photo by Fern Shen)


Baltimore, generally a bleak depressing place with block after block of abandoned buildings. Real hard core poverty and not a good place to raise kids. Even in Mount Vernon area, the place changes after dark, with transvestite prostitutes plying their trade. Lived in the city for three years and left for the county. If you are single, it’s okay, but I don’t want to subject the kids to that.
- baltomobber

Actually, Baltimore City is a great place to raise kids. My husband and I have lived with our two kids, ages 10 and 12, in Mt. Washington for 12 years. Our wonderful neighborhood is in northwest corner of the City . Our block and neighborhood is families that would never consider moving to Baltimore County. - aconn@fblaw.com

I lived in Canton and Little Italy. My absolute only complaint was parking. In Canton if you got home any later than 5:30 you were circling for an hour. In Little Italy you couldn’t find a place until after the restaurants closed. But that’s it. That was my only complaint. I never had a problem with crime, rats, trash, bad neighbors….no problems. - Bethindc1

I’m a white guy, I live in a mostly black neighborhood, and it is very friendly. People are nice if you are nice. You get back what you give out.
- Elusiveq

When will the Post’s relentless pursuit of otherizing communities outside Upper Northwest and Bethesda end? - Tanglewood
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WHY PEOPLE VISIT AND DECIDE TO STAY

Yes, yes, we know. Fisher was talking about visiting Baltimore, not living here, it was a travel piece. But he asked for it, especially with his last line. “I wouldn’t want to live there, but what a place to explore.”

You know how when you meet someone at a party or in a bar, and you play the ‘what do you do and ‘oh, do you know’ game? In DC, that’s because people are trying to pigeonhole you and figure out how important you are, and how they can use you and your connections. In ‘Smalltimore,’ it’s because your significant other probably works with the guy’s neighbor. - eharty1

I am from Pittsburgh and I have lived in DC for over 25 years. When I want to have a real city experience, I go to Baltimore. Sometimes in the warmer months, a group of us will go up and hang at one of the establishments along the water to grab a bite to eat and have a drink. Then we will meander along from Little Italy to Canton and go from bar to bar and hang out with the locals. The one thing I always notice is that Baltimore folk talk to each other when they are together instead of always looking at their phones to see who has tweeted this and posted that like they do in DC. In spite of what this guy thinks, I think Baltimore Rocks! - Buddy1232
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MISCONCEPTIONS ABOUT D.C., TOO

It’s classic inferiority complex pretending to be a sense of superiority (not to mention it’s a myth that DC was built on a swamp). I challenge you to ignore pretentious authors like this and rise above such petty provincialism as you wish others would for Baltimore. Spend time getting to know DC – the black culture, the little sandwich shops, decades of struggle the city endured and still does in many ways, the Hispanic immigrants, the debt-laden grad students… There’s far more to the District than the stereotypes, just as there’s far more to Baltimore than the popular perception that it’s a corporate Disneyland inner harbor surrounded by The Wire. - Nationaltreasure

A gigantic chip on the shoulder response. This Wash. Post writer is obviously from New York not DC and yet so many of you have taken the bait. I have lived in DC all my life and have never encountered any of the snobby people described here. You need to get a life and stop obsessing about every little thing written about Baltimore. - mjbuffetfan

If one travels East of the Capitol in DC, you’ll find areas of the city that are just as poor, decrepit, and bleak as the Western District of Baltimore. I’m pretty sure no one would characterize the entire city of DC based on their experiences in Anacostia or the South East in general.
- jbanks979

Less than 20 years ago, Washington was rife with panhandlers on the Mall and most of downtown was no-go after dark, so this ‘Baltimore is The Wire’ ignores that Washington wasn’t much better a little while ago. But the worst part is that it ignores that large swaths of Washington are dangerous and rife with massive poverty (while Washington has a large portion of advanced degrees, 1/3 of the city was functionally illiterate as of a 2007 study). A few blocks north of the Verizon Center will raise the crime rate substantially. D.C. may be better at hiding its poverty and crime than Baltimore, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. I’m not from Baltimore, but I like it – it makes a nice contrast to D.C. I can’t understand the virulence of such a negative article unless the goal is to troll – and, if it is, then the Post should just be ashamed. - Fishbulb

One beautiful Baltimore image: buses of  church and community members coming to make their voices heard at Harbor East. (Photo by Fern Shen)

To us, a beautiful Baltimore image: buses of church and community members coming to make their voices heard at Harbor East. (Photo by Fern Shen)

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  • Gerald Neily

    I certainly wouldn’t expect any more out of a Washington Post writer than what Marc Fischer wrote. What’s far more distressing is that Baltimore’s own leaders don’t have a clue as to what this city is about, which is why we get the Superblock, Grand Prix, Mega-Convention Arena, EBDI, Highway to Nowhere and the Red Line.

  • Baltimore Slumlord Watch

    I find it incredibly convenient to blame “Baltimore’s own leaders”, as Gerald Neily does in his comment — however, these leaders didn’t get to where they are on their own.  They were elected to office by Baltimore’s residents — so one would have to assume that the very people who vote for these folks are okay with the way things are being done.

    That, to me anyway, is the scary part.  And the biggest roadblock to change.  Until viable candidates appear out of the shadows — we will have the same leaders, the same voices, and the same problems. It’s time for residents to stop talking and start doing.  

    • Gerald Neily

      Very true, Slumlord Watch. The next election is just too far away for me to think about that, so convenience wins over scary.

      • http://profile.yahoo.com/UBB5DQH4Q7OHNZVKLHEAKTXKLY Matthew

        That’s because the mayor, city coucil, and the sheep that are the voters (who don’t read ballot questions and will elect any second, third, or forth generation African American [or any other race that makes up a majority of their district] politician who their church leaders endorse) pushed the election back by a year…

  • Day_Star

    Baltimore is just far enough away from Washington DC that it doesn’t reap the automatic benefit of governemnt procurement like the MD suburbs and NoVa do.  It’s therefore a rust belt city in the 41st most business friendly state with 2x property taxes; rising fees; and a dominant voting block that has lived multiple generations in poverty, feels disenfranchised, has limited experience with the new economy, and has no relation or sense of identification with the people and companies that can drive economic change.  Anything to do with economics or business or enticing the middle to upper middle class to live and set-up shop here is viewed with high skepticism and contempt, while government assistance and spending is viewed as the one true savior.      

    Baltimore, in essence, defeats iteself.  There are a lot of reasons to be optimistic, though.  Outreach by superb non-profits, improving schools (there are pockets of success, especially magnet & charter schools), new development and jobs in Harbor East and EBDI that help erase the grit and build the foundation for sustainability, nationally and internationally recognized hospitals and a plethora of healthcare jobs, and, of course, our winning sports teams.   

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