Wednesday, September 23, 2009

I recently mapped some of my experiences in Baltimore, and in doing so, noticed a distinctly north-south trend to my travels. On my map, I saw that the furthest west or east I had been was Highlandtown, which also happens to be the place that I most associate with the mixed-use way of urban living that is missing from my neighborhood of Bolton Hill.

This stretch of Eastern Avenue is past Inner Harbor and Patterson Park, immediately preceding Johns Hopkins Bayview campus. Being placed between these two 'destinations' of sorts undoubtedly adds to the traffic in the area, both in pedestrian and vehicular forms. Granted, this point of view partially comes from my experience of driving through it to get to Johns Hopkins, but I seem to notice something new each time I drive through, which makes the area enticing to visit on its own. Not only is Highlandtown mixed-use, but it is mixed-ethnicity. Home to Polish, Greek, and Latino subcultures, the area is extremely diverse, and a place where others come to experience and understand some of this diversity. The multitude of ethnicities also increases the density of the area as so many groups have a place in such a small space. Though, as you move east it moves from Latino signage to Polish and then Greek, the span of 10 or so blocks allows each group to mix, even if it is only on the sidewalks.

The abundance of stores and restaurants makes this small neighborhood a very well-used and well-watched part of the city. The streets are constantly being watched by pedestrians and drivers alike, as the area is fairly inaccessible via highway (when coming from the north). This contributes to its feeling of openness because there is enough going on that even if someone feels like they don’t belong, they can easily blend in and experience the area by walking down the street and observing the vitality of the street life, especially in comparison to areas like Bolton Hill.

This city space seems to be resisting what Bill Bishop talked about in “The Big Sort,” when he talked about people self-sorting into communities based on how they look and live. Perhaps the inhabitants of Highlandtown are in similar socio-economic ranges, but the area experiences many different walks of life during the day, which is fascinating. As Jane Jacobs explains in “The Uses of Sidewalks: Safety,” “some of the safest sidewalks in New York City…are those along which poor people or minority groups live.”

Overall, I think having more spaces like this in the city of Baltimore would do well in opening up the city, as it would force people to travel through various parts to get to more and more pockets of density as they popped up and expanded.

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