Thursday, October 29, 2009

North Avenue Divide

It’s plain that North Avenue marks the boundary between two different worlds, the relatively affluent Bolton Hill and the underprivileged North side of the Avenue. But one must consider the chance that this boundary is more than a mere marker, that it is itself actively facilitating the process of exclusion and separation. Even if the north side wasn’t such a hard-put neighborhood, visiting it on foot would still be inconvenient for people on the south side of the avenue due to the simple fact that North Avenue is a fairly busy street, much wider and accommodating more traffic and greater speeds than a normal residential street or pedestrian-oriented commercial strip; no significant effort is made to ameliorate this from a pedestrian perspective. Surely each neighborhood should have its service route for heavier traffic, but the location of North Avenue is not suitable for such a use; it cuts through the middle of the city horizontally. The wealthier neighborhood on the South side of North Ave, Bolton Hill, takes advantage of the avenue’s wall-like function and even seeks in some ways to bolster it. For example, while at least 50% of the buildings on the north side face the street, virtually no buildings face the street on the Bolton Hill side in between Mount Royal and Eutaw. Before Mt. Royal and after Eutaw, i.e. outside the boundaries of Bolton Hill, buildings on the south side face the street again, but only because the neighborhood changes. After Mt. Royal, in between, Bolton Hill and the rest of the city, lie formidable train tracks and a stream acting as an impassable moat; while Eutaw is another larger, heavily trafficked street, though not so intense as North Ave. Here it must be mentioned that, especially in the case of the Eutaw divide, while the busy street acts as a wall, there are certainly other factors of exclusion at work; the traffic of a street alone is not enough to wreak the degree of exclusion exhibited by cities like Baltimore. In addition, both sides have installed fences along the Ave. On the Bolton Hill side the fence belongs to ‘Spicer’s Run’ a planned development circumscribed by a fence, although without closed gate or otherwise restricted entry. Here we can refer to Edwards Blakely and Mary Cail Synder’s distinctions of different types of gated communities. ‘Spicer’s Run’ would be closer to an elite community, one gated to keep unwanted others out; while the housing projects on the north side of the avenue would be a ‘security zone’, fenced in for the opposite reason, to keep the danger inside. The combination of North Ave with such elements exacerbates the process of exclusion, creating a no-man’s land, effectively killing the space between the two neighborhoods, more or less precluding almost any possibility of a rapport between the two.

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