A Tale of Two Baltimores

Borrowing from the famous opening line, “It was the best of cities, it was the worst of cities”.  In many ways, this is how the “Charm City” could be described.  While the following issue haunts many large American cities, I believe that it is even more pronounced in Baltimore.

I don’t live in Baltimore (or Maryland for that matter), and I don’t claim to be an expert or tour guide of the city.  However, after 5 trips there and recently spending 4 days visiting and driving through many parts and neighborhoods of the city, I’ve seen enough to state the following.

If you ask people who travel to Baltimore much, they typically will comment “the Inner Harbor area is fantastic- but be careful once you get outside of those several blocks”.  In very general terms, there is a lot of truth to that.  And I do not want to disparage the city or the residents in any way here.  The article aims to point out a few things, and also to state (and hope) that there is a much better potential outcome if the time, work, and desire was put in.

It’s very true that the Inner Harbor neighborhoods are very nice, and it’s clear that there is a lot of money being spent in this locality.  By tourists, by businesses, by residents, and by the municipality.

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Once you drive or walk just a few blocks away from the I.H. region, it’s quite likely that you will see the standard picture of urban blight.  These are some of the same areas that became infamous during the Freddy Gray riots.  Streets and streets and corners and alleyways of dilapidated row houses and apartment buildings.  (Not each building is like this- some look in excellent shape.  But that seems the exception to the rule.)

Yes, I am white and basically am from a suburban, middle-class upbringing.  Thus to me- seeing these conditions is not very commonplace.   Please do not blame me for pointing it out; perhaps some that have lived there for their entire lives do not even “see” it anymore.  But, my guess is many city residents in these neighborhoods do “see it”- and they likely want more for their neighborhoods and/or their families.  They probably individually feel that they have little choice.

Baltimore city government is led by a Democrat, and the past 8 mayors have been Democrat.  That said, the issues and attitudes that have resulted in the current dichotomy of city neighborhoods reach far deeper than mere politicians or city administrators.

Some have said, possibly because of nonstop media coverage during the Gray uprising, that Baltimore is a racially divided and charged city.  Certainly there are pockets of the city that are nearly 100% African-American and other areas that are primarily White or Asian- but that doesn’t mean there is constant strife between the races.  To the contrary just this week I went to the baseball game.  I’d say the breakdown in the stands was 45% white, 45% African-American, and 10% “other”- and everyone got along fine and had fun alongside eachother.   After the game, I went to another common entertainment venue in the city.  I was shoulder to shoulder to many African-Americans there, and we had some fun and everything was fine.  In both cases, we were all just people; I didn’t feel or sense any awkwardness or ill-will.

If it has taken 40-50 years for the city to get to this kind of troubling situation, then it of course will take many years for it to turn around.  Things, especially positive changes, don’t happen quickly.   When I think of some likely reasons as to the current condition in Baltimore they mirror the issues in much of American society in 2017:   (Note that these are NOT race specific.)

  • Breakdown of traditional and/or nuclear family. Many children and teens growing up without a relevant father or father-figure.
  • Less church; less direct moral instruction & guidance
  • Widening income disparity. This topic gets a lot of press, and it is not about race.  It is a true socioeconomic fact that over the past 30 years the gap between the haves and the have-nots has been increasing.  The leads to the “well-off” sections of the city getting richer and the working-class type neighborhoods getting poorer.
  • Politicians generally do what is easiest and least controversial. And above all, they want to get re-elected.  These traits do not always align with what is best for the residents.
  • Drug/ opioid epidemic. This tragic problem is in Baltimore as it is in most other cities and states.  It really does tear families and neighborhoods apart; that cannot be argued.

I’m sure there are other reasons and factors, and I’m also sure that there are folks today that are trying to do something about it.  Mentoring groups, churches, YMCA’s, charter schools, child advocates, mental health and substance abuse counselors, neighborhood associations, etc.  I would like to also say police officers, as I’m sure that at least 90% of the police force in the city are stand-up citizens that are trying their best to help and save their community.  This is merely an assumption.

Baltimore is a great city with a lot going for it, with a lot of history and culture and different people and heritage.  It is up to the city residents and all the people of Maryland to determine where it goes from here.  Let’s not ignore 80% of the city, to only focus and praise the other 20%.  No one wins with that outcome.

The views expressed in this opinion article are solely those of their author and are not necessarily either shared or endorsed by EagleRising.com

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