Wednesday, May 9, 2007

Industry: Who Wants That in Their Backyard?

Baltimore may as well have been in the Midwest. Its story mimics the stories of "rust belt cities" like those found in Ohio or Missouri. Their citizens were employed in industry of all kinds. Industry of today is very different today than it was at its peek. Today industry is almost completely confined to industrial parks with sprawling parking lots that go on for acres. During the industrial revolution industry was side by side with row homes sometimes in row homes themselves. Back then industry was truly in people's backyards and some even wanted it there.
Almost all old Baltimore neighborhoods have an industrial past some more than others. Here's a brief list of neighborhoods, the industry they housed and the workers of said industry they also housed. The centrally located Camden station workers lived in Poppleton, Ridgelys Delight, Hollins Market, and Pigtown. Pigtown was also home to slaughter houses, that's what it was named after. East Baltimore and the Westside of Downtown both housed clothing workers the former mostly in cramped row homes and the ladder in more traditional factories.
Canton,just as its name suggests was home to canneries like the American Can Company. Fells Point housed shipyard workers who built ships that shipped all the goods and crafts built in the city and eventually joined Canton in the canning industry. Hampden and Woodberry grew side by side as mill villages producing everything from textiles, flour, and tobacco. Westport grew with the Iron Works factory and the Lowry Glass factory.
Breweries were ever present in all of East Baltimore, not just Brewers's Hill. Brooklyn/Curtis played host to an oyster canning factory, the South Baltimore Wheel company, and the Davison Chemical Company. No discussion of Baltimore industry would be complete without Bethlehem Steel. Although located in suburban Sparrows Point the majority of its workers lived in the city mainly in Highlandtown, Bayview, and Greektown. I'd like to point out that the location of Bethlehem Steel in Sparrows Point was kind of a precursor to the decentralization of jobs and the flight to the suburbs. If workers in industry were lucky they were card carrying union members. Unions negotiated wages, benefits and working conditions. Union dues were taken out of workers' pay checks a fee that was well worth it.
With factories and neighborhoods side by side the living conditions in these neighborhoods weren't the greatest. Smog, pollution, tight living quarters, disease, poor sanitation were the order of the day in these industrial neighborhoods.
It's easy to see why those who could afford it moved out. If you look closer into the history books, the flight to the suburbs didn't start after World War II. It started in the 1800s. Reservoir Hill, Bolton Hill, Upton, Union Square, Franklin Square, Harlem Park could all have been considered suburbs. The upper class moved to these "gentleman communities" either as summer homes or year round for plush public squares, their beautiful stately architecture, and most of all cleaner living spaces. They didn't want industry in their backyards. The old industrial neighborhoods remained well populated as immigrants came through Locust Point and migrants from the south came looking for work repopulated the city's core. It wasn't until after World War II that the "mass exodus" of the inner city occurred, this time it wasn't because of cramped quarters and pollution, it was because of the relative affordability of the automobile and racial change.
Those left in the city's industrial core were the poor and working class. It was at this time that industry in Baltimore began to dwindle. Technology began to replace jobs that people worked and outsourcing relocated jobs to third world countries shrinking Baltimore's industrial workforce by 75%. What little industry is left has been moved from residential neighborhoods to industrial parks mostly in the far eastern part of the city. This left the City's core with an excess of abandoned industrial land and the question was and still is what to do with it? The answer was and is gentrification. The new development along the Inner Harbor and surrounding neighborhoods has been on former industrial land.
The story of old industrial Baltimore makes it perfectly clear that no one wants industry in their backyard.

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