Thursday, July 19, 2007

Mixed Income Neighborhoods: Their Past Present and Future

Mixed Income neighborhoods is something that has been the talk of the town for quite some time now. Fist a little history of Baltimore's income distribution. I 'm using the term "little" very loosely here but to truly understand the complexity of Baltimore's income distribution throughout its neighborhoods and suburbs one must understand the past.Once upon a time mixed income neighborhoods were the only neighborhoods in Baltimore. Baltimore's oldest neighborhoods contained the poorest of the poor and the richest of the rich. As more and more immigrants came through Locust Point Baltimore became overcrowded, those who could afford it moved northwest into new "gentleman's" communities such as Franklin Square, Union Square, Bolton Hill, Lafayette Square/Harlem Park, Sandtown Winchester and Upton. The poor and middle class also expanded beyond the harbor and into modest row homes in what is now referred to "Old East Baltimore" and were centered around Patterson Park.
The upper class gentleman's communities of old West Baltimore were generally home to families whose ancestors immigrated from Germany generations ago and were Protestant while the working class communities of East Baltimore featured a diverse array of European Immigrants from Ireland, Italy, Poland, Greece and Russia and were of the Jewish and Catholic faiths many of whom, if they were lucky got jobs at Bethlehem Steel. Back then North Avenue was the city's northern border. In 1888 the city expanded its borders to the north and west the their northern and western borders are today.
The developers and population chose to go north first. With the annexation came the already thriving Mill Village of Hampden Woodberry comprised of working class southern transplants. City annexation turned this rural county enclave to a working class city neighborhood almost overnight. Well I've tried to avoid it but I feel I must bring it up: race. One can't discuss the distribution of income levels without the discussion of race. Sharp Ladenhall was the city's first black neighborhood located in South Baltimore. After the civil war migration from the south was not just whites looking to work in Hampden. Many ex-slaves and their decedents migrated to Baltimore as well. Not only did Baltimoreans at the turn of the century not want mixed income neighborhoods they also didn't want mixed race neighborhoods. Baltimore drew boundaries of where blacks were allowed to rent and buy homes (which was frowned upon). One way these newly created black neighborhoods differed from white Baltimore was trying to accomplish was that they were mixed income.
That's when these neighborhoods thrived, blacks poor, middle class, and elite whether they fled from the south or had been living in Baltimore for generations all lived side by side. Needless to say when blacks were allowed to buy in Old West Baltimore and what was then Northeast Baltimore the whites in those neighborhoods fled. Where did they flee? You ask? They fled above North Avenue the city's former northern border. Those living in Old East Baltimore, who immigrated here more recently moved northwest to Reservoir Hill, Penn North, Mondowmin, and Walbrook. Those living in Old West Baltimore whose means were more considerable than their East Baltimore cohort moved to the posh new enclaves of Peabody Heights (Now Charles Village), Roland Park, Homeland, Guilford and Lake Walker.
Now in 1888 the city voted to expand its boundaries to the north and west but I've only really talked about development and movement to the north. Well that's because up until World War I that's the only part of the city's new land that was utilized. Reservoir Hill, Guilford, and Roland Park although within the city were considered suburbs and they set the standard for development for Baltimore and Nationwide. Just as development begins on Baltimore's new western edge there's more annexation.
In 1918 Baltimore city largely became as it is today by moving its boundaries to the northeast including the farming villages of Govanstowne, Lauraville, Anthonyville, Hamilton, and Gardenville. Almost immediately after the annexation came Homestead village, the area's first middle class row house suburb. Whether it's west, northwest, north, or northeast using existing roads as their guidelines development began at break neck speeds from World War I to the mid 1950s. During this time period Baltimore's middle class exploded in numbers and builders were all too pleased to capitalize on it. Row house communities were dubbed "streetcar suburbs" due to their proximity to streetcar lines. They included Edmondson Village, Park Heights, Coldstream Homestead Montebello and Belair Edison. Single family homes were generally located further from the city center, were aimed at slightly wealthier buyers, and were built after World War II. No matter the income levels if it was built after World War II in the city it was overlooked.
After World War II the city's population swelled, neighborhoods became overcrowded especially in the older working class neighborhoods white or black. Even though the city's black population multiplied many times over the boundaries in which they could live had barely changed since the turn of the century. Cherry Hill was built during the depression but that was a mere drop in the bucket. In what seemed like the blink of an eye these outer city communities turned from completely white to completely black.
The original black neighborhoods were the only mixed income neighborhoods at that time and when block busting occurred, those who could afford it left for middle class neighborhoods like Forest Park, Park Heights, Walbrook Junction, Edmondson Village, Barclay, Waverly, and Coldstream Homestead Montebello. In the older neighborhoods the population was literally draining yet the number of residents living in poverty swelled. The solution to this was the public housing high rises. The high rises never really succeeded. Almost immediately after they were built they had problems ranging from poor maintenance to violent crime to open air drug markets. Worst of all the problems from these high rises didn't stay there, they had a rippling effect on the surrounding neighborhoods.The deterioration of the high rises, the widespread poverty caused by the flight to the suburbs became a turning point for Baltimore. Unlike other cities at the time Baltimore focused its redevelopment efforts on its Downtown rather than its residential neoghborhoods. Whether or not this was a good move is debatable. Sure Charles Center, the Inner Harbor, homesteading in Otterbein and Federal Hill have been a huge success having a ripple effect from Canton to Hampden, from Pigtown to Patterson Park, from Mount Vernon to Fels Point and Charles Village to Little Italy.Now wait a minute weren't these neighborhoods the original mixed income neighborhoods that Baltimore's elite and middle class fled during the 1800s for these "new" gentlemen 's communities that are now almost all slums? Yes, I'm afraid so for at least a little while these neighborhoods became and or are still mixed income neighborhoods.However,these neighborhoods due to the real estate market surge and their proximity to the harbor. Long term residents were driven out due to the real estate taxes associated with the value of the property. Neighborhoods that were once home to the nitty gritty working poor are now home to countless young urban professionals or yuppies.

In the 1990s Maryland Senator Barbara Makulski championed a bill that would get rid of public housing high rises and replace them with brand new mixed income town home and/or garden condo communities. The program was named Hope VI. Baltimore got its fare share of Hope VI funds over the years replacing six dilapidated high rises with brand new mixed income town home communities. The first two communities replaced Lafayette Courts and Lexington Terrace with Pleasant View Gardens and Townes at the Terraces respectively. These two communities although they've been a huge improvement over their predecessors have one big problem; too many of the new housing units are public housing. Sooner or later the same problems from the high rises will come back. The Good news is the newer Hope VI developments are a more even split between public housing, market rate rental, subsidized home ownership, and market rate home ownership. These communities will more than likely succeed better in the long run.

Now what's next? What does the future hold for mixed income communities? Well as much as it's needed I don't for see it coming to the neighborhoods surrounding the Inner Harbor. Currently the Uplands apartment complex and two thirds of O'Donell Heights are being torn down for mixed income communities. The neighborhoods surrounding the East Baltimore Biotech Park will serve a mix of incomes seeing as the employees hired there will make a range of incomes. There are a few areas of Old West Baltimore that I'd like to see an income mix added. Sandtown Winchester, with the support of the enterprise has made tremendous advances in building new affordable and a more optimistic community with it.

The new housing has been almost exclusively been subsidized home ownership, (something that the city as a whole is lacking.) which has done a lot to stabilize the community. The next step for Sandtown would be to develop vacant lots and rehab existing vacant homes to attract middle and upper income buyers. Similar to Sandtown is Druid Heights. Druid Heights though much smaller is redeveloping a generous portion of its housing stock for affordable housing. Druid Heights isn't as far along in its redevelopment as Sandtown is. When the community stabilizes as Sandtown seems to have (no murders this year) Druid Heights can start shifting its focus to middle and upper income buyers.

Well there you have it Baltimore began as a mixed income city and although it strayed away from it for a couple hundred years it looks like it will be one once again.


Anonymous said...

Spence, that is a nice summary of the evolving character of Baltimore. No single generation can escape this relentless shifting of patterns. Thanks for taking me on this tour.

Peter Tocco

Spence Lean said...

Thanks Peter, I remember when I inked this post that it took a long time to get all my facts straight and put it in writing. I consider this to be a turning point post, after this the posts became longer and more in depth.