Thursday, July 24, 2008

Little Italy: This One's a Survivor

There are some inner city neighborhoods that did not go into decline during the 1960s and 70s. There are classic examples of upper class neighborhoods like Bolton Hill, Mount Vernon, and Charles Village. It's almost unheard of for a working class neighborhood to stay strong in the age of urban decay and one that stands out is Little Italy. Little Italy is old, it has some of the city's oldest housing stock seeing as almost all other old developments did go into decline and were redeveloped at some time but Little Italy is a survivor.As immigrants from all over Europe came to Baltimore from Locust Point people from the same country or religious back round settled in the same vicinity in Baltimore's grossly over crowded eastside. Those who hale from Italy settled and still do to some settle in an enclave known as Little Italy in search of a better life. Today Little Italy's boundaries are Pratt St. to the north, Eastern Avenue to the south, and President St. to the west and Eden St. (roughly) to the east.By the turn of the century (19th-20th) Little Italy had become a thriving working class neighborhood filled with Italian owned restaurants, bakeries, and delis. To the south was a bustling shipping port that employed many of Little Italy's residents and residents of neighboring communities. Residents and business owners alike took pride in their community and kept their home fronts, store fronts, and alleys swept clean. After a quick recovery (in Little Italy's case) from the great depression the demand for work in the shipping industry sky rocketed as America entered World War II. East of Little Italy a new public housing development known as Perkins Homes was built on blighted land to house the huge influx of workers from the south to work the shipyards.
After World War II however, the demand for shipyard workers fell drastically. It wasn't just because the war was over and we were longer shipping goods to our soldiers over seas either. America had entered a time where an industrial workforce was something of an endangered species. One machine now did the job of dozens of workers who were no doubt laid off. Industry had all but abandoned the harbor by the 1950s. Downtown Baltimore, especially the Inner Harbor had hit rock bottom. Little Italy, although hit hard by the economic woes of the Harbor still stayed afloat through its homegrown businesses. Little Italy had already become an anomaly. Just north of Little Italy, in Jonestown where Baltimore's Eastern European population had settled blight and flight was occurring. The answer was two more public housing developments Lafayette Courts and Flag House Courts the ladder bordering Little Italy on Pratt St. Jonestown lost its Jewish population and became almost entirely black in a few short years. To its north and east Little Italy was surrounded by public housing developments which Little Italy walled itself off from, for good reason too because the crime and the drug trade were spreading like the plague. Little Italy seemed doomed yet again but it still hanged tight.
The 1970s brought change to Downtown Baltimore, Little Italy's western neighbor. The Inner Harbor experienced a rebirth that set the standard for waterfront redevelopment worldwide. Although just a few short blocks from the Inner Harbor Little Italy's business owners feared that they'd go out of business because everyone would flock to the harbor instead of their businesses. Thankfully they were wrong. the additional bodies Downtown made Little Italy's businesses flourish more than ever. This would soon be threatened by a proposed expressway that would divide Little Italy, Fels Point, Jonestown, and Canton from Downtown and destroy their architecture not unlike the I-170 fiasco. Yet again Little Italy came out on top when the expressway plans were scrapped and the career of Maryland's Senior Senator Barbara Mikulski was born.
The 1980s began the gentrification of neighborhoods that had waterfront access. Rehabs in Federal Hill, Canton, Fels Point, Otterbein, took off at an alarming rate. The 1990s brought new large scale development to the afore mentioned neighborhoods and the industrial wasteland south of Little Italy. Baker John Paterakis purchased the site in 1986 and despite many pit falls Inner Harbor East is truly an upscale waterfront haven. North of Little Italy in Jonestown the public housing high rises came down and new mixed income developments took their place, more notably Albemarle Square which thanks to HOPE VI another time Barbara Mikulski saved Baltimore opened Little Italy back up to its northern neighbor.
Now how did Little Italy handle all this gentrification? The same way it handles everything staying put and staying in business making it a true survivor.


Baltimore Dating said...

This is a very pretty neighborhood that has retained its ethnic Italian character. It is very pleasant to walk around.

Las Vegas Dating said...

The blogging is very descriptive and about a nice location that is featured by Italians. Italians bring a typical dots to this neighborhood. Sure, it is worth exploring!

Indiana Dating said...

It is good article which is exposed to the beauty of Italy. I also was there and was happy to see the beauty in there.
Here have been many changes and today this place is well known. Definetly it's worth exploring.