Thursday, July 10, 2008

SoWeBo: What's Hot and What's Not

If you don't know the phrase SoWeBo you're not a local so I'll tell you what it means. It means Southwest Baltimore. SoWeBo has become an affectionate nickname that's caught on over the years.
The housing stock and neighborhoods in SoWeBo is as diverse as the people who live there. As is the case with pretty much all Baltimore communities, the oldest development is the closest to Downtown and it gradually gets newer and more suburban the further away from Downtown you get.
The first housing of SoWeBo is almost as old as the first three settlements that made up Baltimoretown. They're what's known today as Ridgley's Delight, Pigtown, Hollins Market, and Poppleton. These neighborhoods came up to house B&O Railroad Workers at Camden Yards, the present site of the Orioles and Ravens Stadiums. Development pushed westward into the "Gentlemen's Communites" of Union Square and Franklin Square with larger homes and public squares for wealtheir businessmen and their families to escape from the smog of Downtown. These were the earliest of the Baltimore suburbs. Along the B&O railroad and Wilkens Avenue Industrial Mill Villages began popping up around the turn of the 20th century such as Mill Hill, Carrollton Ridge, Gwynns Falls, Mount Clare, Morrell Park, and Violetville. Wilkens Avenue became the "Main Street" for these newly created Mill Villaages and near the B&O Railroad is where the Mills were centered. The rise of the affordable automobile led to the creation of the Carroll Camden Industrial Park with acres of parking for factory workers. Almost all of SoWeBo was created to house tradesmen whether it was in Camden Yards, the Mill Villages, or the Carroll Camden Industrial Park.The 1960s marked the demise of the American Industrial Sector of we know it. SoWeBo was no different Mill Villages downsized before closing all together as was the case with factories of the Carroll Camden Industrial Park. Today SoWeBo is at a crossroads. The crime, blight, population loss, job loss, and the threat of bulldozing homes for the creation of Freeways has done a number on SoWeBo and its remaining residents but there's hope in the air. Both big development projects and small rehabs have helped breath new life into the community. There is a lot more work to be done but I believe with the momentum of the Harbor SoWeBo will continue to improve. Housing is not overpriced yet so in these tough economic times buying an old vacant row house for chump change and rehabbing it in an otherwise stable block would be a great place to call home. If several hundred people bought into and invested in the existing vacant housing stock the appearance of SoWeBo would be forever improved. Now it's time to get into what's hot and what's not for SoWeBo just like I did with East Baltimore.

First What's Hot
Poppleton-I never thought I'd see the day that Poppleton became an up and coming neighborhood. The UMB Biotech Park, The Townes a the Terraces replacing Lexington Terraces, the redevelopment of West Poopleton and the Redline will transform this former no mans land into a place that families will be proud to call home.
Pigtown-Camden Crossing has been a big help in turning around Pigtown. Some worry that Pigtown will become the next Federal Hill or Canton. Others hope that it will be the next Hampden which has made a turn around but maintained its own identity without pricing out long time residents while at the same time making it appealing to new comers. Pigtown will never be Washington Village. Pigtown is close to the MARC Camden line for DC commuters.
Ridgleys Delight-It's east of MLK Boulveard which was once a dividing line between the good and bad neighborhoods. Ridgleys Delight being on the "better" side of MLK has allowed it to gentrify at a pace unlike the other neighborhoods of SoWeBo.Hollins Market-Located in between Pigtown and Poppleton, Holllins Market has a housing stock that's not too big meaning it won't cost a lot to buy and or renovate one. It would make great student housing for UMB students due to its proximity to Downtown.
Saint Agnes Hospital-This ever expanding facility will be a catalyst to the neighborhoods surrounding it. Since the neighborhoods nearby are not over priced medical staff from St. Agnes can live a stones throw from it.Montgomery Park-Thank goodness this wasn't torn down. The former Montgomery Ward warehouse is a Baltimore landmark that has been put to good use once again as offices.

Now What's NotFranklin Square-The Redline may be the only thing that could save this former gem.Wilkens Avenue-I'm including the neighborhoods of Carrollton Ridge, Gwynns Falls, and Mill Hill when I say Wilkens Avenue. Years of population loss, vacant housing, and disinvestment have taken their toll on these once thriving Mill Villages. Operation Reachout Southwest hasn't shown results yet. They're not at the point where massive demolition is required but if one were to buy a vacant home here it would require a complete gut job.
Morrell Park-Can you say White Ghetto? Morrell Park is a textbook example. If you live here send your kids to a private school because Morrell Park Elementary/Middle is one of the worst in the city. Morrell Park east of I-95 may improve from Patrick Tuner's Westport redevelopment.

Now What's Up & ComingUnion Square-Right now it's depends on what block you're on. It's a mix of vacant land and houses and some blocks look as gorgeous as they did 200 years ago. Union Square would have been the next target of the housing boom had it continued. Since we're in a housing slump at this point Union Square will remain as is. Luckily, most of its housing stock is protected under historical preservation laws so once the economy turns around the homes will no doubt be restored to their former glory. The size of the homes are very large so the price of buying and restoring one is high. Some homes did not make it in time for historic preservation so there is room for new development when the economy turns around.
Mount Clare-Just south of Union Square and west of Pigtown, the housing boom would have come here too. There is plenty of room for investment and development here. It needs better linkage to Carroll Park and Mount Clare Junction Shopping Center needs tenants to better serve the neighborhood. The B&O Railroad Museum is another attribute to this diamond in the rough. Housing is not over priced and would be a fixer upper's dream.
Truth of the matter is SoWeBo is a great part of Baltimore just waiting to be repopulated. It's the city's most diverse section both economically and culturally. There are lots of long standing residents who have lived here for generations and would love to have you as their neighbor.


gwynns falls resident said...

I enjoyed reading your overview of southwest Baltimore very much but felt you unfairly gave an overly pessimistic assessment of the Gwynns Falls neighborhood which has been my home since last December. I have met many residents and they range from middle class to working class to poor folks in Section 8 rentals. The area especially around the police station is still very decent and financially one of the best deals around for a fairly safe area in Baltimore City. A number of Mennonite families have moved into this neighborhood and seem to be a sign of better days ahead. I feel perfectly safe walking the streets in the daytime but use caution at night. Your description unfortunately seems to fit Mill Hill but I don't think you've spent much time in Gwynns Falls and especially the side closest to the police station

Anonymous said...

I hear u to many theive in farmstead now