Thursday, October 8, 2009

Neighborhoods of Greater Lauraville: Changing Demographics

The year was 1990, and the Neighborhoods of Greater Lauraville played host to a population that was nearly 90% White according to the 1990 census. Very little had changed racially here since the Farming Villages and wealthy Estate Owners sold off their land to develop what has become the Neighborhoods of Greater Lauraville which include, Lauraville, Waltherson, Beverly Hills, Acadia, and Moravia Walther. The product; middle class housing of varying styles and sizes in a suburban setting while remaining in Baltimore City centered along Harford Road, the Main Street that runs through Greater Lauraville and beyond.
How many neighborhood clusters in Baltimore City can say that have experienced very little racial change since its homes were built in the early 1900s until 1990? Very few however, like other neighborhood clusters in the City other changes did take place. There had been some population loss and a turn from Middle Class to an increasing Working class presence, mostly from White neighborhoods that did experience a racial turnover.
Well I'm sure you've figured out that from the title of this post that the status quo that lasted up to 1990 has since changed. The 1990s marked the beginning of racial change in Greater Lauraville. By the 2000 census it showed that Greater Lauarville was an almost 55/45 White/Black split. Whites were still the majority but to move from almost 90% White to 55% White was quite remarkable. If this pattern were to continue, Greater Lauraville by 2010 would be 15% White and 85% Black. It's October 2009 and the I can say that has remained diverse like it was in 2000 but perhaps the White/Black ratio has flipped to 45% White and 55% Black. Now I'm going to attempt to make sense of Greater Lauraville today and what we can expect tomorrow.
First I'll have to take you back to an ugly day in 2000. Locals from Northeast Baltimore (mostly White) protested at Hamilton Middle the proposed move of former public housing residents displaced by the implosion of their high rises into Northeast Baltimore including Greater Lauraville. The public housing residents in question were Black. Now, I'm sure everybody's first impression of this incident is that this was racially motivated. It was my first impression too but then I researched it deeper. This was the year 2000, by then Greater Lauraville was 45% Black. So these protesting Whites had a lot of Blacks living amongst them. I think it's more resentment that the homes given to these former public housing residents have been completely renovated while a lot of the protesters struggle to pay their mortgages and maintain their homes. I came to this conclusion after reading articles relating to this incident. I think it's more classist than racist.
Now lets examine the influx of Black Residents who have made Greater Lauraville home since 1990. Unlike the rest of Baltimore City Greater Lauraville gained population in the 1990s and may have done so in the 2000s. This suggests that the number of Whites lost isn't as high as one might assume because more homes are occupied. The average median income has also increased. Before the Black influx it was down suggesting that Greater Lauraville's Black residents have added to the stability of the neighborhood. I'm not saying they're millionaires, just Middle Class. The housing offered in Greater Lauraville is very diverse and allows home owners to add on to and renovate their homes to their dreams. New Construction of Single Family Homes in the City is practically non existent so the renovation of existing ones will provide the styling and luxury of a new home for a lot less money.
It's this same attractive housing package that has also brought new Middle Class Whites into Greater Lauraville. Yep, there's still inward White migration here although it's at a much slower pace than that of their Black neighbors. Obviously, when they're buying their homes they're aware of the diversity and like Columbia residents look at it as a positive rather than a negative. A new generation of White urban dwellers who have abandoned racism is emerging in neighborhoods that may have, in previous decades been re-segregated.With all this talk of inward migration we can't forget about the residents who have stayed here for generations with no intention of moving. Some are Children or Grandchildren of the original Homeowners. They have invested untold amounts of time and money into their pride and joy; their home. If they were racist, they would have moved at the onset of the Black influx and may have called it modern day "blockbusting" so it's safe to say that they're tolerant and welcoming of their new neighbors. Just look at the pictures posted of the Lauraville Country Fair, there's evidence to support this. One thing other than the demographics of Greater Lauraville that has changed has been Violent Crime. Greater Lauraville, until very recently (even more recent than the demographics shift) has been a Community that didn't have to worry about the problems that have plagued Inner City Baltimore. In fact, lots of homes left their doors unlocked. However, from 2007 up Northeast Baltimore has seen the largest crime increase out of any Baltimore precinct. These crimes don't appear to be Gang Related like many other parts of the City but it's not something to be taken lightly. Residents and Police Officers are not allowing crime to intimidate them and have participated in events such as "neighborhood watch" and citizens on patrol" to try and combat this increase and make Greater Lauraville safer than it's ever been.

Now we come to the Community's Main Street; Harford Road. Recent streetscape enhancements have transformed this once suburban like boulevard into a quaint neighborhood Main Street.
When driving down Harford Road one would look at the lack luster retail and think that this was another poor neighborhood with typical "urban stores" a lot of these stores have popped up during the Black influx.
It's funny because these stores cater to a poorer audience and they have opened as the average median income has gone up. It seems that retailers, and I've made this point before, whenever an area sees a larger Black clientele they assume that Dollar Stores, Beauty Supply Shops, Auto Part Dealers, Check Cashing Places, and Laundromats are the only types of stores good enough for a Black Population rich, poor, or anything in between. I call this "racist retail" other examples can be found in Forest Park, Belair Edison, and Northwood Shopping Center.For several years now there's been a vacant Gas Station on Harford Road at Montebello Terrace and has been awaiting redevelopment. This redevlopment has never gotten off the ground for various reasons. There have been numerous tries and the Baltimore Development Corporation seems to have finally secured a Developer and Architect. Too bad our economy's in the toilet so construction is still a ways away. The finished product promises to bring upscale retail and office space in-keeping with the architecture of Harford Road. Some residents have told me that they would prefer the Shoppes at Lauraville not be built at all because the Lauraville and Hamilton Business District have transformed this former eye sore into a successful Farmers Market.
Quite recently, some restaurateurs have seen the potential of Greater Lauraville and its buying power. Harford Road has become known as an emerging Restaurant District that attracts "foodies" from trendy neighborhoods. Sadly, this hasn't been a good time to roll the dice on starting a new Business but that hasn't stopped Restaurants already in business from opening their doors. If you don't know the area, no would expect that Restaurants in Greater Lauraville to look like "fine dining" establishments based on their menus but in fact their appearances have a "neighborhood watering hole" appearance but don't judge a book by its cover, a mistake I made.In 2008 a Study of the Harford Road Corridor was released. One big part of the Study was what residents in neighborhoods bordering Harford Road thought of what it had to offer. It appears that Residents have very differing opinions of Harford Road. One common theme was that it's evolving. How it's evolving and what's evolving into is where the difference lies.Many say that Harford Road is an emerging Main Street whose Retail will gentrify as more Residents with higher amounts of disposable income move into the area. A few think that Harford Road reflects poorly on the neighborhoods it's supposed to serve and go else where for their retail needs.
An even smaller few think Harford Road's "racist retail" is a precursor to Greater Lauraville taking a turn for the worse. Another small theme is that a lot of Greater Lauraville Residents don't use Harford Road as much as they'd like due to lack of retail that serves their needs. They're waiting for better retail and then they'd use Harford Road more often.
Now who does use Harford Road besides residents living there? After all it seems pretty clear that not all Residents who live in Greater Lauraville don't yet Harford Road is bustling with pedestrian activity. Many businesses receive patrons who I believe from East Baltimore. Lower Harford Road below Clifton Park and above Hopkins in neighborhoods with high residential vacancy rates that have no retail. I believe this to be true because the biggest cluster of pedestrians congregate at Bus Stops. These neighborhoods also have the highest percentages of Residents without vehicles. Now what we learned today? We've learned that present today Greater Lauraville is a draw for City Dwellers Black and White, we've learned that Greater Lauraville isn't immune to crime like it had been for decades, we've learned that streetscape enhancements although attractive aren't an end all for Harford Road. Harford Road isn't utilized by all of its nearest residents and won't be until its offerings aren't "racist retail." Most importantly we've learned that changing demographics don't always equal White Flight anymore.