Tuesday, March 28, 2017

My city of ruins

Howard Street, Baltimore (Google Street View)

Young men on the corner
Like scattered leaves,
The boarded-up windows,
The empty streets
While my brother's down on his knees
My city of ruins

—"My City of Ruins," Bruce Springsteen, The Rising
I recently had occasion to travel back to Baltimore, a city I knew in my late teens and early twenties. I was staying in Mount Vernon, a neighborhood of wine bars, fine restaurants, and lovingly renovated historic buildings. And please don't misunderstand me: I like wine bars, fine restaurants, and lovingly renovated historic buildings.

I was attending a conference that was being held at the Baltimore Convention Center in the Inner Harbor, an area of high-rise office buildings, malls, chain restaurants and chain hotels. To get there I walked down Howard Street from Madison to Pratt Street, a distance of about three-quarters of a mile. In making that journey every morning and returning every evening, I was brought face to face with the effects of decades of racist urban planning and economic and political choices that have kicked those who are no longer considered useful into the gutter.

Block after block of Howard Street is lined with abandoned buildings and shuttered businesses. Some of these photos are taken from Google Street View, but most are mine:

Howard Street at Franklin, east side

Howard Street between Franklin and Mulberry, west side (Google Street View, October 2016; 
the central building has since been reduced to a pile of rubble. 
There are four more empty buildings to the left out of the frame.)

Howard Street at Mulberry, west side (Google Street View, October 2016)

Howard Street between Mulberry and Saratoga, east side
(The sign on the empty building to the left advertises beepers and VCRs; it must date back two decades or more.)

Howard Street at Saratoga, east side

Howard Street at Clay, east side

Howard Street at Fayette, west side

The entrance to the former Marble Bar, 306 W. Franklin Street between Howard and Eutaw

Baltimore has always been a gritty, struggling city. But I don't remember this level of devastation even after the massive urban disinvestment of the 1970s. The core of the city has been hollowed out. My city's in ruins.

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