Boston, at about the same size and population of Baltimore, has 23 officially designated neighborhoods. By any count, official or not, Baltimore has a few hundred. So much of our identity and loyalty is tied to our tiny neighborhoods, and our tight travel patterns between them, we hardly even leave our own familiar blocks, much less the city itself.
Two recent mapping projects brought this home: In 2011, MICA grads Ingrid Burrington and Carey Chiaia made a giant puzzle out of Baltimore’s neighborhoods for Artscape. It was a clear, playful way to bring people together as they tried to assemble the pieces, nearly 300 in all. It was also humbling to learn the names of all these worlds next door, sometimes just a few blocks square, that we never knew existed. In 2014, Jason Hoylman asked friends to keep travel journals for a month, which he then turned into maps, tracing the routes into laser-cut lines on wooden cubes. I was one of the participants in Hoylman’s project, and I was personally ashamed that so little of my travel in the city had been outside what Baynard Woods and others have called the “White L,” up and down the Charles Street/Jones Falls corridor and east along the waterfront.
Enough of this. Everybody in this city needs to get out more, and we don’t even have to cross the county line to do it.
Food is one thing that brings people out of their bubbles, and connects them across cultures, history and art is another uniter, make architecture and urban design the third. Go visit the National Great Blacks in Wax Museum on North Avenue, then keep going east and explore the Baltimore Cemetery. Take a trip to the Roundhouse at the B&O Railroad Museum, maybe the most unique building in town. Go see some of the underused public places on the west side—the tiny and intimate mid-block parks of historic Harlem Park, just north of the Highway to Nowhere, or the vast open spaces of Leakin Park at the city’s edge.
In the Serial podcast, almost no one interviewed by host Sarah Koenig even knew where Leakin Park was, but nearly all of them thought they knew its reputation as a place to hide bodies. This is a park that should be known for its connection to the Industrial Revolution and the Civil War, not for crime, but besides all that, it’s just a really nice area to hike, bike, or picnic in. Like the city itself, too many people think they know what it’s like without ever having set foot inside.
As we all do more exploring within our city, let’s not let our preconceived notions about crime, race, and class prevent us from seeing what’s actually going on in a place. Be respectful visitors: Everyone is from somewhere, and every neighborhood is part of someone’s identity; they’re as proud of their spot as you are of yours. Keep the clichés at home, and travel more within Baltimore to see why nobody would ever want to leave.
Fred Scharmen is an Assistant Professor at the Morgan State University School of Architecture and Planning and an occasional contributor to City Paper.