Walking downtown yesterday, camera in hand, I was struck by the lack of architectural character, and the lack of people (more about that later). Moving further along Howard Street, I was awestruck by the beautiful buildings — oh here’s where they’ve been keeping the good stuff — and then a sinking feeling hit me.  I was on the outskirts of Baltimore’s development black hole.

Much has been made of the City’s plans for Baltimore’s “Superblock” area, with grandiose plans for large box stores and shiny new office buildings.  (And yes, sadly — probably some overpriced condos as well.)  If you walk up Howard to the 300 and 400 blocks, towards Mt. Vernon, you’re struck by the beauty of the buildings — and the few businesses that remain.  Wig stores, a clothing store, carryouts..Planned Parenthood, and an abandoned theater that should cause the City’s government nothing but shame.  The vast majority of the buildings have been long-abandoned, flipped, condemned, sold by the City, and abandoned again.

Howard Street ruin

What a wonderful neighborhood this would be for artists and musicians — close to the light rail, close to downtown and MICA, and tons of empty buildings begging for repair.  Instead, the neighborhood is being held hostage by the City and developers who don’t give a damn.  It makes you wonder if this demolition-by-neglect is being done on purpose.

Some of the buildings along Howard are viable, and should be preserved — some, unfortunately, have been allowed to rot to the point where they’re probably structurally unsound, and will need to be destroyed.  It would be nice, however, to see the City start to think creatively about its downtown, and stop with the “box store and condo” development model.  Workforce housing, artist housing, housing for real people who pay taxes and want to stay in Baltimore long-term — that’s what Baltimore needs.  That’s what Howard Street could become.  That’s what we should demand.