A silver lining for Baltimore Row houses may be 'in' again

Perry Sfikas

October 03, 1990|By Perry Sfikas

IT MAY SEEM ODD, but the current Iraqi crisis could have a silver lining for Baltimore city.

If the simmering conflict escalates, more than just Kuwait and Iraqi oil could be taken off the world market. Oil fields in Saudi Arabia, Iran and the other Persian Gulf states could have their production reduced or even stopped.

How could this help Baltimore? Think back to the oil crisis of 1974-1975. In response to lines at gas pumps and larcenous prices for home heating oil, energy-efficient homes and public transit use came into vogue. People began thinking twice about a suburban lifestyle

Perry Sfikas that required automobile use to do almost anything away from home.

Car pooling became fashionable in some circles, and public transit lost some of its disrepute. And many people started appreciating the virtues of a house that had only two exterior walls. We Baltimoreans call this energy-efficient structure a row house.

In Baltimore, all of this coincided with the beginning of the city's much-publicized renaissance. "Dollar houses" were renovated and became energy efficient. People discovered the convenience of walking to work, restaurants and shopping. Out of that grew the revival of neighborhoods, the return of life at night to downtown, and ultimately the Inner Harbor as we know it. Optimism about the city was high. City living was fun and fashionable.

We've lost much of that optimism. The problems seem insurmountable -- drugs, crime, public schools. The suburbs now seem to have most of the flashy new restaurants and most of the housing activity. The people who moved into the city 10 or 15 years ago have moved out, in search of lower property taxes, better schools and, allegedly, a better quality of life.

Suburbanites may think they have a better quality of life now, but wait until the energy crunch hits. Sitting in lines at gas pumps won't be quality time with the kids, and sky-high heating bills will eliminate many a meal at rustic country inns.

Toasty row houses, inexpensive to heat and maintain, will become popular. Walking to work will be energy-efficient -- and good for people physically. And the time and money saved in avoiding gasoline lines will be spent in neighborhood cafes and pubs.

They city should again work to promote the benefits of city living. New residents can increase the tax base. They can breathe life into neighborhoods tired from fighting crime, drugs and a faltering educational system. And they can restore a sense of hope and vibrancy that seems to have been lost over the last decade. As energy costs go up, let's welcome the new residents back to the city.

Perry Sfikas is a community activist in Southeast Baltimore.

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