Although many Baltimore neighborhoods claim diversity, it's hard to imagine another area where differences are as visible as in Canton. In the past 20 years, Canton has gone from being a working-class neighborhood, driven by local canneries, Bethlehem Steel and a railroad, to a neighborhood whose waterfront is largely inhabited by well-heeled yuppies.
This sudden change has sparked some tension.
Critics charge that the newcomers are not committed to the city -- and certainly not to the public schools. New development has driven property taxes higher -- higher than working-class residents can afford. And longtime residents claim that their new neighbors have no contact with them -- except when they are out walking their dogs.
"It is understandable that there is some resentment toward the newcomers," says Kathy Kelly, who moved from Chicago to South Kenwood Avenue about four years ago. "However, no one was displaced by the development. Personally, I believe the burden to improve relations should be on the newcomers. We need to assure people that we are not taking anything away from the neighborhood."
Even before the yuppies arrived in Canton, the neighborhood held a mix of nationalities.
Steven Bunker of the Waterfront Coalition, a group of civic organizations in Canton and Fells Point, once counted 35 nationalities -- and several groups of Gypsies. Canton's residential area, which runs south of Eastern Avenue, between Conkling Street and Chester Street, remains predominantly Polish, Russian and Ukrainian. And it has a considerable number of senior citizens, many of whom were once employed by nearby shipyards or local canneries.
"Baltimore had once, at the turn-of-the-century, the largest number of canneries in the United States. American Can was here, as was Independent Can," says Mr. Bunker. "And Gibbs Packing, which was a pioneer in the use of steam [vacuum] packing for oysters and vegetables, was in Canton."
During the Civil War, the area was known for its iron works and its coal yards, many of which were worked by Welsh immigrants.
The neighborhood hasn't lost those industrial roots. Although some factories have been converted into apartments and condominiums, industrial Canton still thrives between O'Donnell Street, the Harbor Tunnel Thruway and the harbor. At work in the area are Exxon, Rukert Terminals, the Maryland Port Authority and the Port East Transfer trucking company, as well as the businesses in the Canton Trade Center.
But when it comes to housing costs, the disparity between the new and old Canton becomes obvious.
"The Formstone-front house at 1111 S. Bouldin St. is up for sale with an asking price of $67,250," says Caroline Burkhart of O'Conor Piper & Flynn. "It has two bedrooms, two baths, and comes with its refrigerator, washer, dryer and microwave. In addition, there is an updated bath with a dressing room."
Compare that to some of the new town houses. One owner is asking $169,900 for a 4-year-old home, which has two bedrooms, 3 1/2 baths, fireplace, deck, finished basement, one off-street parking space and a water view.
"At Canton Cove, a two-bedroom -- the master bedroom has a loft -- 2 1/2 -bath condominium with a water view is selling for $325,000, with a $278-a-month condo fee," Ms. Burkhart said. "Another 3-year-old eighth-floor condo in Canton is sell ing for $169,000; it has 1,452 square feet, two bedrooms, two bathrooms, two parking spaces, a balcony with a water view."
And some proposed condominiums will have price tags as high as $535,000, she added.
Neighborhood groups, working with real estate developers, have helped to preserve many landmarks.
Stephany Palasik, president of the Canton-Highlandtown Community Improvement Association, points to Indecco, a 45-unit apartment complex for the elderly, handicapped or disabled with moderate incomes. "This is a historic building which the Rouse Company converted into apartments. . . . It is a project we are very proud of."
This newer residential area of Canton has several restored factory buildings: Canton Cove, The Shipyard, Lighthouse Point and Tindeco Wharf, among others.
Another commercial restoration project -- the American Can complex -- has been put on hold as an upscale shopping area. Neighborhood residents are working on a plan to rehabilitate historical buildings and to develop stores that will meet
the residents' needs.
Today, the neighborhood's main commercial district runs for two blocks along O'Donnell Street, with liquor stores, video stores and lunchrooms such as Andy's. There are two grocery stores in Canton: Super Fresh and Santoni's. Nearby is the Highlandtown shopping area on Eastern Avenue.
Mary Medland is a free-lance writer who often covers real estate issues for The Sun.