Five years after Jane Jacobs published "The Death and Life of Great American Cities," which revolutionized attitudes toward urban planning and conventional conceptions of progress, an angry group of 23 people gathered in Fells Point on the evening of Feb. 23, 1967, to find a way to fight interstate highways that were designed to plow through their neighborhoods, rise over the Inner Harbor and, in retrospect, make the rebirth of the harbor area impossible.
The organization formed that evening, the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill, Montgomery Street and Federal Hill, was one of several groups that successfully fought the highways and preserved the character of some of Baltimore's oldest and most colorful neighborhoods. Baltimore's history of civic activism has stood the city in good stead, and nowhere is that more evident that in the vibrancy of the neighborhoods bordering the Inner Harbor -- neighborhoods that could not have survived if the highways had been built.
Tonight, the Society for the Preservation of Federal Hill and Fells Point will gather to mark its first 25 years. The protracted fights of those years gave Baltimore a chance to examine what kind of future it wanted to build. Who wouldn't agree that the city is not better off now for having confronted those questions? For this, we can thank the society and groups like it that brought people together to preserve not just neighborhoods, but also to craft a vision of a livable city. The past quarter-century has seen its share of successes, but no one knows better than the people who helped win those victories that there are enormous challenges ahead.