Advocates for downtown living

April 15, 1992

Much of the urban renaissance that first begot Harborplace and now Oriole Park at Camden Yards started in Baltimore's neighborhoods.

A stroll through Federal Hill, Fells Point and Butchers Hill underscores the fact that many neighborhoods have thrived with the changing city. But for every improving neighborhood there is another where residents seem to be on edge. They worry about safety on the streets, their property values and the future direction of the city.

A new coalition has been formed to band the downtown residential neighborhoods together. The Baltimore Downtown Living Council is an outgrowth of the extensive committee work that last year produced a planning document called "The Renaissance Continues: A 20-year Strategy for Downtown Baltimore." Since many of its activists worked on that report, no one will be surprised that a key mission of the new coalition is to work for the implementation of the renaissance report.

"We know what concerns us. We worry about crime, we worry about city services, we worry about traffic," says George Bowers, a Seton Hill resident heading the council.

A hospital administrator at the nearby University of Maryland Medical System, Mr. Bowers says one of the big concerns of member organizations is the apparent lack of coordination among various city agencies. If those bureaucracies do not work in harmony, neighborhoods will have little success in combating such concerns as liquor license transfers and vacant houses.

The renaissance report defined downtown's borders as the Inner Harbor, Martin Luther King Boulevard and the Jones Falls Expressway. In its first four months, the council has been trying to pin down both its scope and mission. The inclusion of the Federal Hill Association among initial members indicates that the umbrella group is ready to accept a wider definition of downtown and involve such areas as Bolton Hill and Reservoir Hill.

Broadening the downtown definition is a smart move because a broad-based alliance of core city neighborhoods is direly needed. Such an alliance, known as the Intown Living Council, used to exist in the 1970s but withered away. Neighborhoods from Charles Village to Locust Point, from Patterson Park to Franklin Square could again use a strong voice with clout at City Hall.

Baltimore's renaissance in the 1970s was largely engineered by the municipal government using federal incentives. Many of those incentives are now gone. Yet individuals continue to express their faith in downtown living by renovating homes and rehabilitating vacant properties. The city and downtown residents form a natural partnership.

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