Some places just can't get a break. Here are the people of Armistead Gardens in East Baltimore, striving to eke out an existence in a neighborhood hemmed in by highways, heavy industry and a city incinerator.
The neighborhood is a stone's throw from a decrepit stretch of Pulaski Highway, pimpled and pockmarked by no-tell motels and seedy, windowless bars. A body gets carried out of one of the establishments every so often. Prostitutes -- females dressed as females or, occasionally, males dressed as females, according to police -- saunter up and down the highway; in a reverse tug-of-war, city officers push the hookers north and county vice detectives repel them south again.
In spite of all this, the working class residents of Armistead Gardens seem to do all right. In a Sun analysis of city crime last year, the neighborhood was Baltimore's safest police post in a residential area.
There is virtually no abandoned housing, most homes are owner-occupied, and most family households have both mother and father present. Although the incomes were roughly the same as in Druid Heights in West Baltimore, according to the analysis, there was 15 times less crime in Armistead Gardens.
So when word got out in the neighborhood that a vacant fast-food restaurant on Pulaski Highway was going to be re-used, people had positive expectations. A new video store? Great. But then it turned out to be an "adult video outlet," just what this neighborhood does not need.
It is unclear whether the business would be outlawed by a new restriction on adult bookstores that the City Council approved last June, but which has not been signed into law. City Council President Mary Pat Clarke says, though, this store is the last straw and the city should create an urban renewal zone there. "This is not the Block-East," she says.
The video store owner scoffs and says this is a free speech issue. Speech is an issue, but the Founding Fathers framed the constitutional protections because they were concerned about the livability of America, the means for people to live peaceably.
The folks of Armistead Gardens are trying to do that under difficult circumstances. The prostitutes, the bars and motels -- Well, they aren't pretty, but neither are they as blatant as the adult video outlet.
City officials should put pressure on an operation such as this. Baltimore's first step to retaining the legions of people it has lost to the suburbs over the years must be to protect those people who are working hard to make a life in the city.