Accelerating Change in Pigtown

April 26, 1994

Pigtown -- or, as some upscale residents and real estate people prefer, Washington Village -- is a largely blue-collar area west of Martin Luther King Boulevard. Although it is within sight of Oriole Park, it has so far received few benefits from the baseball stadium. In fact, Washington Boulevard, the neighborhood's main street, has never looked as squalid and unkempt as it does today.

Mercifully, change is in the air.

Last year, an old elementary school at Washington Boulevard and Carey Street was transformed into senior citizen apartments, a conversion that won architectural plaudits. Four blocks away, an old laundry building was recently rebuilt into a 150-seat Playwrights Theatre. Now comes the announcement that Ryland Group, the nation's third largest home builder, will construct 113 new townhouses nearby in partnership with developer Otis Warren.

For Ryland, the new Barre Station development will represent its boldest plunge yet into an urban market. Beating two rivals for development rights to an eight-acre, city-owned parcel near the B&O Railroad Museum, Ryland thinks it can successfully build and sell smallish two- and three-story homes to young professionals and empty-nesters who want the convenience of downtown and easy access to the rapidly growing employment zone between Baltimore and Washington.

We are convinced that city Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III made the right choice in picking Ryland. The firm has a name and reputation, which ought to help sell the houses which are priced under $110,000 and equipped with an optional garage and fireplace. If the project is successful, other investors might consider building new units or repairing boarded-up vacant properties in Pigtown.

Many older residents of Pigtown have conflicting feelings about the area's gentrification, which began in the 1970s with restoration of the Barre Circle homesteading properties. Instead of fearing the newcomers, they should welcome them. The past decades have undisputably shown that unless Pigtown can get an infusion of new blood, energy and wealth, the community's deterioration will continue.

Named in times when pigs were herded through its streets and alleys to nearby slaughterhouses, Pigtown is ripe for revitalization. Like so many other neighborhoods, it can use a heavy dose of gentrification.

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