THE 26th annual holiday lighting of the Washington Monument in Mount Vernon this year again reminded us what is best about living in Baltimore City: neighborhoods with historic buildings, a diverse population, an abundance of cultural institutions, a sense of connection with the past and with each other.
On that drizzly evening, the crowd looked into the dark, December sky and saw the marble monument strung with strands of white lights, highlighted by the amber glow of the city, showered by a cascade of fireworks to celebrate the beginning of the holiday season, the ending of Baltimore's bicentennial year.
More than in recent memory, the lighting of the monument reflected a glimmer of hope for the city.
This year, the new school board seems serious about making constructive changes that will eventually help our schools produce students who exemplify the mayor's ambitious motto: ''Baltimore, the City that Reads.'' The police department has placed more officers on the streets, made inroads into some of the city's worst drug areas. Violent crime has declined and parts of the city seem safer, cleaner.
Some overdue state tax-credit programs are offering incentives to homeowners to rehabilitate vacant buildings and purchase new homes.
Another new program offers low mortgage rates to homebuyers in designated older neighborhoods. The Baltimore Homeowners' Coalition, which represents more than 220 community associations, has again worked successfully to maintain the city's property tax rate and the 4-percent cap on the piggyback tax.
The combined effort of hundreds of individuals and agencies helped win a $4.2 million grant from the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation for Safe and Sound, a program for the children of Baltimore, which provides a reading program and recreation programs for after-school and summertime. It also works to reduce gun violence and provide support programs for families.
On the cultural front, the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra has completed an acclaimed tour of Japan and named a new conductor. The Baltimore Museum of Art has also appointed a new director. The Maryland Historical Society has expanded. The American Visionary Art Museum, Eubie Blake Cultural Center and Babe Ruth Museum have plans to do the same. The Walters Art Gallery soon begins renovation. Port Discovery, a children's museum, is being completed, and a Civil War museum opened this year. The once magnificent Hippodrome theater, 12 N. Eutaw St., has been given to the University of Maryland,
Baltimore; the historic Senator and Charles theaters plan renovation and expansion.
The Power Plant has been converted to a promising retail and recreational destination for Inner Harbor visitors.
Travelers may now take light rail from the refurbished Penn Station to Baltimore-Washington International Airport. A new stadium for the Ravens is rising, and Brady Anderson has signed a five-year contract with the Orioles.
In my own neighborhood, houses are selling well again, often to county residents who could move anywhere but chose the city.
Surely, we are all aware of the problems of drugs, crime, health care, education, preservation, special-interest politics, but this year there's evidence that the city is turning around.
At the lighting of the monument, there was hope in the air -- hope that the vision of individual communities and citizens, our efforts, large and small, will continue to bring us together to improve life in our city.
Kathy Hudson writes from Roland Park.