Pairing neighborhoods

Contrasting markets: While some areas are in high demand, other communities keep deteriorating.

April 24, 2000

PERHAPS IT'S the expensive gasoline. Or a renewed faith that Baltimore can be turned around in these good economic times. Whatever the reason, the city's high-end residential real estate market has taken off.

Open houses in neighborhoods like Roland Park, Mount Washington and Guilford have been mobbed in recent weeks. Some properties have been snapped up as soon as "For sale" signs appeared.

Harbor neighborhoods are also doing well. The surest sign is the number of in-fill houses being built on vacant lots. They are moving briskly and fetching top dollar. An example: Six newly constructed 1,260-square-foot Canton rowhouses sold for nearly $200,000 each, even though they are several blocks from the water.

The strong high-end market is good news for the city because it means more tax revenue. Unfortunately, many other residential neighborhoods are still plagued by abandonment and deterioration.

A striking example is the duality between two adjacent southwest neighborhoods near the city-county line. Hardly a property is for sale in Ten Hills, a leafy area of large single-family homes, south of Edmondson Ave. But the adjoining rowhouse neighborhood of Irvington is struggling with vacancies, even though its Augusta Ave. is among the city's nicest streets in its spring splendor.

Similar dichotomies abound:

The old mill community of Dickeyville, nestled amid Leakin Park, is doing fine. But Forest Park next door is battling decay, despite its large houses and beautiful golf course.

Bolton Hill, an old Victorian enclave, is thriving with a recent infusion of new houses. No similar recovery is evident in neighboring areas. This is particularly distressing in Reservoir Hill, which has plenty of magnificent houses, empty land for redevelopment and a splendid location near Druid Hill Park.

Homeland has regained its strength as a high-end garden neighborhood. But little of its success has spilled over to Govans.

The point is that the well-being of a strong community doesn't seem to help a weaker neighbor. Yet the perceived neighborhood demarcation lines -- which are often arbitrary -- tend to melt in a hot real estate market.

An example: As Canton prices have skyrocketed, house hunters hoping to maximize value have started looking at nearby Patterson Park and Highlandtown.

The current upswing is the optimal time for planning and housing officials to start developing more such links. The city is full of candidates for paired neighborhoods: Original Northwood/Ednor Gardens, Guilford/Oakenshawe, Beverly Hills/Hamilton, Charles Village/Waverly.

This kind of coupling should be at the heart of Mayor Martin O'Malley's intention to revamp the neighborhood service centers. The city ought to recognize natural linkages among adjoining viable residential areas. Instead of accentuating differences, success should be spread around and multiplied.

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