Simple pleasures of the city remain timeless, and just a walk away

September 08, 2001|By JACQUES KELLY

Last Saturday afternoon my brother Eddie and I landed at his Poultney Street home. We put down our shopping bags for a minute, and he said: Don't get too comfortable or even think about taking a nap. There was still some time left to go out and enjoy the pleasures of a cool Baltimore 4 o'clock. On foot. And hurry up.

Within a few seconds we were at the Cross Street Market, walking the main aisle, going over the late summer's offerings. The market, like the city in which it's located, is full of simple pleasures. We sampled and observed and thought: If this is supposed to be a yuppie neighborhood -- as some would have it -- it sure looked like unrefinished old 1950s Baltimore to our eyes.

We took a brief walk around South Baltimore -- or shall we say Federal Hill -- and took in the sights of the neighborhood. Later in the evening, when my father joined us for dinner, my brother recalled how he'd moved into his home, a house my great-grandfather built in 1881, precisely 25 years ago. We all agreed that the last 25 years have been a good time to live in Baltimore.

Not everyone would share our view. Over the many years, I've observed middle-class flight, year in and year out. I've scratched my head and thought, what a shame. I guess the grass is greener elsewhere, but it looks pretty vigorous from where I sit.

If anything, I've pitied those who renounced old Baltimore -- and worse yet, bitterly complain about the state of the city they left. They don't know what they are missing. On the other hand, I've watched many newcomers arrive here from other locales. They delight in the city and wonder what the local dislike is all about.

As the three of us sat at the dinner table, we shared jokes about the tortures of our old houses, their plaster and paint. And, though the words were not spoken, we all would pretty much agree that what this town needs is a great prophet to lead the people back.

My thoughts turned to the past 25 years and the successes of the places where people have worked to make Baltimore a lovely and livable city.

I was reminded of the Pleasant View Gardens near the main downtown post office. Or the Terraces on Fremont Avenue. I think of the big successes of the last quarter century, the Otterbeins, Butcher's Hills and Cantons -- or the scores of scattered places where people have made an impact.

The night before last, I made a quick trip to Roland Park at the hour of an inky blue dusk. The old streets looked so good I could see why people are paying the prices they are for the 95-year-old shingle cottages.

On many a Saturday morning, I take off on foot, walking around the streets, taking time to snoop and visit, catch up on the news and engage in one of my favorite pleasures: treating Baltimore as if it were a friendly small village, where you seem to know everyone and they seem to know you. All business is shared. There are few secrets.

I've read there is a new city commission trying to identify ways to bring people to live in the city, to reverse the grim statistics that say Baltimore isn't worth spending the night in. I'm sure this panel will come up with a stack of suggestions. But to any others I would add this suggestion: Just relax and enjoy the city that's right there before your eyes.

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