Thriving renewal is sight for sentimental city eyes

October 05, 2002|By JACQUES KELLY

YEARS AGO, I was out with a news photographer on a fine October day. I think we were at Lanvale and John streets. Welooked around at the Bolton Hill neighborhood we had known so well.

However, that day, we perceived the scene not to be the same. After years of the agony of urban renewal, and hard work on the part of so many people, Bolton Hill was looking splendid. It had attained that marvelous maturity that city neighborhoods attain when things go well.

This week, on another fine autumn afternoon, I was struck by the same feeling, one of pride for Baltimore and its older communities, places that have endured the torture of dug-up streets or years of semi-neglect, or worse yet, a lack of confidence.

I was heading down Caroline Street, in Fells Point, which is finally being rebuilt after what seems like a century of neglect. The new Bond Street Wharf was open for business, full of businesses that have relocated from other parts of Baltimore.

As I turned the corner on Thames Street, I viewed a scene unlike the Fells Point locked in memory. My perception this day was a prosperous, thriving street, not merely an address for bars or a place to hold urban festivals. All the pieces had come together and fit tightly.

Was it a new Fells Point? Not really. But the balance had been tipped for a different, nicely modified and productive Fells Point. I liked what I saw, especially all the walkers, strollers and mothers with baby carriages.

There was no shortage of moms and carriages in Federal Hill that day as well. As two colleagues and I took off down Riverside Avenue - a street I've known for 50 years - I was smiling again. The tree canopy was full, adding a gracious and placid note to this streetscape of classic 19th-century homes. A friend commented that if you changed the parked cars, it could be Baltimore of 1930. If you moved in horses and wagons, maybe gas lights, it could have been Baltimore of 1880 - high praise in my judgment.

Once again, after 30-odd years of self-imposed renewal, plenty of elbow grease, and a burst of neighborhood self-confidence, Riverside Avenue was shining in the October light. How different was it from the evenings of 1954 when I visited my great Aunt Agnes who lived here? That's hard to say; it just looked pretty fine, polished - once again, with people on the streets.

And it too had attained that fine state of middle age, handsome, well-preserved and appreciated. It was no longer a work in progress. And I was there to enjoy that welcome condition.

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