Good things about the city

Urban Chronicle

Contest: Amid concern about schools and crime, essay writers find meaning and optimism for the future in owning a home in Baltimore.

Urban Chronicle

March 04, 2004|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

BALTIMORE'S public schools teeter on the brink of financial collapse. Homicides occur at a stubborn rate of five a week. Drugs, despite increases in arrests and treatment, are far too prevalent in far too many places.

Erica Jones, 24, who fondly remembers life as a young girl in West Baltimore, acknowledges this, or at least a good bit of it. Still, the single mother of a 4-year-old girl wants to be a part of bringing the city back.

She writes:

"I understand that in my old neighborhood there has been a hike in crime, the streets are filled with drug dealers and there hasn't been a block party in over 10 years. But if we don't take our neighborhoods back, NO ONE WILL. We have to be the ones buying the properties, chasing the drug dealers off our corners and hanging flower pots out front our windows."

Jones is a finalist in an essay contest for potential new homebuyers titled "What Owning a Home in Baltimore City Means to Me." The contest is sponsored by Live Baltimore, the nonprofit that promotes city living. Three winners of more than 300 entrants - who will share $11,000 toward the purchase of their homes - will be announced today at the organization's newly renovated space downtown.

Cynics could conclude people will say anything for money. But these authors hardly sound insincere.

Take Evangela Franklin, 27, an administrative assistant who included in her essay a picture of herself, her 10-year-old daughter and the East Baltimore rowhouse where she was raised by her grandmother.

She writes:

"Having a permanent place to call my own - a piece of the city from which I could grow a future tied to the best parts of my past - would mean that I had something real and permanent in a city I consider my home. ... Owning a home would mean my daughter could grow up with memories connected to a house, a community and kids in her neighborhood."

Not every entrant who professes to want to buy a home in the city does so out of a sense of wanting to reconnect to the past. Some are newcomers who want to put down roots here because they like it.

Mary Cloonan describes coming to Baltimore four years ago to be a resident artist at Baltimore Clayworks, intending to live here only a year.

She writes:

"I have since stayed beyond my expectations, impressed by the caliber of art museums and grass-roots galleries, the art-house movie theaters and live theaters."

Lisa Tinanoff, a runner who rents an apartment in Otterbein, came to Baltimore six months ago "because I knew I wanted to leave New Jersey, and didn't know where else to go" and discovered the Fells Point Runners, a running club.

She goes on:

"I soon made a habit of enjoying these beautiful evening jogs around the Inner Harbor. On the first loop around the promenade, I would witness a sunset over the city and admire the dabbling of colors on the sailboat masts. On the way back, I would find that darkness had fallen and the downtown lights were reflecting upon the water, providing the harbor with glistening splendor."

For many, the city represents a chance to take a step up or gain a toehold. Dwayne Hartley tells of a past that includes being shot and doing time in a boot camp, a present that includes a steady job and start-up business and a future that he hopes includes a home that would be an "investment in every sense of the word. Just like the investment that I made in redirecting my life."

Christina Wiginton, who rents in Takoma Park, could be an example of the efforts to promote Baltimore as an affordable alternative to the pricey Washington area.

She writes:

"I went to college in Washington D.C. and have spent the last 5 years scraping enough money together to pay exorbitant amounts of rent for small apartments. I wanted to buy, but quickly lost hope when I started to look in the real estate sections of my local newspaper. With the salary from my entry-level position, I would have to save for years before I could even consider buying a one bedroom condo."

And the words of Xuan-Huong Nguyen of Washington should give hope to those who want to attract more immigrants to the city. Nguyen writes of his "absolute dream" to buy a home for his parents, who fled Vietnam in 1975 and raised him and six brothers and sisters with "tireless work."

He writes:

"I think my parents would be well suited for Baltimore. My mom and dad are real unpretentious folks who understand the value of hard work and getting their fingers dirty. When I think of Baltimore ... I see faces of ones who have called Baltimore their home for countless years and have created communities on their blocks and city streets. I see people in transition, like my family once, who are endeavoring to see what limitless possibilities there are for their city and their neighborhoods. I witness hope in the future and awe at change."

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