Dale Dusman wishes drivers would notice his neighborhood as they zip past Pennsylvania Station.
For more than 30 years, the former elementary school art teacher has waited for motorists stuck at a stoplight not to count the seconds until it turns green.
Like many in the area, he wants to see people strolling past the shops, restaurants and entertainment venues of the three-year-old Station North Arts and Entertainment District.
"Now, you can't wait for the light to change," said Dusman, a Lutheran pastor at St. Mark's Church at St. Paul and 20th streets. "This should be a really hot place to be."
Taking in parts of the Charles North and Greenmount West neighborhoods, triangle-shaped Station North is bounded roughly by 20th Street to the north, Greenmount Avenue to the east and the Jones Falls Expressway to the southwest.
A rare convergence of five bus lines and access to light rail, MARC commuter trains and Penn Station makes it a neighborhood where public transit really works.
It's a transitional neighborhood, gaining popularity with Washington commuters but still grappling with problems of crime, vacant buildings and trash-strewn streets.
Current residents - including some of the nearly 400 artists who live or work in the 100-acre area - fear gentrification could squeeze them out.
A mile north of downtown, Station North is a few minutes walk from the University of Baltimore and the Maryland Institute College of Art. Many drivers miss it, however, as they speed along North Charles, St. Paul and North Calvert streets, the major thoroughfares running through.
"It's close to everything, but it doesn't have an identity" said Mike Shecter, whose grandfather started buying up bowling alleys in the area in 1939. Today, Shecter is managing partner of Bowling Inc., which owns the Charles Theater building and about a dozen other structures and parking facilities nearby.
"There's so much to walk to, that if you're living there, it's a true neighborhood," said Tracy Gosson, executive director of Live Baltimore, an independent nonprofit organization that promotes city living.
Its designation as an arts and entertainment district carries potential tax benefits for artists who live and work in the district. Property owners who rehab a building for artists or for use as an arts or entertainment venue can qualify for various tax breaks, including a property tax credit, a waiver of the admissions and amusement tax, and even an income tax credit for most artistic work that generates revenue.
The architecture is a mix of Victorian styles, including Queen Anne and Edwardian, and buildings from 1601 to 1830 St. Paul St. and part of East Lafayette Street are on the National Register of Historic Places.
Just one residential property is on the market - an estate sale at 1618 N. Calvert St. listed at $79,900, according to Metropolitan Regional Information Systems Inc., the Rockville real estate company that tracks sales.
In the past year, 27 homes sold for an average of $122,925. Prices ranged from $33,000 each for three rowhouses in the 1700 block of Guilford Ave. - the three are now being sold again for $85,000 apiece - to $340,000 for 1933 St. Paul St.
"So many nice people would like to buy and restore a house there, and no one wants to sell," said Melvin Knight, a real estate agent with Coldwell Banker. Knight represented the seller of 12 E. Lafayette St., a three-story shell that sold in November for $144,651.
Crime is still a big concern to many in the neighborhood, with car break-ins the most common, according to data on the city's Web site.
To help reduce crime, Station North's community board has proposed redrawing the city police districts to put the area in one district.
This would involve moving blocks near Greenmount Avenue - now in Eastern District - into Central District, said Kirby Fowler, president of Station North Arts & Entertainment Inc. and the Downtown Partnership.
Joy Martin, the second-generation owner of Club Charles and The Zodiac restaurant on Charles Street, said neighborhood officials are sugar-coating problems caused by crime and development.
Resident Jeff Leone, an aspiring photographer, bought a three-story townhouse for less than $100,000 in the neighborhood last year and then discovered an open-air drug market across the street.
"I probably would have thought a little longer if I had known," said Leone, a library technician who commutes to an art gallery in Washington. Police have been reducing drug activity nearby, said Leone, who would have considered buying a house elsewhere - but still in the neighborhood. He moved there specifically because of the arts district designation, and he said it seemed like it was a safe place with "positive energy."
Artist Bob Levine said community leaders, artists and the city are coping with these issues.
"There's crime here, but there's crime throughout Baltimore," said Levine, a ceramic artist who moved into the area in 1983.