Harboring a rivalry

Canton and Federal Hill share a waterfront, soaring real estate prices and friendly competition. The latest skirmish: dueling T-shirts.

December 22, 2005|By ABIGAIL TUCKER | ABIGAIL TUCKER,SUN REPORTER

It's only about two miles as the crab scuttles, or five-and-a-half as the cab drives, but the distance between the twin yuppie capitals of Canton and Federal Hill is vast indeed, or so some residents of each neighborhood insist -- especially when called upon to visit the other.

The Canton crowd bemoans "going over the hill," while the Federal Hillers are loathe to "cross the pond," as though Canton were, like its namesake, a distant Chinese port, instead of a bunch of rehabbed row homes and tony bars on the other side of the harbor.

Typically, the griping begins mid-Friday afternoon, among groups of friends and co-workers that span both neighborhoods.

"Everyone says, `You come here,' `No, you come here!" said Kim Bosley, a bartender at Portside in Canton. "There is an endless e-mail battle about where we're going to rally."

Such is the Canton-Federal Hill rivalry, a feud fueled in equal parts by personal laziness and neighborhood pride. While not precisely on par with that Montague and Capulet spat (or even the Ravens and Redskins), the sense of competition is palpable, surfacing in down-and-dirty city kickball championships, harbor-crossed romances and barside conversations about which community's dogs are the nattier dressers.

The latest incarnation is CantonvsFederalHill .com, a Web site that sells T-shirts emblazoned with the neighborhood name or ZIP code (21224 or 21230). Launched last month, the site tracks which neighborhood has bought more clothing; whoever is ahead by the middle of next month wins.

"It's fascinating to watch the neighborhoods react," said Matt Goddard, a principal of Round 2 Communications, the local (OK, Canton-based) advertising agency that launched the Web site as a goodwill gesture. "Federal Hill takes the lead, then a bunch of Canton e-mails go out, then Canton pulls ahead."

The Living Classrooms Foundation, a nonprofit group safely situated in the neutral territory of the Inner Harbor, gets the profits, but the victorious neighborhood will inherit, the Web site promises, "bragging rights for the entire year" and a chance to "throw the final party on their turf."

Canton is now the frontrunner, with 1,000 shirts sold. Federal Hill has 720.

The decision to pit two of the city's swankier neighborhoods against each other for charitable purposes is in some respects a no-brainer, as it capitalizes on the one thing Canton and Federal Hill definitely seem to have in common: disposable income.

A tradition of rivalries

But in another sense, the real-life competition between the two places is an unlikely phenomenon. Such neighborhood rivalries were the stuff of old Baltimore, when a neighborhood was the locus of life, and many people never left. Friendly rivalries naturally arose and were played out in forums like the now-defunct city fair, where communities vied in contests like booth-decorating, said Tracy Gosson, executive director of Live Baltimore, a nonprofit group that studies and promotes urban communities here.

Yet, though each still has its share of lifelong residents, Canton and Federal Hill are now far from insular. Both have undergone a renaissance and are currently two of the city's "revolving door communities," destinations for the city's newcomers, Gosson said. "They're like the Ellis Island of Baltimore, the off-the-cuff destinations for the younger professional, the easy place to start if you came here from somewhere else, where there is a huge concentration of other people there who are just like you."

It is precisely this transience that fuels the modern rivalry, said Goddard, who first noticed it among his own Canton and Federal Hill-dwelling employees, some of whom migrated from other cities. They and other young professionals who come to Baltimore to work as equity traders in downtown financial houses or mortgage brokers in suburban firms faced finding a place to live, or -- for those who had to move to the more affordable satellite communities somewhat preposterously known as "upper north Canton" (Highlandtown) or "south Federal Hill" -- at least a place to socialize.

"It's a lobbying effort that starts as soon as they get here," Goddard said. "Whether it's the real estate agents or friends and associates," everyone tries to woo the newbies to one side of the harbor or the other.

Partisans

Once the decision is made, hearts grow harder than the polished granite that covers kitchen counters in both communities. Loyalties are locked in place. Although cross-harbor friendships -- and even romances -- may develop, so do deep-seated prejudices, such as those held by Ted Van Deusen III, who works in accounting and lives in (and rarely leaves) Federal Hill.

"There are too many underage ... people in Canton," he said. "It's like Saved By The Bell over there."

Van Deusen is a wizened 31.

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