City's Transformation Requires Equal Parts Of Money And Patience

October 27, 2007|By JACQUES KELLY

The news that Ed Rutkowski would be helping other Baltimore neighborhoods get back on track reminded me of just how much additional work needs to be done here. Ed worked miracles in East Baltimore in and around Patterson Park as director of one of Baltimore's glowing success stories, the Patterson Park Community Development Corp.

He knows that you have to work house by house -- and that you have to expend patience as well as money. He's an accomplished player in keeping houses out of slumlords' hands.

After watching Baltimore reinvent itself over the past 40 years, I think the job can indeed be completed -- it's just that it will take a lot of money and patience.

You can't help but feel a sense of pleasure as you walk along East Baltimore Street by Patterson Park, then slip up Rose Street or Milton Avenue and see the solid neighborhoods thriving there. Not so far away are the beginnings of an amazing transformation of the area north of the Johns Hopkins Hospital. In a little over a year, a new campus has risen east of Broadway. It's a radical change, where everything old was swept away in a gigantic move.

My personal wish list of places I'd like to see get a second chance -- the way the Patterson Park area did -- includes the blocks around Lafayette Square in West Baltimore.

The other night, I ran into Baltimore painter Greg Otto, who has been working along Fremont Avenue in this neighborhood. The beauty of the Victorian streets and the huge rowhouses set among the churches and squares is amazing. As Otto says, you look at abandoned houses and see trees growing out the third floors.

Although many of the houses are shabby, the general vicinity is not dying. The University of Maryland is now at work constructing new buildings to the west of Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard. Maryland and Johns Hopkins have been major players in the city's fortunes in the last several decades. Many medical and university employees now walk or bike to work, and I'd like to see more of them take advantage of Baltimore's older neighborhoods.

While we're dreaming, I'd like to think of the city's potential -- the rail system that is only beginning to be tapped for commuter service to Washington -- and perhaps one day affordable MARC service to Wilmington, Del., and Philadelphia. Could freight trains ever be taken out of the Howard Street tunnel, placed on another routing, and passenger service be added along the old B&O line?

I am reminded of a rainy day 40 years ago, when I walked along Light Street through the harbor area, when that part of the port was at the end of its economic life. I was making my way along the block where the Verizon building is now being refitted as a food court and shopping area. It didn't look that way then. In fact, the streets were in the last stages of being a produce unloading zone. I'll never forget that day -- because I took a spill on a banana peel.

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