When Micha Dannenberg looks out the window of his Southwest Baltimore home, he's noticing some definite changes.
There are fewer vacant houses, he said. Parking has become more of a chore. And new business owners in the neighborhood are starting to move in.
"There is a real new community involvement that corresponds to the redevelopment of the Hollins Market," he said.
The changes seemed apparent Sunday when thousands of people flocked into Dannenberg's neighborhood for the annual Sowebohemian Arts and Music Festival. The Sowebo neighborhood - its name coined from Southwest Baltimore - where Dannenberg has lived since 1993, has had its ups and downs. But a recent influx of new businesses, coupled with a slew of newly rehabbed homes, has residents saying that the neighborhood is on an upswing.
"We're on the ground floor of a neighborhood that's on the up and up," said Darren Brown, co-owner of the newly opened Sweet Tooth, a dessert shop across from the historic Hollins Street market. At one time, the building housed a public bathhouse and glassblowing studio. Brown and his family have also moved into a rehabbed brownstone a few blocks away.
"We might as well jump in on it early," said Sean "Salaam" Williams, who is Brown's business partner. "There's been a positive response. There's great community support."
Community support and acceptance is a major draw of the neighborhood, according to Dannenberg, one of the organizers of the festival.
"It's very well integrated," he said of the neighborhood. "We're welcoming of diversity. It's not an elitist group of people. We're looking for participation."
The three-block festival featured three stages for live musical acts, and 75 vendors selling everything from African art to Vietnamese food. It was this variety that attracted Rashida Simmons, a Mount Vernon resident, her fiance, Mar Braxton, and their 1-year-old son Kendi.
"We always come to Sowebo. This is what you do in the summer," she said as she pushed her stroller in the direction of some art vendors. "You get to see all the people you didn't see all winter long."
Phillip Westry hopes to live in the neighborhood in the near future. The University of Maryland Law School student has been searching for a new neighborhood in which to live. A barista at a local Starbucks told him to check out the festival to get a better sense of the community.
"You get to meet so many unique people," he said as he observed a woman with a long blond mullet cheering to femme rock. "There's a nice mix of people."
And although he said he didn't like the style of music being performed, he found a major redeeming quality.
"I like that it is free," he said with a chuckle.