Recently, on a local radio talk show, a very high city official complained about slow growth in the municipal tax base. He said that if Baltimore is to prosper, we need a massive influx of dynamic, tax paying professionals. I know the kind of “Young Master of the Universe” types he has in mind. In fact, he was talking about some of my best friends. These are special people with special needs, and if that city big shot is serious about attracting them, he must make an effort to understand and meet those needs. I can be of service in that regard.
My friends cannot survive without fancy hair salons and boutiques that sell designer jeans and t-shirts. They absolutely must have neon-lighted dance clubs and restaurants with cute items on the menu like Choo-Choo Burgers, Caboose Omelets, and Latté Grandés—whatever they are. My friends are unable to resist the attraction of little shops that sell expensive gifts that have no practical of aesthetic value, which they buy with “disposable income” and give to friends and relatives who all ready have everything. And, most importantly, my friends require new housing that appears to be old. This usually involves renovating vintage buildings by replacing everything in them, right down to the mortar between the exposed bricks in the walls.
A perfect example of what it takes to attract these folks can be found in South Baltimore around Cross Street Market, now called the fancier-sounding “Federal Hill.” In that area whole blocks of old homes were bought cheaply years ago and, in the process of renovation, prices were raised to levels the former tenants—working-class people, many of whom had lived there for generations—could not afford. So the renovated homes were sold to newcomers with unlimited resources. The rich class tends to swarm, like ants, and once a few were introduced into the area the picnic was over for everyone else. In South Baltimore the “renewal” continues to this day. Young Masters of the Universe clones are everywhere, and the neighborhood has become a sort of Georgetown-by-the-Harborplace. Where once was heard the sounds of the working-class struggling to survive, one now hears the rustle of Wall Street Journal pages being flipped, laptop keyboards being tapped, and café au lait being slurped.
The thing is, creating a trendy urban oasis such as the one I’ve just described is relatively easy. As long as working-class people cannot afford to wear designer clothes, drink expensive coffee, and rebuild their modest row homes from the ground up, the Cross Street Market model will work just about anywhere in town—it’s simply a matter of applying economic pressure to drive out the poorer population. And once every working-class neighborhood in Baltimore has been converted to an urban utopia for people like my friends, that high city official will have his wider tax base. And we’ll have a very different city. Wonderful.
This anger-tinged essay was originally published on the op-ed page of the Baltimore Evening Sun on July 5, 1979, under the editor’s title “Drink to me only with thine Perrier,” and with a different illustration (a really bad cartoon by someone on the Sun staff). Aside from the illustration, the only changes I’ve made are a few words here and there to update the text somewhat. This bit of satire was written at a time when I was pretty unhappy with the changes I saw happening in a part of town in which I had spent the formative years of my youth. As you may be able to tell by the tone of the piece, at the time I wrote it I was a sad, angry, even depressed young man. These days, thank goodness, not so much.
Copyright © 2009 Jim Sizemore.