Urban decay is a growing problem in Baltimore, Maryland. The city is losing people, money and most notably, the upkeep of many of its residential and commercial neighborhoods, leaving behind neighborhoods barely above the poverty line. Baltimore has always been a boom and bust city that in its bust stage is no surprise that it is the second most affected city by this residential and commercial nightmare, behind Detroit.
In 1893, a steel mill and shipyard owned by the Pennsylvania Steel Company called Bethlehem Steel opened up in Baltimore. The birth of that plant created many jobs for a majority of the working class community. The company also constructed a residential community called Sparrows Point for many of their workers to live in. This community had low rent payments, good amenities and was separated by race and class. Many more plants like this popped up around Baltimore pulling in more people to increase the population. By the 1940’s, during World War II, all able-bodied men and women that were not on the war-front held jobs at factories and mills. Heading into the late 20th century, Bethlehem Steel had to make intense layoffs reducing its 47,000 person workforce to 7,000 workers leaving 40,000 workers out of a job, which led to them becoming impoverished and vacating their homes. Another company not far up the east side of Baltimore, Glen L Martin’s aircraft plant who employed 53,000 people closed its doors. Again leaving surrounding neighborhoods vacant and creating a blight.
Partially to blame for the intense urban decay is how strict the city is racially segregated. Baltimore is often viewed as a northern city with southern values. In 1910, a “Yale-educated black lawyer” moved into the neighborhood of Mount Royal and it caused the rest of the residents, who were white, to fight back (The Editorial Board). The city then placed a law stating that no white person can move onto a block where over half of the residents were black and no black person can move onto a block where more than half of the residents were white. This ended up being shut down by the courts so “the city adopted a strategy already successful in Chicago, under which building and health department inspectors lodged code violations against owners who ignored the apartheid rule. Civic leaders then imposed restrictive covenants that barred black residents” (The Editorial Board). This caused many Baltimoreans to stay in their segregated neighborhoods that sometimes lacked many basic needs. In the 1980’s and the 1990’s the white flight movement came to the city. Many Caucasian families with money left neighborhoods vacant as they moved into nice suburbs. These Caucasian neighborhoods may be almost completely vacant but the African American neighborhoods still could not push into those neighborhoods because of the strict segregation that was still held up in some areas of the city. The streets were dirty and scary, filled with drug deals and debris. With drugs came crime and the crime created a danger that only seemed to inhibit any steps made towards renewal. This together made a huge impact on the urban rot that Baltimore is facing today.
The neighborhoods that most of the urban rot has affected are the old industrial areas such as the east where a lot of the steel and shipbuilding industry took place and the West where much of the railway industry was. When these industrial companies collapsed, so did the neighborhoods around them.
In an article with Sputnik News, Justin Mitchel talks about “America's 21st-century housing crisis” and the personal effect it had one woman named Lois Johnson. In the west Baltimore neighborhood of Midtown-Edmondson, the evidence of the effects of Baltimore’s post-industrial downfall is prevalent. Midtown-Edmonton used to be a vibrant African-American community and Johnson has lived in Midtown-Edmonson for forty-two years. In the beginning years, she lived on a no outlet block off of Monroe Street. Her father worked at the lumber company off of W Franklin Street, just a few blocks away from where they lived. When the company shut down, many residents moved away and new residents never filled the vacancies. Many groups have tried to place a number on how many residential vacancies there are in the city but the only numbers announced are between 15 thousand and 40 thousand.
The demographics of Baltimore have changed dramatically since the blight hit. During World War II the city had a population of nearly one million and today the population sits at 622,104 people. The population had declined dramatically with so many families moving out to escape the dangers of the city. This caused many suburbs like Glen Burnie and Towson to grow. With many of the more well-off families moving into suburbia, the per capita income of Baltimore citizens has dropped to $25,290. That number is almost at par with the poverty line for a four-person household in Maryland. With the suburbs at capacity, Baltimore has been left under populated.
Today, education has had to take major cuts because of the blight. The loss in population and the loss of income have created massive budget deficits for schools in the Baltimore City School District. In 2000, many schools did not even have enough money for textbooks, because of that, one school requested a grant from Bob Embry the President of the Abell Foundation for $80,000 to pay for new textbooks. Many people said that he would never fund this, but he did, and he also shamed the city of Baltimore for not providing textbooks themselves. To keep all core subjects in every school, hard cuts had to be made. In almost every school in the district, arts were completely cut.
The Baltimore riots of 2015 were caused by the death of Freddie Gray, an African American male. Freddie died because of neglectful actions police took in transporting him. Baltimore police have a bad reputation of racial profiling and committing police brutality. The riots created a lot of things, but the main thing it created was attention to how bad Baltimore had really rotted. The riots were covered by media almost twenty-four hours a day, but what many viewers could not see is that it was not affecting all of Baltimore. The media quickly blew out of proportion how bad the riots were and that a very large majority of the city was unaffected. ”A local news station in Memphis, Tennessee released a picture showing a burning residential area and a McDonalds, stating that “Baltimore was in flames”, the photo was actually of a riot that had taken place in Venezuela. No buildings were actually lit on fire in correlation to the riots. The riots caused by the death of Freddie Gray took place in West Baltimore, and although the riots may not have been as bad as they were made out to be, the decay is, and that part of Baltimore finally became nationally recognized. On the news, you could see the decay and the poverty and it was brought to the attention then that an abnormal amount of neighborhoods in Baltimore are now considered ghost towns. Baltimore has since taken a more aggressive approach at fixing this large problem.
Currently, Baltimore’s areas of tourism and nightlife are booming, and also the area is not dominated by one certain race. This is partial because of the gentrification of the Inner Harbor and the fact that Baltimore is a college town with three big university campuses in city limits. University of Maryland- Baltimore County, John Hopkins University and the University of Baltimore bring in large numbers of millennials to fill in the nightlife and also support tourist spots such as the aquarium and the Ripley’s: Believe it or Not museum. Neighborhoods such as Fells Point, Canton, Federal Hill and Locust Point are hubs for many young college students and young urban professionals. The Rockwell, a “Purely rock bar” co-owned by the guitarist of the successful pop-punk band, All Time Low, is situated in the center of Fells Point and is a hub for many music and art lovers, erasing racial prejudices (Co-Owner, Jack Barakat).
Baltimore has a strong future ahead of them if they take major strides in the renewal of neighborhoods that are vacant and decayed. In the near future years, Baltimore is projected to be back on course to being a successful middle-class city again.