What’s so charming about Charm City Baltimore?

A stroll through Baltimore city can be a transformative experience when through the Baltimore’s Federal Hill down to the Inner Harbor, it’s easy to understand how quickly Charm City Baltimore became the coolest place on the east coast as named in the Travel + Leisure article “How Baltimore Quietly Became the Coolest City on the East Coast” by David Amsden. Previously, Baltimore has been well-known for its dangerous and racialized image as portrayed in the media. However, this image is combated with the beautiful rooftop gardens by Federal Hill’s Cross Street Market and a wealthy clientele to match the atmosphere. In fact, the stores aligning the walk to the Harbor are filled with white employees with gauges in their ears and tattoos on their shoulders indicating the modern and accepting nature of the area. And amidst this picturesque image, members of Baltimore’s homeless population break the mirage. The beautiful sunny walk down to the Inner Harbor is only tainted by the sound of, “Do you have some change?”

The impression that one gets of Baltimore when walking through its more affluent areas is that Baltimore’s reputation as Black and impoverished is imaginary. However, this is an ignorant notion when it is evident to any Baltimorean that Baltimore has a large percentage of low-income individuals and families. Moreover, it is these communities that embody Baltimore’s issue with wealth distribution, they represent the real Baltimore. The divide between the rich and poor in Baltimore is evident on a map of the city.

Map created by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, 2014

In fact, this difference is so clear that it is known colloquially as “the White L” and “the Black butterfly.” While “the White L” contains the wealthier white areas of the city, “the Black butterfly” has largely poor Black communities. This creates 2 different experiences of Baltimore, the wealthier white area extends from Mt. Washington to Midtown and then shifts to the left from Federal Hill to Highlandtown in the shape of an L dividing Baltimore. While the visual of the poorer Black areas extend in the form of a butterfly from Glen-Fallstaff to Druid Heights and Irvington on the West side, and Loch Raven to Greenmount and Madison on the East side. However, for those without this understanding of Baltimore’s contrasting cultures, they view Baltimore under one of these two lenses, only receiving a portion of the full composition.

While tourism might describe Baltimore city as a popular travel destination, the media image of Baltimore does not show the same sentiment. As images of Baltimore as a crime-ridden location with an uncontrollable citizenry play on repeat during the evening news, two reactions compete for solutions. One side viewing the visual gap between White rich and Black poor as evidence of an overall systemic problem meant to be solved by the state through interventions focused on poverty, housing and education. While the other side becomes shocked and sees “the Black butterfly” as an issue too large to conquer providing the solution of completely rebuilding the city through gentrification to make it more beautiful and more secure. However, a source within the Baltimore Police Department has stated that “gentrification in Baltimore is really happening at a snail’s pace,” noting the issue is that ”[housing] projects built on racial bias should not still exist in 2017.” A statement that emphasizes the city’s understanding of the legacy of Baltimore’s divide. Baltimore is defined by clear wealth and racial disparity and it is evident that these areas were established and maintained by segregation and sustained due to the city’s aspiring toward gentrification. As such, the question is for whom is Baltimore the coolest place on the East Coast?

For those experiencing life within “the Black butterfly,” a walk through Baltimore is no longer a surreal experience. These individuals are living in neighborhoods that were established generations ago and never given any more investment. Their lives containing family and friends socializing on street corners beside abandoned homes or riding the bus down Greenmount dressed in their Sunday clothes to worship at one of the many churches aligning the nearby liquor stores. This largely Black inner city experience can not be replicated by the beautiful areas in “the White L,” where the Baltimore city government has invested money and constructed the are with the purpose of attracting more wealth to Charm city. Although both images of Baltimore are accurate, one certainly has more power than the other. In fact, the efforts of Charm city’s more influential visitors, soon to leave and establish families in the suburbs, have been effective tools in slowly changing the culture of Baltimore. As the yearning of the upper middle class for the poor to be removed from their streets becomes more commonplace with the increase of new housing developments and expensive means of entertainment replacing what were previously downtrodden communities in need of aid. Unfortunately, Baltimore’s best-kept secret is not its attractions and accessibility but rather its ability to clearly filter out those that do not belong in its newly contrived mold.