Young men on the cornerI recently had occasion to travel back to Baltimore, a city I knew in my late teens and early twenties. I was staying in Mount Vernon, a neighborhood of wine bars, fine restaurants, and lovingly renovated historic buildings. And please don't misunderstand me: I like wine bars, fine restaurants, and lovingly renovated historic buildings.
Like scattered leaves,
The boarded-up windows,
The empty streets
While my brother's down on his knees
My city of ruins
—"My City of Ruins," Bruce Springsteen, The Rising
I was attending a conference that was being held at the Baltimore Convention Center in the Inner Harbor, an area of high-rise office buildings, malls, chain restaurants and chain hotels. To get there I walked down Howard Street from Madison to Pratt Street, a distance of about three-quarters of a mile. In making that journey every morning and returning every evening, I was brought face to face with the effects of decades of racist urban planning and economic and political choices that have kicked those who are no longer considered useful into the gutter.
Block after block of Howard Street is lined with abandoned buildings and shuttered businesses. Some of these photos are taken from Google Street View, but most are mine:
(The sign on the empty building to the left advertises beepers and VCRs; it must date back two decades or more.)
Baltimore has always been a gritty, struggling city. But I don't remember this level of devastation even after the massive urban disinvestment of the 1970s. The core of the city has been hollowed out. My city's in ruins.