Baltimoreans are NOT adrenaline junkies
This city's sad plight seems to boil down to one thing. Our civic leaders seem to think we're all a bunch of adrenaline junkies. Most of the crazy schemes they've concocted to "save the city" are based on their assumption that the citizenry needs ever increasing jolts of stimulation to keep us going.
Like most misconceptions, this one is rooted in points which really are true. Yes, Baltimore is the source of most of the themes, focus and energy that drive the surrounding region. But when visitors and suburbanites swoop into the city for some action, it's increasingly manufactured action, not something inherent. And most city residents have grown weary of it. So much so that hundreds of thousands have fled the urban zoo in their quest for some normalcy.
Michael Dresser's column in yesterday's Sun is the most recent summation: "When there's a need for a shot of adrenaline, Baltimore is the place to find it." So the city gets subjected to "special events" like the upcoming Baltimore Grand Prix, which is merely the latest in a long series of grand cataclysms, some of which are very nice and temporary, like Artscape and other city fairs, some of which were promised to be temporary and turned permanent, like mass total destruction for the "Highway to Nowhere", and a whole range in between like the Charles Center and Old Town projects.
Dresser says the alternative is "doing nothing", by which he means "fading into the third tier of American cities." He then admonishes, "If you're really a city person - whether full-time or on weekends - the traffic problems caused by special events are more a challenge to be surmounted than an ordeal to be endured."
Wrong. City residents do not crave challenges. Real Baltimoreans love the calm moments we get when the invading crazies are no longer around, when all the visitors and suburbanites have gone home.
Yes, real Baltimoreans are also amused when we are able to witness and attend all these big events without getting into the fray induced by the visitors and suburbanites. Bolton Hill, Mount Vernon and Midtown residents get real pleasure when they are able to attend Artscape just by walking down the street instead of getting into the gigantic traffic-frayed hassles among suburbanites and other visitors.
The perception of city residents amid Baltimore visitors and suburbanites is similar to the perception of wild animals among national park visitors. Artscape and the Grand Prix are not our natural habitat any more than Yellowstone campgrounds are the natural habitat of wild bears. So it's no wonder when these things drive us neurotic, just as bears like Yogi are taunted with pic-a-nic baskets.
City residents are no different from suburbanites, in that we want our lives to be a mixture or excitement and calm, even boredom. We also want it all on our own terms, not like the Grand Prix invasion foisted on our native habitat, or the city officials who announce that a neighborhood needs to be destroyed to be saved.
Boredom and conformity are actually a Baltimore tradition. We're a city of rowhouses. Suburban houses are often accused of looking alike, but not nearly as much as Baltimore rowhouses. It's soothing. Similarly, mass transit was once a calm, drama-free way to get around, but nowadays it often doesn't go where we need to go, if it works at all. Dresser speaks of mass transit as part of city residents' challenges and opportunities. It's not supposed to be that way. Mass transit is just supposed to be a support system for a calm urban life.
Overstimulation beyond the Grand Prix
Most of the "big ideas" that have been pushed upon Baltimore by our civic leaders have not delivered the level of success promised in their hype. Billions of dollars later, we still don't have a decent transit system, Howard Street is still in shambles, the "Highway to Nowhere" is a wasteland, and the city as a whole is still an economic basket case with thousands of abandoned houses.
But the Inner Harbor is a success, right? All those gleaming buildings surrounding it are surely a result of brilliant planning, right?
Well... the focal point of the Inner Harbor is the water itself. The water hasn't changed much. It may be a bit cleaner, yes, but not enough to really change anything.
The real reason for the Inner Harbor's success amid of all of Baltimore's failure is that the water itself is a large reservoir of calm that resists change. The gleaming new buildings around the waterfront and its promenade cling to the water like a baby clings to mama. Baltimore's harbor is that unique place that has the ability to absorb massive change while staying rooted in the stability that the water provides.
So our civic leaders keep pushing more and more massive change upon this watery vessel of stability. Despite the fact that the Inner Harbor has already been given far more attention, far more renewal and far more investment than any other part of Baltimore, our leaders keep doubling down for more.
The Grand Prix is but the latest tip of the iceberg. Despite the fact that the entire city needs better mass transit, they want to build the multi-billion dollar Red Line right along the waterfront. (Yes, they also want to put it in the median strip of the "Highway to Nowhere", not to renew it, but only to contain it. If they really wanted to renew the corridor, they'd get rid of the highway.)
Incredulously, the Greater Baltimore Committee now concludes that the Inner Harbor, one of the few places in Baltimore where renewal has actually been reputed to be a real sustainable success, is in need of a whole new round of renewal to the tune of another billion dollars plus. So among other things, they want to knock down a large part of the Convention Center and the adjacent Sheraton Hotel for a billion dollar expansion with an arena.
And they're putting it in terms of jacking up our urban adrenaline.
So the cataclysms created in the name of the Baltimore Grand Prix are a mere prologue for what our civic leaders now have in store for us. And they've co-opted that ode to adrenaline gone wild, Bruce Springsteen's "Born to Run", as the soundtrack for their sales pitch. The Greater Baltimore Committee has presented the following seven minute video vision of a brave new Inner Harbor to the strains of The Boss:
Michael Dresser's rhetoric that the only alternative is a post-industrial wasteland like Youngstown, Ohio is only slightly more overstated than the sales tactics of our civic leaders.
Let's get real economic development
Baltimore is a great city. It is the largest city in the richest state in the world's richest nation, with inherent geographic assets like proximity to the wonderful harbor directly between our nation's capital to the south and the world's economic capital, New York City, just to the north.
Baltimoreans are sick and tired of the emotional hard-sell tactics of our so-called leaders, trying to foist their mega-projects on us like spoiled children looking for their next toy. Recall that taxpayers only recently relented and let them build the Hilton convention hotel with our precious money, while they didn't say a word about their next billion dollar "I wanna-wanna".
All we want is real economic development - a city that works, as a whole, so we can calm down and get some peace for a change.