"I can't imagine living anywhere else"
Perhaps that's clichéd, but it's true. The attributes of our home and our neighborhood that grabbed us, pulled us here, and threw us into the mix of restoration and neighborhood activism are always on our minds or our agenda in one fashion or another. I can't imagine it any other way, because I can't imagine living anywhere else. We're city people; the suburbs were never a consideration for us. We also weren't particularly eager to buy someplace someone else had deemed "hot," like Canton or Federal Hill. Besides, the rowhouses there have always seemed sort of small and plain to me.
Since a stay in a circa-1887 midtown bed and breakfast, my wife and I had been hopelessly attracted to the high Victorian style of the late 19th century--houses with "details," flourishes that used to be common but are now rare enough that Realtors make a big deal about them: French doors with beveled glass, 12-foot ceilings, elaborate carved fireplace mantels, stained glass, inlaid hardwood floors. We wanted to see what a house with such details would cost, and when we found one we were amazed. that it didn't cost much at all! That the neighborhood it turned out to be in--Upper Eutaw/Madison, a historic district within Reservoir Hill--was decidedly "unhot" was a bit surprising, even given that it was an inner-city community. But we didn't mind the lack of cachet. The house was like this hidden treasure we'd found. Isn't isn't it better to find a treasure before people decide it's one, rather than after?
It was our dream house, but the neighborhood was still a question mark. So we began researching, and the more we learned, the more we liked. Reservoir Hill had the reputation of being thoroughly integrated both racially and socioeconomically, something you don't find very often anywhere in America. And the crime was low--a hell of a lot lower than the perception out there in Wal-Mart-land. Evenings in the Pratt Library's Maryland Room, we pored over Upper Eutaw/Madison's history, and learned what a desirable address it was back in Victorian days, the gateway to Druid Hill Park. We read of the importance and prestige our neighborhood once held.
Why doesn't it still?
Peering out our third-floor bay window at the stately Beth Am Synagogue across the street and, beyond it, the ornate deco apartment towers watching over the lake like some Jazz Age sentinels, it's a mystery: My neighborhood is gorgeous. There is more architectural beauty per square foot here than in any other neighborhood in the state. How could people have forsaken this place?
Yes, there are problems here, but they are not nearly as bad as you may have heard. Still, it takes a certain kind of person to live here--the kind of person who can see the possibilities, the potential. A person like Cassandra, who works for the Community Law Center helping empower people in impoverished West Baltimore neighborhoods and then, in her off hours, uses her knowledge to help Reservoir Hill. It takes the kind of person who gets angry at the idea of disposable neighborhoods, of the wholesale abandonment of our cities and the old way of life, of the slow, steady transformation of our rural areas into strip malls and cul de sacs--the new neighborhoods. In the old neighborhoods, neighbors knew and cared about each other. There was a connection and a cultural cohesion that today is lacking in too many places. In nudging this neighborhood down the road toward the renaissance that many are predicting for it, neighbors are building these bonds stronger than ever. And it's a 24/7 thing. Whether it's the house or the neighborhood, rehabbing is never far from our minds.
Christopher Forsberg and his wife moved into their house in February, about 18 months after deciding they wanted to live in Reservoir Hill, and recently started a block club in the 2400 block of Eutaw Place. He is production manager of the American Journal of Epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health and a member of the Upper Eutaw/Madison Neighborhood Association and the Lakeside Neighbors Coalition.
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