Growing up on the east coast in the 1980’s and 1990’s there were always clear distinctions of good neighborhoods from not so great neighborhoods or as we call them in planning, “neighborhoods in transition.” There were always tell-tale signs to let you know when you had crossed that invisible boundary of a transitional neighborhood. You would notice that properties were not as consistently maintained, houses looked slightly worn, debris on the street and people just hanging around.
There are situations there are neighborhoods with the same architectural styles and materials that appear to be of similar conditions from afar but when you get up close you can tell there is a socio-economic divide between the two neighborhoods. So from my young purview, the more socio-economic problems a neighborhood had, the worse the neighborhood looked.
While that theory for the most part held true for the world I knew, I was always shocked that my theory of attractive neighborhoods equaled good neighborhoods did not hold true in other parts of the country…especially in California. During the 1990’s, California artists had inserted themselves into hip hop culture in a major way. There were countless videos, movies and documentaries showing the ‘hoods of Southern California. What was shocking was that while some of the SoCal ‘hoods had shown obvious signs of distress, other ‘hoods had manicured lawns, palm trees and either well maintained single family homes or garden apartments.
For the life of me at that time, I could not understand how a well-maintained neighborhood could have the same problems as a poverty stricken neighborhood. As I got older and traveled more, I noticed that there were similar occurrences in southern cities with garden style apartments that functioned as the ‘hood. What I came to understand later is that the lack of opportunity combined with an expensive housing market can create social distress to neighborhoods with attractive housing.
For example a nice garden style apartment, which may have housed single headed households, couples and young families may now house an entire family and a few extended relatives. So on the outside everything may appear to be well but on the inside, everyone maybe struggling just to get by. What is becoming more common in the Baltimore area, are apartment communities that surround high-income retail rich suburbs with large suburban malls becoming transitional communities with significant signs of distress. In these instances, it is not uncommon for multiple families to pull together and move to these expensive suburban apartments to get away from possibly crime-ridden apartments in the city.
But for the most part, Baltimore never had a problem with families having to cram into expensive housing and apartments to make ends meet. Up until ten years ago, the housing in Baltimore was fairly cheap, especially in comparison to area cities like Washington D.C., Annapolis and Philadelphia. A person or a family did not have to make that much to live in a decent neighborhood. But to quote the Notorious B.I.G., “things done changed.” The housing boom had nearly doubled the value and pricing of many Baltimore area communities. Apartment communities that had once charged $500 monthly rent in the early 2000’s were charging almost $800 or more in rent before the recession. While the recession has brought some of those housing prices down, the jobs that were needed to pay those rents have been receding as well.
Which means, Baltimore is no longer affordable. In fact there are many area communities that can now compete with D.C.’s inflated housing market…unfortunately though they lack D.C. social amenities. So the housing boom and the recession has now created an expensive housing market with a lack of opportunity…just like in the ‘hoods of Southern California in the 1990’s. Which also means that my once youthful theory that an attractive neighborhood cannot have the same problems as the ‘hood is no longer true in Baltimore or maybe anywhere for that matter. Across the Baltimore metropolitan region I know of dozens of attractive looking apartment communities that you would not want to live there for too long…and they all have manicured lawns.