All pictures courtesy of the Baltimore Examiner
The historic neighborhood borders the city’s downtown and has long been a highly dense community that once was one of the city’s hubs for industry and commerce due to it’s close proximity to downtown. There are still several existing structures in the community that date back to the 19th and early 20th century that reflect the community’s once industrial character as evident with historic Shot Tower. The Old Town Mall stands on the site of the Old Town neighborhood which almost predates the city itself. The site of the Old Town Mall formed as a food market in 1813 which sparked the neighborhood’s growth and became a pedestrian mall under Hope XI in 1968. At that time, Old Town mall was the only mall in America to be located in an impoverished neighborhood as the site was almost completely surrounded by housing projects.
Almost like no other neighborhood in the city, the current condition of the Old Town community is a reflection of deep scars of failed urban policy locally and nationally which this community took the brunt of those failures. From two notorious housing projects which were eventually tore down in the mid 1990’s to the continued construction of I-83 in the 1970’s which further isolated the neighborhood from downtown, the community to many people was a blighted eyesore. An eyesore that stood in stark contrast to downtown Baltimore’s reemergence and new skyscrapers which were just blocks away from the crime ridden neighborhood.
This community has undergone significant changes within the last ten years from the State’s new Juvenile Justice Complex to the major redevelopment of the Lafayette Court and Flagstaff housing projects into low scale townhouse styled apartments. Unfortunately, there are still very visible vestiges of the community’s past struggle. The community is still home to public housing or public assisted housing and Old Town Mall is at the intersection of a very heavily traveled intersection is more blighted than ever and is a virtual ghost town surrounded by blighted buildings, empty parking lots and dirt lots.
The community’s decay and blight was not hidden or intertwined through a mass of interior city blocks but where on full display on the cris-crossing of several major arterial streets. The community quickly became a collection of unwanted land uses from acres of surface parking lots, the constant activity of the central post office, an expressway, a Juvenile Justice center, a homeless shelter and of course a concentration of public housing. Whatever that was unwanted somehow settled into that neighborhood at some point in time. This can be seen by the tent camps of homeless people who live in the community under the I-83 Expressway. Perhaps the neighborhood’s greatest weakness was not that it was decaying and impoverished but that it did not decay quietly. The neighborhood decayed before everyone to see who came downtown…and did so violently.