It was my birthday a few days ago and my wife surprised me by taking me to Baltimore for the weekend. The city has a special place in the imagination of lots of community organizers and regeneration people because of ‘The Wire’. On that basis here are some slightly random observations about Baltimore from a regeneration perspective.

  • John Hopkins University is a big player

As well as bringing in thousands of students John Hopkins employs tens of thousands of people. It may well be the biggest employer in the city.

These numbers are pretty rough but I would guess that it could be employing as many people as Bethlehem Steel was in the 1960s.

Of course, not all or even most jobs are John Hopkins are good jobs. There are lots of people on low paid work at universities including janitorial work, administrative work and (because of the medical side of John Hopkins) low paid caring professions.

  • Americans love cars but they don’t have to

All the advice for tourists is that you need a car if you are going to Baltimore. Never mind that you can get a return train ticket for two people from DC for $40 and that there are free (free!) buses in the city center, we were constantly told that you need a car. Even though it’s hard to find parking, parking can be expensive and driving means you can’t drink, people still said we needed a car. Even though it is a beautiful city to walk around, especially along the waterfront, people kept saying you need a car.

You don’t.

But Americans love cars.

  • The Ravens are a big deal

We were in the city while the Ravens were playing the Eagles (in Philadelphia). So many people were wearing purple (the teams colour). Unlike in DC (were there are racial and class divides over who supports the Redskins) it felt like all sorts of people were wearing Ravens gear, different ages, sexes, classes and races.

I think that many post industrial cities have an especially powerful connection with their sports teams. Not sure why this might be, but lots of answers spring to mind…

  • Joggers are a sign of… something

There were lots of joggers out and about, especially in the areas with new build housing. They were mostly young(ish), white and, from the look of them, quite well off. The same is true in DC.

I don’t know if I am reading too much into things but I think it might be fair to say that people jog a lot more than they used to because it is much easier to put on weight than it used to be (mostly because work is so much more sedentary than it used to be). However, not all people jog and I think part of the motivation to jog might be that some people are worried about becoming obese, in a country where obesity is associated with poverty not with wealth (hard to prove this I know, but just a thought).

If this theory is correct then you might say that one of the ways that you can tell whether a city is successful in attracting what Richard Florida calls “the creative class” (young, wealthy, mobile) is an increase in the number of joggers.

I will confess that I am a bit of a jogger myself, although I normally do it on a treadmill rather than in the outdoors…


There’s lots more I could say about Baltimore including the meaning of ‘urban pirates’, the differences between the harbor waterfront (full of chain stores and families) and fells point waterfront (with more live music in bars), the industrial landscape becoming a heritage feature and so on, but that will have to wait for another day.