Johnston Square- An East Baltimore Neighborhood on the Rise

In the early 1800’s affluent city leaders located their country houses on the rising hills surrounding the port of Baltimore in currently day neighborhoods like Johnston Square.  Green Mount Cemetery (now located on Johnston Square’s northern border) was established in the 1830s as a rural oasis for the deceased and visiting. Mills and industries harnessed the power of the water along the Jones Falls Valley were developed in the early 1800s and followed by railroads, which transformed the valley into an industrial artery.  After the Civil War, the country estates were sold to developers  and modern day Johnston Square started to take shape. Like many Baltimore neighborhoods it was developed around a central elevated square (Johnston Square Park) with a larger 3-story townhouses lined the wider boulevards and smaller 2-story worked housing lining the alley ways and secondary streets. This created a very natural mixed-income community. The late 19 century also brought waves of immigrants settled to Johnston Square with the  Catholic Church playing a dominant role in supporting the community and its development

During the late 1940s rural African-Americans arrived in East Baltimore seeking work in the war-related industries and often replaced abandoned churches and homes by white families During the second half of the 20th Century like so many other urban African American neighborhoods, Johnston Square became a victim to discriminatory lending practices which resulted in disinvestment, concentrated poverty, population loss and abandonment. Fortunately momentum seems to be turning as the  neighborhood is embarking on an ambitious Johnston Square Vision Plan, supported by Rebuild Metro and the Baltimore Square Neighborhood Organization to rebuild the community as a Mixed-income and multi-racial neighborhood. Johnston Square is simply to well positioned between employment centers and major institutions and a high level of walkability and community character to remain disinvested. 

Click here to view my Johnston Square album on Flickr

URBAN STRENGTHS:

* Sidewalk infrastructure is pretty consistent although some are neglected here there is widespread abandonment. Modern ADA curbs existing in 50% of curb cuts.
* Excellent public transit access.
* Decent bike infrastructure access with a pair of west-east bike lanes and lots of rentable scooters. Far fewer rental dockless bikes here.
* Great access to employment centers being 2 miles from Dwtn and less than 1 mile from John Hopkins Hospital and University. Access across all modes.
* Good racial diversity with about 40% of the population being non Black.
* Several dedicated affordable rentals have been built recently.
* Three solid medium sized parks including playground, basketball court, and outdoor pool amenities.
* Mix of worker and more regal late 19th century rowhouses. The fixed up rowhouses are very attractive here.

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* Decent Urban Density.
* 40% of residents are living in poverty but increasing wealth is entering the neighborhood.
* Only St. Francis High School is located in the neighborhood. Several mixed-rated schools located north in Greenmount West. Schools to the east of Johnston Square are rated rather poorly.
* Some rentals but mostly 2 & 3 beds leasing anywhere in the1Ks. Rentals seem in good condition.
* For sale housing market is still pretty depressed with 2-beds selling around 100K. 3 & 4 beds sell btwn 50K-225K with renovated product being on the higher end.
* Cultural amenities are limited to a handful of restaurants & bars, a cafe, a cider house. Just across the highway from good amenities in Mt. Vernon and some good amenities in Greenmount West to the north.
* Retail amenities are limited to a only drug store, several convenience stores, a couple salons, several churches, and community clinic. Good retail amenities adjacent Mt. Vernon.
* Johnston Square has a long history of crime and blight issues but there seems to be light at the end of the tunnel as the community embarks on an ambitious stabilization plan renovating nearly 1,000 units of housing.
* A couple recent residential in-fill projects that have been pretty well done. ^0s & 70s infill is a mixed bag. Some stuff is actually decent for the era.
* Not much urban form left on the historic biz district (Greenmount) and mix of cohesive, bombed out blocks, and urban renew residential blocks.

Greektown- Historic Center of Baltimore’s Greek Population

The history of Greeks in Baltimore dates back to the turn of the 20th century. Baltimore is in fact home to one of the largest Greek American communities in US.  By the 1920s, a small but vibrant Greek community had been firmly established centered around the St. Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church located in the Greektown neighborhood. The neighborhood officially became know as “Greektown” when in the 1980s residents petitioned the City to change the name from “the Hill”. By the 1980s Baltimore’s Greek community had 25,000 strong but the concentration of Greeks in Greektown and Highlandtown was starting to decline as they moved on to other neighborhoods. Latino populations are now increasing in both Highlandtown and Greektown.

From an urban perspective Greektown is isolated from the rest of East Baltimore by railroads and an industrial zone on its western border and  I-95 on its eastern border. This probably helped keep the Greek identity strong in the district and keep out crime and blight issues that afflicted many other East Baltimore neighborhoods. But this makes traveling to the rest of East Baltimore a bit challenging. The commercial district along Eastern Ave is generally still in tact and the housing market is quite strong, bolstered recently by the construction of hundreds of new townhouses.

For Greektown to be a great urban neighborhood it could use a full service supermarket, more 1-bed rentals, more walkable schools, and more park amenities. But overall a solid in tact urban district.

Click here to view my Greektown Album on Flickr

URBAN STRENGTHS:

* Decent density.
* Good proximity to Dwtn and solid public transit connections
* Lots of moderately priced homes for sale and plenty of new townhouses available. 2-beds sell anywhere from 175K-400K. 3 & 4 beds sell btwn 125K-425.
* Decent cultural amenities with several restaurants (many still Greek and now Hispanic) & bars, a Starbucks, and a couple night clubs. There is also a dinner mystery venue and a couple event venues.
* Overall a very safety community.
* Lots of infill urban townhouse. Design and form are so  but certainly could be a lot worse.
* Urban form along Easter Avenue is generally cohesive but certainly some surface parking and autocentric uses along it.
* Greektown seems to have a pretty high impression among Baltimoreans. Perhaps this is why so much new housing was built here.

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* ADA and sidewalk infrastructure is generally good in Greektown but spots of Eastern have sidewalks on only one side and modern ADA curbs existing in about 1/2 of all intersections.
* Greektown is pretty isolated from the rest of East Baltimore. One needs to past through very industrial areas without good pedestrian or bike connections to get to Highlandtown.
* One smally dedicated bike lanes runs north to south through the district but not good connections to surrounding districts.
* Poor access to schools other than a couple schools in the adjacent Joseph Lee district. But not really walkable.
* Very few 1-beds for sale.
* Rentals are pretty limited especially 1-beds. Some 2-beds lease for around 2K. Plenty of 3-beds rentals leasing btwn the high 1Ks-3K.
* Parks are limited to a playground and community garden in Greektown. There is a large cemetery bordering Greektown but its seperated by a highway.
* Ok retail venues including several ethnic grocerias (esp. Hispanic), a drug store, a couple banks, a couple boutiques, several bakeries, a gym, and several churches. There’s also a Home Depot in the adjacent neighborhood that’s semi walkable from Greektown.
* Pedestrian activity is a bit limited.

Highlandtown- Baltimore’s Hispanic Heart

The area currently known as Highlandtown was established in 1866 and named because of the views it offered over the City. Highlandtown also historically hosted a large Polish, Czech, Italian, Irish, Greek, and Ukrainian populations as the neighborhood has a long history of being a very working class community. The community got the nickname of “Little Appalachia” around the World War II era as many Appalachian migrants settled in Baltimore. More recently Highlandtown has seen a large increase from the Latino community and has also become an increasingly popular neighborhood for young professional families. The Latino immigration in particular helped keep the neighborhood afloat after it suffered a period of decline during the 1970s when manufacturing declined and department stores  closed on Eastern Avenue. Now Eastern Avenue’s retail is largely Hispanic oriented.

Highlandtown is yet another solid Baltimore rowhouse neighborhood with good walkability, high density, and quality public transit access. For sale housing options are relatively affordable compared to neighboring areas like Canton and hosts solid retail and cultural amenities. For Highlandtown to become a great urban district it needs more retail and cultural amenities, much better tree canopy, infill in the abandonded industrial areas along its eastern edge, and more affordable rental options.

Click here to view my Highlandtown Album on Flickr

URBAN STRENGTHS:

* Solid urban density.
* Great access to Dwtn and highly connected streets.
* Highly racially diverse neighborhood with large white, Hispanic and Black populations.
* Solid economic diversity as well.
* For sale host more moderate options than rentals. A few 1-beds in the community selling in the low-mid 200Ks, 2-beds sell btwn 150K-400K, 3 & 4 beds sell btwn 175K-550K.
* Good park access with the expansive Highland Park on the Western border. Really no other parks here.
* Good cultural amenities including a decent # of restaurants, bars, & cafes, a couple night clubs, several art galleries, and a local arts center.
* Good retail amenities with a supermarket, several Hispanic grocerias, a couple drug stores, a couple banks, plenty of local boutiques, consignment, and gift stores, several jewelry stores, a book store, several dessert joints, a couple gyms, lots of salons and barber shops, several furniture stores, a local post office & public library, lots of churches, and a couple medical offices.
* Highlandtown overall is a pretty safe community. Some grittiness and vacancy remain but strong community.
* Good architecture. Rowhouses are more working hsg style but still nice. Better historic commercial along Eastern. Not much in-fill but what does exist is generally good except for a couple strip malls.

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* Consistent sidewalks but modern ADA curb are generally only present on the Commercial districts.
* Ok bike infrastructure with a couple dedicated bike lanes and some dockless scooters. I don’t see many dockless bikes however.
* Several elementary schools but mixed ratings.
* Good # of rentals but most are on the expansive side and newer. 1-beds lease in the mid 1Ks, 2-beds has some moderately priced units starting in the mid 1Ks going to 3Ks, 3-beds lease btwn 2K-4K.
* Dedicated affordable hsg appears limited.
* Some dead industrial space along the eastern edge of Highlandtown.

Canton- a Rapidly Gentrified Neighborhood and one of Baltimore’s most Popular

Canton’s development goes back to the early 19th century as mostly Welsh immigrants, followed by the Irish in the 1840s began settling in Baltimore in large numbers. Subsequent groups of immigrants included Germans, Poles and Ukrainians. Most houses in Canton are turn-of-the-20th-century rowhouses bit many  homes closer to the waterfront date from before the Civil War. With the de-industrialization of the neighborhood in the 1990s the neighborhood’s waterfront was redeveloped into new housing and marinas and the revitalization process worked its way gradually northward. Some metrics hold that between 2000 and 2016 Canton was the 16th most gentrified American neighborhood and now is considered  one of Baltimore’s trendiest and vibrant neighborhoods.

Brewer’s Hill development came later. First with the development of breweries in the 1880s, the most famous being the National Bohemian brand, known affectionately by locals as Natty Bo with the massive Mr. Boh sign hanging high above the old brewery. Most of the district’s rowhouses were built in the 1910s. Brewer’s Hill  also has seen significant revitalization since 2000.

I like both Canton and Brewer’s Hill but the neighborhood seems a bit over hyped by the locals. Yes there is good walkability here with quality public transit & bike access, great parks, decent schools, lots of brand name retail options, and tons of food and beverage businesses, but the neighborhood has some major holes, which elevate other Baltimore districts to a higher urban status in my mind. Canton/Brewer’s Hill lack locally run boutiques and creative stores, is very white and high income, often lacks good tree canopy and modern ADA curbs and is missing some major cultural amenities (i.e. art galleries, museums, and theaters). With more of these missing amenities I would feel more comfortable listing Canton/Brewer’s Hill as one of Baltimore’s top urban districts.

Click here to view my Canton and Brewer’s Hill Neighborhood on my Flickr Page

URBAN STRENGTHS:

*Solid urban density.
* Great access to Dwtn via all modes of transit.
* Good bike infrastructure with a decent # of dockless scooters and bikes.
* Pretty good generational and age diversity with a fair number of families with kids.
* Decent schools here with a well rated elementary school, a couple Catholic grade schools and two Catholic high schools.
* For sale housing leans higher end but good variety of times and prices. 1-beds are a mix of condos and rowhouses and sell anywhere btwn 150K-325K, 2-beds sell btwn 175K-600K, 3 & 4 beds sell btwn 225K-850K but a handful of more expensive homes.
* Good # of apartments especially in the large MF bldgs of Brewers Hill. Def on the pricey side but some moderately priced. 1 beds lease anywhere in the 1Ks, 2-beds 1.5K- the high 2Ks, 3-beds btwn 2K and the high 3Ks.
* Solid parks with the expansive Patterson Park sitting on the north park, several good waterfront parks, and a couple parkette’s spread throughout Canton.
* Solid cultural amenities includes lots of food & beverages biz, plenty of live music venues, and a couple bars host live music,
* Solid retail amenities including several supermarkets & drug stores, a target, several brand named stores clothing stores @Shops at Canton Crossing, hardware store, plenty of banks,  a couple of florists, public library, a game store, several dessert stores & gyms, and many churches.
* Attractive Historic rowhouses throughout, a bit more ornate in Canton than Brewer’s Hill. Urban Infill projects a generally good but some auto centric strip malls like Shops at Canton Crossing and a couple others.
* Streetscape is good but not spectacular and the commercial districts haven’t been redone in awhile.
* Very popular neighborhood in Baltimore.

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* Consistent sidewalks but modern ADA curb cuts only make apt 1/3 of intersections.
* This is a high income largely white neighborhood so diversity is not Canton’s strong suite.
* So so tree cover. Better in Canton than Brewer’s Hill.
* Really no art galleries, museums, or theaters in the neighborhood.
* Few locally owned boutiques or gift shops. Also no book stores and no post offices but there are a couple nearby.
* A couple strip mall developments break up the generally good urban massing in the neighborhood.

Charles Village- Baltimore’s Historic Bohemian College Neighborhood

I included John Hopkins University as well in this Charles Village evaluation as its so integrated into the neighborhood.

Charles Village is a diverse, eclectic, international, and largely middle-class area mixing a large student and homeownership population  The neighborhood traces its roots back to 1869 when 50 acres were purchased for the development as “Peabody Heights. The area was first developed as a streetcar suburb in the late 19th to early  20th century.  Most homes are exemplary Baltimore brick and stone row houses. Because of its proximity to the University, Charles Village has attracted a large population of artists and bohemians and is one of the most diverse neighborhoods in Baltimore. Charles Village largely escaped the disinvestment and blight of many surrounding neighborhoods and has seen a real estate prices boom since the 2000s. Fortunately there is still a lot of moderately priced housing in the neighborhood and a fair amount of dedicated affordable housing. Charles Village is also known for hosting the Baltimore Painted ladies when a residents were challenged to take up a paint brush and choose vividly uncommon colors for the facades and front porches of their Victorian rowhouses. Within five years, residents had enlivened more than 100 homes.

Charles has most of the urban components of a top notch urban neighborhood including great density, diversity, convenient access to jobs, great public transit and bike infrastructure, diversity of housing prices and types, solid park, cultural, and retail amenities, gorgeous historic architecture, and some modern infill with quality urban form. For Charles Village to be a truly top tier American urban district it needs to address some challenges around crime (or at least perceptions of crime) , bolster more households with kids, which is likely a directly result of sub par neighborhood schools, and attract important retail amenities like a post office and larger retailers. The 25th Commercial District could also use some urban infill in some dead spots and surface parking areas.

Click here to view my Charles Village Album on Flickr

URBAN STRENGTHS:

* Solid urban density at around 20K residents per square mile
* Convenient access to Dwtn across all modes being only 2 miles away but also lots of jobs in the Neighborhood with John Hopkins University.
* Great connectivity in the district.
* Great system of bike lanes with 3 dedicates north-south lanes and one of them is protected. Not dedicated bike stations in Baltimore but dockless bike and scooters operating pretty well here.
* Sidewalk infrastructure is great and modern ADA curb cuts is more hit or miss. About 60% of curb cuts are to modern standards.
* Lots of rentals available with rentals generally leasing a moderate priced.  1-bed renting btwn $900-1.5K, 2-beds mostly btwn 1K-2K but some product in the mid to high 2Ks. A handful of 3-beds as well. Decent amount of dedicated affordable units.
* Good for sale diversity with 1-bed condos sell anywhere btwn 100K-400K, 2-beds generally btwn 150K-350K but some higher end product selling in the 500Ks. 3 & 4 beds sell btwn 175K-600K.
* Good park amenities with the expansive Wyman Park and John Hopkins campus (with its numerous quads) sitting to the NW of the neighborhood. Within Charles Village only a couple small parkettes.
* Solid cultural amenities with a good number of food & beverage bizs (although a bit underwhelming for a college neighborhood), a couple live music venues & night clubs (Lots of these in the Goucher district to the south), a couple art galleries, several museums including the Balt. Art Museum and several others on John Hopkins Campus, and the performing arts at the University.
* Good retail amenities including a several supermarkets and drug stores, several boutiques/clothing stores, a couple book stores, a hardware store, bike shop, several banks, a couple home goods stores, a major hospital and lots of medical offices, and several churches.
* Gorgeous historic architecture throughout, especially the painted Baltimore Ladies and solid urban infill, albeit limited.

URBAN WEAKNESSES:

* Some generational diversity but very high numbers of students living here and limited households with children.
* Some crime issues in Charles Village but generally pretty safe also thanks to the local John Hopkins Police Force.
* Decent # of walkable schools but the public schools are generally not rated well. Some smaller better private schools in the area.
* Missing retail including a post office, more clothing stores, and this neighborhood could really use a target given the student population.
* Some surface parking lots on 25th street break up the urban fabric. Could be better streetscaping there too.
* Neighborhood Buzz could be better here. Still some concerns over safety in Charles Village.