Joe Squared pizza

This August marks my third anniversary of living in Baltimore. After five years in New York, the streets of Mount Vernon seemed positively pastoral. In place of modernist skyscrapers and mobile phone ads plastered to ever-present scaffolding, there were green parks, fountains and the muted melody of a flute being played by an open window. Instead of elbowing through crowds, I started strolling, looking at gorgeous antique houses that anybody, even me, could afford.  I would even say I found my Happy Place, although not using the Happy Detector the tourism department concocted.

If we made a Happy Map of our neighborhood for eating and drinking purposes, it could consist of:

1. Howard’s of Mount Vernon offers inexpensive, thoughtfully prepared salads, sandwiches and a few dynamite dinner plates like fish n’ chips. Even the salad dressings are made from scratch and served up with a friendly smile from people who know us by name (naturally, they live nearby and visit the same dog parks). We could eat here every day, and for a while, until we got a/c, we basically did. We sat with a bottle of white wine (BYOB until their liquor license comes through) with the blind Fox and ate grilled ham and cheese and the Howard’s Salad–strawberries, feta, walnuts and local veggies–for less than $15. Continue Reading »


By the sunflowers

Midway through a muggy Maryland summer it dawned on me that under certain circumstances our dirty city could become a veritable Edan. Standing amidst 7-foot tall sunflowers, the wide leaves of squash plants, and tomato plants dripping with plump red fruit I realized Baltimore has untold natural resources in its rich soil, soaking rains and brow-beating summer sunshine.

While flies, bees and mosquitoes buzzed about my legs, I stood grinning at lavender, beets, peppers and purple blossoms. We had barely pulled a weed in months and the plot’s watering barrel was nearly empty.

Actually, I didn’t do much at all to make this tiny plot on Pratt Street blossom. The digging, hoeing, planting, and weeding was done by a dogged group of 10 kids ages 5 to 11: The Wolfe Street Academy Garden Club (Baltimore’s other untold resources: seriously great kids).

In March, the plot–maybe 11 feet by 20 feet in size –was covered in weeds, recovering from being flattened by months of snowfall. Broken bottles, cigarette butts, and rocks littered the plot. Where three row houses were bulldozed in the 1980s, glass still glittered through many layers of dirt.

The boys helped Marissa, a nursing student with a green thumb, to dig furrows to demarcate planting areas from walking areas, which we would later fill with mulch. Marissa discovered the idea to create furrows while gardening at East Baltimore’s Participation Park, which offers free classes on growing things. Later I learned from a man at Participation Park –gardening to a thumping reggae beat from his truck–how to sift rocks and debris out of soil using screens.
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Kenneth K. Lam, Baltimore Sun

A passerby moarns Stephen Pitcairn

Summer is the drippiest of love-fests in Baltimore. There was Artscape, of course, then came a sweatstorm of art-rock at Whartscape, the monthly baby and dog parade at First Thursdays and weekly dose of sno-balls and popcorn at AVAM’s oldster movies. All: colorful, boozy, laidback, and mostly free.

But lately, my buzz has been way harshed by the sober truth of summer in the other Baltimore. Earlier this year, and it was probably not a coincidence that there were two feet of snow on the ground, The City Paper marveled that murders were way down.

After six days without a murder, there was one homicide this week. As of March 15, there have been 14 fewer murders in 2010 than on the same date in 2009. This is a decrease of 32 percent.

With the mercury, Baltimore’s murder rate shot back up to 8 in one week in May, starting with a fatal shooting of a 16-year old boy near the H.L. Mencken House in west Baltimore. This past week, the 7 murders included Stephen Pitcairn, a promising 23-year old research aid at Hopkins who was stabbed after handing over his wallet to experienced criminals in Charles Village. He died lying on the pavement holding the hand of a stranger, a neighbor who called the police. The frankly random nature of the killing has been stunning. Continue Reading »

Amazing riff on Monopoly about Speculation in Central Baltimore by a student called Cary at MICA

Artscape was the usual blur of thousands of sweaty strangers moving like a sticky stream of molasses up and down sun-baked streets. People drank giant strawberry daiquiris out of foot-long plastic cups a la Senior Frogs, expensive iced lemonade, or milk from sippy cups, in the case of the babies (babies love Artscape). Oozing rather than easing down the road were fashion-forward teens, “art cars” freaks, adorable independent artists hawking irresistibly cool knick knacks, and fearless mohawked boys biking against all odds through this mess of humanity.

We have posted photos below of the crowd which was eclectic and peace-loving. It was a great weekend for Baltimore.

One neat addition to the festival this year was a kind of trade fair in the garage opposite the Charles Theatre, featuring community projects like a Center for a Livable Future-affiliated food dessert study and a mural project inspired by the history of Baltimore.  Also in the garage was a table of artwork exploring current events.

“Baltimore is still a frontier,” said a MICA graduate showing off her contribution to Artscape, a jigsaw puzzle depicting Baltimore, its pieces composed of neighborhoods and parks. She described what it was like to spend four years in a city changing rapidly. The “Central Baltimore Game of Speculation”, created by another MICA grad named Cary, was inspired by the wildly fluxuating rent and real estate climate around Baltimore, specifically near MICA.

“We were told to never set foot on North Avenue when I arrived as a freshman even at midday” she said behind thick black-rimmed glasses. “This year at orientation, they told them that’s where they should go at night to hang out.” The speculators have pounced on local real estate, raising rents, but buildings still loom abandoned and gutted along the Avenue.

Parasols were essential companions to ward off the torrid summer sun

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In a city with some 30,000 vacant rowhouses and lots one sometimes get the feeling that we’re scuttling around an empty shell of a city that was once great. It can be a thrilling feeling, like when you’re up in Floristree with musicians making a lot of noise in an industrial building that was abandoned to the rats and termites –and now has been reclaimed by young, energetic artists with a passion to carve out a vibrant arts culture. Mostly it’s depressing and creepy to wander a block away from home and find rows of unwanted houses and tarred lots with weeds poking up through the cracks. Because usually, you only have to walk a couple blocks before you find one that looks like this.

The city looks ready to tackle the vacants with some new legislation slapping fines on negligent landlords. In the meantime, creative Charm City citizens like the H&H building artists become inspired by the richness of Baltimore history. Using urban life as a muse, they have taken to empty walls, lots, buildings and trails to tell stories. Here are several neat projects we’ve noted in the past couple of days.

Baltimore Love ProjectDuring the 25th annual Sowebo Arts Festival this past Sunday, MICA graduate and longtime Baltimore resident Michael Owen was busy on a ladder painting four silhouetted hands that spell LOVE onto a wall opposite Hollins Market. The mural is to be one of 20–two are up elsewhere in Baltimore–in Charm City to inspire acts of kindness and love between residents. Some say it’s cheesy, but we loved the mural’s simple, graphic appeal, which is markedly different than the colorful back-to-Africa motifs on most city murals. In fact, we bought a t-shirt to support future mural-paintings (you could say, “I put in for the right pinky tip”). Continue Reading »

Height With FriendsThis video will be screened at Height’s record release party, which is today at the Hexagon in Baltimore’s rip-roaring arts district.

Height With Friends special mega-set featuring Mickey Free, Emily Slaughter, Gavin Riley, Travis Allen, Brendan Richmond, Liz Aeby, Pam Kurowski and Rob Dowler of Nuclear Power Pants.

Pouring on Confusion

Up against a looming $121 million budget gap, Baltimore’s City Council is  again considering a 4 cents levy on beverages. Beverages included in this tax are soda, water, alcohol and other beverages with less than 10% fruit juice. But this one is facing hefty opposition (er, no pun intended). The alternatives are an increase in property taxes, laying off police offers and closing city pools just as another humid, sizzling summer kicks off.

The Stop the Baltimore Beverage Tax web site bills itself as “a coalition of concerned citizens, businesses and community organizations that oppose placing a new tax on beverages on the backs of hardworking families.” What the site doesn’t say is that it is funded by the American Beverage Association, which has launched a fierce advocacy campaign to stop this from going through. Continue Reading »