The final episode of The Wire aired last night; I'm a season behind, but the attendant publicity has left me a bit nostalgic for Baltimore, where the show is set and where I spent my college years. The Wire is about many things, but its central theme is the tragic deterioration and abandonment of inner-city Baltimore (and by extension, inner-city America). In one of those extra features you get on DVD, Wire creator David Simon mentions that Baltimore "falls down beautifully." From street level, the burned-out and boarded-up rowhouses do have a perverse, Ozymandian poetry to them.
From the air, the picture isn't quite so romantic. The satelite image above shows the site that was once home to Memorial Stadium. An entire neighborhood is oriented in a horsehoe around it. But there's practically nothing on the site now. It's a void. The last remnant of Memorial Stadium came down in 2002. That was a concrete wall dedicated to local soldiers who gave their lives in the First and Second World Wars. It read, "Time will not dim the glory of their deeds."
The Orioles moved into Camden Yards in 1994. You'd think that, when the city agreed to build a new home for the team, there would have been a plan for the old site. But that's not how the development game works. A rising tide doesn't necessarily lift all boats. The money was downtown, and that's where it stayed.
I remember sitting in my freshman dorm room, listening to Jon Miller call O's games from the old stadium. The team dropped 21 straight that year, 1988. As a sophmore, I moved into a classic Baltimore rowhouse on Guilford Avenue with a few friends. (I've marked it with a blue pin on the image above; the campus of Johns Hopkins, where I went to school, is on the left.) We got over to see the Birds kick it around a few times every year back then. It was an easy walk, just a few blocks east down 33rd street and you were right in front of the place. Inside, you could be sure that Cal Ripken would be in the lineup, and Eddie Murray, too. It was a lunch pale type of ballpark, which seemed fitting for the town and the club. The new place is infinitely nicer, but I will always have affection for the old. It's upsetting to see how little value the city has placed on that history, that site, and the people who live there.
Based on my intermittent visits, the past decade hasn't been especially kind to the area around the old stadium. Due to a shortage of housing on the Hopkins campus, in my day most students rented places in Charles Village, the neighborhood surrounding the school. The ghetto was just on the other side of Guilford. After my graduation, the school decided to build more housing. (It was suffering in college ranking guides because "percentage of students who live in university housing" is one of the criteria used to evaluate schools, even if it has zero bearing on academics or even student life.) With all of the new housing, students moved out of Charles Village, and the result was increased segregation between the school and the city, a drop in property values, and the encroachment of the ghetto. (Yes, this seems like a Wire storyline.) A city is a fragile ecosystem. It's easy to disturb, and it's hard to fix.
This is always my favorite time of year in Baltimore. Early spring. It's not long before the cherry trees blossom. All is promise for the Hopkins lacrosse team (they're defending national champs this year). It's going to be a tough year for the O's, but it looks like they may finally be taking steps to build for the future. It's a new day. I hear a new senior center is coming to the old Memorial Stadium site. And maybe the Preakness will be moving to Pigtown. You never know. In Baltimore, hope springs eternal.