25 Years, 381 Vacant Homes, 30 Mil. Never Landing In The Community Sign on N. Patterson Park Between Ashland & E. Madison

20170713_133623 Thursday’s bike ride took me out in the city’s first Code Red Heat Alert day of the summer. Code Red means it’s going to be really, really hot, and you should probably just stay inside in a place with some ac. It also means that if you use less energy you get credits on your utility bill, so I was pretty excited to spend the day in somebody else’s air conditioning while the nickels rolled in at home. Sure, paying you to not use energy when you need it the most is sort of a scam to cover over weak infrastructure, but I’m a sucker.

And it didn’t seem any hotter out than the day before when I left the house around 11:30am. That’s doesn’t mean it wasn’t hot–it was, and it was gross, like being in somebody’s mouth, but not in a good way. I sweat my way down the hill and east for another session of cryotherapy and to treat myself to lunch out before hitting a coffee shop with freezing air and a load of outlets. By the time I headed north toward Middle East my bravado about it not being any hotter than the previous day wilted as I slowly pumped tired legs through the soup that is Baltimore’s midsummer. I zigged and zagged to alternate uphills and to take some streets I don’t take all that often, and I ended up on North Patterson Park.

I got off my bike to get across the traffic at Madison Street walk a minute and catch my breath and noticed these signs painted on the boards over the doors on this row of homes. East Baltimore Development Inc. has been redeveloping this neighborhood in partnership with Johns Hopkins for decades, displacing residents for the promise of new ones as Hopkins expands its campus. Middle East is becoming something called “Eager Park,” and the right of return promised residents has not been kept. Two blocks over from here are new condos, coffee shops, and restaurants that are very different from what is on this block. In just six years of living here I have watched huge swaths of homes knocked down and new fortresses go up. There’s a history here, captured on this wall, and a present in that provocation, “This House Could Be…” Who makes these choices, and for whom?

And then I was back on my bike, past a city block of green under guard, another guard booth in an intersection, pedaling west and north and west and north, zig-zagging home for water and some cooler air pumping from a box in the window. It’s making things better, and worse.

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