Power Transmission Lines on Chase Just Before Iris

Fenced off green space with No Trespassing signs. Electrical transmission lines are on tall routers set against a blue sky and trees.

I haven’t been on a bike ride with no particular destination in a minute, so with free time on Wednesday and legs that needed a break from running I took advantage of the sunny fall afternoon to tool around. I headed south, a quick stop to drop a book with a friend, and then I turned east at the Station North Tool Library, across Greenmount, and east on Hoffman. I usually head south shortly after, but I decided to take a left on Holbrook Street to ride the length of it.

I’ve found myself on Holbrook Street more times than I can count. Because I often ride south and east and then zig zag back the same way, I’ll run into Green Mount Cemetery and find myself popped out onto North Avenue. I don’t want to ride my bike on that street, and it’s a jumble to get back to Charles Village, so I’ve walked that stretch of North to Barclay or Guilford many, many times. Holbrook Street is one of those parts of the city that is just a mile away from wealth but bears all the signs of organized abandonment. Only a few houses are occupied, many are boarded or cinderblocked up, and there is plenty of greenspace after I presume row homes were demolished, along with a planned pocket park. Every time I ride this street I think about two things: my old neighbor and all around good guy Zach Holbrook, and I wonder where people went and how this street came to look as it does.

And now they’re going to put container ship homes here, 13 of them. The developer bought the lots for $1,000 a piece (each house will get two lots because they’re such skinny parcels of land), and now they’re sourcing the containers. They’ll be built for under $50,000, sold for $25,000, and there’s a hope that this affordable housing will revitalize the neighborhood and help some folks get stable housing. Each will have a wraparound porch–you need a porch–and be furnished with appliances. The appliances will come with the house, along with interior retrofitting and furnishings, thanks to volunteers and fundraising. After buyers “get some schooling in money management,” the homes will be theirs, all included.

I read about this in a column Dan Rodricks wrote for the Baltimore Sun last month. I know nothing about this neighborhood other than what I see with my own eyeballs as I pedal through. That’s not a lot, though I do know quite a bit about how housing access works. I’ve said plenty of how-you-doin’s to people on the street, but I don’t know anyone who lives there. Neither does Rodricks. Neither of us know if there are people who want to live in shipping containers, or if the reason people don’t own houses is because they lack money management skills, or if it’s because they lack money. I wonder who wants this project. I wonder how many trips down Holbrook Street I’ll take before the homes start going up. A reminder to keep riding with my eyes open, and a reminder how little I know about the places I cycle through. I wonder if Dan Rodricks or the developers know what they don’t know.

I took a left on Federal and decided to ride east on that street as far as I could go. It was late in the day and traffic was picking up, so I turned off what became a main drag around Lakewood. I took another left on Biddle and found myself crossing Edison Highway and riding the dead end past the Spinello and DPW lots. I got off my bike just as I turned onto Chase to cross into Armistead Gardens to snap this picture. The sky was so perfectly blue and beautiful, and so was the green with its early fall wildflowers. And all of it was interrupted by these electrical lines and injunctions against trespassing. Sometimes greenspace is abandoned, sometimes cultivated, sometimes blocked off so electricity can get from here to there. I’m glad I can see all of it.

I rode around the streets of Armistead Gardens for a bit, wondering when I’d see my first Trump flag. It was maybe two blocks in. I don’t know anything about people who live in that neighborhood, but I know some things about how residential segregation works, and how white people work, and there it was.

It was then time to turn back home, and riding west that late in the day was a terrible idea. The sun was so bright, I couldn’t see anything, and cars were speeding by. I spent some blocks walking until I could ride on less-busy streets, and then I zigged and zagged to the bike lane on Monument to Fallsway and back up to home. Bike infrastructure makes things so much easier and safer. Gratitude for the organizers and planners of that. The ride was good, and a good reminder that if I don’t ride around the city regularly, I’m at risk of forgetting how many different sorts of lives are being lived in Baltimore.

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