Looking Out Over the Water from Canton Waterfront Park

Thursday afternoon found me out on my bike, no plans other than to be at the beer place by the light rail station at 4:30pm to meet my work wife for nachos. I headed down the hill to the Fallsway bike lane, then left to hook up with the Monument Street bike lane, and then up and down and over and down and through and into the Potomac Street bike lane. Remember when everyone was so mad about that bike lane? How embarrassing. Now it’s just there, filled with trash cans and cars, and, on this Thursday, me and my bike.

I rolled along, dodging obstacles and looking twice each way for drivers who might not look for or expect me to be there. I stopped at Boston Street, waited for the walk signal, and then crossed the street before hopping off my bike to stroll through Canton Waterfront Park and check out this view.

The park was full of folks sitting on blankets, enjoying picnics, or strolling through. One woman had a real set up–a table with fancy tablecloth, napkins, place settings, and candles with a ring light behind her. She looked like she was waiting for someone, and then two guys–not dressed for her table, if you ask me–rolled up on bikes and plopped down. I need to figure out what instagram she’s using so I can find out what they decided to do with the picnic that put all the others to shame.

I sat for awhile, snapped this picture of the water and blue skies. I thought about cropping out the military industrial complex over there on the left, or at least taking a picture that would leave that stuff out, but as my eyes scanned the shoreline, yeah, there’s no spot free from military or capital. I want a boat tour of the shoreline that helps me understand what’s going on here beyond the amazing views. Baltimore is so beautiful, and it’s complicated.

I finally got up from my seat and back to Boston Street and got back into the Potomac Street bike lane to head back north and west. I stared down a driver who had parked in the lane, and another who was using the lane to get around a delivery truck, and then I threw caution to the wind and took a left on Eastern Avenue where I took the lane. I pedaled as fast as I could, hopping onto the wide sidewalk when traffic got too scary. I took a right alongside the park, a left on Gough. I wanted to ride through Perkins Homes, since I heard demolition had started.

When I first rode through Perkins Homes ten years ago when I arrived in Baltimore, I couldn’t believe developers had let an area so close to downtown remain public housing. I came here from New Orleans, where the floods from the breached levees after Hurricane Katrina were being used as alibis to displace people from neighborhoods that looked a lot like Perkins Homes. Then the housing would be razed and new mixed income developments would rise in their place. Those developments all look the same–from Jonestown in Baltimore to River Gardens Apartments behind the Saint, my favorite bar when I lived in the city. I expect that is what Perkins Homes will look like.

On this bike ride Perkins Homes looked like a ghost town. I thought about all the families who have lived here, the neighbors who are missing each other, the people who are excited to return to an upgraded living situation–Perkins Homes buildings were old–and those worried they won’t be able to return in time or to a place that still feels like home. It’s complicated, and it’s hard to imagine people having much trust that any displacement is ever temporary. For those of us who don’t have to worry that the state might come take our home, can we imagine what it must be like to have to fight to stay, or to leave on your own terms?

I zig zagged around the construction on Central, through Little Italy and Jonestown, up Fallsway and down Mount Royal and around. I locked up my bike, grabbed an outdoor table, and listened to my work wife talk about displacement over in southwest Baltimore and in Cherry Hill. It’s an old, old habit here. A beer and some food and I was back on my bike, riding up the hill to home, grateful for free time on a Thursday afternoon.

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