The Importance of Middle Neighborhoods

We recently had a chance to hear a presentation from Baltimore City’s new Director of Planning, Chris Ryer, on the City’s recently published community development framework report. During this presentation, extensive time was given to discussion on Baltimore City’s middle neighborhoods.

CPHA discussed middle neighborhoods in a recent piece on the vacancy crisis facing American cities. But given that we learned 51% of Baltimore City’s population lives in middle neighborhood during Mr. Ryer’s presentation and the increasing amount of coverage middle neighborhoods have been receiving in publications dedicated to cities (with Baltimore’s neighborhoods often being used as an example) , we feel these neighborhoods and the challenges facing them are worth a closer look.

It can be a little tricky to define a middle neighborhood. But perhaps the best definition can be found in the preface to On the Edge: America’s Middle Neighborhoods (follow the link to download it as a free PDF) where they are defined as “neighborhoods that are not in deep distress, but are not thriving either.”

If one wants to look for examples of middle neighborhoods in Baltimore, those communities covered through the Healthy Neighborhoods program would be the best place to find them. Howard Park, Glen, Hamilton-Lauraville, Bel-Air Edison, Pigtown, and Highlandtown are all examples of middle neighborhoods. We encourage interested readers to go here and see all neighborhoods under this category.

These neighborhoods are diverse in many ways. Some of these neighborhoods, like Howard Park and Bel-Air Edison, were once staples of the African-American working-class experience. While communities like Highlandtown have historically been inhabited by white blue collar immigrants and their descendants.

Though they have many differences, these neighborhoods share a similar historical trajectory. Writing for the Lincoln Institute of Land Policy, Alan Mallach explains that middle neighborhoods were established in the second half of the 19th century as cities began the process of industrialization. Mallach notes that while gilded aged mansions or overcrowded slums are how many remember this time, up until the Great Depression and the post-war period, it was these neighborhoods that formed the backbone of most Cities.

Middle neighborhoods then went into decline during the postwar period with some of them turning into the distressed rundown communities associated with inner-city urban decline.

But many of these communities continue to hold on. Unlike the most distressed urban neighborhoods, middle neighborhoods have a functioning housing market and therefore the ability to attract new residents and private investment without massive public subsidy.

For a long time, it was thriving downtown areas and our most dis-invested neighborhoods that received the most attention from policymakers. But academics, think tanks, and elected officials alike have come to recognize the importance of these communities.

Baltimore City is a leader when it comes to the revitalization of middle neighborhoods through its Healthy Neighborhoods program which markets these communities and offers incentives to homebuyers. But there’ s always more that can be done.

For more resources on Middle Neighborhoods, check out the following links:

The following two tabs change content below.
Gregory Friedman

Gregory Friedman

This article was written by Gregory Friedman. Click here to meet our writing team.

Comments are closed.

Powered by WordPress | Deadline Theme : An AWESEM design