Baltimore is famous for the attachment people feel to the places, character, and communities of its "Smalltimore" neighborhoods. The spectacularly successful Star Spangled Spectacular bicentennial celebration is a reminder of the historic legacy of Baltimore's old port village neighborhoods -- Jonestown, Fells Point, Federal Hill, Oldtown, Canton -- and perhaps imaging ways to recapture and refurbish their historic legacy as incubators of Baltimore's unique cultural legacy, funky vibe, and economic productivity. Let's think about how a vivid sense of historic place enhances the social and economic value of cool, trendy rehabs and condos.
While Homicide: Life on the Streets and The Wire remain sticky brand images, the old port villages are a far richer and intriguing window into the historic diversity and dynamism of Baltimore. Old Jonestown, originally stretching up the east bank of the Jones Falls from the harbor to the (invisible underground) river bend, is now chopped up into distinct neighborhoods including Little Italy, Albemarle Square, Pleasant View Gardens, and Harbor East as well as "invisible" drive-through areas that everyone has seen, but no one knows. (Think of the one-way Pratt and Lombard corridors between President Street and Broadway: How many times have you driven on these streets? How many times have you actually stopped or noticed who or what was there?) Although some of the original historic footprint of streetscape and structures remains -- notably in Little Italy and a few scattered sites -- most of the old built environment was destroyed to make room for "new" neighborhoods. Admittedly, the redeveloped properties were not necessarily prize real estate or historic gems; few wax nostalgic for the Allied Chemical plant and most eagerly await the gleaming towers and greenspaces replacing it. But even the newest neighborhoods can be enriched by their connection to Historic Old Jonestown, both as a source of community identity and pride as well as a destination for Baltimore visitors.
The bicentennial celebration reminds us of the the ongoing historic legacy of Baltimore's people, communities, places, and stories. As important as Fort McHenry is, Historic Old Jonestown represents what the Fort was built to protect and preserve. You can start with a visit to the Historic Jonestown website and spend an afternoon following the Heritage Walk that connects the remaining historic sites of Old Jonestown. Whether your family has been in Baltimore since 1661 or just arrived in 2014, you are now part of its history and creating its future.