Opinion

Antero Pietila: Rosemont: a sleeper neighborhood

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With new $300,000 town houses arising just blocks away from Pennsylvania Station, I wanted to see what, if anything, was going on in Rosemont, several miles away.

If you have never heard of Rosemont, you are not alone. Located off Edmondson Avenue and Bentalou Street, the well-hidden row house neighborhood went from all-white to all-black in one decade, starting in the 1950s. Aging African-American pioneers, whose children and grandchildren are likely to live in Columbia or Randallstown and show little interest in the old neighborhood, still occupy its nicely kept homes, each with a front and backyard.

Longtime residents say Rosemont isn?t what it used to be. The old-timers complain about drugs and out-of-control juveniles. Yet the community holds a compelling quality: It sits within a walking distance from West Baltimore?s MARC commuter train stop.

I know that stop well. I used it to commute to Washington myself. The stop?s open-air platform means waiting for a train is cold in the winter and hot in the summer. Nevertheless, the platform bustles with people each workday by thetime the first commuter train rolls in at 4:52 a.m., with a scheduled 5:42 a.m. arrival time in Washington.

Less than $100,000 buys a sturdy, well-kept home with three to five bedrooms in Rosemont. In these days of high gas prices and rising mortgage rates, this neighborhood should be of interest not only to Baltimoreans working in D.C. but also to Washingtonians who cannot afford its prices.

Whatever you may have heard about a real estate bubble, it?s not being felt in the nation?s capital. Demand is soaring in almost every neighborhood within D.C. ? even long-neglected Anacostia. As a result, good buys are gone. A friend who sold a deceased relative?s row house near the Catholic University reports that its value has gone up three-fold in just four years. The reason: It sits near a Metro station.

Washington?s extensive and well-run Metro prompted much of the revitalization of the city?s neighborhoods. Columbia Heights is an example.

The 14th Street corridor drew Washington?s bloody race riots in 1968. Some sections of that street close to downtown are still rough, but the rest of the corridor is experiencing a truly amazing face-lift. Two huge condominium complexes are rising near U Street, now an edgy stretch of trendy boutiques and shops catering to eclectic tastes. Further up, Tivoli Square, an amazing one-time movie palace from the silent film era, morphed into an upscale shopping destination. A new Giant food store opened there, and a new theater for Hispanic audiences.

A similar renewal is beginning along Georgia Avenue, black Washington?s segregation-era shopping and entertainment strip that runs all the way to Silver Spring. Renovated houses in LeDroit Park, the "talented tenth?s" enclave near Howard University, fetch record prices.

The reason, again: the Metro.

In Baltimore, our own rump Metro barely resembles Washington?s state-of-the-art system. Nevertheless,passengers use it heavily. We also have a light-rail system whose potential is yet to be achieved. Typical of Baltimore?s planning effort, these two modes of mass transit do not intersect; in order to change from one to the other, a passenger needs to walk at least one block.

But wait. A proposed Red Line sits on the drawing board, connecting Woodlawn, Edmondson Village and the Inner Harbor and Fells Point areas. No one knows whether it will be light rail or a bus line. Nor is its exact route known. But if the Red Line is built, it would be within a walking distance of Rosemont.

Access to mass transit will play an increasingly important future role in revitalization of Baltimore neighborhoods. This should be recognized not only by planners but the Ehrlich administration, which makes the final decisions.

Antero Pietila is writing a book about how bigotry shaped Baltimore. He can be reached at hap5905@hotmail.com.
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