How to Figure Out Where to Live in Baltimore: Part I
I’ve only lived in this city for a year, but I’ve been very proactive in getting to know it. I’m a fan of the city’s combination of entrepreneurial spirit, grit (both literal and figurative), hometown pride, and make-do attitude. It’s also, in my opinion, one of those cities that has just the right combination of blue collar workers, artists and visionaries, small business owners, and students that makes for a very vibrant culture. Don’t get me wrong, the city has its issues – the drug trade and its resulting crime, an ineffective and corrupt local government, and urban blight. But, the city is finally starting to rebound (at least the numbers and my own personal observations say so) and it’s starting to attract people from not just the surrounding mid-Atlantic, but also from around the country.
After a few of my friends expressed interest in moving to Charm City, I decided to put together this very informal and fundamentally personally-biased guide. I don’t claim for this to be a be-all, end-all guide, but I hope that it helps at least a few people who are looking to relocate here. Enjoy.
Baltimore currently consists of a number of general geographic areas that I’ll use as shortcuts in my descriptions here. Downtown and the Inner Harbor is the tourist and business area, large swaths of both East and West Baltimore are the impoverished, decaying areas made famous by The Wire, and a central north-south corridor with a small leg into Fells Point and Canton has become known as the “White L” for its predominantly white, middle-upper middle class population found in those areas. North Baltimore begins to fade into the northern suburbs of Towson, Hunt Valley, Pikeville and Parkville, while South Baltimore fades into the southern suburbs of Ellicott City, Catonsville, Columbia, and Glen Burnie. There are neighborhoods of all types, from urban skyscrapers to rural horse farms, with most falling into the typical Baltimore neighborhood type: brick rowhouses with porches or stoops, with shops and restaurants sprinkled liberally among them.
Without further ado, here are the questions I’d ask anyone looking to move here, and what I’d probably recommend in response. For those who are curious, I live in Medfield/Hoes Heights.
1. Where are you commuting to?
Downtown? North Baltimore? East/West Baltimore? Annapolis? DC? Hunt Valley? Though Baltimore has, in my opinion, very little traffic, it’s always a good thing to take your work location into account when choosing where to live. If you’re buying, the city even has a grant program that will give you money towards your downpayment if you buy a house within a certain distance of your job (called the Live Where You Work program). Traffic in Baltimore can be tricky. Getting from Point A to Point B might be easy, but going the extra mile and a half to Point C might be hell. But, in general I’ve found that you can get pretty much anywhere in the city from anywhere in the city within 45 minutes, as long as you have a car. That said, here’s my recommendations for commuting:
If you’re commuting to…
Downtown/City Center: Pretty much anywhere in the city is fine, though neighborhoods that are closer could allow you to walk to work or take public transit. Consider Downtown, Mount Vernon, Station North, Fells Point, Federal Hill, Ridgley’s Delight, Seton Hill, Midtown/Belvedere, Little Italy, Greenmount West, Washington Hill.
North Baltimore: The majority of north Baltimore neighborhoods are fine and dandy, and some are even quite swanky. Consider Hampden, Mount Washington, Roland Park (only if you can deal with snooty people), Guilford (again with the snooty), Medfield/Hoes Heights, Homeland, Govans, Belvedere Square. Towson only if you’re soulless. Pikeville if you want a very suburban feel.
East/West Baltimore: Why are you working in East/West Baltimore? Just kidding. For West Baltimore: Union Square, Pigtown. For East Baltimore: Patterson Park, Highlandtown, Baltimore Highlands, Greektown, Hamilton/Waltherson, Arcadia, Lauraville, Mayfield, Belair-Edison.
Annapolis: Ellicott City, Catonsville, Glen Burnie, for maximum convenience but also maximum boringness. If you’re commuting anywhere south but want to stay in the city, consider Pigtown, Fells Point, and Federal Hill.
DC: Same as for Annapolis, but maybe look at Columbia and Arbutus.
Hunt Valley: Congrats! You have a reverse commute and probably work in tech. Look at Hampden, Medfield/Hoes Heights, Roland Park, Mount Washington, Belvedere Square, or Towson (ew) if you want to be up north. Otherwise, pretty much anything with easy access to I-83 is fine, including Station North, Mount Vernon, Bolton Hill, etc.
Johns Hopkins University: If you live in Remington, Charles Village, Waverly, Barclay, Guilford, Oakenshawe, Tuscany/Canterbury, or even parts of Hampden/Wyman Park, you can walk to work.
2. Do you want an urban feel? A suburban feel? Something inbetween?
Baltimore is a traditional East Coast city. That is to say that it’s very dense, with mostly rowhouses and larger buildings, mostly of brick. Stores in the city are small and integrated into their neighborhoods. Big Box stores like Target, Best Buy, etc, are found only on the outskirts of the city, by and large. Supermarket proximity and walkability are serious factors for consideration. But! There is still a great deal of variety in the feel of different neighborhoods, and they’re not all super dense, treeless swaths of brick and cement.
Maximum urbanness: Downtown, Midtown/Belvedere, Mount Vernon, Ridgley’s Delight, Seton Hill, Pigtown, Station North
Still urban, but more rowhouses than shops: Patterson Park, Federal Hill, Charles Village, Otterbein, Locust Point, Butcher’s Hill, Canton, Highlandtown, Brewer’s Hill, Baltimore Highlands, Bolton Hill, Reservoir Hill, Remington, Hampden, Medfield/Hoes Heights, Wyman Park, Woodberry, Waverly, Ednor Gardens, Montebello, Washington Hill.
Hate sharing a wall with neighbors? Try: Lauraville, Hamilton/Waltherson, Mayfield, Arcadia, Chinquapin Park, Loch Raven, Beverly Hills/Moravia, Mount Washington, Roland Park, Guilford, Homeland, Wyndhurst, Radnor-Winston.
Maximum soulless suburbia: Catonsville, Ellicott City, Halethorpe, Elkridge, Towson, Parkville, White Marsh, Randallstown, Towson, Timonium, Columbia, Glen Burnie.
I’ll be honest – some of the best deals in the city can be found in its transitional neighborhoods. These neighborhoods aren’t crime ridden, but have a higher rate than those in the White L. These neighborhoods will give you a good value, but you will have to be more careful at night, your car might be broken into if you leave something inside, etc. But remember – plenty of people live in these areas without issue. If you choose wisely and are buying, you could be making an excellent investment if you have some patience. On the other hand, if Baltimore’s high crime rate scares you, there are plenty of places that are low crime for you to choose from.
I’m brave and willing to put up with the realities of urban living: Barclay, Better Waverly, Reservoir Hill, Union Square, Hollins Market, Oliver, Pigtown, Greenmount West, Station North (the eastern bits), Madison Park, Pen Lucy, Wilson Park, Penn-Fallsway/Jonestown.
I’m not afraid of the city but want security: Remington, Waverly, Mount Vernon, Butchers Hill, Fells Point, Canton, Patterson Park, Highlandtown, Station North (the western/southern bits), Washington Hill.
I’d prefer a place where I feel very safe: Hampden, Charles Village, Wyman Park, Roland Park, Mount Washington, Lauraville, Hamilton/Waltherson, Mayfield, Arcadia, Medfield/Hoes Heights.
4. What’s your personality?
Are you a foodie? A hipster? An anti-hipster? An artist? Do you have a family? Are you blue collar, white collar, or suit and tie? Are you a student? Baltimore is a city with lots of personality, and plenty of places to suit you, no matter what type of person you are. This section is probably better addressed by reading Part II, which is my description of neighborhoods, but here’s my $.02 on the matter.
For hipsters: Hampden is hipster central, but it’s getting played out. Try Remington, Station North, Waverly, or even edgy spots like Pigtown and Greenmount West if you want to be on the bleeding edge of coolness.
For foodies: Woodberry, Hampden, and Fells Point are where it’s at for the food scene in the city, though Remington and Canton are on their way up.
For artists: Station North is the city’s official arts district, but it’s coming up fast. Check out Greenmount West, home to the Copycat and Cork Factory, as well as City Arts. Or, if you’re going for the whole starving artist thing, check out one of the transitional neighborhoods I listed in section 3.
For yuppies: Canton, Harbor East, and even parts of Hampden and Woodberry are yuppie central. If that’s your crowd, that’s probably where your friends are telling you to live.
For students: Fells Point and Federal Hill are the city centers for drinking culture and general college age-mid 20s folks. If that’s not your scene, then I’d choose a spot near your school. For JHU, that’s Charles Village, Remington, and Waverly. For Goucher, that’s Towson or Belvedere Square. For UMD, that’s Pigtown, Ridgley’s Delight, and Mount Vernon. For MICA, that’s Station North, Bolton Hill, Reservoir Hill, Mount Vernon, and Midtown/Belvedere. For UB, that’s Midtown/Belvedere, Mount Vernon, or Station North.
Blue collar: Medfield/Hoes Heights, Brooklyn, Port Covington, Locust Point, Belair-Edison, Woodberry, Pigtown, Remington, Waverly, Baltimore Highlands, Hamilton.
White collar: Mount Vernon, Butchers Hill, Fells Point, Canton, Patterson Park, Highlandtown, Hampden, Charles Village, Wyman Park, Mount Washington, Lauraville, Hamilton/Waltherson, Mayfield, Arcadia.
Suit and tie: Roland Park, Guilford, Homeland, Belvedere/Midtown, Mount Vernon, any of the suburbs.
Those are the main priorities that I generally ask about when I’m trying to find someone a place in this city. If you have any suggestions for other considerations that people might have, I’d love to hear about them, so please leave a comment. For now, leave a comment and look out for part II, in which I’ll talk a little bit about some of the main neighborhoods I tend to recommend!