October 28, 2011, Washington, DC: Earlier this week, I climbed Federal Hill to watch dusk fall over Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. My return to Baltimore that day had been lackluster at best, but as night fell downtown and the city started to sparkle, I recalled the many good things about living here from 1984-1991. Only in retrospect do I understand that I lived in Baltimore at a unique time in the midst of a notable urban renewal.
The landmarks seen from atop Federal Hill are places I’ve never known Baltimore to be without. But many of these sights were entirely new to the city in the mid-early 80s. The low-lying, green-roofed Harborplace lining the water (above) opened in 1980, followed by the Baltimore Aquarium (below) in 1981. When I lived here, the Orioles still played at Memorial Stadium; they’d move to Camden Yards the season after we left. There was no football team in town; the Ravens arrived in 1996. Nor was there a light rail line connecting north Baltimore to the city; that too started running in the spring of 1992, the spring of Camden Yards, our first spring in Connecticut.
Federal Hill itself was a neighborhood I don’t have any recollection of until after college, when I began visiting friends here who’d moved back to their hometown. I can’t recall ever coming here as a child to visit a classmate. Yet now Federal Hill is the neighborhood in which I’d most likely live in the unlikely event I ever move back. It’s the neighborhood where earlier this week, I met a not-so-old friend for dinner after she got things squared away with her babysitter, incidentally a teenager whose family recently traded suburban living for a city townhome. There on Federal Hill, my friend and I walked two blocks to a cozy neighborhood restaurant where we reminisced about our old San Francisco neighborhood where we first met. We talked too about why so many people like herself choose to return here after years away, why so many people come back home to Baltimore.
Is it entirely for family? Is there something more about this place that draws people back? My San Francisco/Baltimore friend thinks it’s a little of both. For more answers, she advises me to return on a Sunday afternoon when her neighborhood is decked out in Ravens purple.