Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Waterfront Property

For an assignment at my internship, I had the unique opportunity this morning to meet with an architect and an interior designer in Canton for a walk-through of a condominium they had renovated. Driving into Canton, I suddenly felt like I was no longer in Baltimore anymore; rather, I could have been at the Jersey "shore" or in southern California because the sunlight was brightly glistening off the water and everything seemed to draw attention to the waterfront. The homeowners had probably paid a fortune to give up their two-story house in suburban Washington D.C. to live in this tiny condominium, well-designed but remarkable mostly for its waterfront view. I learned that Canton used to be a center of industry in Baltimore and that most of the waterfront properties coveted by real estate seekers today were actually warehouses that manufactured goods like tin boxes. The working class people of Baltimore used to make their livings here, and I suspect one of the only things they could look forward to in the morning was the breathtaking view of the harbor that people pay huge sums of money for today.

Jacobs writes: "...the relatively few city residential districts that do become outstandingly magnetic and successful at generating diversity and vitality are subjected ultimately to the same forces of self-destruction as downtowns. In this case, so many people want to live in the locality that it becomes profitable to build, in excessive and devastating quantity, for those who can pay the most. These are usually childless people, and today they are not simply people who can pay the most in general, but people who can or will pay the most for the smallest space." (249). It's strange to think that much of the character and charm of a neighborhood that draws wealthy people to Canton was built on the sweat and toil of working class people who never found anything glamorous about their 9-5 and their warehouses. But now it's chic to live in a converted warehouse. It's like displaying the fact that you have enough money to sleep peacefully in a bed you make on the workbench that a blue collar worker used to make your goods.

Then again, I would love to live in Canton Cove or any other waterfront property; it's one of my dreams, actually. And honestly, I guess I wouldn't think too much of the gentrification if it didn't effect me personally. This doesn't really have to do with Baltimore but another city, Wildwood, NJ. Most people probably wouldn't find Wildwood, on the southernmost tip of NJ to be the most classiest place, but it's particularly special to me because my parents used to take me there every summer as a child for at least a week, and it's where I first fell in love with the beach and beach culture. I still make it a point to visit now, even though my parents don't understand why I refuse to try other summer destinations. Every time I visit Wildwood, more and more of the DooWop (1950s) style motels are demolished for luxury condominiums. This doesn't make any sense to me and is a cause for sadness. Wildwood is not ready to sustain these people with higher incomes because a lot of the city, especially in the northern end, is not in great shape. The city's reputation is its ability to draw families, especially those with lower incomes. The beach is one of the most beautiful I have ever seen, remains free (a rarity of NJ beaches) and shouldn't be restricted to only those people who can afford ridiculously high waterfront property prices. I guess wherever there's water and a view, the same thing occurs.