The Way I See It: Fix The Mix Of Charles Village By Lisa Mastny I blamed my professors for the heavy reading load I bore every week. I blamed the eager pre-med students who spent more time peering down their microscopes than making conversation. I blamed myself for not finding enough to do to make me happy. Every day for three and a half years, I came up with a new reason for being dissatisfied with my college life. And my friends at other schools weren't very sympathetic--see a movie, go out for coffee, get drunk, just hang out somewhere, they said. Sure, if I had gone to school in College Town, USA, maybe I could have done some of these things, and without the privilege of a car. But I didn't go to Cornell, Penn or Georgetown, where the neon beckons and the streets are alive with the sounds of carousing students possibly enjoying themselves. Nope. I went to Johns Hopkins, lured by tales of the academic juggernaut, the green light at the end of the dock for the future doctors and lawyers of the world. What I didn't realize was that I would be stuck for four years right in the heart of--Charles Village? Don't get me wrong, I don't dislike Charles Village. It's quaint. It retains the charm of a 1930s brownstone community. It has a very interesting populace, to say the least. But it also borders a major university, with 3,200 undergraduates and nearly 1,400 grad students who really have little to gain from their immediate location, except during the occasional convenience store and last-minute spaghetti sauce runs. To be honest, most students spend their time--and their money--away from Charles Village, buying groceries at the Rotunda, driving to Towson or the Inner Harbor for the mall scene and frequenting Fells Point for music and pub life. Why not make Charles Village a "college town," throw up a few fast food joints, a music megastore, a GAP? Or how about just a bookstore, coffee house and a few good restaurants? Unfortunately, whatever your preference, there are rules to these things. Zoning laws in the area restrict businesses that don't conform to B-1 regulations, thereby limiting the area to such everyday life amenities as a bank, grocery store and flower shop. So why not revise the law? This is not a novel suggestion. Actually, the idea to revitalize Charles Village has been kicked around for a while now. It's gained steam this past year as business owners in the 3100 block of St. Paul admitted to clientele losses, and as students, tired of complaining, began to investigate possibilities for change. Unfortunately, many members of the community have not been amused, especially when someone at a recent Greater Homewood meeting suggested creating a "planned unit development" and adding new businesses along the residential 3200 block of St. Paul. But the PUD, a carefully designed piece of legislation that assures nearby home and business owners their say in transforming the area, may be their best bet if revitalization ever occurs. Students would benefit from the amenities, residents would feel safer in the streets with more going on, and businesses would enjoy the increased solicitation. But why not rebuild what's already there--clean up St. Paul Street, fix the dilapidated storefronts and enforce panhandling laws? Such action would just circumvent the issue, which is that students, especially, don't particularly care for the existing businesses and probably wouldn't fall for the shiny new exterior/same interior routine. The best thing about Charles Village is its mix of city and residential life. That's why I chose to live there, and that's why I'm concerned about what happens to it. It scares me to think that two armed robberies, one in which an individual was shot, occurred in the past few months at a convenience store two blocks from my house. I don't think it's right that I should avoid driving at night for fear of having to walk home from a parking space more than three blocks away. Only by attracting good neighbors can we make this area safer. And the only way to attract these people, prospective students included, is to give them a reason for coming here. Sure, "Charles Village has the best bus service in town," as one resident said at a recent neighborhood meeting, and student shuttles run fairly efficiently. But when it comes down to it, isn't it just more convenient to walk down the block to get what you want? So instead of passing off the proposed PUD as a "Hopkins takeover" or a threat to the "once peaceful" Greater Homewood neighborhoods, I urge the community to think of it as a local grass-roots effort to revitalize the area so that it remains attractive to the residents, businesses and students who have a stake in its future. Change for the better rarely occurs on its own, and I think initiative is necessary if residents wish to avoid unwanted neighbors and the university wants to find a solution to age-old student dissatisfaction.
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