Johns Hopkins Gazette: March 6, 1995

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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