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Baltimore Case

Essay by   •  July 19, 2012  •  Research Paper  •  3,689 Words (15 Pages)  •  1,286 Views

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Baltimore is presently regarded by many as one of the myriad rust-belt cities across America. A city in decline, it serves both as a warning and an unwelcome reminder of the decay of industrial America. In a wider context Baltimore is evidence of the sun that has set on Luce's American Century. Baltimore is equated with crime, unemployment, the housing crisis, the destruction of industry and the mass exodus of city-dwellers to the suburbs. The decay is evident in the redevelopment of iconic manufacturing sites into condominiums and parking lots, wage disparity and attempts on the part of the city to re-brand itself to escape the image of Baltimore that exists in popular culture. The city of the Star Spangled Banner, model philanthropy and booming industry has given way to the crumbling urban landscape of The Wire. Serving as an example, Baltimore is not atypical when compared with other American cities however it also provides evidence of the changing face of urban life and the efficacy of a city created by industry.

Cities rarely develop organically. Rather, as Turley (2005: 36) notes, 'cities don't just happen, they are made.' They exist as real and imaginary places and reflect the attitudes of their leaders and citizens. Baltimore is no exception to this idea however there have been key factors in determining how Baltimore is viewed and reasons for its decline. Baltimore has come to be a city of 'come back, transcendence, and the forging of civic coherence through adversity.' (Alff, 2009: 29) It has a culture of historic rhetoric that seeks to reshape the city through the language of struggle, yet this discourse does little to address the internal problems Baltimore faces, rather it focuses on external foes to which it has surrendered (Alff, 2009: 32 & 36).

Baltimore rose to prominence in the early days of the Republic. As one of the town centers of the original thirteen colonies that would become the United States, Baltimore grew to rival Philadelphia and New York by the 1790s and many Baltimoreans believed it would become the commercial center of the New Republic (Browne, 1980: xi). A turning point came in the history of Baltimore when it was incorporated as a city in 1796 by state law. This law specified that the town be called 'the City of Baltimore' and that the citizens of Baltimore constituted 'a body politic and corporate' which would be known as the 'Mayor and City Council of Baltimore.' (Browne, 1980: 37) This incorporation had to contend with traditional ideas of private enterprise and public life and would have a significant and long-term impact on urban life, development and social structures.

The incorporation of Baltimore gave the city a certain amount of autonomy from the state and wider powers of self-government. After 1796, Baltimore became not just a 'social economy' but a 'political economy' (Browne, 1980: 34). This changed the social and economic structures of the city and also essentially created a middle-class in Baltimore. The shift from a social to political economy was largely influenced by those that benefited most from the incorporation of Baltimore; the 'skilled master-craftsmen...and the tradesmen who played crucial roles in the urban process.' (Browne, 1980: 34) While they found allies among the merchants, this new middle-class 'opposed the more conservative merchants and their landed-gentry family connection.' (Browne, 1980: 34) A new 'democratic rhetoric' conceived in the ideals of the American Revolution emerged, however for this new class of Baltimoreans to retain influence and power, they needed to employ this rhetoric 'against the conservative merchants above them, and to deflect the aspirants from below.' (Browne, 1980: 34)

Baltimore's new middle-class leadership and legal status, while ending rural dominance and creating an urban political economy, effectively institutionalized the relationship between country producer and city merchant (Browne, 1980: 35). Municipal regulations, for example the fixing of cost structures and pricing, independent of market forces, forced merchants into a 'price structure created by the political economy.' (Browne, 1980: 34) Baltimorean ideals of private profit being synonymous with public service caused many municipal services to be provided by private individuals and companies and were indicative of Baltimorean conceptions of urban life. Essentially Baltimore functioned as a private city in the early years of the Republic, as it conceived the city in terms of older values of privatism, leading to a society that was resistant to the change brought by its new legal status and the business revolution. This inflexibility has been imbedded in the collective approaches and attitudes towards change and can be seen as an early warning of what would eventually occur and facilitate Baltimore's decline. The needs of the community, with the political dynamic of serving the needs of business first (Turley, 2005: 34) and thus the needs of the business community superseding those of the residents of Baltimore has a history that pre-dates the decline in industry in Baltimore.

Baltimore ideals of privatism would play a crucial role not only in the development of industry, but the war of 1812. After the British blockage of the Chesapeake, American warships could no longer leave the port however Baltimore clippers, manned by privateers with government authority to carry weapons could sometimes slip out to sea (Eshelman, Sheads & Hickey, 2010: 14). While they could not win the war or even effectively shorten it, these privateers could successfully disrupt British trade. The U.S. government issued approximately 1, 100 privateering commissions and of these more than 15% of all American privateers came from Baltimore and built their clippers at Fells Point (Eshelman, Sheads & Hickey, 2010: 14 and 54). To punish this 'nest of pirates' (Owens, 1941: 171) and to destroy the shipyards, the British launched an attack on Baltimore in 1814 (Eshelman, Sheads & Hickey, 2010: 14-15). While views from Federal Hill showed the glow of a burning Washington, Fort McHenry, the 'cornerstone of the water defenses of Baltimore' (Eshelman, Sheads & Hickey, 2010: 115) would be successfully defended. This victory was shared by all Baltimoreans as it was financed by the city. After the Maryland legislature refused financial aid on partisan grounds, Baltimoreans authorized a municipal bond-issue, borrowed more money from the city's banks and allowed them to ship their specie out of the city to the interior (Browne, 1980: 64-65). The urban ideology of a private city was thus reinforced.

The Second Revolutionary War would have an effect on the image of Baltimore. Francis Scott Key was inspired by Fort McHenry's

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