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by Peter Moskos

December 16, 2007

The Eastern District today

A student of mine went down to Baltimore and took some pictures of the Eastern. I don't get there much anymore, even when I go to Baltimore. I don’t know anybody who lives there.

In most ways, the Eastern looks like it hasn't changed at all. In one big way, it's changing a lot: the expansion of Johns Hopkins Hospital (or "Hotkins," as some say in the 'hood). It's a bit sad when even the community doesn't really object to the destruction of their area.

Of course these pictures don’t show the homes well kept up. There are working people and good homes in the Eastern. These pictures don’t do them justice. Neither does my book. But when an outsider goes into the Eastern, it’s hard not to be shocked by the abandonment of virtually everything.

Between 1990 and 2000, the District lost 30% of it’s population. And that’s just in these 10 years. I’d guess the District has probably lost three-fourth of its population since its peak, probably in the 1950s. When you take three quarters of the people out of an area, there’s lots of empty space left. Think of that vacant block Hampsterdam from Season 3 of the Wire. That was just west of Broadway, near the Amtrak tracks.

The blocks just west of Broadway, the ones that haven’t been demolished, are interesting and a little scary. You get streets off of alleys. Even cops have a tough time finding Iron Alley (though many know it as the place a cop was shot and killed in 1985). And even I have to use to Google Earth to remember Hakesley Place and Lansing Ave.

When most people who can afford to leave, leave, there’s a lot of concentrated poverty and crime left.

Maybe the expansion of Hopkins will do so good. Maybe not. It's not like they've been great neighbors in the past. And it’s not like I’ve got the answer, short of regulating drug selling and taking the profit out of the hands of criminals (or, even better, turning criminals into legal tax-paying businessmen).

I like the idea somebody had to paint the boards on boarded-up buildings pretty colors. That way the neighborhood will look nice. This in just south of the market, if I remember correctly.
These little bricked streets, if you squint enough, can actually look beautiful. I once saw a picture or postcard of this street from 1945. There was a big banner hanging over the street saying, “welcome home soldiers!” All the stoops where scrubbed clean with pumice stone, and every home was occupied. I believe that block had three occupied buildings when I worked there. I remember one burnt down when I was there. Now it’s probably completely unoccupied.

This used to be the worst drug area in the district, conveniently locked next to Hopkins E.R. bad drug area. This is very strange. It’s all gone now. And they haven’t redrawn the post-boundaries, so 323 post has suddenly become a great post to police. I’m sure the dealers and junkies movie elsewhere. But I wonder what happened to the excellent (black owned and operated) produce stand on Washington St. and Mr. George and his Laundromat and Wolfe and Eager?

They didn’t have these when I was a cop. I’m not sure if they do any good. I think printing the slogan “believe” on them may be going a little far. A friend of mine is the guy who sits on the police end of these cameras on the midnight shift, watching the cameras. Mind-numbing work, but he’s got no choice. He was forced to retire on disability after being shot and almost killed in the line of duty. He needs the money since he can’t live and support his family on his pension.
I’m the type of guy who would have bought some ribs from this operation. Other cops thought that was a little funny.
I think this is Lafayette or Lanvale, judging from the trees. These blocks were some of the prettiest in Sector Two.
This is taken from Bond St, looking down the 1700 block of Ellsworth. I used to spend many mornings here, just behind where this was taken. It was the best view of the east. I could watch the sun rise and listen to Amtrak trains disappear in the tunnel toward Penn Station.

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