Over the past decade, hundreds of households have been displaced for redevelopment. Clark and Evans live in the northeast corner of the square of roughly 35 city blocks that is Middle East. Their portion of the neighborhood is on the northeast side of the railroad tracks, the only section of Middle East not in the redevelopment zone.

"Most of the people originally from that neighborhood, they are not there now," said Josephine Gilliam, 85, who has lived in the middle of East Baltimore since she was a girl. Growing up, the neighborhood was nicknamed "the Hog's Eye"; she doesn't know why.

Gorham remained a pillar of her community until 2008, when, after being compensated, she was forced to move from her home in the 1900 block of E. Chase St. Through it all, she asked the developers to keep the name Middle East in use.

Gorham's children say she was heartbroken at leaving the neighborhood where she'd worked to have new housing built, fostered community gardens and led an urban chapter of 4-H. She was moved to a home in Northeast Baltimore, off Belair Road, and the spot where her East Chase home stood is now a modern apartment and townhouse community called Chapel Green.

Gorham, who told The Sun in 2007 that receiving the relocation notice "was like sticking a knife in my chest," died of cancer in November at age 81.

Now her children are dismayed that part of her legacy — the Middle East name — is threatened. One of her daughters, Sallie Gorham, said, "It's like they threw her under the rug. Like she ain't nobody."

Marketing challenges

As cities revitalize neighborhoods, branding has become a crucial tactic to lure residents, shoppers and visitors.

"There's no great science to this, but branding in America … is important to get people to value a place or a product," said Leinberger. Most community names spring from the mind of a developer or marketing professional.

In recent years, for example, Washington's NoMa — north of Massachusetts Avenue — has become defined near Capitol Hill. In South Philadelphia, part of the Point Breeze neighborhood started identifying itself as Newbold to encourage development. And in Toronto, the rough neighborhood of Jane and Finch is being rechristened University Heights.

Likewise, in Baltimore, Baltimore-Linwood became the Patterson Park Neighborhood a decade ago to increase its appeal to home buyers. A rebranding of Pigtown as Washington Village is still struggling to take hold.

"The idea of transition is not unusual," said Michael Anikeeff, director of the Edward St. John Real Estate Program at Johns Hopkins' Carey Business School. "That's how urban development takes place — you replace the old with the new."

Middle East's redevelopment began in 2001, when the city launched a campaign to "rebuild a neighborhood from the ground up," as then-Mayor Martin O'Malley put it. EBDI — controlled by city and state elected officials, leaders from Hopkins, local businesses and charities, and residents — was formed to lead the redevelopment.

The group selected Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership to take control of the site. Several residential complexes have been built, including an apartment tower designed primarily to house Hopkins graduate students. There's also a new life sciences research building and a parking garage.

Still, there's more work to be done. Vacant homes line some streets. In one alley, which will someday be a grassy part of Eager Park, a bottomless plastic Harrisburg Dairies milk crate is tied to a tree trunk — what used to qualify as a basketball hoop in Middle East.

A hotel is expected to open next year, a new public school is underway, and many more residential and commercial structures are planned. Last week, EBDI announced that two nonprofits, Baltimoreans United in Leadership Development and The Reinvestment Fund, are partnering to restore 90 historic homes in the northwest corner of the site, beginning in 2014.

Plans show that in the middle of all this new development there will be a six-acre park spanning three blocks, with enhancements such as a garden and amphitheater. Eager Street will run through it.

"We want this to be the central park for this whole community," said Forest City's Levitan.

The park should be completed in the first half of 2015, he said. More than a dozen vacant homes must be razed before the full footprint is open land. EBDI expects the park to cost about $12 million. Its construction will partially be funded with public money.

After the developer-proposed name Beacon Park was rejected by residents, the partnership hired CO-OP Brand Partners, a New York-based marketing firm, and Baltimore's Adrian Harpool Associates, a communications strategy firm, to develop a plan for including the community in naming the park.