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News Opinion Readers Respond

Don't mess with Columbia [Letter]

If there's one place which has absolutely no right to judge others, it is Baltimore City ("Columbia drab? Duh," Dec. 16).

And I say that kindly — and lovingly. I grew up in Baltimore, and I'm the first to defend it. Who better than a former citizen to understand a city's beauty and its flaws? Baltimore has always been odd, if not downright weird. I was raised on stories of farming pigs in chain-linked Hampden gardens. I ate shrimp salad sandwiches, smiling at the toothless and nigh incomprehensible wash-and-set dinner ladies at Cross Street Market. I marveled at the opening of The Helmand in Mt. Vernon, and even now consider it one of the most innovative spaces in the city. I got married at Grace and St. Peter's, had my reception at the Engineers Club, and had an impromptu after party at Grand Central. I watched "Homicide: Life on the Street" when I was little, and Frank Pembleton was my hero.

When you grow up in a small city you learn to love it — the oddities, the ugliness, the whimsy, the delight. You learn that here on the East Coast, you're never going to be as glamorous as New York City. You don't have Broadway or Zabar's, the Empire State Building or that infuriating sense of superiority. What you do have is a fierce local pride. Ain't nobody gonna touch your steamed crabs, your Boh, your hatbox-shaped symphony hall. There's no one in the whole world who could convince you that there's any place better. Your baseball team can lose, frequently; your football players can be accused of criminality; your harbor can smell like garbage on a summer's day. Doesn't matter — this town is your town. It is small, plucky, fragrant, and vehemently not New York.

So, after reading The Baltimore Sun's response to the recent New York magazine and Vulture interview with Julia Louis-Dreyfus, I have to say that I am terribly disappointed.

Baltimore should never, ever be a place which feels entitled enough, feels superior enough, to speak ill of other cities — especially other odd, insular, local pride-filled cities. We can talk a lot about our infamous northern neighbor, sure, but we can be relatively confident that they're talking a lot about us, too. This piece was full of the kind of snotty condescension I had previously thought was characteristic of that island only — nasal intonations, pitying chuckles, exhortations of, now, now, can't you take a joke? That attitude is so out of place in our beautiful city on the bay, because, Edgar knows, we've had it directed at us too many times to count.

The object of this derision? Columbia. A few sentences in the article explained some of the positive attributes of this burb between Baltimore and D.C. — you know, the amazing schools, the median income, the perceived (by the author) blah-blah-blah — but the remainder of the piece was so incoherently derisive as to show how little the author understood of the second largest urban center in Maryland. Yes, that's right, Columbia is a city, too.

I live in Owen Brown, and you know what? We are a city. We've got neighborhoods. We've got a waterfront. We've got communities debating important issues and rallying around our local watering holes. We've got older people, younger people, people in between. We've got PTA meetings and beer clubs and meet-up groups and yeah, even some amateur theatre (with some pretty impressive production quality, no Fisher-Price need apply).

And we do have spirit and we do have pride and we have no shame in that. Somehow, The Sun conflated earnest desires to be heard and respected with a country bumpkin's chatter about the latest innovation in overalls. This voice of egregious superiority gave a name to that attitude — snark — and then blithely and blindly blathered on in that same tone. And it's terrible, truly shameful, that that voice of snark is the voice which speaks for Baltimore.

I'll have none of that, thanks.

I honestly think that the comments made by Ms. Louis-Dreyfus were fairly innocuous. It looks like she was attempting to speak about the industrial park setting where "Veep" is filmed. Even as a proud Columbian, I can admit that warehouses lack a certain je ne sais quois. Clearly, the interviewer had formed opinions about Columbia which peppered the piece with the expired ephemera of the perpetually bored. Too bad, then, that The Sun's editorial board hadn't taken a moment to explore this place of Merriweather and the Second Chance Saloon and Symphony Woods and nature paths and the message of James Rouse — diversity.

People in Baltimore should know better. Baltimoreans should know that they're the first in line for snorting and snark, and that they should turn that negativity on no other. Columbia doesn't deserve that because we are trying, really trying, to share our story and to make that story better. You'd better believe that we are going to speak up when we feel we haven't been heard. You'd better expect more responses from us, more participation, more engagement. Even when you laugh at us.

Maybe we've become the kind of city that Baltimore used to be — overlooked but brilliant. Shining. Earnest. Authentic. Maybe a bit odd — but very, very proud.

So, to The Sun, I say, do better. Because Columbia?

It's awesome.

Alice Marks, Columbia

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To respond to this letter, send an email to talkback@baltimoresun.com. Please include your name and contact information.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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