With only a few weeks to go before he graduates, Loyola student Andrew Boyadjian has walked to and through all of Baltimore’s 279 neighborhoods.
It’s just past 8 a.m. Thursday, and Andrew Boyadjian already has big plans for his 22nd birthday. He’ll eat lunch at The Lake (formerly The Roost) in Woodmere, then head to Dovecote Cafe in Reservoir Hill for dessert.
“They have this peach upside-down cake that’s really good, and that’s my birthday cake,” he says. Afterward, he’ll hang out at the park around Fort McHenry, his favorite park in the city, before heading to the Cathedral of the Incarnation for shape-note singing in the evening.
Someone who travels without a car, like Boyadjian, would find accomplishing all three endeavors in one day inconvenient. But the Loyola University Maryland senior, who started this particular itinerary from campus, takes it to another level by walking the whole way. In fact, these journeys make up only three stops on the day’s meandering 22-mile trek (the distance chosen for his age).
There’re really big divides and disconnects between a lot of places, based on ... demographics. Walking is a great way to break down some of those barriers.
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This odyssey is just the latest that the New Jersey native has taken over his four years at Loyola. With only a few weeks to go before he graduates with a degree in statistics, he has walked to and through all of Baltimore’s 279 neighborhoods — a feat few lifelong residents accomplish with any mode of transportation. He’s an advocate for getting students to interact with the city.
“There’s a good amount of Loyola students that fit into a certain stereotype, and those are not the people that I want to associate with,” he says. “They get off campus once every eight weeks, and that, as an idea, doesn’t make sense to me. … You live in such a great city, you’re not taking advantage of everything there is to offer here.”
Boyadjian starts his walks with a route in mind but often improvises. Johnston Square is his favorite part of the city. “I’ve gone up and down every street so many times,” he says. “I find it to be super peaceful out there, and all the houses are really interesting.”
As a pedestrian, he still observes plenty of car culture — residents tinkering with their vehicles or giving them a wash. He notes that about 33 neighborhoods frequently lack sidewalks.
“Even residential areas have inaccessible sidewalks and places that are not conducive to walking, and that’s something I think the city should focus on,” he says. “A lot of people rely on walking to get around and don’t have other options, and they would benefit so much from the city fixing those sidewalks up.”
He appreciates that the city’s hilly terrain makes the minimalist downtown skyline visible from neighborhoods all over.
“You can see the skyline from random places, and I think that view connects Baltimore,” he says. “You can be in Reservoir Hill, Lauraville or Arcadia and see the skyline. You can be in these different places and think, ‘nothing here looks like one mile west of here,’ but it’s the exact same city.”
Boyadjian’s interest in seeing all of Baltimore also dovetails with his passion for social welfare issues. He spent two years serving with the Jesuit university’s Center for Community Service and Justice, where he worked with residents of affordable and transitional housing around the city. Center director Erin O’Keefe met Boyadjian when he participated in a pre-college program that takes incoming freshmen through a “deep dive” of the city.
“We want students to understand they’re part of a broader context,” O’Keefe says. She adds that Boyadjian became a mentor for student participants, developing PowerPoint presentations on navigating Baltimore’s public transportation and guiding discussions about how redlining and other systemic racism influenced city infrastructure. O’Keefe notes that Boyadjian took it upon himself to see every neighborhood — and do so conscientiously.
“The beautiful thing about Andrew is that he's a very curious individual, and … he engaged students to talk in deep and meaningful ways,” she says.
Boyadjian cautiously avoids seeing the walks as a form of “poverty tourism,” which implies that Baltimore’s issues are more of a spectacle than a reality.
He walks in part to get a clearer picture of a city where concerns about safety can get inflamed by assumptions around class and race. He rarely feels unsafe, although he says he recognizes he’s a young white man who can walk without fear of specific kinds of violence.
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He doesn’t want Loyola students to “only rely on stereotypes and crime statistics,” he says. “I’m not telling everyone to go out and start walking. There’re definitely certain privileges with my gender and race, but I do think people could be doing a lot more to get around the city.”
O’Keefe says several students learned about or spoke to Boyadjian and began reconsidering their own involvement with Baltimore.
"Andrew's actions have definitely touched people and made them say, ‘I wouldn't have thought to do this,’" she says. "And that's pretty significant."
This endeavor gives new meaning to the term “Smalltimore,” and has helped Boyadjian, who walked on his birthday while outfitted in an Orioles T-shirt, find a home beyond a New Jersey he doesn’t readily embrace. He doesn’t have set plans for after graduation, but might move away from Baltimore before returning permanently. He hopes more people will embrace his way of escaping the divisions that keep both residents and outsiders from understanding the city in its totality.