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North Baltimore’s Govans area encompasses wildly varying communities, struggles to bridge east and west divide

Editor’s note: The Govans profile is one article in The Sun’s City of Neighborhoods series, spotlighting Baltimore communities. Other neighborhoods in the series: Upton, Mount Winans, Stonewood-Pentwood-Winston, Dickeyville, Ashburton, Highlandtown and Better Waverly.

Twenty-seven years ago, Sandi McFadden moved to Govans without a good sense of the North Baltimore neighborhood, she said.

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That changed a year later. McFadden joined the Mid-Govans Community Association, and became vice president. (Mid-Govans is one of several smaller communities in Greater Govans.)

The Senator Theater on York Road is a prominent feature of the Govans neighborhood.
The Senator Theater on York Road is a prominent feature of the Govans neighborhood. (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

Her service included working on Neighbors Together, a festival that plants trees in Dewees Park. McFadden also serves as the community school director, or coordinator, for Govans Elementary School, overseeing partnerships and relationships in the community.

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She said her son, concerned about crime in the area, has encouraged her to leave. Shootings are up in Mid-Govans, with one in 2019 and four in 2020, according to Baltimore Open Data.

But she is not interested in living elsewhere.

“There are a number of things that make this neighborhood unique. Number one [is] the potential economic development that is very strong in the neighborhood,” McFadden said.

Senegalese restaurant Nailah’s Kitchen and Noir Restaurant & Lounge along York Road are examples of such development, she said.

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Single family homes are seen on Tunbridge Road in the Govans neighborhood.
Single family homes are seen on Tunbridge Road in the Govans neighborhood. (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

“The other thing that makes it unique is the desire on our part for inclusivity — the desire to see racial justice happen in this neighborhood and the importance of environmental justice,” she said.

She sees a need for more racial justice work: The neighborhood is divided into the west side, which is more affluent and predominantly white, and the east side, which has fewer resources and is predominantly Black. People on the west side often avoid traveling to York Road, a commercial strip, because of safety concerns, she said, so there needs to be a way for both sides to come together.

York Road ― nicknamed The Corridor by residents — is the area’s main artery and boasts several businesses. Popular eateries include Flight American Fusion Restaurant & Bar and A1 Sushi, Pizza Boli’s, Popeyes and McDonald’s.

Economic development is important to Democratic Councilman Mark Conway, who said he wants to set up a benefits district funded by taxing businesses along York Road.

“That will raise money through The Corridor, and that’ll fund cleaning and greening efforts along The Corridor,” he said.

Conway referenced the Waterfront and Downtown partnerships, nonprofit organizations that work for the betterment of Baltimore’s waterfront and downtown businesses, respectively.

“You can think about ... the work that they do to improve and advocate for businesses in those areas,” he said. “We’re looking to do the same on The Corridor.”

History

Founded in the 1700s, Govans (pronounced GO-vens) was named after William Govane, who received a land grant from Frederick Calvert, the last Lord Baltimore. The rural settlement on the York Turnpike evolved into a suburban community that enjoyed streetcar service. Govans-town became increasingly urbanized and was annexed by Baltimore City in 1918; it was renamed Govans in 1953.

Physical space

Govans occupies a long footprint along York Road. On the west side of York and south of Northern Parkway are Rosebank and Homeland, split by Bellona Avenue. On the east side of York Road and moving south from Northern Parkway are Chinquapin Park and Belvedere (which we will revisit jointly in a future neighborhood profile), Mid-Govans, Woodbourne-McCabe, Winston-Govans and Richnor Springs.

A bird alights on a street sign in the Govans neighborhood.
A bird alights on a street sign in the Govans neighborhood. (Barbara Haddock Taylor)

Though constituent neighborhoods can have wildly varying features and demographics, there is a sense of connection. For instance, Aaron Barton, president of the Homeland Association, said he considers himself part of the Govans neighborhood.

The biggest landmark is the historic art deco Senator Theatre. Churches include Govans Presbyterian Church and St. Mary of the Assumption (Catholic). Govans Elementary School is under renovation.

Depending on the community, Govans boasts attached and single-family homes, some with charming architectural details and manicured lawns.

Things to do

The Belvedere Square shopping center just off York Road boasts several eateries, including Koba Korean BBQ, The Pizza Trust and Greg’s Bagels.

“It’s a wonderful place of gathering. In the summertime, we have jazz and country bands. It’s a lovely time of fellowship between the east and west side of The Corridor,” McFadden said.

Demographics

Population has fallen in Govans over recent decades, according to Baltimore’s Planning Department. Cumulatively, population among five of the primary areas fell from 6,116 in 1990 to 4,784 in 2010. Homeland saw slight growth, from 3,137 in 1990 to 3,201 in 2010. More recent census data shows population has fallen citywide since 2010.

Most Govans communities record unemployment at or above the city’s rate of 7% in 2018: Richnor Springs (7%), Rosebank (14%), Mid-Govans (17%), Winston-Govans (24%) and Woodbourne-McCabe (30%), according to Baltimore’s Planning Department. Homeland is at 2%.

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Median home sales prices in 2017-2019 ranged from about $30,000 (Richnor Springs) to $40,000 (Woodbourne-McCabe) to $50,000 (Winston-Govans) to $60,000-plus (Mid-Govans) to $170,000 (Rosebank) to above $500,000 (Homeland).

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Median household income in 2018 ranged from $29,271 (Woodbourne-McCabe) to $29,418 (Winston-Govans) to $39,875 (Richnor Springs) to $40,799 (Mid-Govans) to $65,027 (Homeland) to $81,148 (Rosebank).

Most Govans communities are predominantly Black; Rosebank and Homeland are majority white.

Transit and walkability

Walkability scores for most Govans communities rank below 80 out of 100, according to Live Baltimore: 51 (Homeland), 62 (Richnor Springs), 67 (Winston-Govans), 72 (Mid-Govans and Woodbourne-McCabe), 87 (Rosebank).

Govans transit includes a south and northbound bus. The CityLink Red - Downtown - Towson/Lutherville buses travel along York Road and Ridgely Plaza Shopping Center southbound, York Road and Bellona Avenue southbound and on York Road and Seminary Avenue southbound, among other streets. There’s an app to locate routes in the neighborhood.

Issues

Govans communities reported five homicides in 2020: Winston-Govans (one), Woodbourne-McCabe (three), and Mid-Govans (one). Homeland and Rosebank recorded no homicides. Baltimore Open Data does not break out separate numbers for Richnor Springs.

“We are experiencing problems with crime. We’ve had all types of crimes, from carjacking to home invasion to destruction of property,” McFadden said. “We’ve experienced shootings, murders. We have young people who have nothing to do. We’re trying to rectify a lot of these things.”

Like many urban communities, Govans struggles with trash, so there also needs to be more environmentally friendly projects, such as cleanups and tree planting along York Road, McFadden said.

“We have tried to address [the trash] issue in many ways. We have numerous cleanups throughout the year that [nearby] Loyola University students and community residents join in together to try to keep [York Road] and all streets clean. It is a challenge,” McFadden said.

Leadership

Representatives of Govans include Conway, state Sen. Mary Washington and state delegates Curt Anderson, Regina Boyce and Maggie McIntosh ― all Democrats. Chris Forrest is president of York Road Partnership, which represents more than 20 neighborhoods.

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