Baltimore's main streets


A CITY'S economic health can be quickly gauged by the stability of its neighborhoods and the vitality of its retail areas. Baltimore does poorly in both respects.

A program launched with great hoopla this week seeks to re-energize lagging commercial corridors. Five such neighborhood "Main Streets" will be designated within the next few months for coordinated improvement efforts.

The National Trust for Historic Preservation came up with the improvement concept two decades ago. It has been used in 1,500 communities around the nation, where one dollar spent on the project has spawned an average of $11 in new investment. "This is the most effective leverage program ever," said Richard Moe, the trust's president.

Baltimore's initial five-community push will have $1.6 million in city, state and foundation money at its disposal.

It's the most ambitious small-business program tried here in decades. As part of the effort, the city's moribund business assistance group is being reorganized and strengthened. (Contact 410-545-7367 for information).

Baltimore has plenty of natural "Main Streets" -- 36th Street in Hampden, Eastern Avenue in Highlandtown, Hanover Street and Patapsco Avenue in Brooklyn and Harford Road in Hamilton. They could all use help.

But to be included in the program, they must get their acts together and convince City Hall that they merit inclusion in what will truly be a breakthrough initiative.

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