THIS TIME of year, I'm out early in the morning on daily walks around the city. Maybe I've been in a bad humor, but for some reason, I've been noticing more trash underfoot and don't like what I observe.
In my five decades in Baltimore, I've often thought our aged city did its best to keep clean. I took to heart all the stories about the people who scrubbed their steps until they sparkled and kept their windows washed.
This summer, it's just not so. And all the city's untidiness is concentrated on Russell Street, where the city recently announced it would be embarking upon a long-term beautification effort.
I thought I was just going through a period of summertime depression, but then I got an e-mail from someone who views Baltimore from a different perspective, a reader who recently moved here but commutes to a job out of town on the Amtrak/MARC right of way:
Writes Janice Wilcox: "There is no mode of transportation into the city that exposes one to the trash heap and filth that one sees along the railway as you enter Penn Station.
"On more than one occasion, I have tried to entice friends to consider Baltimore as an alternative to the high-speed and high-priced Washington area. When they have ventured over by train they are stopped cold by a preview of the environment that awaits them."
I agree totally. After all, my very first train ride, at a fare of 10 cents in 1954, was from Camden to Mount Royal stations via the Howard Street tunnel, which is no longer used for passenger traffic. I often use the Amtrak/MARC tunnels under Bolton Hill and West Baltimore and the tunnel under Hoffman Street in East Baltimore. The train entrances to Baltimore look like an urban horror movie. (I would add, the rail thresholds to Philadelphia and Washington are no better, and the auto entrance to the District via New York Avenue is painfully awful as well.)
"I can't see for the life of me how the Baltimore promoters have so overlooked this fatal flaw in attracting new-comers. Even though I've gotten past the train entrance, I am still appalled by the general acceptance of dirt and trash throughout the city. Try visiting the Upper Park Heights and Reisterstown Road corridors, the streets that lead to Johns Hopkins Hospital, parts of North Avenue that skirt historic and pricey Bolton Hill or Greenmount Avenue."
I often walk these corridors, and Ms. Wilcox is so right.
"By the way," she writes, "the city might want to consider generating revenues through a 'clean it or lien it' program that levies fines or tax assessments on properties that are trash- or debris laden. The idea is that a city crew cleans it after a citation is delivered and the owners pay the fees. More employment for unskilled workers! More money for the city!"