Elijah Anderson, who might be the nation's leading people-watcher, has spent most of the last 30 years observing human beings of all colors and ethnicities mixing it up in public spaces — Philadelphia's, mainly — and of late he mostly likes what he sees.
He's found whites, blacks and immigrants from all over the world shopping shoulder to shoulder in Reading Terminal Market and equally stunning diversity in Philly's Rittenhouse Square. Attention must be paid, Mr. Anderson says. As segregated as Americans are in terms of where we live, the great melting that occurs in public spaces is a phenomenon of consequence. We might be suspicious of each other on streets, but there are important places where diverse people come together and, for the most part, practice getting along. These "cosmopolitan canopies," as Mr. Anderson calls them, give us a glimpse of post-racial America.
Mr. Anderson, a sociologist who has been on the faculty of two Ivy League universities, calls himself an urban ethnographer, which is pretty much a good street reporter with a PhD. He's interviewed Philadelphians in their neighborhoods, homes, bars and workplaces to figure out how they live and what they think. He was in Baltimore last week with copies of "The Cosmopolitan Canopy: Race and Civility in Everyday Life," his latest book on urban social dynamics.
While Mr. Anderson's research focuses on Philadelphia, certainly the phenomenon he's describing — islands of civility and racial comity that stand out among the ghettos, enclaves of wealth, suburbs and ethnic neighborhoods where segregation is the norm — exist in other cities, including Baltimore. So I posted a question on my Facebook page:
"Describe a place in Baltimore — not your workplace — where there's significant racial diversity, and where you feel comfortable and where you are more likely to get a sense of what a post-racial America looks like."
I received plenty of response, though surprisingly no one mentioned Harborplace, which would seem to fit Mr. Anderson's description of the cosmopolitan canopy as a "setting that offers a respite from the lingering tensions of urban life and opportunity for diverse peoples to come together."
The people who responded to my question listed more intimate, less touristy places.
Brian Wendell Morton, who writes the Political Animal column in the City Paper, picked "Cross Street Market on football Sundays." Cross Street was one of the first places I appreciated for its diversity: longtime residents of South Baltimore and Federal Hill yuppies; old and young and middle-aged; blacks and whites, some Asian merchants; blue-collar and white-collar. Cross Street might have lost some of its grand mix in recent years, but it still makes my list.
Matt Smith mentioned another city market, the big one: "Lexington Market. The oyster bar at Faidley's. All races rubbing elbows to enjoy fresh seafood and cold beer, talking about the issues of the day, the weather, the O's. It's a great place to be." This market sometimes gets a bad rap because of the winos and junkies who hang by the entrances. But inside it's still a great place, especially when the crowd gathers for live music in the arcade.
Several Facebook posters mentioned the outdoor farmer's markets, but just as many named the YMCA on 33rd Street, where Memorial Stadium used to be. Comments: "Racially diverse in staff and clientele … A true mix of races, ages and muscle mass. … The diversity — by age and race and class and professional buffness — is the reason why I belong to the 33rd Street Y."
Billylynn Savage noted a place in Baltimore County: "H Mart on Rolling Road! EVERYONE goes there — Asians, Latinos, Indians, Caribbean islanders — everyone!"
Artscape, Baltimore's annual celebration of music and the arts (now in its 30th year, July 15-17) received several nominations as a cosmo-canopy. The Pratt Library branch in Highlandtown received multiple nominations. Meghan Flanigan likes how she feels around the lake at Druid Hill. Patti Rae likes the scene in the Whole Foods in Harbor East. C.J. Jeffries finds the cosmo-canopy "in any lottery ticket line." Rene Najera finds ethnic and racial diversity and civility in pickup soccer games; the only players who are excluded, he says, are the ones who play dirty.
I liked the comment of Terry Mahoney, although it was more about a workplace than a great good gathering place: "Port of Baltimore! Everyone's too busy working to be ignorant."