October 28, 2011

Greenmount West organizes neighborhood vacants tour


Photo of Greenmount West homes courtesy of the New Greenmount West Community Association


Boosters in Baltimore's Greenmount West organized a tour last weekend that included homes that are far from neighborhood showpieces but  -- they hope -- will get there in the foreseeable future.

The New Greenmount West Community Association organized the "Vacants to Value" event to drum up interest in the idea of buying a property in disrepair and breathing new life into it. The tour drew about 80 people, said Marian Weaver, a board member with the association.

Group leaders coordinated with several partners, including the city -- which launched the Vacants to Value program last fall to try to get more of Baltimore's thousands of abandoned homes back into productive use.

"When the Vacants to Value Program first went live, we recognized that this would be a great opportunity to leverage the city's willingness to sell vacants that they'd otherwise refused to for the past 30 years, and hope that we could funnel interest into turning these houses into the glorious homeowner occupied dwellings that they once were, rather than more inefficient and poorly managed apartments," Weaver said in an email.

Continue reading "Greenmount West organizes neighborhood vacants tour" »

August 16, 2011

Memo to neighborhoods: Don't make it harder than it already is for homeowners to sell

Real estate agent Nancy McCord writes in with a problem: She's trying to sell a home in a condo community in Columbia and is feeling hampered by the property-management company. It's quick to tow cars that don't have an approved-to-park-here sticker, she said -- which includes prospective buyers.

"The management company is closed by 2:30pm on Fri. and opens again Monday mornings. Realtors do most of their showings on weekends. It is at the realtor's risk to show during the weekend," she writes.

"I have tried to get the management company to see what damage they are doing their own residents by not making it easier to show properties there," she added. "Not only should they help sellers, but encourage them. Without the fees from the owners, there is no money to pay the management company. I know of at least some residents that have been towed and are very angry about it. I've tried to reach the association - made up of owners but to no avail."

This is a new one on me. Has anyone else had trouble of this sort -- either getting towed while looking at a home or hearing that your prospective buyers are being hassled? What would you suggest in this case?

The market is hard enough for home sellers, so you'd hope your neighborhood isn't unwittingly making it worse.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

August 1, 2011

Figuring out which city neighborhood you're in (and a lot more)

When your city has more than 225 neighborhoods, it's not easy to eye up a home or business and know for certain which one it's in. Back in the day, you'd have to get your hands on a Baltimore neighborhoods map and scrutinize the boundaries.

Life was so hard before the Internet.

The city government's Baltimore City iMap site has for a while now popped out the answer about a neighborhood when you plug in an address. It takes a little while -- you can almost hear the gears grinding -- but hey, it beat the hard-copy alternative.

Now, though, the city is transitioning to Baltimore CityView, a quicker neighborhood look-up that also offers other sorts of answers. The closest farmers' markets, for instance, or the median household income. You can export what you find to a spreadsheet.

Hat tip to Sun restaurant critic Richard Gorelick for noticing this update.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:15 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

July 28, 2011

What's your neighborhood gathering place?

The U.S. Postal Service is considering 3,700 post offices for closure -- 41 of them in Maryland -- and the community reaction to that possibility made me think about neighborhood focal points.

Sure, some people just see the post office as a place to drop off packages and buy stamps, but others feel very strongly that it's an integral part of the community -- a place to meet neighbors and catch up on goings-on.

Does the post office near you operate in that way? What is the gathering place in your neighborhood, or gathering places?

Do you have any at all?

Pools can work in that way. They're among the gathering spots in Columbia, or at least they were when I was growing up there. Parks and playgrounds have the same sort of appeal, though their demographic tends to skew young. And then there are malls.

For some neighborhoods, the go-to place is a restaurant. Patterson Park folks felt so strongly about the focal-point power of the building at the corner of Baltimore Street and Linwood Avenue that they banded together to buy it last year after the nonprofit that owned it collapsed and the restaurant there folded.

Planners sometimes talk about how some communities have no "there" there. I hope yours has a there.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 6:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

April 20, 2011

Snapshot of Baltimore: housing, people and more

Data lovers, start salivating: The newest "Vital Signs" report on Baltimore -- out Tuesday -- has information (or, if you prefer, market intelligence) on neighborhoods across the city.

Here are some of the findings, put together by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute:

· Though citywide population dropped 2.4 percent from 2000 to 2009, results varied dramatically at a more local level. "A few neighborhoods, including Greenmount East, Sandtown-Winchester and Midway/Coldstream, lost residents by double-digit percentages, while others, including Downtown/Seton Hill (16.6 percent), Fells Point (8.1 percent) and South Baltimore (7 percent) experienced population growth," the University of Baltimore said in its announcement.

· During the same nine-year stretch, the violent crime rate in Baltimore fell. It was 15.3 violent offenses per 1,000 people in 2009, down from 26.2 violent offenses per 1,000 people in 2000. (Biggest improvements: "The greatest decreases in the violent crime rate occurred in the Perkins/Middle East, Downtown/Seton Hill, and Patterson Park North and East neighborhoods.")

· Abandonment rose citywide over most of the last decade, but not in all neighborhoods. Canton and environs, for example, are exactly where they were in 2001 (with just under 1.2 percent of residential properties vacant and abandoned). And in the area in and around Patterson Park, the vacant-and-abandoned rate actually dropped, to about 7 percent. (The Vital Signs report uses "community statistical areas" that don't match up exactly with official city neighborhood boundaries.)

· This will surprise no one, at least no regular reader of real estate news: The city had nearly twice the number of new foreclosure proceedings in 2009 than in 2005, when the housing market was hot to trot.

· And home sales? Down 28 percent in 2009, compared with the year before.

Continue reading "Snapshot of Baltimore: housing, people and more" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

November 8, 2010

Report: Locust Point is safest large neighborhood in Baltimore

A crime analysis for a consumer-finance website dubs Locust Point the safest large neighborhood in Baltimore, with residents less likely to be victims of violence or serious property crimes than people living in most other parts of the country.

"As it turns out, some big cities contain neighborhoods that are among the safest of any place in the nation, hopefully breaking stereotypes," WalletPop, the website, says in its announcement of the findings.

Locust Point, a neighborhood with deep blue-collar roots, has a location alongside Baltimore's waterfront that has brought it high-end residential development in recent years.

WalletPop, which relied on NeighborhoodScout for the data and analysis, says it ranked the safest neighborhood of at least 1,000 people in each of the nation's largest cities. Those neighborhoods tended to be either wealthy or "more modest income neighborhoods with many tightly-knit working class families."

The chances of becoming a crime victim in a year of living in Locust Point are 1 in 84, better odds than in 70 percent of U.S. neighborhoods, WalletPop said.

Continue reading "Report: Locust Point is safest large neighborhood in Baltimore" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (24)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

September 24, 2010

Homeowner association rules

The idea that a home is your best investment might have taken a beating these past few years, but one factor still driving renters to buy is the image of painting, hanging pictures, keeping pets and generally doing whatever they want to the place without someone else telling them no.

If you're buying into one of the many neighborhoods with a homeowner association, though, keep in mind that what you do to the exterior can become a community affair.

Rules vary from association to association. Some changes require permission. Some are simply banned.

My hometown of Columbia is the subject of frequent teasing about its strict rules, known as covenants. (Back when she was covering the planned community, colleague Laura Vozzella once wrote about the effect those covenants had on a "beautiful yard" award in Kings Contrivance: Organizers realized that all the nominees had run afoul of the rules by not getting permission for their minor improvements. A baby swing hung from a tree, for instance.)

So a Columbia village seemed like a good place to start when I went looking for a primer on what new homeowners should know to avoid ending up with a violation notice.

Continue reading "Homeowner association rules" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (10)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

August 10, 2010

Best-of lists and ZIP-code angst

Did you know Baltimore is one of eight "hip cities" for retirees looking for urban lifestyles? Or the ninth-best place for recent college graduates to move? Or, on the other side of the coin, the fourth most "irritation-prone" city?

These are just some of the best-of, and in some cases worst-of, lists out there, as colleague Lorraine Mirabella notes in a story. I figured you'd enjoy reading it.

Also interesting reading for real estate enthusiasts: Nicole Fuller's piece about Anne Arundel waterfront communities such as Orchard Beach petitioning the U.S. Postal Service to get their own ZIP code -- specifically so they won't be lumped in with Curtis Bay.

Doug Ashton, president of the Orchard Beach Improvement Association, told Fuller: "There's a perception that there's dirty water, a lot of industry, a lot of crimes. And with the same ZIP code, people associate all that stuff with our homes, and it's just two different worlds."

August 7, 2010

Meeting the neighbors

Most of you know at least some of your neighbors at least a little bit. That's what you're telling me, anyway.

Just 12 percent of readers who took this week's poll said they didn't know any of their neighbors.

But an equally small percentage of you are on the other extreme, knowing most or all of your neighbors well. Nearly half of you "sort of" know some of your neighbors, which doesn't necessarily mean more than friendly waves as you head off to your respective workplaces. (This is the category I'm in, incidentally.)

Here's what I'd like to know: Is a neighborhood better -- a nicer place to live -- when the residents know and like each other? Does it matter to you whether you know your neighbors or not?

Those of you contemplating a move: Is "friendly neighborhood" anywhere on your priority list?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

August 4, 2010

What should this homeowner do?

Wonk reader allen shared his tale of housing woe today:

i live in mount clare, bought a nice house in 07 and i regret everyday. My taxes are high, i live next to drug addicts and dealers all around me, and i fear for my life everytime i walk up the street. Baltimore wants people investing, but they don't want to do something about the drugs that deter people from investing in areas of high potential such as mount clare. It's a shame, i've had many home buyers see houses in the area and say it's the people that keeps them away. i am so depressed, do i walk away from my home and rebuild or stick it out?

If you were in his situation, what would you do? Can anyone with neighborhood-improvement experience offer specific advice?

August 3, 2010

'Know your neighbors' day

I was struck this week by how little I really know my neighbors. One couple's full names and a bit of their backstory, and a few other neighbors' first names -- and that's it. My parents, by contrast, know most of the people on their long street.

If you're in the same boat I'm in, you might want to take a moment on Thursday to introduce yourself to the folks who live near you. HUD is proclaiming it "Know Your Neighbors Day," because the agency thinks that "building the bonds of neighbors" will "build stronger communities."

It's harder to build those bonds in a transient world, but it's not impossible. The thing is, it usually takes at least one enthusiastic person to say hello for the first time, to invite near-strangers over for dinner, to organize block parties.

When I think of neighborliness, the example that always pops to mind is Patterson Park, where neighbors so missed the restaurant that was the community gathering spot -- complete with weekly trivia nights -- that a group of them pooled their money to purchase the vacant building that had housed it.

But neighborliness can be as simple as knowing enough about the people around you to be aware if something's wrong next door -- and to help out, if so.

How well do you know your neighbors? Do you consider your neighborhood a neighborly place -- and does it matter to you if it is?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

May 28, 2010

When 'where do you live' has a multitude of answers

I asked you all how you answer the question "where do you live," and Mike D's response made me grin:

It depends on how familiar the person is with Baltimore, these are terms I've used in the past:
"Downtown... well... technically it's MIDtown."
"North of the Harbor"
"Mount Vernon" (This is what most residents in the area say anyway.)
"Mount Vernon... well... technically just outside Mount Vernon."
"Midtown-Belvedere" - "Where's that?" - "Near the Belvedere Hotel." - "Oh... You mean that's not Mount Vernon?" - "Technically? Nope."
Most often, I just default to, "Near Penn Station."
Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 3:11 PM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Comment of the day, Neighborhood and neighbors

What neighborhood is this, anyway?

Baltimore has more than 225 neighborhoods packed into 81 square miles. Darn hard to remember them all, let alone know with certainty which one an address falls into.

But it's easy once you've discovered Baltimore City iMap. Just plug in the address, hit "locate" and it'll spit out the neighborhood name -- along with the council district, trash pickup days, zoning and other useful information.

I was reminded of this yesterday when a reader asked if a property was actually in Hollins Market (it was), and I couldn't think of why I hadn't passed this tidbit along earlier.

Other places offer neighborhood details, including this city government page and Live Baltimore. And you can see how all the neighborhoods fit together if you check out this map. But sometimes you just want to know if that "stunning FEDERAL HILL home!!" is really in Riverside, or if the apartment you're renting is in Mount Vernon or Midtown Belvedere, and that's where a site like iMap comes in handy.

On that note: Do you know what neighborhood you live in (city or suburb)? Do you name it when people ask where you live, or do you go for something broader ("I'm in Northeast Baltimore") or squishier ("I'm near the airport")?

Do you think your neighborhood is a selling point?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (8)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

May 23, 2010

Neighbors put up savings to snag key Patterson Park building



Have you ever seen a problem in your neighborhood and said, "Someone ought to do something"?

In Patterson Park, residents organized to do it themselves.

Here's the story about how four individuals and two couples pooled their money to buy a key commercial building in the Baltimore neighborhood, sitting vacant now but once a community gathering spot. They're on the hook for about $400,000, including closing costs and some other incidentals.

It's the former headquarters of the Patterson Park Community Development Corp., which reversed blight by rehabbing hundreds of homes but couldn't survive the housing bust. The restaurant Three..., which rented the ground floor, is also gone.

The CDC's demise isn't good neighborhood news. It puts many more homes on the market at an already tough time for sellers. It requires a change of ownership for the CDC's rental properties, which makes residents anxious. It removes a paid staff whose mission was neighborhood improvement.

But residents decided they weren't going to simply let events unfold as they may. Neighbors' decision to buy the CDC headquarters -- to keep the ownership hyper-local and have control over the building's use -- is the latest example. (Getting a contract on the building took several tries. Here's a piece about their first attempt.)

This isn't the only time that Baltimore residents have put up significant money in the name of neighborhood improvement or preservation. So tell me, good folks: What have you seen in your neighborhood (or other neighborhoods) that impresses you?

March 30, 2010

Tracking Census participation across the country

Curious how our 2010 Census participation rates compare? You can follow along at the Census participation map.

As of Monday, the city's rate is 41 percent, Carroll County's is 58 percent -- highest in the region and the state, if my bleary eyes do not deceive me -- and the national rate is 46 percent. (The point of the map is to encourage more mail-ins. "If 100% of households mailed back their forms, taxpayers would save $1.5 BILLION dollars," the site says.)

Six towns -- mostly in North and South Dakota -- have 100 percent participation.

Seen any neat maps lately? Do share.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

March 1, 2010

Neighborhood-improvement brainstorming

If you were king for a day (or mayor), what would you change in your neighborhood to improve things?

Amid the outpouring of Canton love and hate in the last week, some readers offered up their suggestions. Particularly about parking.

"Many of the wide streets in Canton could have their parallel parking converted into angled parking, which would add several spaces to each block," wrote JB. "Some streets could even be changed to one way and then have angled parking on one or both sides. The city could add hundreds of parking spots to Canton by doing this."

Sherry, a Canton resident who often spends 15 minutes just looking for parking when she gets home from work, thinks head-in parking on wide streets would help, as would a garage. "So would making it easier for homeowners to turn back yards into parking spaces," she commented. "Or painting parking space lines on curb/street to encourage people to park less than 5 feet from the car in front or behind them."

I'm interested to hear what you think is the top fixable problem in your neighborhood, and how you'd fix it. (Extra points if the fix doesn't cost millions of dollars.)

Headroom, another commenter on the Canton post, had a suggestion about how to get suggestions implemented: "I would encourage old and new residents to get involved and start talking to one another, advocating for mutually helpful things, like street/parking rules and better transit. ... Get involved with your elected officials by emailing, writing or attending meetings. They really do listen."

Headroom added, "Most people don't do these things because it takes time. It's easier to stew and shout."

So true.

February 23, 2010

On neighborhoods, to each his or her own

If you ever needed proof that a neighborhood cannot make all of the people happy all of the time, check out the comments on this post about Canton. Some people ardently love the place. Some ardently hate it.

"Try to find a parking spot in the evening. If you're lucky and do find one, someone will be happy to break into your car," says EatTheRich.

Mencken opines, "I'll take the Canton of my youth over the arrogant snobby YUPPIEVILLE it has become. The drunks yelling and screaming, not to mention urinating on the sidewalks and leaving beer cans and bottles all over the street when the bars close."

Ed, on the other hand, writes: "I moved to Canton 9 years ago from Fells Point. I heard all the rumors of it being a stuffy location and full of yuppies who believed they were all mighty. What I have found in Canton is a real community with real people."

Busia says: "I love Canton! My husband and I retired here 11 years ago, before the increase in prices. We can walk to everything we need, grocery store, church, doctor's office, and affordable places to eat. We have wonderful neighbors, both young and old, and we have fantastic block parties."

Naturally your experience in a neighborhood can vary a lot from someone else's depending on your particular block and your particular priorities. Do you live somewhere that syncs up well with your wants and needs? Or are you in a spot that's ideal for a certain demographic but not you?

February 13, 2010

Relive snowstorm #2 in 2 minutes

Will Cocks of Greenmount West made this time-lapse video from nearly 1,800 photos taken between 2 p.m. Tuesday and 8 p.m. the next evening -- or as Will puts it, "Snomageddon 2.0."

Thanks for sharing, Will! And now let's hope the rest of the winter is positively springlike.

February 11, 2010

More snow, for Pete's sake: Your photos



Where does the snow end and the harbor begin? That's the question posed by colleague Justin Fenton, who snapped this moody photo of Snowpocalypse II.

Below, a panoramic pic taken by Aaron Szopinski, showing the alley in Hampden he dug out earlier in the week so his wife could get her car out. "Can't say I'm planning on doing it again," he wrote me as the snow was falling yesterday.




Below, preparing for Round Two: Jackie Regales of North Baltimore shoveled her roof to get the weight off before Mother Nature dumped more on.




And here -- behind the cut -- is a photo Will Cocks took in his Greenmount West neighborhood that's so neat I had to share, even though it's from Saturday and not yesterday:

Continue reading "More snow, for Pete's sake: Your photos" »

February 9, 2010

Send your snow photos


Photo by me


What's the damage in your neighborhood? Show us photographically by sending in a photo or three of Snowpocalypse, Round Two.

Because we might as well be miserably snowbound together, right?

Email photos to jamie.smith.hopkins(at) Tell me where and when you took the photo and how you'd like to be credited.

Thanks, all.

Bracing for more snow


Photo by Brad Lhotsky


What do you call back-to-back blizzards? "Snoverkill," say the wags on Twitter. I don't know whether to laugh or cry. And yes, I am aware that it's premature to call the storm being forecast for today and tomorrow a blizzard, but at this point any more snow is too much. Straw, meet camel's back.

How are you preparing? Has anyone taken desperate measures to get snow out of their neighborhood so there's space for Round Two? Have you moved your car somewhere else entirely in hopes of not getting stuck?

Did you ever see a plow?

I'd also like to hear how your life has been affected by all this snow. Did you manage to make it out of your neighborhood? Have you had to delay important things? (Anyone have to put off a real estate settlement?)

Commenting on this post about the digging-out effort, Pete from Highlandtown said a big storm brings out the best and worst in people. He saw the former on his block, where residents worked together to clear the street -- by hand.

Thus, "EVERYBODY on the block can get out. On other blocks people only thought of themselves. They only dug out their own cars and threw the snow into the middle of the street. Now NO ONE on their street can get out. Co-operation works a lot better than selfishly trying to look out only for yourself."

Can the cooperative spirit survive another big storm?

Can the combined might of 5.6 million people wishing the same thing affect weather patterns?


Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors, Weather

February 8, 2010

At least it's pretty



Here's a photo taken by Brad Lhotsky, showing Linwood Avenue through Patterson Park.

I'm offering it up as the silver lining to all this darn snow: It does have its beautiful moments.

Where you're putting the snow


Photo by Jamie Smith Hopkins


A few of your responses to the "so where should the shoveled snow go?" question:

Beth said, "We're about to head out to shovel our alley street near Patterson Park. I think we're going to put the snow in the alley (the part where the trash truck doesn't go). I know it's not an ideal solution, but we already have five foot high drifts in front of all of the houses on our block just from shoveling a walkway (not the whole sidewalk, just an 18 inch path!)"

From Gina: "We live in a townhome community - very tight when it comes to where to put snow. We ended up filling a wheelbarrow and taking it to one of the few grassy spots in the community and then throwing the snow there."

Kate wrote: "We only shoveled a path on one sidewalk on my narrow street. Snow from the street (shoveled, not plowed...even in regular snowfalls the city plows don't make it here) went on the other sidewalk. The drifts are taller than me."

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 11:45 AM | | Comments (1)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors, Quote of the day, Weather

Finding a place for all that snow


Photo by Jamie Smith Hopkins


Here's a question being pondered by anyone living in a neighborhood without a lot of spare space: Where on earth do you put the snow you're shoveling?

The Baltimore police department's Facebook page says where city residents shouldn't be putting it: "PLEASE DO NOT shovel snow back into the roadways."

Some residents were flummoxed by that. Wrote one Facebook user, "it's not as though we have yards and driveways -- other than the street or the sidewalk, where are people supposed to put the snow??"

Have you found a good answer in your neighborhood?

One city resident responding to the police's Facebook posting made this recommendation: "Put the snow that you're shoveling down the storm drains on every corner."

Wonk reader BigDragon, who measured 28 inches of snow outside his garage door in Glen Burnie, offered a photographic suggestion:



And to think, we're supposed to get MORE snow on Tuesday.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (20)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors, Weather

February 7, 2010

Snowpocalypse: More of your photos

Baltimore real estate agent Jamie Mason, who took the photo below, offers up a caption that made me laugh:

"New feature to market in city home sales: the rooftop luge."



Here's a harbor view she snapped:




Frequent commenter BigDragon sent in photos of the Snowpocalypse in his Glen Burnie neighborhood, including this one that answers the question, "So where exactly can you put the shoveled snow?"

Continue reading "Snowpocalypse: More of your photos" »

Snow etiquette


Photo by Jamie Smith Hopkins


My condo association offers a simple rule for getting through snowstorms with neighborly feelings intact: Never park your car in a space you didn't dig out yourself.

It works pretty well when you've got a parking lot that has space for everyone, and no one from neighboring communities has any reason to horn in. It's trickier in a place that has only street parking, plus businesses attracting car-driving people.

That's why Baltimoreans often resort to setting chairs in shoveled-out spots to save them from interlopers, as Gus Sentementes reported after the December storm. (It's not legal on public streets, he said, but city officials tend to turn a blind eye to the practice.)

Where do you stand on the parking-space issue?

What other rules do you abide by (or wish others would) in the name of snow etiquette?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (12)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors, Weather

February 6, 2010

Snowpocolypse, Day 2: More of your pics

The photos keep coming in -- thanks, guys!

Rob Walshe shared this snapshot of his Waltherson neighborhood, in Northeast Baltimore:




And here's another photo from Rob, to show how high the snow got today:




Jennifer Feinstein took this photo of son Zachary Feinstein, 6, outside their Westminster home:




And here's a street view from Westminster, also taken by Jennifer:


Continue reading "Snowpocolypse, Day 2: More of your pics" »

Snowpocolypse, Day 2: Your pics


Photo by Joe Heisler III


Thanks to all who have sent in photos to show just how much snow you've gotten. Keep 'em coming.

Above, Joe Heisler III gives us a visual report of the situation in Glen Rock, Penn. Wife Kathy said just before noon that they had 27 inches there and the stuff was still coming down.

Here's what greeted Laura in Baltimore when she opened her door this morning:





And here's James Harry's photo of the Baltimore neighborhood of Idlewood (below):


Continue reading "Snowpocolypse, Day 2: Your pics" »

Snowed in



Is your neighborhood one of the first to be plowed after snowstorms, or do you feel like you're in the last place on the to-do list?

When we got all that snow dumped on us in December, my way to work was reasonably clear. But some in the same community -- just different homeowners' associations -- complained bitterly several days after the storm that they hadn't seen a plow at all.

So I'm curious to hear about your recent experiences. Good, bad, indifferent? Are you feeling the ripple effects of tight budgets? Does it seem to matter if it's the local government or a homeowner-association contractor doing the work?

Good removal or not, some neighborhoods are just snow neighborhoods. Great hill for sledding, a bit of open space for snowmen and everyone pitching in on the shoveling -- or the snowball fighting -- like one big extended family.

I grew up in that sort of neighborhood. Even as I grouch about the aggravation of uninvited weather as a places-to-go adult, I remember those childhood snow days fondly.

On a related note, my cat Tommy has decided that snow is awesome:


Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors, Weather

The snow in your neck of the woods



Above: The view from Charles Street on Friday evening, contributed by MdoubleA.

Below: Two residential photos from Laura in Baltimore, also snapped Friday.

Continue reading "The snow in your neck of the woods" »

January 6, 2010

Patterson Park in Southern Living magazine

You might remember that Southern Living magazine picked Baltimore's Patterson Park as one of the "best comeback neighborhoods." The story's out now, and you can see it online here.

A taste:

Future restoration of the community rests on the struggle between the housing downturn and energized homeowners rallying behind the community. “You’ve heard of sweat equity? We have fret equity,” says neighborhood association vice president Kimi Aghevli. “You move in and think, ‘What have I done?’ Then your neighbors reach out and bring you into the social circle, lifting this neighborhood house by house.”

The first quote, at least on the online version, is from the owner of Three..., a restaurant across from the park. But as Elizabeth Large noted on the Dining@Large blog recently, she got a "temporarily disconnected" message when she called the business. I checked its website today, and it's down. Oh dear.

C'mon 2010, be better than '09. Better, darn you.

December 24, 2009

Deck the halls, offices, yards and construction sites


Photo inside by Ayako Bingham

I don't know if it's the economy, the housing market or the cost of electricity, but there don't seem to be as many lit-up, decorated places this year. That might explain why only one reader -- the excellent Ayako Bingham of -- came through when I put out a call for photos of local holiday lights.

But between her photos, my snaps in Baltimore and Columbia and real estate editor Justine Maki's pictures in Ellicott City, we do have a cross-section of decorative efforts indoors and out, at both businesses and residences. It's no 34th Street in Hampden, but even a chilly construction site had a little tree.

The results are in this photo gallery of holiday decorations in the Baltimore area. Enjoy -- and it's not too late to supply your own photos, if you'd like. Instructions are on the gallery.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 12:18 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

December 19, 2009

Send in those holiday-light pix

Assuming you're not snowed in this weekend, take a moment to snap a photo or two of the holiday lights and other decorations that catch your eye. And then send them my way, of course!

Email your jpeg photos to jamie.smith.hopkins(at) The deadline is Tuesday, though earlier is always appreciated.

Thanks to the Wonk reader (you know who you are) who's already sent several.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:30 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

How much does green space matter?

A group of Dutch researchers, sifting through disease and disorder data from physicians, concluded recently that people living near parks and other islands of green are less unhealthy, anxious and depressed. They found that the effects are particularly noticeable based on the amount of green space within 1 kilometer of people -- about six-tenths of a mile.

The strongest connection was for children under 12, middle-aged adults and lower-income residents. "For a few disease clusters the relation for children was especially strong, for example for vertigo ... and severe intestinal complaints," the authors wrote, adding: "The strongest relation for children was found for depression."

This got me wondering how much you all value (or don't value) parks, gardens and other green spaces. Have you chosen your homes with these things in mind? Perhaps you didn't and are regretting it? Or maybe -- counter to these researchers' findings -- you live near a park and are being driven crazy by the noise?

I'm interested to hear your thoughts. Or just take this poll:

Do you think your community in general has too little, too much or just the right amount of green spaces?

VERY COOL UPDATE: Wonk reader Ben Hyman happens to have put together a map showing proximity to parks in the sense this study is talking about. Here it is:

Continue reading "How much does green space matter?" »

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors, Polls

December 17, 2009

Your neighborhood in lights


Photo of 34th Street in Hampden by Lloyd Fox / Baltimore Sun

If you like decorations on houses, this is your time of year. Hampden's Miracle on 34th Street gets most of the media attention locally for its homeowners' devotion to all things bright (and quirky -- see the hubcap tree above), but you can hardly go anywhere without seeing homes lit up for Christmas or another end-of-year holiday.

Share some with me, so I can share them with everyone.

Here's the idea: Snap shots of a decorated house or street in your neighborhood (or elsewhere in the area -- anything that catches your eye), and email the photos in jpeg form to jamie.smith.hopkins(at) by Tuesday the 23rd. I'll put up the results -- if any -- on Christmas Eve.

Ho ho ho.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (0)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

December 16, 2009

Patterson Park gets 'comeback neighborhood' nod

Southern Living magazine is featuring 10 "comeback neighborhoods" in its January issue, and Patterson Park in Baltimore -- which went downhill and then bootstrapped itself up again with the help of a rehabbing nonprofit -- is one of them. So says the Nashville Business Journal. 

Other neighborhoods on the list include East Nashville, Springfield in Jacksonville, Fla. and Holy Cross in New Orleans.

Thanks to Wonk reader MCG for the heads up.

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (2)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

November 2, 2009

Houses and house parties



For those of you wondering what people with lavish houses do with all the space: Howard County police say a Columbia mansion -- a 4,600-square-foot spread -- was being rented out for a Halloween party this weekend that drew more than 100 people, possibly much more.

They're clear on the "more than 100" part, because that's how many people were still there when officers arrived in response to 911 calls about gunfire. A 19-year-old was killed and a 22-year-old was badly injured.

Police think the house was also rented out for a party that took place in June.

The Sun's Annie Linskey reminded me that several years ago, a big Anne Arundel County house was the site of a non-fatal shooting while rented out to two NFL players. Neighbors complained that the place was being used as an unauthorized nightclub even before that point.

Do you live near homes that are frequently used for parties, with or without cover charges?

(Photograph of the Columbia house by Algerina Perna / Baltimore Sun)

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (4)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

October 20, 2009

What to do about nightmare neighbors?

Recently, some of you offered advice to fellow Wonk reader Mr. Baltimore about his neighbor dilemma. He likes his next-door neighbor and doesn't want to damage the relationship, but he's getting tired of frequent renovation noise.

Here's a bigger problem for your collective smarts, posed by "no name":

My mom's neighbors are the craziest folk you'd never want to meet. They've robbed her home, left dog feces on her front door knob, shot at the cameras outside her home, shot at the guy installing for the second time the cameras outside her home, they use her outside water spicot and have caused her paveway to rot, they park their cars in her drive, they've threatened her life and have falsely accused her of things she hasn't done.

While in court, they lied while under oath and made her look as if she were some old, crazed woman in need of psychiatric care. If it were me, I know i would have committed suicide a while ago. I don't know how she puts up with it. They've even repeatedly slit her tires and had their children dump trash into her back porch and then, call the sanitation department on her. She's called the police. She's hired a lawyer, but still these insane neighbors seem to be winning.

Where's the justice?

Any suggestions? What can a law-abiding person do, short of move?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 8:00 AM | | Comments (5)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

October 9, 2009

Neighbor dilemma: Suggestions?

Wonk reader Mr. Baltimore (not to be confused with the prolific MrRational) has a dilemma about what -- if anything -- to do about rule-breaking behavior from a next-door neighbor he otherwise likes. Here's the situation:
I have been attached to a wonderful neighbor for 13 years. She is very nice. However, her and her husband have been renovating their house for five years. First a closet, then a kitchen, then the basement, and finally a bathroom. Sometimes they will stop for a month or two, but sure enough it starts back up and continues for months on end. They have never gotten a permit for any of the work, or perhaps they would know that they could only work until 7 pm at night, sometimes they hammer up until 10 pm. I have never said anything to them because it behooves me that they could honestly bang on their house for five years and not once think about the fact that they are attached on both sides. Plus we have a good relationship so I never wanted to rock the boat. But here we are, entering my sixth Ravens season and they have their saw in the back yard ready to cut some wood this weekend. What do you do? What do you say?

Recommendations, anyone? If you've been through something similar, what did you do?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 9:55 PM | | Comments (7)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors

Good neighbors, bad neighbors, no neighbors

We've probably all had bad neighbors at one point or another. Noisy, rude, messy, scary ... Wonk reader M, on a post about code enforcement, noted that a neighbor "puts his trash out on the street whenever he wants, no can, only a big trash bag," which brings the truly uninvited sort of neighbors -- rats.

Hopefully we've all had good neighbors, too. Friendly, helpful, fun. I sure miss the friendly, helpful and fun family who lived near us for years, sharing hellos, advice and baby items.

Then there's the absence of neighbors -- empty homes in between renters, up for sale or foreclosed. They can be perfectly fine or a malignant tumor on a street. Eighty percent of U.S. city mayors, managers and code enforcers said in a recent survey (sponsored by a municipal software company) that citizen complaints related to foreclosures have gone up in the last year. Top beefs: unkempt yards and property damage.

What kind of neighbors do you have?

Posted by Jamie Smith Hopkins at 7:00 AM | | Comments (14)
Categories: Neighborhood and neighbors
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About Jamie Smith Hopkins
Jamie Smith Hopkins, a Baltimore Sun reporter since 1999, writes about the regional economy. Her reporting on the housing market has won national and local awards. Hopkins is a Columbia native and has lived in Maryland all her life, save for 10 months spent covering schools in Ames, Iowa.
She trained to become a wonk by spending large chunks of time as a geek and an insufferable know-it-all.
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