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Not my neighborhood's keeper

Baltimore is a city of many neighborhoods, and some guard their identities more closely than others. Elizabeth Large tells me that readers of her Dining @ Large blog regularly castigate her for neighborhood references that they consider inaccurate. We get similar complaints on the copy desk, particularly when an article locates a crime in a neighborhood that doesn’t want to claim it.

The problem is that there is no reliable method of determining accuracy. For example, I live in a neighborhood called Hamilton. Everyone there calls it Hamilton. Everyone else in Baltimore calls it Hamilton. The city’s official map of neighborhoods has no Hamilton. According to the city map, I live in Harford-Echodale/Perring Parkway, a locution I have not heard anyone use in the 21 years I’ve lived there.

The city map represents the boundaries some committee of municipal bureaucrats draw to codify local nomenclature. But local practice varies. Ask where Federal Hill leaves off and South Baltimore begins, and you will get differing answers from people who live there. There is a Charles Village assessment district, which does have formal boundaries, but you can get disagreement on whether the assessment district and the neighborhood are conterminous.

So we make an effort to identify locations within the fluid boundaries established by common usage, so far as we can determine it. But exactitude is elusive, and possibly illusory.

My advice to Ms. Large: Tell people who complain that she has put a restaurant in the wrong neighborhood to get a life.



Posted by John McIntyre at 3:50 PM | | Comments (11)



Restaurants, yeah... whatever. Crime? A whole different story. I live in a neighborhood that recently complained to the Sun for locating every murder that happened within 2 miles within our neighborhood. It's hell on marketing efforts. Your words do matter and you should be cautious. People actually believe what you say.

Summer hits the nail on the head...sometimes it matters--on several levels--to those who live in the misidentified area. Columbine High School is not in Littleton, Colorado, although it was always reported to be.

I agree with Summer. MY neighborhood boundaries were not, in fact, "boundaries some committee of municipal bureaucrats draw to codify local nomenclature." They are the boundaries decided by my neighborhood association, which is, in fact, the oldest neighborhood association in the country. In my neck of the woods, we get a little miffed when realtors, businesses, etc. in adjoining areas try to pretend they are in our neighborhood -- while doing nothing to contribute to the hard work that goes into maintaining a strong, healthy neighborhood (against the odds, in this city.) Likewise, we absolutely HATE it when the County ascribes any crime in neighboring areas across the county line in their neighborhoods to our neighborhood, to perpetuate the myth that crime is a city problem and the county is "safe." Yeah, we are touchy about it. But is fact-checking really so difficult for a journalist, given the fact that the city does have a map of neighborhoods? Why not say "near the Homewood campus" or "off Hamilton Road" if you don't want to use the real neighborhood name? Isn't it a good thing for people to take pride in their neighborhoods? Why poo-poo this?

lo⋅cu⋅tion   [loh-kyoo-shuhn] Show IPA
1. a particular form of expression; a word, phrase, expression, or idiom, esp. as used by a particular person, group, etc.
2. a style of speech or verbal expression; phraseology

Learned sumfin new evry dae/

Exactitude is not required (or likely possible), but reasonable care might be.

I suspect one of the events Summer is referring to is a recent one I noticed myself, where a murder (I think it was a murder) that occurred right smack in the middle of the Highlandtown business district was described in a Sun story as occuring "near Patterson Park". While "near Patterson Park" was more or less true depending on one's definition of "near", it was hardly a useful description of the crime location. It would have been somewhat like describing a crime that occurred in Parkville as having happened in Hamilton.

Bravo, JM!

I am proud to call myself a Hamiltonian, since that is the area where I grew up and still feel most at home.

That is the most recent one Hal. Another would be the Zach Sowers case, which also happened in Highlandtown.

TV news does that quite a bit, mis-identifying areas. For instance, they blend Parkville and Carney quite a bit.

Summer--Thank you for bringing up the issue of putting crime in the wrong neighborhoods via reporting. I live a half a block north of Patterson Park, and everytime the Sun or another news outlet puts a crime "near Patterson Park" I get more people telling me how dangerous my neighborhood is, how I should move, etc. Little do they know that Highlandtown or the area north of Orleans Street is totally different from where I am.

I'm another Patterson Park resident with concerns, but first let me try to clarify the whole "official neighborhood map" issue by making it more complicated. There is indeed a city map of neighborhoods, but those of us who work with the city on such matters know that it is not officially intended to list the current names of all neighborhoods in the city's eyes. My neighborhood, for instance, officially and completely in the eyes of the city changed its name from "Baltimore Linwood" to "Patterson Park" about six years ago. It will, however, ALWAYS be "Baltimore Linwood" on the neighborhoods map for purposes of longitudinal statistical analysis. And so, in SOME respects, we are officially Baltimore Linwood, while in others we are, just as officially, Patterson Park. Thus Mcintyre oversimplifies a bit even as he is trying to underline the challenges of his task.

As an aside, he might also say that a neighborhood which decides to name itself after a large adjacent park must take the good with the bad. Fair enough, to a point, but the problems for this particular place are many when it comes to locational identification.

Multiple times in recent years we have seen incidents on "Patterson Park Avenue" referred to as having taken place close to the park, when in fact some were miles away, far closer to North Avenue than the park's northern boundary of Baltimore Street.

In the case of the Conkling/Eastern murder, I would start by saying that anyone who knows where Patterson Park is knows where Highlandtown is, and that since the incident (in informal terms) took place in the heart of the Highlandtown business corridor (as another commenter mentions above), it would be obvious to call that area Highlandtown. In fairness, working off the neigborhoods map would be a huge challenge here as the intersection defines the boundary of Highlandtown, Canton and Brewers Hill. By that standard, the murder took place, barely, in Canton. Bet y'all can imagine how much heat THAT would have generated from the community.

The Zach Sowers incident was described as taking place in "Patterson Park," not "near the park" and not "in Highlandtown." While the incident has touched all of us who live in the general vicinity (and indeed the whole city), in this case the description contradicted both the neighborhoods map AND the sense of place of those who live on the block.

And then one must ask: how many serious incidents that occur within half a dozen blocks of the perimeter of the Hopkins medical campus are described as having occurred near there? Not so many? Wonder why.

It seems to me that there is a super-simple approach to take with web-only content: mention the intersection or address only and hyperlink it to a map; either readers know the location or else they can see it with one click.

I'm not sure there is an easy solution for printed content. I think a sense of consistency would go a long way for many of us. And certainly curtailing the extreme but not so terribly uncommon cases where similarity of street and neighborhood names lead to wildly inaccurate assertions.

It may seem that we protest too much to defend our neighborhoods (and I dearly love Highlandtown too, so I kinda hate to be making the points I made above), but having worked with the Patterson Park CDC for four years, I can certainly attest to the HUGE importance that prospective buyers place on what they read in the Sun. That's to the paper's credit, but it amplifies the paper's responsibility.

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About John McIntyre
John McIntyre, mild-mannered editor for a great metropolitan newspaper, has fussed over writers’ work, to sporadic expressions of gratitude, for thirty years. He is The Sun’s night content production manager and former head of its copy desk. He also teaches editing at Loyola University Maryland. A former president of the American Copy Editors Society, a native of Kentucky, a graduate of Michigan State and Syracuse, and a moderate prescriptivist, he writes about language, journalism, and arbitrarily chosen topics. If you are inspired by a spirit of contradiction, comment on the posts or write to him at
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