… is America’s next great underdog city, now that New Orleans is (sort of) back on track. They feel weirdly the same as you walk around them today, these twin objects of David Simon’s obsession: pockets of vibrancy surrounded by stretches of ruin; an overarching sense of police and political corruption; humid enough in the summer to melt your pants; a delicious selection of seafood pulled from polluted waters. Whether you prefer Baltimore or New Orleans really comes down to whether you prefer crab dip or crawfish, The Wire or Treme.
The difference is nobody talks about Baltimore and its particular brand of suffering. It has absorbed slight after slight for years, taking them like gut punches, because what else was it going to do? Its current mayor took over after the last one resigned in the wake of embezzlement and perjury charges. Local police statistics have been cast repeatedly into doubt, so no one knows if violent crime is down or up or by how much. It is indisputably three hundred thousand citizens smaller than its peak. It does not have professional basketball or hockey teams, and its baseball team is only marginally professional.
But because its death spiral has been slow — unlike Katrina’s short, sharp leveling of New Orleans — it has continued virtually unnoticed by the rest of the country. Even Newark gets more attention. Which Baltimoreans might actually prefer. This city, even in its decay, has a sweat-soaked, beer-stained, grim-faced cool to it; you get the sense that even if it were possible to snap your fingers and make all of Baltimore look like its rejuvenated harbor, like beautiful Camden Yards — still the best ballpark in the majors — Baltimoreans might actually resist it. The people who are still in this city, who are still of this city, like the people who remained in New Orleans, are here because they chose to stay. Together, they’ve decided to make their homes in Baltimore, a city without sentiment, without much left of its ego, deserving of our love precisely because it has never asked for it.