Wednesday, March 24, 2010
When I first moved to Baltimore, I noticed everything that seemed more northern about it than Memphis: trains, row houses, skinny jeans,... Then I went home for the summer, and when I came back, I started to notice everything that it had in common with Memphis. While Memphis is located in the South, and was never known to be particularly industrial, there is a surprising number of parallels. Baltimore has the Station-North arts district where Memphis has Cooper-Young. Both areas have a reputation for revitalizing culture in the city. Both cities have large populations of black people compared to other U.S. cities. When Baltimore is listed as a top-crime city, Memphis is always right under it. Baltimore even has a significant southern flavor, at least in some neighborhoods. When I walk to and from my house on St. Paul, I can say "hi" or "how's it goin?" to strangers on the street, and they'll respond, often warmly (unless they're white...). It's characteristic of most northern cities for people to just keep their blinders on and avoid interaction with strangers. When I think about it, Baltimore really has more in common with Memphis than it does with northern cities. However, despite the fact that Baltimore's Station-North play's a similar role to Memphis' Cooper-Young, the Station-North arts district seems to lack a certain authenticity that Cooper-Young has. Station-North feels like a "scene," while Cooper-Young is more of a community. This might be attributed to the fact that Memphis is always going to have more "southern hospitality." In class, we've talked some about how Baltimore is a very "indoors scene," and doesn't have much street presence. In Memphis, there's enough room between buildings and streets to have outdoor seating, and buildings have grass around them. Memphis has shotgun houses to Baltimore's row houses, so residents of Cooper-Young have front porches and yards where Station-North residents have stoops and sidewalks. While Baltimore has Station-North, Waverly, Mt. Vernon, and Hampden, Cooper-Young sort of serves the role of all of these in Memphis, and there is therefore a much wider range of ages represented, rather than the majority 20s-range in Station-North. Cooper-Young is really the only cultural district Memphis has, so it is lasting and protected, rather than moving and transient like the neighborhood focus in Baltimore seems to be. While Station-North seems to wish it had the long-standing landmark grundgy coffee shop or neighborhood pizza place, Cooper-Young has the real deal.
I don't really understand why southern art districts get so little attention, but It's probably for the best that they remain under the radar so that they don't suffer the same brutal speculation and development that northern art districts endure. Although it's difficult to find articles and sources about southern art districts, I'm interested in continuing to make my own comparisons.