Monday, April 26, 2010

I recently joined a friend in the search of a nearby bus stop. A quick online investigation told us to walk just down the road to North and Howard. My friend turned to me and asked, “Where’s North and Howard?” For an instant I was taken aback, appalled really. To begin with, this intersection is not more than a 3-minute walk away from our apartment building. Perhaps more importantly, both North and Howard serve as major commercial streets, and their corners offer many assets for art students like us- Artist&Craftsman and Joe Squared, for example. These assets were of course familiar to my friend, but their geography was not. I soon realized that, over the course of Art, Artists, and The City, I have developed a strong position about the knowledge of geography. That is, I have come to view the understanding of ones spatial context as imperative, a personal responsibility. To choose to live in a place is to choose to acknowledge the surrounding area. This responsibility does not end at geography, but must extend the activities and trends that happen therein. In my case, this means I must know not only the physical manifestations of Central Baltimore (streets, land uses, etc.), but also how people interact with them. I must be aware that no urban process is organic- there is always human involvement. Residents, community organizations, developers, and the city all interact to change and mold the area. The responsibility of Central Baltimore residents is to be aware of their role in these processes. In my case, I must know that my identity as an artist makes me a component of the Station North Arts District. In addition, I must be aware that my identity as such may contribute to both residential and commercial gentrification. I cannot be ignorant of my possible role in displacement. The knowledge of this role allows me to minimize my negative impact. Through volunteering opportunities such as our surveying for Greenmount West Community Organization, I can make sure that the residents of the neighborhood are accounted for, perhaps increasing their representation in the case of displacement.
In the instant my friend asked “Where’s North and Howard?”, I wanted her to feel the personal sense of responsibility that I have developed. In essence, I wanted her to experience the whole course of Art, Artists, and The City. This, of course, is a ridiculous expectation to place one anyone. However, it is still very important that one is aware of their contextual surroundings, especially in the city. I would hope my friend is able to achieve this awareness by some other means. After all, though Art, Artists, and The City has been extremely informative, it can never measure up to years of immersion in an urban community.


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  2. Hey Cole I couldn't agree more. I know what you mean when you describe coming to "view the understanding of ones spatial context as imperative, a personal responsibility" and that "To choose to live in a place is to choose to acknowledge the surrounding area." I met a girl yesterday at MICA who didn't even feel safe walking home from the Meyerhoff after class. When I told her that I lived around Mount Vernon, she tried to tell me that "I really should not walk home." multiple times. I think it's sad that people have this idea that their environment is out to get them all the time. I condone practicing caution and safety and I understand that sometimes places in the area are pretty dangerous. At the same time, part of what makes my relationship to my environment meaningful is the uncomfortableness I attempt to overcome as a person living in a neighborhood with a lot of class and racial tensions. This doesn't mean that I'm solving any problems (some could say I'm causing problems) by being another white art school girl who recently moved into the Greenmount area. But it's the feeling of otherness that I feel compelled to at least acknowledge, in some first step towards taking responsibility for my place within the community as an actual member of it.