Posted by Chandra Ward, BALTIMORE, MD -- Before going to Baltimore to visit an old friend recently, I knew little about the city except that it was the TV setting for acclaimed TV series “Homicide: Life on the Street” and “The Wire”. Apparently the city made a great visual backdrop for portrayals of inner city inequality, racial discrimination, poverty, blight, disinvestment, violence and drug addiction. I realized during my visit that my impressions of Baltimore were almost completely constructed by Hollywood depictions of both intended and unintended urban pathology. And yet despite its success in this niche, the city’s image management professionals appear to be moving away from this imagery through revitalization and art.
My friend lives in a three story row house in a “changing” neighborhood called Reservoir Hill. The neighborhood has a mix of nice row houses, less than nice row houses and empty row houses. I witnessed some of the worst inner city blight I’ve ever seen: empty, shot out residences, poor infrastructure, and garbage all over the sidewalks. And yet all sorts of people, including kids, seniors, and parents with babies going about their daily lives through it all. At the same time I also witnessed active gentrification in Reservoir Hill. In fact, I saw a city embracing street art initiatives and revitalization through relocation, and visited a wonderful collectivist bookstore and coffee shop. I saw all this even though I was only there for two days.
Through these efforts Baltimore can now be associated with the new acclaimed TV series House of Cards Baltimore is now the place where you can see the political elite in character Zoe Barnes’ apartment or Frank and Claire Underwood’s row house. The catch, however, is that the hit political drama is not set in Baltimore, but in Washington D.C. You would only know that some of the series is filmed in Baltimore through someone living in Baltimore (which is how I found out) or by researching the series.
Will the old TV images of Baltimore simply evaporate or be reimagined into something new? Clearly image matters as much as money in the long run for City Hall. However, we must also hope that this prosperity extends to those Baltimore residents whose composite lives and stories have already brought prosperity to Hollywood and Baltimore. These are Citizens who did not gain anything from the lucrative negative imagery. So we need to ask: Will these residents gain anything from this far more elite imagery?
Chandra Ward is a Doctoral Student in the Sociology Department at Georgia State University as well as the Managing Editor for Social Shutter. She can be contacted at Chandradward@gmail.com.