North Carolina

Baltimore is Every City I’ve Ever Lived, Combined in Weird and Wondrous Ways

So here we are, the first true Baltimore-centric post. It took me two months because as I said in my 2017 birthday post, I was scared. This is a city where people get hurt and get hurt often. Especially by people who claim they want to do the right thing. The last thing I needed was for my post to come along and stir up another hornet’s nest. I’m trying as much as possible to fly under the radar.

However, I do have thoughts and thus far, I can say the city’s giving me exactly what I need. Plus, it truly feels like every city that I’ve lived in decided to put all their DNA in a test tube and let it gestate. The irony in this is that Baltimore was born before all the other cities I’ve lived in. However, I can see where it stagnated and where it’s got room to be reborn.  So let’s talk about these common things.

Harris Teeter=Every City I Lived in In North Carolina

And it’s legit. There is a whole row of House-Autry flour mixes. House-Autry flour mixes are one of the nine pillars of modern North Carolina cuisine and it’s awesome that this most obscure of the nine is right here where I can get my hands on it in a short drive to the grocery store. Oh and there’s not just one, but two Harris Teeters. However, like Harris Teeter pretty much everywhere these days, the demographics of the neighborhoods around them tend to be the whitest and the wealthiest of town. Still, I got a car, I got money, I got a belly. Y’all gon see me! And help me make myself at home. (For those of you curious to what the nine pillars of modern North Carolina cuisine are, I got you in a future post).

Power Plant Live!= Power and Light in Kansas City

I’ve been told it’s by the same developer and it shows. Bars that attract the average citizen. Average meaning more likely to be obnoxious by the end of the night. They do have some good concerts there though, I hated missing St. Paul and the Broken Bones and people rave about when Tech 9ine does a hometown show at Power and Light. Also, one of the best parties I attended in Kansas City, was the streetcar progressive party which ended at one of the event spaces in Power and Light. There’s a nice co-working space at Power Plant Live!, as well as a newish Mediterranean/Middle Eastern spot that’s great for folks who when they aren’t consuming the cuisine of their home state, are trying to avoid over-proccessed foods.

The MTA Metro Subway=The WMATA Metrorail Blue Line

I say the Blue Line and the part of the line from Capitol South to Largo Town Center because it does cover similar demographic areas. Also, while the MTA Metro Subway is rumored to go nowhere, it does go to a few places, if you just happen to need to go to Hopkins Hospital, the Maryland State Office Buildings, the Upton Market, the replacement shopping thing at Owings Mills and the two other shopping malls that sit off from it. Oh or the homes, the dense row homes, that happen to sit back off the parking lots. Similar things are happening on the WMATA Metrorail Blue Line. Government buildings. A hospital (or a major medical office). A new shopping center that has some issues, along with a nearby public educational institution. Public food markets. A sports stadium, although arguably one has more activity around it than the other. And yes, I’m including racial dynamics in this as well. Who lives around these stations as the stations move from downtown to the suburbs also mirror each other. (Spoiler, they get blacker as you go out, although Baltimore City’s population is still predominately black, so that skews things a bit too).

The Light Rail= The D.C. and the K.C. Streetcars

The Light Rail works when it works. That’s why it gets to be lumped in with Kansas City’s system, that’s continuing to meet and exceed expectations. When it doesn’t work, it reminds me of D.C.’s poor little H Street line. It’s like the Little Engine That Could. It thinks it can and it does, but it has a lot of work to do to get there. Baltimore’s light rail will take you to the airport, the convention center, Orioles Park at Camden Yards, M&T Stadium, the Symphony Hall,  and a some lovely bars, public markets, food halls and neighborhoods on a north/south axis that’s perpendicular to my current neighborhood. However, I can’t trust when it comes, because the systems on there are in need of renewing. I hear they are tied up in red tape. That’s unfortunate. Yes, if you haven’t heard, I’ve added a car back to my urban travel mix.

The Rowhouse Blocks and the Turrets=D.C.

I mentioned in a prior newsletter that the house where the Underwoods on House of Cards live/lived (mild spoiler there), is actually a house in Baltimore passing for D.C. Much like the rib place he always goes too and a number of other exterior and some interior shots. If all you know of Baltimore on TV is The Wire, then you’re missing out. One day, we might get a show up here that actually shows all the parts of the city, for better or worse. Meanwhile, I’m looking forward to actually being able to afford a turret one day.

The Sprawl=Kansas City

You don’t have a bisecting state line, but you do see the results of building out road corridors and parkways in the years prior to World War II. You see the homes start to get newer and newer, in addition to areas of empty lots and some urban renewal that breaks the patterns, along with the newer downtown towers and the convention center. I think that my time in D.C. drove it home that I’m just going to have to adjust to at least a 15 minute drive to a Target. Well, at least Amazon delivers door-to-door here.

The Love of a Singular Food Object So Much it Defines Your City=Kansas City

Sweet Barbecue & Burnt Ends> Crabs. Crab cakes however are in contention. I’m allergic to crabs alone so I’m a little bit biased. Again, and I attribute this to knowing one cuisine solely for 28 years, North Carolina is so much more than one thing. Again, I will be discussing this claim in a future post.

The Hospitality= North Carolina

Maryland is a southern state. And the friends and colleagues I have here do mimic the ones I have back at home. Plus, I’m here thanks to their hospitality and their nudging. And I do feel ties to being at home. I will say though that there were a handful of folks in Kansas City that did their part. Plus, I’m in less need of a safety net these days, but I have it. So there goes. Argue among yourselves as who’s the nicest.

30% of the License Plates=North Carolina

I asked someone how this could be. Then I was told that a lot of Baltimore undergraduate (and graduate!) students come from North Carolina. I have yet to meet an adult friend who also grew up in North Carolina and is just here, but I have met a few of the former. It’s nice to be able to drive around, squinch your vision and think you’re back in either Charlotte (because stadiums and light rail) or Raleigh (skyline and colleges). We do not have the row house situation in North Carolina, clearly I gave that to D.C. above, but we do have a lot of vehicles that seem to belong to maybe parents that live in North Carolina.

And so that’s it. I’ve got more serious thoughts on Baltimore coming over the next few months, but for now, these are my initial, fun, observations of the city I’m making home for now. Oh and Royal Farms chicken is great, it’s just not equal to Bojangles in the same way and therefore, doesn’t warrant it’s own section of this post.

Listen to the audio version of this post:

I’m Kristen. For seven years I’ve used this space and a few others to make sense of the world around me. Learn more about me and read more of my archives. Subscribe to my newsletter (which comes out mostly weekly) and stay up to date with me. Or, come be one of those Twitter folks who make me think a little harder about what I do. Or I can talk to you, with my co-host and friend and fellow urbanist Katrina Johnston-Zimmerman, roughly every week as well about the next wave of urbanism.

Image of a line of row houses and cars parked on the street on a sunny day in Baltimore’s Reservoir Hill neighborhood. Image via Wikimedia Commons by Smallbones – Own work, CC0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=18756953

Mid-Day Piedmont train in route to Charlotte from Raleigh, as seen from the balcony of CityView Apartments in Greensboro. Photo by Kristen Jeffers, the author.

It Really Started With A Train Part 1– My North Carolina Amtrak Fantasy Map

Mid-Day Piedmont train in route to Charlotte from Raleigh, as seen from the balcony of CityView Apartments in Greensboro. Photo by Kristen Jeffers, the author.

I’m finally getting around to doing a fantasy transit map.

My inspiration? My trip home from D.C. to Greensboro via the train.

It takes approximately 8 hours to do it in the daylight and 5.5 hours to do it in the middle of the night. And those are the only choices, just the two trains a day.

However, years ago, there were at least 5 trains a day, if not more. I think we could get back to that point and do so quite cheaply. Also, I think there’s no real excuse why we can’t have trains going to every major city, at at least 60 miles, if not 90 miles an hour.

This idea actually was planted in me years before I decided to do planning work, but not long after my first ever train trip just before I started kindergarten.

North Carolinian fourth and eighth graders study their home state in social studies classes.  Being the social studies and history nerd I still am and was very much so then, I read my textbook from cover to cover.

My fourth grade social studies textbook. This was the only image I could find.

My fourth grade social studies textbook. This was the only image I could find.

There was a section in it that talked about life in North Carolina in 2032. Part of that life was being able to have lunch on the coast and dinner in the mountains (And I’m sure breakfast in one of the three regions and other meals on other coasts, but still, you can wake up one place, lunch in another and dinner in yet another).

As it stands right now, thanks to the routing of the Carolinian and the Piedmont, you can have an early breakfast in NoDA in Charlotte, a high noon lunch at Natty Greene’s in Greensboro and a dinner at one of Ashley Christensen’s fabulous James Beard Award-winning joints in Raleigh. You could do all of this in reverse. (probably need a different breakfast spot though…)

However, what if you could have dinner at the Chef and the Farmer in Kinston instead of that dinner in Raleigh and still get back to Greensboro before midnight?

That’s the fantasy I’m creating with my North Carolina Passenger Rail Map.

Before I reveal the map, a few rules that I worked with:

1.This assumes that we can start putting commuter rail stops and tracks down the interstates and state highway medians immediately.

2. This is not by any means parallel or inspired by the existing maps for the High Speed Rail corridor or any strategic plans. Please do dig up the strategic plans, especially for the Durham-Orange Corridor, the Wake County Corridor. The regional transit authority sites are good places to start for this and I may be back here to add those links in.

3. In the interest of still keeping some realistic planning in place, I’m using those highway medians with the assumption that the lanes lost in the process would be absorbed by people taking the train more often, especially in the Charlotte Raleigh corridor. Also, the costs would be lower, as basically this can be rolled into the existing plan to add second rail from Charlotte to Raleigh and also highway resurfacing and widening.

4.I decided to overlay a Google Map, because all the work is done for me. The map is blurry, yes, but it’s really just there for perspective and once I started drawing the lines and circles over top, I didn’t want to re-center it. I will revisit this later as well.

So, all aboard (couldn’t resist)! In my fantasy world, you can get to just about any city in the state in less than 5 hours, many within 2-3 hours.

My trunk line is the existing Piedmont routing. I’m assuming that almost everyone, save the folks on Asheville to Wilmington line, will come through Greensboro, Raleigh or Charlotte at some point.

(Here are the raw distance calculations, using Google Maps and following existing interstate, U.S. or state highway routes where possible).

I imagine these stations will be massive park and rides, utilizing space right next to highway interchanges for cars and regional buses to areas that still can’t be served by rail efficiently. These buses will still sync up directly with arrivals and departures and will leave the cities they originate in promptly. Also, there will be transit to major commercial areas in the cities represented.

Or, I could go even more fantastical and make all these stations downtown stations, much like all the existing ones are. A lot of these places will need new track anyway, why not go downtown to downtown and save money on parking and buses.

Now, what you’ve been waiting for, the map!

North Carolina Fantasy Amtrak Map

Existing Amtrak service is represented by blue lines. Fantasy service is represented, with slight approximations, by the green lines. In the Google Drive, distance is calculated using state highways, of which many do have a passenger or freight railroad paralleling or hugging anyway.

Also, if you’ve not seen the infrastructure maps, especially the railroad maps, the Washington Post recently published, you should. It will also point out that a lot of my fantasy map, could become very real and very viable–if only we reinstated some of the old railroads or allowed more passenger traffic on the ones we have.

Finally, there’s some great information on the N.C. By Rail website, including this awesome video of the progress and modifications to the primary state-owned and operated route that the Piedmont travels.

I expect you to critique the mess out of this. Can’t wait to hear your thoughts!

I’m Kristen. I started blogging here to make sense of the built environment around me. You can find me on FacebookTwitter and Instagram. You can find out more about me at my portfolio website, www.kristenejeffers.com. Or get an email from me weekly on Tuesday’s with links, other posts and job/fellowship opportunities.