Reflections on Hollins Market Tour

As someone who likes to think of themselves as having a pretty good historical awareness of Baltimore City and its neighborhoods, I must say that Hollins Market is an area that I know very little about. One of my good friends used to live in Sowebo and would occasionally tell me about some of the who’s and what’s from his time there but beyond that I didn’t/don’t know much. I went to a birthday party at the Lithuanian Hall last year and that was my first time there. I had heard of it of course since I have been living in/involved in the music scene in Baltimore since 2008, namely the dance nights like Save Your Soul, but never knew where it was in relation to anything else, other than that it was located somewhere on the west side. Other than that, for about a month in 2017 I was thinking about doing some kind of a project on Sowebo, as an historically racially diverse area in an otherwise overwhelmingly black West Baltimore. That is pretty much the extent of my knowledge of the area.

So needless to say that Curtis gave us last week was eye opening, especially because it made me realize how much of my Baltimore experience outside of Hollins has in fact been influenced by, or reflected in Hollins. Which is probably another way of saying how small of a city Baltimore can really be/feel like sometimes. I have known about and seen the arabbers since I lived in Baltimore, but didn’t know they were based in Hollins. I’ve been to Zella’s Pizza before, but for some reason it never occurred to me that it was in Hollins. I know some of the people who help out with Black Cherry Puppets, but never realized where that place was or what they did. Even the newsletter that Curtis and the Southwest Partnership put together which was talking about alley gating, made me think of this alley gating project I worked on at Neighborhood Design Center this summer. I guess what I’m trying to say is that the more I get to know the city, its strengths and its weaknesses and struggles, the more I start to see continuities and connections between projects and initiatives going on all over the place. I haven’t lived in a bigger city but I would imagine that gets lost in a larger community. It feels especially easy to get involved in Baltimore and feel like you are making some kind of a difference or an impact, even if it is very very small.

One of the things I was most struck by was when Curtis was talking about how there were residents in Hollins who had quite possibly never left the neighborhood and have never seen anything outside of Baltimore in real life. I remember initially feeling a sort of claustrophobic anxiety upon hearing that. As someone who often looks forward to getting of the city when I start to feel too claustrophobic within my own social circle or neighborhood, or apartment or whatever, it was hard for me to imagine never leaving. However that initial feeling quickly went away when we walked into the barbershop. I dawned on me that there exists this entirely deep and rich community within that neighborhood that is, for lack of a better word, missing where I live. Now I have no idea what those people Curtis was talking about, who live in Hollins and have never left, feel or think about that idea. But my point is that there exists a profound sense of community, connection, friendship and shared experience within Hollins that seems to me more than enough to sustain an entire lifetimes worth of experience and memory. I got that sense in the barbershop and it really leveled me. It also made me think how that sense of community is missing in the suburbs where people don’t really have to get to know their neighbors, where you don’t walk anywhere because you can’t walk anywhere, and where everyones house is basically their fortified castle. I went in to our tour thinking theres a great big world out there and that successful experience is measured by how much of it you see before you die. By the end of our tour I had a zen-like realization that less can be more when you just slow down and appreciate how profound reality can be within a single place that is so tight knit and with so much shared experience and heritage.

I don’t know where I am going with that as far as our class project on places within the market, in my case the Lithuanian Hall. But it is something I want to keep in mind as someone who often finds themselves looking to fit neighborhoods, places and people within a larger social context of globally seismic events. It might be better to just let a place exist on its own merit and allow the small stories that happened within it speak to bigger picture rather than the other way around.

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