Of course, Baltimore isn’t all art studios and hipster shops. We zip over to the National Pinball Museum, which moved last year from Washington’s Georgetown Park mall to Baltimore’s Water Street, near Port Discovery and the Power Plant (and, alas, is closing its doors March 3 while it looks for yet another home to relocate to). Fifteen dollars bought us two hours of unlimited play, a whirl of pinball madness including games based on “Jurassic Park,” “The Twilight Zone,” “The Addams Family,” “Indiana Jones” and even baseball’s Frank Thomas and rock’s Ted Nugent.
Even here, in tourist central, street parking is plentiful and, yep, free on weekend evenings. Randy Newman got one thing wrong in his anthem to Baltimore’s dysfunction: “Hard times in the city / In a hard town by the sea,” he writes. “Ain’t nowhere to run to / There ain’t nothin’ here for free.”
Nothin’, except the Baltimore Museum of Art (and its spectacular newish wing of contemporary art), the seven-mile-long waterfront promenade, the people-watching at Lexington Market — and the parking.
Oh man, the parking. We park five times in 14 hours on Saturday, for a total cost of $1.70. Plus a free overnight spot immediately across from our downtown hotel. For a Washingtonian, this is a small urban miracle.
In some cities, easy parking is a sign of depopulation and blight. And certainly the long, slow exodus from Baltimore continues. But some folks who study cities say that a place like Baltimore can improve its reality and its reputation in part by getting smaller.
All jazzed up
Even in decline, Baltimore has managed to add some glitz to its grit. Harbor East, just east of the Inner Harbor, is the kind of high-end real estate development that city governments love because they generate revenue, even if true urbanists sigh at such clusters because they look and feel the same from city to city.
Harbor East features generic upscale architecture, swanky shops (something Baltimore hasn’t been associated with in, oh, half a century or so), a Four Seasons hotel, apartments designed to attract a Georgetown demographic, and destination restaurants — some chain outlets, but more interestingly, some of the city’s best-reviewed local offerings (Cinghiale, Charleston, Pabu).