The fanfare and fireworks in Baltimore this week will stir new hope in old cities everywhere.

The festivities open Baltimore's new market halls, its "Harborplace," and thus put a heart back into the city center. It is a remarkable feat, as significant to the recovery of our cities as the invention of the pedestrian mall.

But like downtown malls, central market halls must be prescribed with the utmost discretion. Many downtown malls turned out to be expensive snake oil rather than a cure. [Washington's Streets for People" are a sorry example of this.] In Baltimore, the skill of the surgeons was consummate and the circumstances exceptionally favorable.

Properly administered, however, market halls promise to be a potent medicine for ailing urban hearts. The fragrant mix of butchers' sausage, bakers' bread and candlestick makers' wares, of freshly caught seafood and freshly picked produce, of restaurants and eateries for all tastes and persuasions, of pushcarts and stores that are not in chains -- the hustle and bustle of a real market, in short -- is an irrestistible attraction for almost everyone.

A real marketplace reaffirms our humanity. It is not just a place to trade. It is a place to be , a place where lovers can meet, a place for spontaneous encounters, a place where buyers are not just consumers and sellers are not just sales personnel, but where people are dealing with people.

Most cities, after all, grew around markets and trading posts, and it is fairly safe to say that when the central market declined, so did the center city. Paris has never been the same after Les Halles were demolished.

It took us a long time to rediscover this. The rediscovery began in 1961, the year in which Jane Jacobs' "The Life and Death of Great American Cities" was first published and a developer named William M. Roth and a group of designers led by Lawrence Halprin turned the old Victorian Ghirardelli chocolate factory in San Francisco into "a beehive of excitement," as Halprin called it.

Jane Jacobs told us that many Modern city planning ideas were all wrong and that people need old-fashioned streets and urban patterns as much as they need old-fashioned water and bread.

The success of Ghirardelli Square, an unusual, urban place with shops, restaurants, terraces and wonderful views, led to a new phrase and a new approach to historic preservation -- "adaptive re-use." It is a way to put some history and "ambience" into our sick cities. It is the approach which, the bureaucrats of the General Services Administration willing, is to make the Old Post Office on Pennsylvania Avenue a magnet to draw the tourists on the Mall into Washington's old downtown business district. It is the approach which made the Quincy Market and Faneuil Hall in Boston into a triumph and turning point in the life of great American cities.

The preservation of the venerable old halls and their adaptation to new uses was part of Boston's successful urban renewal effort under Edward J. Logue. The ingenious adaptation was designed by architect Benjamin Thompson & Associates of Cambridge, Mass. Ben Thompson, who had worked with Walter Gropius the founding father of Modern architecture, and who had headed the architecture school at Harvard, is also a businessman. He founded Design Research which, among other design goods, imports the famous Marimekko fabrics. Assisted by his wife, Jane Thompson, he knew how to make shopping and merchandising enjoyable.

It took a while, however, before Thompson and the City of Boston found a developer with the money and imagination to risk the ambitious Faneuil Hall Marketplace. It is now the pride and joy of the Rouse Co., one of the nation's leading developers and mortgage bankers, specializing in shopping centers. Rouse is also the developer of Columbia, Md., the most successful "new town" in America. Founded in 1967, Columbia has a population of 50,000 and more than 900 businesses and industrial plants.

The Thompson-Rouse team made Faneuil Hall Marketplace a fabulous popular and financial success. Millions from all over the Boston region are drawn to -- its more than 150 restaurants, food stalls and retail shops set in a festive atmosphere that is at once "quaint" and modern and on both counts refreshingly genuine. The place is a continuous festival with all kinds of people enjoying their freedom from cellophane and Muzak, in which most of America's joys and nourishments are wrapped.

But if the success of Faneuil Hall Marketplace gave a tremendous boost to downtown Boston and downtown recovery in general, it gave an even greater boost to historic preservation. All of a sudden, big flags dangled down from old buildings, no matter how worthy or worthless, to rally the citizenry to their defense. Preservation was equated with ambience and ambience with profit.

It did not seem possible that our time could create anything but repellent glass boxes, that anyone living could recreate the charm, the ambience, the sense of appropriateness and of well-being which Faneuil Hall exudes.

But it is possible. The Thompson-Rouse team has proven it. That is what makes Harborplace such a triumph.

Even the day before the official opening, with all the confusion of last-minute painting, plastering, planting, unpacking and moving in, I got the sense that Harborplace belongs where it is, that it is an integral part of Baltimore's skyline and Inner Harbor. There is certainly nothing jarringly new about it. Nor, thank heaven, is there anything ingratiatingly "old like the stable lamps and the hitching posts that make most suburban architecture so nauseatingly tasteless.

Like most of America's urban waterfronts, Baltimore's Inner Harbor was a victim of criminal neglect until, in 1965, buoyed by the success of the redevelopment of Charles Center, a nonprofit corporation was formed to redeem it. It is now among the most attractive rendezvous between city and water in the world. The Bethlehem Steel shipyards, the Allied Chemical plant and the gutsy Old Power Plant in the background, give it a reassuring sense of reality. Harborplace frames, animates and enhances it.

There are two market halls, sited at right angles along the west and north edge of the water. They are two stories high, so you can still see the masts of the U.S. Frigate Constellation, which is normally moored in front of them, but is currently out for repairs. The buildings nicely separate the harbor promenade from Light and Pratt streets with their automobile traffic. At the insistence of Mayor William Donald Schaefer, I am told, the corner between the halls is wide open, affording a wide and festive entrance from the city center to the harbor. You step down to the water across a sort of amphitheater. Nice.

The halls are exactly as market halls ought to be, simple, dignified structures of concrete beams and columns, with pleasantly pitched green aluminum roofs and rhythmically spaced entrance porches. The walls are all glass, but there is so much going on -- verandas, stalls, cafe furniture, plants, flags, people, business -- that you don't notice that. What you notice is everywhere inside the market halls, you have a view of the water and the ships.

The west pavilion features restaurants, cafes, and the market. The meats, poultry, cheese, baked goods, seafood and produce -- all of it local -- are sold from a white tile platform. At the back of the stalls, a step down from the platform, are small eating places, most of them offering food from the stalls.

Along the north pavilion are small speciality shops and more restaurants and cafes. The specialties include cute and embraceable stuffed animals, sold by the former director of the Baltimore zoo. The restaurants include sophisticated and expensive places, off-shoots of famous restaurants in New York or Newport.

The corridors are relatively narrow, so that you always have a sense of intimacy, a sense of being with people rather than within a building. Open spaces between stalls and shops are filled with pushcarts, selling all kinds of things. Most of the carts are delightful "antiques" some dating from the 1850s.

The success of the venture seems assured, not only by its all-around quality, but also by its surroundings. Harborplace is in easy walking distance of any number of office towers. An impressive aquarium is nearing completion a few yards away. So is a Hyatt-Regency hotel. There is the Maryland Science Center. Architect Moshe Safdie will soon start turning the Old Power House with its big chimneys into what promises to be the world's most theatrical hotel. There are boats to rent. There is always something going on.

The danger is that, overrun by tourists, the market will succumb to tackyness, T-shirts and trinkets. Success has cheapened Ghirardelli Square a little.

But James Rouse denies that this could happen to Harborplace. "We will maintain complete quality control," he says. His company writes only one-to three-year leases. Small stands and vendors get only 30-day permits. Many of the merchants have never done business before. A large number belong to minority groups.

This alone makes the criticism that Harborplace is a luxury, which doesn't help Baltimore's poor, sound pretty silly. It will employ upward of 1,000 people, to say nothing of bringing more people downtown to raise the tax base from which to pay for better public housing and schools.

It is well worth the fanfare and fireworks.