This Friday I went to dinner with a friend. We had searched on the internet for a restaurant where we could enjoy some good food and maybe make some friends. I had clearly remembered passing this area the Saturday before and it was very much like an inner city nightmare, a place where I wouldn’t stop, let alone eat. I scratched my head and wondered if this was really the same place. So, off we were to Fells Point on the waterfront, but a funny thing happened along the way. Why driving along E. Biddle Street we suddenly realized that the people were professionally dressed, walked in a straight line and seemed to be in a generally happy and sociable mood. So we parked our car (lucky to find a free parking space on the street) and ended up at ‘Thai Landing’ restaurant near N. Charles Street and E. Biddle Street and while listening to my friend lament about how Vancouver is such a better city to live in than Toronto I enjoyed a wonderfully prepared cuisine by an attentive (but not overly so) staff. I knew this would be a good restaurant when I entered the front door and saw a dozen awards from various magazines and associations placing it among the best places to eat in Baltimore. Yet, the price was very affordable.
After finishing my dinner and taking in all my well-educated (Ph.d molecular biology) and athletic (certified personal trainer) friend had to say about Vancouver I put my urban planner hat and pointed out a few things that she had not achnowledged about Toronto, as well as some negatives about Vancouver that she was ignoring. You see what triggered all this discussion was the question that my friend posed to me – “Do you think Toronto is a good place to live?”. My answer was “I’ve travelled to hundreds of cities around the world and lived in most of them from between a few days to several weeks. For me, I would rather live in Toronto than any other city all else being equal (such as career, family, etc.). There are however some smaller communities that I would consider living, especially for raising a family in the early years.” Apparently, this reply didn’t sit well with my friend and I found myself listening to someone with a mission to change my viewpoint. Of course, she didn’t change my viewpoint because you see in my travels I not only looked at the cities I visited as a tourist, resident, and business traveller, but also an entrepreneur, sociologist, immigrant and urban planner. I also find comfort in that Toronto has been successfully ranked by independent international organizations as a top world city. Yet, I also agree that the quality of life in Toronto during the reign of the present mayor for whatever reason has significantly decreased.
Well, back to what happened on Friday. We crossed the street to Sammy’s Trattoria. There we waited for 10 minutes for a place at the bar. The place was very busy. My friend turns to me and asks, “What do you notice about this place”. “Lots of things what do you mean?” I reply. My friend clarifies, “What do you notice about the people?” I look around and notice that for the upscale decor they tend to be more casually dressed than Torontonians would, but a good mix of age groups, some university students, some in their sixties. “There aren’t any Afro-Americans in here” she points out. I look around and notice one Afro-American waitress, but everyone was caucasion with the exception of one oriental man. Come to think of it Thai Landing also didn’t have many Afro-Americans there. I think to myself is this the same Baltimore?
Two spaces open up at the bar and we finally get to order our Tiramisu dessert and coffee. Before our order is even taken the couple next to us strikes up a conversation. That was a real pleasure and the first time that someone in Baltimore that I hadn’t met tried to strike up a conversation with me without asking me for a hand out.
Turns out that Karin is a business lawyer and Greg is an Oracle database programmer. And they have lived in both El Paso and Washington D.C. previously and therefore were able to speak intelligently about Baltimore. I received quite an education about what has happened in the last few decades in Baltimore, as well as about the nightlife, where to eat and the neighbourhoods to check out.
Turns out that the property tax rate in Baltimore is 2.2%, compared to Toronto’s 1.25%, but they are not as stringent on updating the property assessment as Toronto is. The second significant thing I found out is that the reason there are so many boarded up (and I mean homes sealed with brick, block and wood sealed) in the city is because the government has taken back the properties due to unpaid property taxes. This in turn has increasing caused the tax base of the city to decrease. But, combined with the increasing crime rate within the core, which was addressed in a band-aid fashion by putting more strongmen police officers on the street as well as thousands of videocams on the street, has resulted in huge budget requirements. In order to meet these increased requirements, the city had to raise its property taxes. It’s all in the numbers, higher expenditures lower revenues, spells disaster. A lesson that many uneducated poticians throughout North America don’t seem to be able to learn. And yes, this also applies to politicians in Toronto.
So, as I’m preparing for sleep that evening I think to myself was that the same Baltimore as last Friday?