In a City of Neighborhoods, Morrell Park Is Distinct – but Distinctly Baltimore

To me, climbing up Washington Boulevard from under the I-95 overpass into Morrell Park feels like crossing into a different world. The land of sports stadiums, Horseshoe Casino and the Montgomery Park building – all just a short distance behind me – seems like a faint memory.

And yet one thing is certain: I’m definitely in Baltimore.

Morrell Park mural

The neighborhood’s unassuming Charm City flavor was on display when I spoke with Wendy Roberts, President of the Morrell Park Community Association. As we wrapped up the interview – during which we talked about everything from children’s activities to 311 requests to race relations to violent crime – Ms. Roberts told me it was just like “having a conversation with my neighbor.”

(As a resident of the Charles Village/Old Goucher area, roughly five miles away, I took it as a compliment.)

If you’re wondering how to pronounce the name – MOR-rell or mor-RELL – Ms. Roberts told me it doesn’t matter. Everyone says it differently, and the variations increase when you factor in the Bawlmerese dialect that is very much alive and well in Morrell Park.

In spite of my impression of the neighborhood as a world of its own, Morrell Park was originally part of Charles Carroll’s “Georgia Plantation” that surrounded Mount Clare Mansion in Carroll Park to the north. (The plantation also included Westport, Violetville and Mount Winans.) Ms. Roberts hasn’t yet tracked down exactly when the land in Morrell Park was sold to housing developers, but she continues to search the history books and shares what she can find with the community.

Morrell Park map

Today the boulevard that serves as Morrell Park’s main street – lined with taverns, small businesses and chains like Royal Farms and Aldi – is also a popular route in and out of town from points southwest. It’s been a source of disappointment for Ms. Roberts that the neighborhood hasn’t seen the kind of development that’s happened in nearby Pigtown since the stadiums and casino were built.

“We are the main street that goes through to the stadiums or the harbor,” she said. “As a community, we would like to try to make it a little better so that it looks nicer for when people drive through.”

Of course, development in Baltimore often comes with conflict over displacement, or preserving the neighborhood’s “character” (a loaded term, I know). And perhaps the lack of recent development compared to nearby areas is one reason Morrell Park defies stereotyping.

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No Boundaries Coalition: “Baltimore Is a City of Innovation”

In December 2015, during an uptick in drug trafficking, representatives from No Boundaries Coalition lobbied the police department for more foot patrols along Pennsylvania Avenue. That’s the corridor where the historically black neighborhoods of Sandtown-Winchester, Upton, Druid Heights and Penn North intersect.

The police told them there were no resources for the patrols.

A day later, the same police department announced that after a recent surge in robberies in Bolton Hill, it would be tripling the patrol in the area by deploying four more officers.

Bolton Hill, as it happens, is on the other side – the whiter side – of Eutaw Place.

All these neighborhoods – along with Reservoir Hill and Madison Park – share a zip code: 21217. But for generations, that boundary of Eutaw Place has split Central West Baltimore into two different worlds.

21217

No Boundaries Coalition was formed in 2008 in an effort to erase that boundary. As CEO Ashiah Parker told me, the organization’s vision is a Central West Baltimore in which “neighbors can advocate together for issues that are important to these neighborhoods regardless of race, class or gender.”

It started with the Boundary Block Party, now an annual event to bring all the communities of 21217 together. In addition to food and entertainment, block parties over the years have also provided space for voter registration, listening campaigns, walking tours and other activities to connect residents to the broader community.

The block parties – which are now complemented with a more issues-oriented “CommUNITY Gathering” – gave rise to resident-led advocacy efforts in four main areas: public safety (including police accountability), health and food justice, youth organizing, and civic engagement.

The story I related above about the foot patrols came from a 2016 report called Over-Policed, Yet Underserved, which No Boundaries released in partnership with BUILD and UMBC. Later that year, the U.S. Department of Justice referenced that report multiple times in the summary of its investigation of the Baltimore Police Department. And as the consent decree took shape in the months that followed, No Boundaries played a significant role.

Over-Policed, Yet Underserved highlighted a dissonance that plagues residents in and around Sandtown. They feel unsafe because of the lack of police presence in the area to deter serious crime, and yet they also feel unsafe because of the overzealous policing of their everyday existence. A survey of 453 residents revealed 57 “unique accounts of misconduct,” including verbal harassment, humiliation and excessive use of force. Beyond that, 92% of the respondents refused to be on the record, “showing the extremely high level of fear community residents have of police retaliation.”

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