SAVE PIGTOWN: Night before last we went to a community meeting in the nearby neighborhood of Pigtown. (We live on the other side of Russell Street, in the territory known traditionally as South Baltimore, known to real estate agents as Riverside Park, and known to future generations, if my wife's coinage ever catches on, as SOFA, for "South of Fort Avenue.") It seems the Maryland Stadium Authority is mulling a plan to condemn an enormous swath of land and build a new horsetrack more than twice the size of Raven Stadium and Camden Yards put together. The planners grossly underestimated the number of businesses in the area -- and didn't realize that they'd be knocking down any houses at all. (The targeted land includes 176 homes.) It's such an absurd proposal that I couldn't help suspecting that they were deliberately asking for too much in hopes of getting a favorable compromise -- but then I heard that the original proposal would have destroyed all of Pigtown.
The strangest thing about this -- and the most telling -- is that Baltimore already has a racetrack. You might have heard of it: a place called Pimlico. But the Pimlico people don't want to add slot machines if Gov. Ehrlich ever manages to get his slots bill passed. The developers behind the Pigtown project, on the other hand, are eager to embrace the non-equine varieties of gambling. Indeed, their plan is contingent on Ehrlich's legislation passing. Everyone expects slots to be reintroduced next session, so the locals are on guard.
At least 250 people attended the meeting, a multiracial working-class crowd that would do any proletarian propagandist proud. The chief force behind the project, meanwhile, is the Mobtown face of the corporate state, the Greater Baltimore Committee, "comprised of leading businesses, nonprofits, educational and civic institutions from Baltimore City and Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties." If this were a movie, people would accuse the screenwriter of stacking the deck. In real life, alas, the deck might be stacked the wrong way.