Neighborhood Rebranding – Smart PR or Fool’s Errand?

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Last month, we posted about a classic rowhouse in Roland Park — and received a slew of comments from folks objecting to the neighborhood designation. (The house was at 39th St. and Beech Ave., which is technically a part of the Roland Park Historic District, but more closely associated with Hampden, according to our intrepid readers.) And remember when some folks tried to rechristen beloved Pigtown as blander-but-more-expensive-sounding “Washington Village”? Now you can add another neighborhood rebranding effort to the list:  The East Baltimore neighborhood known as Middle East is being referred to as “Eager Park” in new marketing materials — and the renaming attempt is making some residents hopping mad.

The Middle East neighborhood has long been a pawn in Johns Hopkins’ attempt to refashion parts of the city to suit its needs. Supporters point to the influx of money, attention, schools, and poverty-fighting programs in the area as evidence of the university’s good will; opponents argue that the powerful institution has both directly and indirectly disenfranchised the historically African-American community. There’s way too much history there to fit into one blog post, but suffice to say this neighborhood re-naming is upsetting people on both sides.

According to an extensively reported article in the Baltimore Sun, the neighborhood’s name dates back to 1978, and hasn’t gained much traction in the neighborhood. That doesn’t mean that people aren’t bristling at Hopkins’ attempt to rebrand the area with new brochures, flags, and a website. “They want it to sound like there’s no history here until they got here,” neighborhood activist Donald Gresham told the Sun. “Eager Park is just another slap in the face. Nobody cares about what this community represented. It’s all about the glamour.”

Of course, it’s hard to argue with Scott Levitan, development director of the Forest City-New East Baltimore Partnership (the company “contracted to renew the neighborhood,” according to the Sun), when he points out that the name “Middle East” isn’t exactly the most marketable, considering today’s economic climate. But is renaming a neighborhood really the best way to effect lasting change?

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  1. Hopefully, the history of the former African American community in
    what we know as Middle East, will not be swept under the rug of
    Urban Progress.

    That is why the East Baltimore Historical Library has sought to
    be included as a strong partner at EBDI & Forest City planning
    tables concerning our neighborhood, the proposed park and the Henderson-Hopkins k-8 school.

    As former, and some present, residents who have championed
    not only a voice for the preservation of our history, but a also
    a vibrant physical space to collect, archive and share our history
    in space within the planned school.

    Although, as yet, we have not advanced a formal proposal to
    Forest City concerning programming we would like branded
    into the soil of the new park, we hope that Forest City &etal,
    will convene such an opportunity shortly.

    Nia Redmond
    [email protected]

    • This is a chance for improvement and a new beginning! I grew up here, left for college and this project is the ONLY reason I am returning to my hometown. I am not being paid to say this.

      Let’s put the hate behind us and support the fact that this community will be revitalized. Yes the history is rich, Yes people where relocated. It happened but now what? What about our youth and next generation?

      I encourage everyone to pay attention and get involved beyond complaining about factors such as a name. Attend the planning meetings and take action. I understand the activist struggle but will the concern of “they want it to seem like there’s no history” really have been solved if the name remained as Middle East?

  2. Well, let’s start with the premise “… the name “Middle East” isn’t exactly the most marketable, considering today’s economic climate. But is renaming a neighborhood really the best way to effect lasting change?” Now, how would one accomplish lasting change if there was no market for fresh blood, new faces, vibrant revenue in the neighborhood? If a name change will let people start fresh, let ’em do it.
    So many of us went off to college and deliberately fashioned a new persona, a fresh outlook on life, because we could. It was a clean slate, a fresh start. So it is with neighborhoods; when “fishtown” becomes “new village”, or “inner city” becomes “inner harbor” it lets people move in with a fresh outlook.
    The history of what Middle East was will not change, just as a “ugli fruit” looks the same when you call it a “kiwi”; but those who did not know it before will more easily move there, spend their money there, build a life there if the name is less burdened with political overtones that did not have those connotations a few decades ago.

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