For decades, Baltimore has been a stand-in for struggling cities everywhere, becoming the butt of jokes or a cautionary tale of decline. Baltimore city officials have reacted to these criticisms and slights with defensive, superficial boosterism and costly marketing campaigns that attempt to rally the public with slogans while ignoring real problems. While it’s satisfying to call President Trump a rat, let’s not lose sight of the need for real social justice in Baltimore, rather than more empty boosterism.
Baltimore’s bad image dates back at least to the early twentieth century. During the Great Depression, the writers of the Works Progress Administration’s guide to Maryland noted that Baltimore had “rarefied aristocrats,” but also “dismal slums” and “rat-infested streets” near the waterfront. Baltimore, they damned with faint praise, “may be an ugly city, nevertheless it is charmingly picturesque in its ugliness.