Living: He Digs Downtown

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The National Aquarium, the most advanced and by all odds the most attractive of its kind in the world, caps a $1.5 billion revitalization program on which Baltimore embarked 25 years ago. The renaissance has been led by a remarkable coalition of preservationists, Big Business and city government and, since 1971, has been accelerated by Mayor William Donald Schaefer ("Baltimore Is Best"), one of the most effective urban executives in the U.S. today (see box). Few cities anywhere can boast so dramatic a turnaround.

First, Baltimore literally disemboweled itself, clawing out 33 downtown acres to make way for Charles Center, a high-rise office development fronting on the city's main north-south thoroughfare. Next, moving harborward, came I.M. Pei's 28-story World Trade Center. It was accompanied by a long-needed Convention Center and the Maryland Science Center, where visitors are encouraged to touch exhibits, push buttons, pull levers and turn wheels. Also on the waterfront, a music tent called the Outdoor Concert

Pavilion has unfolded delicate wings, embracing thrice-weekly crowd pullers ranging from Yehudi Menuhin and the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra to Ella Fitzgerald, Judy Collins and the Lettermen. The city's surprisingly lively local theater scene encompasses the 1,800-seat Morris A. Mechanic Theater, the city-renovated Center Stage Theater, the Arena Players, one of the oldest black theatrical groups in the country, and half a dozen smaller companies. An eight-mile subway is due to open in 1982. A handsome 500-room Hyatt Regency Hotel has arisen on the harbor's edge.

Mercifully, the emphasis has been on saving the good old buildings of the downtown's surrounding neighborhoods rather than destroying them. Baltimore's homesteading program, the nation's most ambitious, has preserved scores of blocks of dilapidated but essentially sound and potentially elegant 19th century red-brick row houses—something of a city trademark. For a $1 purchase price per house and the promise of "sweat equity," private citizens are restoring such historic neighborhoods as Ridgeley's Delight, Otterbein, Barre Circle, Stirling Street, Durham Street and Washington Hill. There is a similar program of "shopsteading," whereby businessmen are encouraged to salvage old stores. Notes City Planner Larry Reich: "Nothing happens here by itself. People have to make it happen."

The ferment has stirred the spirit of the city's neighborhoods, 100 of which now mount their own festivals. In addition, 16 ethnic groups in the city, ranging from Estonians to Italians, hold festivals each year in Charles Center or the Inner Harbor.

This is the new Baltimore, not to be confused with the old, a.k.a.

Bawlamer, in the state of Merlin.

(The naves drop consnans as liberally as cockneys dispense with aitches.

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