Small streets have been a part of Baltimore since the 1700s, when industry and commerce first clustered around the harbor. They continued to be an integral part of the expanding city until around 1920. During that time, small streets provided affordable housing for working class families close to jobs. The so-called alley houses provided ambitious new immigrant families of Baltimore with places of living more dignified than the tenements of other cities.
In Baltimore, small streets typically do not connect with each other as in the North End neighborhood of Boston or the old city centers in Europe. Instead, small streets typically run mid-block and parallel to wider streets. As a result, some residents of Baltimore call small streets “alley streets”. The alley streets are highlighted in purple in the satellite image below.
In recent decades, the small streets of Baltimore have enjoyed a renaissance. Today the small streets in the neighborhoods around the harbor are considered very desirable, especially by young professionals and small families who seek an urban lifestyle close to amenities and a smaller house that is easy and inexpensive to maintain, heat and cool. The alley houses of Baltimore have a unique historic charm unlike houses found anywhere else in the United States.
While many houses have been lovingly preserved and restored in Baltimore, new small streets have unfortunately not been built in many decades. Others were demolished during the “urban renewal” era of the mid-20th century. Small streets can be found today in the neighborhoods of Fells Point, Federal Hill, Butchers Hill, Middle East, Union Square/Hollins Market, Old Goucher, and more. Sadly, some of Baltimore’s small streets have been put in danger by chronic disinvestment and urban blight.
The City of Baltimore is currently engaged in a full rewrite of its zoning code. Small Streets plans to petition the City to make sure that the final adopted zoning code is small streets-friendly.
The current draft of the proposed code places excessive restrictions on the conversion of carriage houses. These buildings were once used by houses on a main streets for horse carriages, but many of them have been abandoned. Carriage houses can make delightfully unique residences, but if the current proposed language is put into effect they may continue to sit abandoned and in decay.
The current subdivision regulations adopted January 1, 2011 require that new residential streets have at least a 40 foot minimum right-of-way. Alleys and lanes of just 16 feet are allowed, but lots are required to front larger streets. The subdivision regulations must be changed in order to make the construction of new small streets legal.
We ask you to please support our efforts toward a small streets-friendly policy in the City of Baltimore by following us on Facebook or Twitter. We will update keep you updated on how you can support the campaign.