Institute of Ecosystem Studies

2008 BES Annual Meeting Presentation and Poster Abstracts

To promote the material and moral welfare of the community: Neighborhood Improvement Associations in Baltimore, 1900 – 1945
Buckley, Geoff
Abstract: Prior to passage of strict zoning laws in Baltimore, Maryland, neighborhood improvement associations figured prominently in the municipal decision-making process. In addition to assisting city officials in their efforts to identify and demarcate neighborhood boundaries, these associations – of which there were approximately 70 scattered across the city during the first decade of the 20th century – secured numerous upgrades for their communities, including telephone service, gas lines, sanitary sewers, electric lights, paved roads, and better mail delivery. They also worked diligently to attract amenities such as parks and street trees, while discouraging or eliminating disamenities such as unwanted land uses. At the same time, improvement and “protection” associations – as they were sometimes known – openly embraced both de jure and de facto segregation in all its forms. Working individually and in concert, groups such as the Peabody Heights, Mount Royal, and McCulloh, Madison Avenue and Eutaw Place improvement associations, for example, championed passage of the nation’s first segregation ordinance in 1910 and used restrictive covenants and other exclusionary housing practices to discourage African American and ethnic white in-migration. This paper focuses on the major issues that resonated with several different neighborhood improvement associations during a period of rapid settlement and development pressure in Baltimore, paying especially close attention to the patterns of social and environmental inequality and inequity they helped to establish and enforce – patterns which are still clearly inscribed on the urban landscape today.