Baltimore exists as a patchwork of neighborhoods — over 200 of them, actually. Just touching Hopkins, there are already five: Hampden, Remington, Charles Village, Barclay and Waverly.
Unlike most cities, where these kinds of distinctions have blurred over time, Baltimore has forcefully held onto the idea of the neighborhood.
Take a drive down St. Paul, and there will no doubt you'll be able to feel the suddenly obvious, although maybe indescribable, changes crossing the boundaries from one neighborhood to the next.
On one hand, this gives each Baltimore community an extremely distinct personality. However, it is also isolating.
My life, like many Hopkins students', is grounded around four streets, from Beech Avenue across to St. Paul and 25th Street up to University Parkway.
Don't get me wrong. I love Homewood. Where else can you pop in free to the BMA, sunbathe on the Beach between classes and go on a five-minute, 2 a.m. mozzarella sticks run to Uni-Mini all in one day?
But as wonderful as Homewood is, there's a lot out there I feel I'm missing.
Homewood is not all Baltimore has to offer.
And with one year behind me, I think it's time to start bridging that gap — which brings me to murals.
One of the coolest things about Baltimore has got to be its murals.
They can escape your notice for years until one day, you suddenly realize they're everywhere.
Next time you're walking to the Giant, keep an eye out for them — there are over five from St. Paul to Frisby Street.
Cities are fundamentally ugly.
Let's face it: there's nothing beautiful or personal about concrete. But we live in this concrete, so we're entitled to something a little more interesting.
The Baltimore Mural Program is one attempt to transform Baltimore's dead space.
It was founded in 1975 and has since created more than 200 murals, pulling together the efforts of local artists, community groups, and Baltimore volunteers.
The result has been, at least in my opinion, some of the most beautiful pieces of art in Baltimore.
Stop by the mural on 33rd and Barclay Street. It shows a line of those quintessential Baltimore row houses, standard and monotonous as cities are.
A stream that feeds past the street and into a garden separates two of the row houses in the mural. There's something incredibly hopeful and purely Baltimorean about it.
And it's next to a Papa John's, of all things.
But that's exactly the point — this is our art, by our rules, in our context.
Each mural is a reflection of neighborhood culture, but seen all together, they create an amazing Baltimore narrative. They're a common thread that unites our city and begins to define what living in Baltimore is all about. They're a reminder of the people, places, history and aspirations that have formed the city we live in, interact with and call our home.
So pay attention whenever you come across them. Or maybe even seek them out.
The ones on South Broadway in Fell's Point can teach you more about Baltimore's shipping industry and its working-class struggles than any textbook.
And if you're feeling really inspired, the Baltimore Mural Program is always looking for volunteers for their projects — they're slated to create another ten murals just this year.
I'm not saying you have to whip out your acrylics and start painting every wall in this city.
Still, it's worthwhile to notice the murals, with all their energy, boldness and Baltimore quirks. More than anything, though, we should take their spirit.
I think it's about time we forget the boundaries of "Hopkins students" and actively interact with the space around us.
We spend most of our year at Hopkins, but it's not enough just to be in Baltimore. We should live in Baltimore.
This year, let's make this our city — from Homewood all the way to Cherry Hill.