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Baltimore is a diverse and complete East Coast city—though not always thought of that way by some who consider it the less attractive sister of Washington, D.C. It surrounds a major inland port on the upper portion of the Chesapeake Bay, with prosperous shipping, transportation, and manufacturing industries among others. Many areas of the city, particularly downtown, have experienced a vast renewal with a strong emphasis on historic preservation. The restored waterfront adjacent to the rather ordinary downtown is now a commercial and leisure destination with excellent museums, a first class aquarium and plenty to do.
Urban residential areas close to downtown are known for their rowhouses, many dating back to the 18th century, spreading for miles and full of character and historic interest. Some, like the Federal Hill neighborhood and others adjacent on the South Baltimore Peninsula just southeast of the waterfront area, have been nicely reclaimed and inhabited by higher income professionals, while others in other directions are classic run-down zones of urban blight.
Baltimore is indeed a city of such contrasts, with a mix of attractive and leading-edge neighborhoods and some of the worst urban decay on the East Coast, with socioeconomic disparity, crime, drugs, education issues, and all the other things that accompany such neglect in those parts of town.
Transportation has always been one of the city’s strengths. Baltimore is one of the few East Coast destinations of discount carrier Southwest Airlines. Train service and interstate highways make Washington D.C., New York, and other cities along the Northeast Corridor easily accessible. Cost of living and housing, while high by U.S. standards, are moderate for the region at large. Leisure activities are plentiful, and the town is big on sports, particularly the Baltimore Orioles baseball and Baltimore Ravens football teams. Camden Yards (next to the historic Baltimore and Ohio Railroad freight station just past the right field wall), exemplifies Baltimore’s tradition and vitality, and has become an urban sports icon that other major-league cities have imitated for years.
Neighborhoods surrounding Baltimore are very attractive, particularly west, southwest and some southeast of the city. Many spread into areas of horse farms in gently rolling, wooded countryside. Columbia is a planned community to the southwest, offering abundant residential space integrated with small suburban town centers, parks and commercial/industrial areas. Columbia’s strategic location places it near the airport and commute lines heading south into the DC and Bethesda-Gaithersburg-Frederick area. But many of these suburbs are so far out that commute distances are long and sprawl and growth issues are large even though the population isn’t growing that fast.
The area is situated on the Chesapeake Bay in a largely level, open plain where several rivers converge to form the Patapsco Bay. The Appalachians rise about 50 miles to the west, beyond areas of modest hills and farmland. Baltimore sits between rigorous northern climates, mild southern ones, and moderating influences from the ocean to the east and the mountains to the west. The climate is changeable, but more moderate than inland locations at the same latitude. Summer brings warm, humid days. Winters are cold but tempered by the ocean and mountains. Snow does occur, but snowfall is generally light except during large spring storms. Some freezing rain and sleet occur each year. Summer precipitation is mainly showers and thunderstorms, and late season Atlantic hurricanes can bring heavy rains. First freeze is late October, last is mid-April.