In 1991, I bought a gorgeous
three-story townhouse in a Baltimore
neighborhood called Federal Hill. A few blocks' walking distance
downtown, it was close to the hubbub of commerce, yet had
elegance reminiscent of the brownstones in Manhattan's Greenwich
Federal Hill was a patchy up-and-comer at the time. Some streets
heavily moneyed and manicured, especially those on the neighborhood's
perimeter overlooking the Inner Harbor, the city's bustling
Others were mean. And between these two ends were streets
like mine: safe,
well maintained, lovely and affordable, inhabited by regular
folk. Some were
old-school Baltimore, having weathered the city's economic
were newbies like me, watching Charm City's ascendance and
riding the front
end of what we intuited would be a lucrative curve. I sold
the house in
1998. Today, it's worth $60,000 more than my sale price. When
I meet people
who live anywhere between Delaware and West Virginia and mention
that I once
was a Federal Hill homeowner, they say, ``Ooh, nice neighborhood.''
I have a knack for spotting up-and-coming
urban real estate. My formula is
simple: two parts vigilance and one part residency, available
living anywhere who is paying attention to his or her surroundings,
behavioral trends and casual conversation.
In my native Manhattan, I watched
Harlem transform from pariah ('70s) to
pearl ('90s) in the island's real estate caste system. The
first signs came
in the mid-'80s when I noticed greater diversity on Harlem's
an increasingly robust tourist trade. Across the Hudson River,
I saw New
Jersey's commutable Hoboken go from ``heck, no'' to ``hello!''
University business school graduates began to establish their
across the waterway, college loans and modest-paying entry-level
having priced them off the island altogether. They also edged
who had pioneered Brooklyn's once dicey, now pricey Park Slope.
My formula applies to Hartford,
too. Whatever else this city needs -- better
schools and mass transit, neighborhood entrepreneurs, pedestrian-friendly
streetscapes and enhanced police presence -- when it comes
to real estate, I
subscribe to the investment advice of a friend's grandfather:
They're not making it anymore.'' Wait long enough and real
swing from hard times to heyday.
So far, I've lived in four of
Hartford's 17 neighborhoods -- Sheldon-Charter
Oak, Asylum Hill, West End and now Southwest. If I had the
money, I'd buy 11
more houses in Southwest (I own one) and 12 in Asylum Hill
-- my picks for
the capital city's fast up-and-comers.
Want a pulse on Asylum Hill?
Check out Huntington Street. Formerly a dope
dealer's paradise, the strip between Asylum and Collins is
a model of
Hartford's revitalization. Public and private money, imagination
old-fashioned nerve made it so. How do I know? I lived on
that block for two
Before I arrived, the police
swooped in and private landlords bought
apartment complexes, in some cases personally fending off
the hard elements.
While there, I watched Greater Hartford Habitat for Humanity
build homes for
families sponsored by The Hartford and Asylum Hill Congregational
residents committed to the health of the neighborhood.
There, homes sell without listing;
eye-catching architecture set on short
blocks creates community without claustrophobia; residents
are diverse and
back streets are zippy shortcuts to downtown and Upper Albany.
Southwest is pretty. Houses are
unique, with strong curb appeal. And the
``ooh'' factor -- as in ``ooh, nice neighborhood'' -- is high
Connecticut residents and out-of-towners alike. When I toured
the city this
past spring to narrow my home-buying search, I consistently
Southwest neat, walkable streets and a diverse community of
tending lovingly to their homes.
Asylum Hill, Southwest and the
West End are the preferred neighborhoods I
hear mentioned most often among suburbanites returning to
the city to live
or Hartford renters looking to buy. Even with its transitional
West End is already on the hip list. It's the No. 2 status
of Asylum Hill
and Southwest that makes them up-and-comers, the next neighborhoods
Reprinted with permission of the Hartford Courant.
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