Tracey Halvorsen’s Baltimore:Part 1 “Smalltimore”

Getting Started

Tracey Halvorsen’s recent article  “Baltimore City You’re Breaking My Heart” has caused quite a bit of controversy.

I have been doing a tremendous amount of thinking about her article and the reaction it has generated. It has helped me to focus intensely on some of the questions I have had since I came back to Baltimore in 2005. At that time I was hired as one of the two Middle School Program Coordinators at the Baltimore Urban Debate League. My job took me to schools and neighborhoods all over the city, but black people were the vast majority in most of these places.

Like most white people in America, I had never lived or worked in a majority-black place. I was forced to challenge learned understandings and expand existing definitions of “diversity.” I eventually parted ways with the debate league, but I stayed very involved in building institutions and organizations that help the young people of Baltimore to have access to the kind of social capital that is needed to change their communities and the city.

In 2010 when no longer able to sustain myself on the income that kind of work brought me, I took a job in Columbia with a large research company. I still work there and I make a good living. It is really only in these last 3+ years that I have started to experience what many people call Smalltimore. I understand the attraction. I like Woodberry Kitchen and I think Patterson Park is amazing. I love Craft Beer and walking to the Orioles game from my “North of North” apartment. I get it.

I am a data and project analyst by profession, so let me say a word about methodology. My words and my work are absolutely my own.  I will present a lot of data and charts in these two articles. It is all open source public information that I have transformed, analyzed and visualized. I have blended studies, neighborhood definitions, and measures in a way which makes me slightly uncomfortable, because I know the Census definition may not be your definition, but this is often an inevitability with the publicly available information sets. I will provide sources for each of the source data points, and I will share a link to the Tableau Public workbook that has the visualizations and the underlying data.

I will surely make errors that impact the precision of the calculations. This does not invalidate the clear facts that a variety of sources will lay out. I am open to suggestions to make it better, but I will not be terribly interested in quibbling about a percentage point here and there.

Points of Agreement

I think nearly everybody can agree with the basic premise suggested by Halvorsen’s article. I will paraphrase that premise as:

It is tragic and frustrating when our neighbors, friends, or coworkers are the victims of violent crimes. Violent crime is too frequent in Baltimore. Something needs to be done to decrease that crime.

Beyond that, I think we see Baltimore differently.

Baltimore City

Source for this section is V2012 data for Cities and Towns 

Baltimore City Demo DBBaltimore City is a majority Black city. This should come as no surprise to anyone who lives here or knows anything about the city (even if that knowledge only comes from “The Wire”).

It is however worth discussing for a bit, because as such it is a relative anomaly among cities its size.

I think there is a common perception that goes something like, “Sure there are a lot of African Americans in Baltimore but that is most cities.”

I think it is important to understand how unique Baltimore is among American cities in this regard, because majority Black political entities are rare in the United States. Even more rare in large cities.

Among all cities in the US with over 100,000 population Baltimore ranks 21st in size with ~620,000 residents. It Ranks 7th in Total African American or Black Population with ~399,000 residents.

City Size Table


Of 216 US cities with populations over 100,000 people, 20 of them, like Baltimore have a majority Black population. *

Dashboard 6b

I have included Hampton VA here because at 49.95% It statistically belongs there, as it does culturally and historically.

This is not a new phenomenon in Baltimore. This city has a long history as a central location for Black life on the east coast and in America. There are plenty of places to learn about this history and how it relates to the present, but two good places to start are “Black Baltimore: A New Theory of Community” by Harold Mcdougall and “Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American City” by Antero Pietila.

Both of these books take on the issue of Black people trying to build safe and prosperous homes and communities in Baltimore. To a differing degree they both also describe the way that White people have tried to do the same thing and how these interests almost always compete.

To me these books are an entry point, not an end point, but as such they serve well as a framework for understanding a more complete history of the City.

I could construct a list of “Amazing Aspects of Black Baltimore History,” but that is not the focus of this discussion and would risk over- and under-including. I am not trying to narrate the complete story of Baltimore as a Black city; rather I am trying to establish very clearly what should be obvious to any resident of this city: Baltimore is a city that is inseparably connected to its Black residents, their communities, and lives. It is functionally impossible and fundamentally undemocratic to tell an “authentic” Baltimore story without recognizing these obvious realities.


Unless otherwise noted data for this section comes from  Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance-Jacob France Institute (BNIA-JFI) analysis of the 2010 census data available on Open Baltimore,  available here.

“People jokingly call it “Smalltimore”, and it’s a huge part of its appeal.” -Tracey Halvorsen

I have always had an uneasy reaction to the term “Smalltimore” when used by white folks who moved here as adults (like myself). That being said, I have somewhat embraced some of the potential meanings. Thinking about this in response to Halvorsen’s article has really helped me to understand why it has always made me uneasy.

Halvorsen’s “Smalltimore” is a place of “memorable restaurants” where “some of the brightest minds come to this city every day” (emphasis added) to embrace diverse neighborhoods, amazing educational opportunities, and harbor front communities. All in a small setting where you can almost always run into people you know.
“Smalltimore” is also a place where Halvorsen owns a home and runs a business that serves Baltimore businesses and employs Baltimore residents.

But what is “Smalltimore”? Why does it feel so small?

ACS 2012 5yr -  White Alone

The map above is a snapshot taken from the Social Explorer website (free version). It shows the percent of residents in each census block group that is included in the “White Alone” census category based on the 5 Year American Community Survey data set from 2012. The darker the color, the higher percentage  of white people that live in that block group. Two notes here: 1) block group is a very granular measurement. You can change the level of zoom in to a neighborhood and explore here:   2) I changed the default cut points in the color scheme because I wanted to show the places where white people are a statistical majority. Even so I put a cut point at 30% to show block groups where white people constitute ~ the 30% citywide average.

In “Smalltimore,” not only do a large majority of white people live in communities with a larger percentage of white people than the city-wide average, but in fact most live in communities where white people are the majority.

There are 55 neighborhoods in Baltimore. 31 of those neighborhoods have a percentage of African American population higher than the citywide average. These neighborhoods have a total population of 360,000.They are on average 89% black, 8% white, 2% Hispanic, and 1% Asian.

The other 24 neighborhoods, with a percentage of black population below the city average, comprise a total population of  256,000 people. This grouping of neighborhoods is on average 28% black, 60% white, 5%Asian, 8% Hispanic, 1% Native American, and 2% other.

Assuming that ALL of those 24 neighborhoods were considered “Smalltimore,” it would likely knock Plano, Texas off of the “72nd Largest City in America” podium. There is no wonder, then, that “Smalltimore” seems so small.


The last time Baltimore was as small as “Smalltimore”  was between the 1860 and 1870 Census. Even then, Baltimore had the largest free Black population in the nation.

Then as now, “Smalltimore” is not a monolith, it is a place of “diverse neighborhoods.” 24, to be exact.

The 24 neighborhoods that make up “Smalltimore” can be further grouped by their percentage of African American or Black Population compared to the Maryland and US percentage. There are 11 neighborhoods with a higher percentage of African Americans than MD but lower than Baltimore City. There are 4 neighborhoods with a percentage lower than MD but higher than the US percentage. Finally, there are 9 neighborhoods with a lower percentage of African Americans than the US percentage. The table below shows more demographic and population information. The bottom three categories make up “Smalltimore.”

Sheet 24

Diverse Neighborhoods

“Smalltimore” is much more diverse than Baltimore City. Each “Smalltimore” neighborhood cluster outperforms the city in each non-black and non-white category (diversity) significantly. Diversity in “Smalltimore” means that there are 34% less black population and 50% more white population than the Baltimore City Average.

Using the Racial Diversity indicator in the BNIA dataset you can see this in a different way.

Dashboard 8

The vertical axis is the rank of the Racial Diversity index, the horizontal axis is the percentage the neighborhood is African American, size indicates neighborhood population, and color indicates whether the neighborhood is in the cluster of 24 “Smalltimore” neighborhoods.

Quite simply, Halvorsen’s diversity is an anti black concept that seeks to replace the majority population of the city with white notions of community and diversity.

In case you think I am making an argument that has nothing to do with Halvorsen’s article, the map below plots all the spaces and places mentioned in her article as well as each of the local businesses with an address, FastSpot website (since Halvorsen speaks to this as part of her connection to and experience with the city). The red push pins are places she speaks highly of; the green push pins are the things that she says people come here to do; the blue push pins are Fastspot clients. The neighborhoods she mentions are out lined in black Polygons. You can explore the interactive version here.

ACS 2012 5yr -  White Alone2

Wrapping up Part 1

I am not calling anyone a racist. I am trying to lay out a case for why race is an important component of understanding Baltimore. I am also trying to make the case that the construction of Smalltimore (in at least Halvorsen’s work) is based on establishing and defending a series of white spaces on top of a Black City. I find it stunning that the only use of the word “African-American” in her narration of the city is in a paragraph defining what she considers diversity. In that paragraph, being black (African American) in Baltimore is the same as being white, or crotchety, or gay.

I am not concerned about “real racists.” Surely there are people who hate black people, and while I don’t want them to come over for dinner, they really do not pose a significant or structural threat to Black people in Baltimore, or really anywhere, in a widespread way. Part of the reason this is true is that White people tend to define “real racism” as behavior exclusive of themselves and their friends. Thus for many white people the only kind of anti-black racism that exists is one of slurs, overt discrimination, and stand your ground style violence.

This mode of “opt-in white racism” is almost useless as an analytic tool for discussing issues in which race plays a role, but is very useful in distancing oneself from the necessity to engage those conversations.

What is more interesting to me is why white people find comfort in white spaces, seemingly without the ability to see those spaces as white. In part at least for Halvorsen, this is achieved by making black people disappear from her narration of Baltimore(though they are there if you read between the lines).

This is not to say that there can not be interest convergence, but if we want this conversation to move forward, we cannot do so without understanding the role race and whiteness play in shaping Baltimore’s past, present, and future.

I ultimately find it hard to believe that Tracey Halvorsen is not fully cognizant of these racial realities or how her article is situated in such a context. I wish she would say, “I am concerned about the threat that largely Black crime poses to my white neighbors and, frankly, myself, as a white woman”. Not saying it does not mean it is not loud and clear.

In Tracey Halvorsen’s Baltimore: Part 2 “The Wire”. I will analyze the ways in which Halvorsen constructs Blackness and Black communities. 


  1. Irene says:

    Wow Andy…. That’s a manifesto! Now I have to think. Yikes.

  2. Frank Locke says:

    Love your use of statistics. Are you planning to show statistics of crime stats? Where they occur? Black on black vs. Black on White vs. White on Black, etc.? I think that if you do, you could overlay that with your maps of the city and maybe get a perspective of why Ms. Halverson wrote her piece and the underlying frustration she feels. We all have to be careful when using statistics, but I am glad that you did. Crime is the issue she is writing about. It would be interesting to use your statistics and maps on cities like Cleveland, Detroit, Newark and New Orleans. My guess is that you would see the same patterns. Another interesting sideline would be to see if there is the same sense of “smalltimore” in the black community. My sense is that there is. I think that you have the same sense of two degrees of separation and that everyone leaves only to come back at some point in the Black community as well.

  3. […] Smalltimore Tracey Halvorsen’s Baltimore:Part 1 “Smalltimore” […]

  4. edtitan77 says:

    The reality is that Black people commit a tremendous amount of crime, the schools where they dominate are atrocious and they lack the ability to develop or sustain thriving businesses. So while Halverston maybe a little bit disingenuous with her motives avoiding Black people is a reasonable exercise. An exercise that is done not only in Baltimore but all across the county.

    Also Whites aren’t the only ones avoiding Black people. I wonder why the Hispanics have concentrated around Greektown and other formerly primarily White ethnic neighborhoods as opposed to West Baltimore?

    • Jeff Hunt says:

      Don’t conflate race issues with poverty issues.

    • Justin Gladden says:

      Sadly your notions are a bit misguided, but that’s typical of someone that doesn’t want to read even the most basic points about social theory.

      Black people actually commit less crimes per capita than whites based on 1) the population of blacks vs whites in America and 2) not counting misdemeanor crimes like possessing marijuana. Whites actually kill more people in America per capita that any other demographics.


      Because most crimes are committed inside of the perpetrator’s ethnic group. Blacks are more likely to kill other blacks and whites other whites. Also, a violent crime is more likely to happen between people in the same neighborhood, and by people that have some kind of relationship with someone.

      This is why whites are starting to get worried in Baltimore. It’s not that the crime is “spilling over” into rich white communities, it’s that the crime is starting to buck the trend.

  5. crotchedy says:

    Maps/tables are fancy eye candy but don’t tell us anything your average Baltimorean doesn’t already know about the racial geography of the city, or how white people tend to experience it. If anything, your spacial (Baltimore City itself, bound by arbitrary borders that minimally reflect social contiguity) and temporal (present day) focus undermines understanding the larger context of this issue. A more dynamic analysis that takes into account the surrounding counties and the movements of Baltimoreans, black and white, over the past 50 years may be a tall order. But it would better illuminate how the attitudes/beliefs of those who live outside the city (but have deep family/social and cultural roots in the city) affect both the crime debate and what’s possible from government and other institutions in response to the problem. Without this, your work is just “piling on” Halvorsen without meaningfully moving the debate forward. “This is not to say that there can not be interest convergence” is the only thing I read that comes close….

  6. Debbie says:

    The data presented here is fascinating, but omitting overt discussion of class seems as odd as the original article’s omitting discussion of race. I’m well aware that Baltimore feels small to me because the circles I travel in represent a small minority of the city’s population. But I’m not sure that white Baltimoreans are seeking white spaces, as much as educated middle class professionals are seeking educated middle class professional settings. That doesn’t strike me as so awful on the face of it; we’re just left, again, facing the unequal access in our country to education and professional opportunities.

  7. Dara says:

    Really excellent post and a great start to the conversation. I was just talking to a good friend who studies race and cities (etc. etc.). One of my main takeaways from the article in question was Halvorsen’s complete lack of discussion about race. To me, she was clearly experiencing only a very small part of Baltimore and viewing the city through a very narrow lens. And of course she doesn’t talk about her role or her biases or anything. Thanks for adding more information for a much richer conversation.

    I’m not sure what your background is, but you really explained the data in the way that is really easy to digest. I do take a minor issue with it. The American Community Survey is great because it can break data down in a way the census can’t. However, 2007-2012 was a tumultuous time in the US economically so I really wonder how that affects neighborhood populations or racial makeup. Potentially not at all, but maybe worth examining closer. Also, depending on how large the “neighborhoods” are that you looked at (I’m assuming you’re using census tracts or zip codes…?) the data can be really noisy or wonky. Either way, you work with what you can get and you’ve done a really excellent job… just something that might be worth mentioning a little more clearly or taking a closer look at.

    Also with the “smalltimore” discussion… do you point out the white neighborhoods because this is a term white people use to describe Baltimore but not black people?

    • Andy says:

      My background is: College and high school debate coach for over a decade, then professional data analyst more recently. I attended Towson as a history major in the late 90′s.

      I agree that the ACS has noise in it, and that there are other factors that confound the simplicity of it.

      I am more than willing to expand the analysis to include other neighborhood definitions and other analytic tools.

      Finally, I first heard the term Smalltimore from black people, but I think it has taken on a more commodified meaning in the most recent round of attracting young white professionals to the city.My critique is of this deployment as used by Halvorsen.

      Thank you for the kind words about my work as well as the critical and questioning ones. I look forward to the continuing dialogue.

      • Dara says:

        Thanks for sharing a bit more about your background! Needless to say, you have much more data analysis experience than me! haha Again, looking forward to reading more!

  8. bmoredisappointed says:

    smalltimore aka the white shaft.

  9. spider says:

    The “opt-in” racism you’re talking about is what Tracey knows but you say yourself that you’ve experienced and “get” Smalltimore. One of the main reasons I couldn’t live in the city any more (I left in 2004) was that there is very little opportunity to “opt-out” of Smalltimore without abandoning your entire social circle. For those of us that grew up there, that means your life. Coming from the “underground” Smalltimore (the music and avant garde arts scene,) I encountered a majority of people within that community that would often comment on the racism of the upper-middle-class whites within the city(i.e. “not us”), yet they would continue to participate in their own insular community that is even more detached and isolated in some ways. It’s a complex issue, and I don’t think Tracey said anything bad per se; she was just genuinely expressing herself, and I enjoyed the article because it put into words many thoughts that I had had over the years. Granted there’s a whole lot of other thoughts I had that disagreed with what she said, but the majority of white persons that grew up in and around Baltimore have experienced the “opt-in” racism as part of their way of life, and not willingly. Tracey documents a certain cultural experience and it should not be dismissed as disingenuous; her purpose was not to offer solutions but to provide an editorial from her point of view. I respect that, much like I respected the responses that didn’t insult her.
    In any case you offer some interesting stats for those that don’t live in or come from Baltimore.

  10. JKJ says:

    I’m not sure that Ms. Halvorsen’s article is worthy of this well reasoned response. Her article can be dismissed – without a stitch of data – for its childish selfishness and lack of rigor.

    I do appreciate Andy putting some data behind the idea that smalltimore is just a manifestation of de facto segregation, but it’s an over simplification to lay this entirely at the feet of recently arrived white folks. Gentrification did not create the racial divides in the city, it merely followed the contours created by decades of a fear-based Jim Crow (and of course de jure Jim Crow before that). Baltimore has long been among the most segregated places in America as Ms. Halvorsen was preceded by generations of whites who avoided black people for a variety of reasons, including overt racism, the cohesiveness of ethnic neighborhoods, and, yes, fear of crime. At the same time, black people avoided white neighborhoods for the same reasons along with a creditable threat of state violence.

    And the divided city begat divided institutions that perpetuate the divisions. Hopkins issues guidance for students on areas to avoid. Police drive black kids away from the Harbor. All of this has created a city in which most of us tend to live, work, and play around people who look like ourselves, where we all live in our own smalltimores. If we believe that there is some benefit to integration – a point on which not everyone will agree – then we all need to strive to break out of our smalltimores – no simple feat given the institutional, governmental, cultural, and inertial forces that we face.

    I say all this primarily as criticism to myself – a white dude who has lived 15 years in a majority black neighborhood while allowing myself to slip into a smalltimore by my choices of where I work and play and by failing to engage in a meaningful way with the community around me. Baltimore breaks my heart everyday – it should break the heart of every feeling person – and I would like to feel superior to Ms. Halvorsen if she chooses to run off and bury her head in the sands of Timonium, while I stick it out in Baltimore. But I know I’m no better as long I reside in Baltimore but live in smalltimore.

  11. Blair S. says:

    I really appreciate the work that went into this piece. I am actually very familiar with a lot of the data sets you used (BNIA, OpenBaltimore, 2010 Census, etc.). I’m working on a project for a housing non-profit in Baltimore that has me creating data-driven metrics to analyze the neighborhoods in which we build homes. However, I’ve been struggling with how to actually make meaningful comparisons, other than year-to-year trends. Your idea of comparing neighborhoods by grouping them based on comparisons to the Baltimore City, Maryland, and US averages is very clever. You wouldn’t mind if I used that to inform my work, would you?

    Also, I noticed in your Tableau Workbook you included Tree Canopy data, which is actually one of indicators I’m using, among others. If you are interested, I’d like to discuss this project over email since we seem to be doing such similar work.

    • Andy says:

      Thank you, I certainly would have no problem with using my framing, and am open to more discussion.

      One note, I do not use the tree canopy data(though I would love to), my use of the term Tree in the Tableau workbook is meant to describe the chart type, not the data source.

      Finally I would be very interested in further discussion about your work and mine, please DM me at @bmoreconnected if you are on twitter and I will send you additional contact info.

  12. Bmoreskyandsea says:

    “Southeast currently leads the city’s nine police districts in terms of violent crime and is second (behind Northeast) in gun crimes.”

  13. jupitaur says:

    You mention investigating into housing patterns for the last fifty years. That must include blockbusting and subsequent white flight. I am looking forward to how you work that into the discussion..

  14. Andy says:

    I am going to answer the most thematic responses from here, Twitter, Facebook and Reddit in a new post that will come out soon. So far I break these answers into the following schema:
    1)You are piling on/personally attacking a person who was simply expressing her point of view.
    2)Black people are as responsible for segregation as white people/ white people should not be responsible for segregation
    3)She was talking about crime and my initial reply did not.
    4)My analysis does not go far or deep enough and does not explore class or history or anything other than race.
    5)My data sources are wonky.
    6)Black people (in majority black cities) are responsible for a lot of crime
    7)But… black people.

    However there are a few independent answers I will engage now, and inline.

  15. jrochkind says:

    I find this piece so very valuable, I’ve come back several times to re-read and re-reflect.

    So, eagerly awaiting part 2, please!

  16. randomWalks says:

    […] Andy Ellis: Tracey Halvorsen’s Baltimore: Part 1 “Smalltimore” […]

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