My love of The Wire connects pretty well with my interest in David Harvey, who taught at Hopkins for a long time and treated Baltimore as an immense site for empirical geographical work. I also suspect that the show’s taking place in Baltimore is part of Walter Benn Michael’s fascination with it, which he’s polished up for a piece in the newest issue of The Baffler.1
Anyway, I’m reading Harvey’s 2001 collection Spaces of Capital, which includes several of his old articles from the 1970s in Antipode, which is by itself cool. But the book begins with an interview from 2000 with the editors of the New Left Review (so, before The Wire made thinking about Baltimore cool), and in it the editors ask Harvey what the “particular profile” of Baltimore is, as an American city. He responds:
In many ways, it is emblematic of the processes that have moulded cities under US capitalism, offering a laboratory sample of contemporary urbanism. But, of course, it has its own distinctive character as well. Few North American cities have as simple a power structure as Baltimore. After 1900, big industry largely moved out of the city, leaving control in the hands of a rich elite whose wealth was in real estate and banking. There are no corporate headquarters in Baltimore today, and the city is often referred to as the biggest plantation in the South, since it is run much like a plantation by a few major financial institutions.
I read this and immediately saw the contemporary US. Congrats, America. We’re all turning into Baltimore.
- This post already sounds like all my favorite musicians taking the stage at once to play “Knockin’ on Heaven’s Door” or something. [↩]