Below the Fold

From the Baltimore Brew crew, a behind-the-scenes look at what we do…

Books about Dreamers and Schemers and “The City”

A 1968 photo of community activist and urban planning visionary Jane Jacobs.

A 1968 photo of community activist and urban planning visionary Jane Jacobs. (Photo credit TS/KEYSTONE USA / Rex Features, via

Typically, Baltimore Brewreaders are attracted like flies to honey by our latest breaking online news about suspicious city spending or shady political maneuvers.

So how would it go over, we wondered, when we trotted out a lengthy discussion of some books which – based on their publication dates in 2002, 2010 and 1961 – are technically not-so-breaking news?

The reception, we’re happy to report, was rapid, thoughtful, nuanced, lively, well-informed and snarky in places, but amusingly so. In short, the response to our new feature this week – The Brew Reviews, Sponsored by The Ivy Bookshop – was reassuringly . . .  Brewish.

The first installment in the series – “The City Beautiful” by Doug Birch – summarizes three books on cities by great writers whose ideas, command of Baltimore history and commitment to making urban America more vibrant and equitable clearly felt fresh and relevant to Baltimore readers. Richard Florida, Jane Jacobs and Antero Pietila are the writers we invite you to check out.

Books on “The City?” Bring ‘em on!

Our commenters quickly wove the ideas at the center of these books into our ongoing conversation – in B-more and in The Brew – about whether our benighted, battered and beloved town is gonna make it.

• One praised “Jacobs’ timeless principles, many of which still apply as much to ALL income strata today as they did fifty years ago” and lamented that, here in town  “Jacobs is still roundly ignored as Baltimore tries to live up to the ‘creative class’ hype in its thin waterfront veneer.”

• Another complained about “the deification of Jane Jacobs” and said it “has gone to such extremes that we in Baltimore conveniently forget that she actually praised the Charles Center, which went against many of the design features that she championed and became famous for.”

• Another wrote in to say “I find that the poor and those who (claim to) represent them sometimes oppose things that in my opinion everyone should want–bike lanes, safer streets, better transit, more commercial development–because they’re seen as being “for white people” or middle-class people. The fear of gentrification here is very strong, and frankly I think it’s overblown.”

• In an interesting twist, some possible new information for Jacobs’ biographer, Robert Kanigel, emerged from the discussion. The fact that Jacobs apparently stayed for a few months in Baltimore’s Bolton Hill neighborhood in 1958 was news to Brew reader Kanigel, who lives here in Baltimore.  “I hadn’t heard of Jacobs living in Bolton Hill in 1958, much less for 3-4 months,” Kanigel wrote in a comment on the story. “Tell me more!”

• The discussion, one commenter pointed out, was missing a depressing political dimension  “the last mayoral election spoke to that, with the “new economy’s” candidate falling to the third position.”

• And lest we get too precious, commenter James Hunt popped up with an eye-roll at Jacobs’ loving description of the kilt-wearing musician who played outside her window every day. “I dunno. If someone played a bagpipe in front of my house everyday, I’d kick his arse.”

Letter “B” for Books was Brought to You By . . .

So who do we have to thank for this bounty of cool content, besides the books’ authors, of course?

Well Brew contributor Doug Birch, for one. Birch’s insightful take on what makes these three volumes relevant to Baltimore will kick the typical dialogue here in Brewville up a notch . . . and introduce readers to some great and influential writers.

In the coming months, we plan more of these pieces themed to books and ideas of interest to Brew readers. A longtime journalist and foreign correspondent for The Baltimore Sun and later Moscow Bureau Chief for the Associated Press, Birch will be producing this feature for The Brew when he’s not writing articles for assorted publications in Baltimore and Washington.

The Ivy Bookshop's Ed Berlin with the Malbec that won our blind tasting, held at the store on Falls Road.. (Photo by fern Shen)

The Ivy Bookshop’s Ed Berlin with the Malbec that won our blind wine tasting, held at the store on Falls Road.. (Photo by Fern Shen)

Which brings us to the other person we have to thank for this series, our sponsor, Ed Berlin, co-owner with his wife Ann of  The Ivy Bookshop on Falls Road.

All the books you’ll read in The Brew Reviews will be available at The Ivy, of course, but Berlin is trying to do something a little different by sponsoring the feature. It’s part of the couple’s effort to build an on-line and real-world community here in Baltimore around literature and ideas.

As new owners of the shop, they’ve kept the same cozy feel and informed staff but have added a website, book clubs and lots of creative new events.  Among these has beens a blind wine-tasting evening held as one of The Brew’s other forays into “sponsored content,” “The Brew Decants.

(It’s something new for us to have paid content at The Brew, but we’re feeling good about it because we feel so comfortable with the products these sponsors are offering. The food at these tastings from The Classic Catering People is always excellent and it’s the backdrop for wines we’re testing blind. As for The Ivy, they have great books and a smart staff. And, for this feature, we’re only picking titles we’d actually like to read, so how can we go wrong?)

Anyway, in that spirit, here’s a reminder about some upcoming events at The Ivy.  If you go, tell them you heard about it on The Brew!  (And if you want to contact Doug Birch he’s at .)
Ivy Bookshop Events

Tuesday, Oct. 9, 6 p.m.: An evening with Dr. Kevin Manning, president of Stevenson University. It’s the launch party for the 2012-2013 season of Stevenson’s Baltimore Speaker Series. This year’s speakers will include President Bill Clinton, Jeannette Walls, Erskine Bowles and Vicente Fox.

Tuesday, Oct 16, 6:30 p.m.: Robert R. Provine, professor of psychology and neuroscience at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County will discuss his new book “Curious Behavior,” a guide to the origins to the baffling quirks of Homo sapiens, including hiccups, coughs, yawns, sneezes and other undignified non-verbal outbursts.

The Ivy Bookshop
6080 Falls Road
Baltimore 21209

Books about Dreamers and Schemers and “The City”