Thinking Sociologically About Baltimore City

Baltimore City has about 600,000 residents who live in dozens of neighborhoods that are quite different in their levels of wealth as well as the racial and ethnic characteristics of their populations. Dr. Lawrence Brown, a professor of urban planning at Morgan State University, observed that Baltimore City has a clear geographical divide with majority-white neighborhoods arranged in what he called the “The White L,” an L-shaped cluster of neighborhoods that begins near the Baltimore City-County line in Roland Park and continues south, roughly following the path of I-83 (the Jones Falls Expressway), before making a turn toward Canton and Harbor East. Baltimore’s majority-black neighborhoods, he observed, form a “Black Butterfly” that flanks the “White L” on both sides. The image above on the far right shows the Black Butterfly shaded in red with the White L in light pink.

The racial separation of Baltimore’s neighborhoods is a result of both history, including racial segregation laws that existed in the past, and contemporary social and economic dynamics that continue to maintain racial division. Residents of the Black Butterfly and the White L tend to experience life quite differently as a result of their divergent income levels and racial or ethnic characteristics.

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This assignment is designed to give you practice in collecting and analyzing sociological data that can be used to evaluate the differences between Baltimore’s neighborhoods. The data you will be using comes from the United States Census, a survey conducted by the federal government, that has been pulled together and summarized by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, a non-profit organization.

You will be focusing on three neighborhoods that show the contrast between different parts of Baltimore particularly well. Roland Park is the wealthiest neighborhood in the city and the northern point in the White L. In contrast, Sandtown-Winchester and Upton, are some of the poorest neighborhoods in the Black Butterfly. Once famous for being a vibrant African American music and entertainment district that was home to jazz singers Cab Calloway and Billie Holiday, these neighborhoods are more recently famous for being the home of Freddie Gray, who was killed in police custody in 2015, and the epicenter of the riots that followed.


1. Go to the website of the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance:

You will be using their Vital Signs 18 data, which is a summary of U.S. Census information through the year 2018. There is always a time lag when analyzing Census data so 2018 is the most recent available year.

2. Use the drop-down menu near the top of the screen to access neighborhood summaries for each of the neighborhoods in the worksheet below, which are:
• Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park
• Upton/Druid Heights
• Greater Roland Park/Poplar Hill

The data is organized according to topic. You will need to click the black arrow next to each topic to reveal the data.

3. Complete the data worksheet on the following page and answer the analysis questions.


Data Worksheet
Harlem Park Upton/Druid Heights Greater Roland Park/
Poplar Hill
Census Demographics
Median Household Income
Percent of Children Living Below Poverty Line
Percent of Households Earning Less Than $25,000
Percent of Households Earning More Than $75,000
Percent of Residents–Asian
Percent of Residents–Black
Percent of Residents–Hispanic
Percent of Residents—White
Housing & Community Development
Percentage of Residential Properties That Are Vacant or Abandoned
Children and Family Health
Infant Mortality Rate
Life Expectancy
Crime & Safety
Number of Shootings (per 1,000 residents)
Number of Narcotics Calls for Service (per 1,000 residents)*
Workforce & Economic Development
Percent Population (25 Years and Over) with a Bachelor’s Degree or Above
Percent Population (25 Years and Over) with High School Diploma and Some College
Percent Population (25 Years and Over) with Less Than a High School Diploma or GED
* Note: This is the number of calls made to 911 to request a police response to drug activities in the neighborhood. It’s measured per 1,000 people so if there are 100 calls in a neighborhood with 10,000 people in it, that would be 1,000 calls for help from the police.
Analysis Questions

1. Reviewing the data from the neighborhoods, identify three examples of facts or statistics that you believe are particularly significant for explaining the differences between neighborhoods. In other words, which three facts revealed by the data do you consider the most interesting and/or important. Briefly explain why you believe each fact is important.

2. Chapters 1 and 2 of the textbook introduce you to three of the most important theoretical orientations in sociology: structural functionalism, conflict theory and symbolic interactionism. The video assigned for Week 1, “Social Theories,” also provides more information about these ideas. Pick any two of these three theoretical traditions and explain how a sociologist might use the two theories to explain why life in these Baltimore neighborhoods is so different.

Your answer to this question should be a minimum of 2 paragraphs in length and your grade will be based on how well you incorporate specific information from the textbook and video about the sociological theories into your answer.

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