Maryland Department Collection and State Library Resources

Baltimore Neighborhoods Research Guide

Defining 'Neighborhood'

We usually think the boundaries of our neighborhood enclose the few square blocks surrounding our home, church, school, business, park or playground. However, agencies responsible for collecting, studying, and disseminating data about Baltimore City define neighborhoods quite differently. Geographic and social criteria such as community origins and history, zoning laws, economic patterns, and ethnic concentrations all provide useful information for understanding the dynamics of small areas of the city. Each of these criteria end up defining the word ‘neighborhood’ somewhat differently, and drawing different sets of boundaries.

So, it’s important to be clear about what we mean when we start to research a neighborhood in Baltimore.

Ways of Understanding a Neighborhood

Using Demographics

Here are some of the systems used to describe neighborhoods within Baltimore City, together with the agencies that collect data about the City's populations.

Neighborhood Demographic Profile: One commonly-used method for understanding a neighborhood is to review the characteristics of the people who live there, such as age, race, gender, and other social and economic factors, and then create a demographic profile of the area.

Census tracts: The United States Census Bureau uses these small, relatively permanent and homogenous subdivisions of Baltimore City as demographic building blocks. Census tracts may not fit neatly into your neighborhood's boundaries.

Community Statistical Areas (CSAs): Since most individual neighborhoods in Baltimore City do not have borders that exactly follow established census tracts, clusters of neighborhoods have been put together along census tract boundaries to form 55 CSAs.

Regional Planning Districts (RPDs): First developed in the 1970's, RPDs follow census geography boundaries and contain one or more census tracts. They are larger than most neighborhoods, but may be the right size if you need something broader to analyze.

Zip Codes:

  • The U.S. Census also makes demographic data available by zip code at their American FactFinder page.

Using Statistics

Numerical data can be used to describe living conditions in a neighborhood.

Crime Statistics

  • SpotCrime will draw a crime map of Baltimore City (including a few specific neighborhoods) and several local colleges reporting crime data.
  • Baltimore Homicides, an interactive map provided by the Baltimore Sun, is searchable geographically by police district and zip code.
  • is a site that archives homicide numbers in Baltimore City and surrounding counties. It is linked to the Murder Ink columns that appear weekly in the Baltimore City Paper, and is updated daily as new information arrives.

Health Statistics

Economic Statistics

  • Home sales statistics about Baltimore City neighborhoods and information about new neighborhood developments in the City are available on Live Baltimore. Also see BNIA's Vital Signs report for home sales data, neighborhood affordability information, and statistics concerning vacant/abandoned properties and reinvestment activity.
  • Economic characteristics by Zip Code are available at the American FactFinder page from the U.S. Census.

Quality of Life Statistics

  • BNIA's Vital Signs reports measure CSA and neighborhood quality of life indicators such as racial and economic diversity, numbers of community groups, voter participation, health hazard reports, and high school completion/dropout rates.

Plans for the Future

  • Neighborhood Plans, including Master Plans and Urban Renewal Plans for the futures of many Baltimore neighborhoods, are available from the Baltimore City Department of Planning.

Using Maps

Discovering the History of a Neighborhood

The Enoch Pratt Free Library:

The Pratt Library's Maryland Department (400 Cathedral St., downtown) is a great place to visit for neighborhood history research.

  • Neighborhood History Books
    See this list of published Baltimore neighborhood histories available in the Maryland Department. 
  • Vertical Files
    The Maryland Department also has a very large collection of file folders containing news clippings, pamphlets, brochures, etc. full of interesting information about city neighborhoods.
  • Historic Maps
    The Maryland Department has a wide variety of historic maps of Baltimore City, including maps of the streets, and political and neighborhood divisions. Deserving of special mention:
    • Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps, available in database form through the Pratt's website, and also in microfilm and hard copy, show the locations and construction information of all buildings and houses on each street in Baltimore City between 1890 and 1984.
    • The highly detailed Sachse Map of Baltimore City is available online, and provides a unique portrait of Baltimore City, its businesses, houses, institutions, and landscapes, as they appeared in 1869.
  • Photographs
    Many of the mounted black & white photographs (mainly dating from the 1930's to the 1950's) in our collection show Baltimore streets, street corners, notable buildings, etc., and are often used for neighborhood history research.

The Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods:

The Office provides an interactive map of Baltimore City neighborhoods, some of which include histories and links to neighborhood associations.

Who Can I Contact for Assistance with a Neighborhood-Related Issue?

Getting Involved in my Neighborhood

Baltimore's unique and vibrant neighborhoods thrive on the work of volunteers. Volunteering is a great way to help build and strengthen your local community, learn new skills, meet new people, and have some fun as well.

  • Operation Crime Watch
    Creating and supporting neighborhood-based block watch programs and citizen patrol groups to reduce and prevent crime in Baltimore.
  • Volunteer Central
    An excellent resource for individuals, agencies, and businesses interested in volunteer work. Register as a volunteer and search hundreds of opportunities from their online database.
  • Live Baltimore
    You'll find lots of opportunities to volunteer for service through your community or neighborhood improvement association. See also Baltimore City's Online Community Association Directory.
  • Baltimore Neighborhoods, Inc.
    Helping to fight housing discrimination, improve tenant/landlord relations, and support access for persons with disabilities, among other activities. BNI is one of the oldest and largest fair housing organizations in the nation.
  • Parks and People Foundation
    Get involved with your community in park and natural resource revitalization.
  • Baltimore Community Foundation
    BCF’s Neighborhood Grants Program offers small grants to help community organizations in Baltimore City and Baltimore County complete neighborhood improvement projects, get more neighbors involved and develop new neighborhood leaders.

Ask Us

If you would like to know more, email us through our Ask-A-Librarian service or contact us at:

Maryland Department
Enoch Pratt Free Library
Central Library, State Library Resource Center
400 Cathedral Street
Baltimore, MD 21201
(410) 396-5468