Coldspring New Town seems more like a park than a city neighborhood.
Just minutes west of Interstate 83, this hilltop, wooded North Baltimore neighborhood has pedestrian paths that wind among playgrounds and its own bird sanctuary.
"You can escape to this wonderful, peaceful community that's really in the city but has all the charm of rural living," said Charlene Pendell, manager of the Coldspring Community Association.
Pendell lives in the Woodlands at Cold Spring, a development of traditional single-family homes, added to the original Coldspring New Town community in the mid-1990s.
Coldspring New Town was conceived by the city in the late 1960s as a "town within a town," with 3,780 housing units surrounding a central supermarket, library, post office and other facilities.
When the money ran out, the town idea fizzled. However, 250 of the "deck houses," designed by Israeli-born architect Moshe Safdie, were completed in the 1970s, each with a unique layout.
"The focus [of the architecture] is interaction and social living," said Jane Houck, president of the Coldspring Community Association, who has lived in her terrace home for 19 years.
These modern townhouses face decks rather than streets, with a parking garage underneath. Large planters and wooden benches furnish the decks.
According to Dick Roszel, an agent at O'Conor, Piper & Flynn ERA, the neighborhood was long undervalued because the buildings looked bleak when they were first built.
"It didn't have a lot of pizzazz, but it's aged very nicely," he said, noting that trees have grown enough to soften the architecture's hard edges.
Heightened interest in the community is helped by the average price of a house: about $71,000.
Roszel also credits increased interest in Coldspring to an Olympic-sized swimming pool, a strong community association and good schools. The latter include Mount Washington Elementary, a public school, and the Waldorf School, a private elementary on Coldspring's grounds.
Valerie Pearlman moved to Coldspring New Town with her husband and two young daughters three years ago, paying $69,000 for their three-bedroom townhouse. Her husband, who works at Johns Hopkins University, doesn't like commuting. "We're so close [to his work]," she said.
Pearlman feels safe living in this part of the city. She and her girls often take night walks around the neighborhood to catch fireflies.
Coldspring New Town is isolated and, she said, "It helps having just two entrances. Security guards patrol the neighborhood seven days a week and the new Northern District police station is nearby on Cold Spring Lane.
It's as safe as any suburb, Houck said. "We all walk our dogs. Our children play outside. There is the pool. It's suburban life in the city," she said.
In addition to the safety, Pearlman loves having a woodsy environment in her family's back yard.
Bordering Coldspring's northern perimeter is the 176-acre Cylburn Arboretum, where trails weave among cultivated trees, shrubs, flowerbeds and a butterfly garden. Each May the city-owned arboretum holds a flower sale.
Pearlman's two girls love having their school in the back yard. "I like the playgrounds [of Coldspring]. They have everything, and one [playground] has my school," said Pearlman's 5-year-old daughter, Sara, referring to the Waldorf School.
The two Pearlman girls attend Waldorf, which has become a central focus of the community.
The school bases its educational philosophy on the ideas of Austrian philosopher and educator Rudolf Steiner (1861-1925). The global Waldorf movement's approach to learning seeks to address the whole child through the integration of physical, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual growth.
In 1971, while Coldspring's modern deck homes were being constructed, a group of families gathered in the nearby turn-of-the-century Ruscombe Mansion. The mansion housed the school until 1997 when it moved into a new building on the eastside of Coldspring New Town. The mansion is now a holistic health center.
"We were a stable force in this neighborhood, and the community didn't want to lose us," said Vicky Westover, development director for the school.
Residents receive a 10 percent discount on tuition and have access to all of the school's facilities. A gymnasium, new library and music room are to be built next spring.
A fundamental part of the school's educational philosophy is building communities, Westover said. Today the Coldspring Community Association is working to create a community much like the one planned originally.
The association now includes the school, Woodlands, Coldspring New Town and two senior residences, Ruscombe Gardens and Park View.
Lorraine Hunt, a longtime Coldspring resident who has also served on Waldorf's board, recalled deck parties residents held 20 years ago. She thinks that original community spirit is coming back.
"There are many activities open to the community, and the community is starting to respond," she said.
Waldorf has organized lectures, poetry readings, yoga classes and woodcarving workshops, all open to community residents. The Coldspring Community Association held a successful jazz concert in June and plans to make it an annual event.
The elderly at Park View and Ruscombe Gardens are becoming involved in a Waldorf program intended to bring distant generations together. Seniors can volunteer to read to children in the library and help them with spring gardens.
Several residents of the terrace townhouses recently organized "desserts on the deck" and are planning barbecues and other deck parties.
The Coldspring community is "very eclectic with a wide range of ages and cultural diversity," Houck said. It is this "comfortable acceptance of all kinds of social arrangements" that has kept her in Coldspring for so many years.
Pointing out the view of the city from the neighborhood's elevated position, Westover said proudly, "This neighborhood is poised for a renaissance."
Coldspring New Town
Commute to downtown Baltimore: 10 minutes
Public schools: Mount Washington Elementary, Roland Park Elementary, Roland Park Middle, City College, Polytechnic Institute, Western High
Shopping: The Village of Cross Keys, Roland Avenue shops, Falls Road shops, Mount Washington Village
ZIP code: 21209