Six Things The City of Baltimore Must Do If It Really Wants To Improve

Baltimore-City-aerial-view

1.    Elect a mayor with passion and vision for the city.
City leadership has become shamefully staid, almost as if they are bored with running this city, particularly our city’s mayor. She seems to be asleep at the wheel and looks absolutely irritated when I see her at press conferences, as if governing the city was taking her away from some vitally important mani/pedi appointment. Where are the leaders who clearly love the city, who have crabmeat and Old Bay seasoning running through their veins? Where are the passionate Baltimore mayors who grew up here, spent key years of their lives here, the ones who love every dysfunctional corner of this town from the junkies in front of Lexington Market to the lines of folks out on Pulaski Highway getting pit beef sandwiches as the aroma assaults their noses?

William_Donald_Schaefer  clarence du burns Kurtschmoke

Whether I agreed with Mayor Schaefer, Burns, or Schmoke’s policies during their respective tenures as mayor, I always knew they LOVED Baltimore and they truly felt their policies would better the city. This city MUST FIND leadership who isn’t solely dedicated to securing their next political positions, and who is firmly focused on Baltimore’s present and future, not just their own. When I see this city’s next mayor on television, I want to see the fire in their eyes and hear the zeal in their voices when they speak about this city. Fervor is what I want from this city’s next mayor. I want a mayor unabashedly in love with the city and unwilling to let it down.

2.    Keeping graduates of local colleges/universities in the city.
coppin Johns_Hopkins_University's_Academic_Seal loyola MICA_Logo morgan Peabody_Institute

Baltimore attracts tens of thousands of young adults to attend the numerous colleges and universities in the area. This includes a Catholic institution (Loyola), two HBCUs (Morgan — which graduates the largest number of African American engineers in the nation and Coppin), one of nation’s finest music schools (Peabody), one of the nation’s finest art schools (MICA), and one of the nation’s finest medical schools (Hopkins). But if you check out the numbers of the out-of-state graduates who stay in the Baltimore metropolitan area once they graduate, you’ll find very few do. You mean to tell me these students spend at least four years in this area pursuing their education, and often become involved in the area’s nightlife and culture, and nothing in that time spent here makes them want to stay? These young adults are exactly the types of people who would make good citizens of this city – college educated, highly trained and skilled, and career oriented in many cases. Baltimore needs to do a much better job of encouraging these people to stay and take root in the city. Their new blood and fresh perspectives on the city as people who aren’t as enmeshed in the city are vital if Baltimore wants to move successfully further into the 21st century.

3.    Long term improvements in the city’s public school system.

baltimore city public school building
It makes me so angry when I hear all of this talk about attracting people into the city to live without any real discussion about improvements to the school system across the board for the long term. The city seems to enjoy forgetting that while singles who enjoy urban living might find Baltimore a hip, fun place to be at first (which it can be) will sing a different tune the minute they marry and start families. With some quick Googling, they will quickly discover just how poorly the schools in the city perform. They realize a good deal of their financial resources must be spent avoiding Baltimore City Public Schools if they want their kids educated and not assaulted – resources they discover they don’t have once they check the tuition at Gilman or Garrison Forest School. Most city public schools simply do lousy jobs at educating children, point blank period.

baltimore city public schools

There is the occasional elementary school that happens to be cloistered away in a “good” neighborhood, but those neighborhoods are hard to find permanent housing in for that reason. So these dual income households, the very types of tax-paying households the city is in dire need of leave the city because they cannot find suitable free education for their children. Until the city can offer a school system that offers a quality free education, no one is going to stay here and subject their children to the piss-poor schools this city has if they don’t have to. But how seriously can a city take improving education when one of its former mayors manages to “lose” over $50 million dollars out of its education budget?

4.    Realistic real estate development that includes affordable housing projects.
I get that the multi-million dollar harbor side real estate developments are sexy and hot looking, overflowing with amenities like Starbucks lattes on tap and organic free range chicken boxes (or so I’ve heard).  But I always wonder what makes these real estate developers think there is a sustainable market for these million dollar plus units in this area.

Baltimore-Inner-Harbor-CondoDomain

I mean, do they really look at the population of this city in a realistic way? How do they conclude that there is a great need for luxury condos starting in the millions, and luxury apartments that start at over fifiteen hundred dollars a month? Really though?  Where is the pool of folks in this area that can afford those digs?  Those that can afford them tend to be a transient group because they often have careers that take them from one city to another, seeking opportunities to be more upwardly mobile, build their resumes, and earn more money. This means they move out of these units after a year or two. For the onest that stay,  as soon as those folks need to educate their children, they check out the aforementioned tuitions at the local private schools and figure why not move a few miles down the road and have their kids attend high quality public schools in other parts of Maryland or Northern Virginia? Then the developments are occupied way below capacity, are auctioned off at bargain basement prices that average Baltimoreans still can’t afford, and eventually become beautiful half-empty buildings.

affordable housing 2 Michael Barland and Kevin Bell

Of course affordable housing isn’t this glamorous thing – it’s not sexy, but it is necessary. It is the type of real estate development that could go a long way towards stabilizing the city by providing real homes for mid-level income earning tax-paying citizens who aren’t on the kind of career fast tracks that require moving around a lot, and are looking for stability and a home in Baltimore (especially if done in concert with #3.) But even affordable housing cannot be successfully created in troubled neighborhoods without making some effort to address that neighborhood’s issues. Real estate developers tackling affordable housing development in this city are going to have to look at the neighborhoods that are still at least somewhat stable and viable (“buffer neighborhoods/blocks” if you will, where there is still a decently high percentage of home ownership), place small projects in those neighborhoods, and create larger regions of more stable areas with home ownership as a foundation that can grow out from those core “buffer” zones, and slowly impact the more troubled neighborhoods by making them smaller by increasing the size of the safer “buffer neighborhoods” little by little. I see “affordable housing” being attempted in some super-high crime areas of the city and it makes absolutely no sense. The houses will remain vacant because those who can afford them still won’t live in them.

5.    Massive, properly funded, fully supported and spearheaded, and  effective programs to address the city’s drug addicted population.
Conservative estimates say ten percent of this city’s population is addicted to heroin. Keep in mind that’s just ONE drug, and that also means that conservatively, there are roughly 60,000 heroin addicts in Baltimore right now. As much as the non-addicted population likes to pooh-pooh the staggering junkie leaning folks that move through the city’s streets, this is the very population that wreaks havoc on the city internally and externally, both in public and in private, in part  because they have very few treatment options available. They drain the city’s resources with their health care needs and their use of other federal and state resources with no end in sight because there is no rehabilitation in sight, and the few treatment options available to the general public are overburdened. In fact, the corner considered the most dangerous in the country in a recent study of crime nationwide, the corner of Gay Street and North Avenue in East Baltimore, zip code 21213, is home to one of the city’s most popular free drug treatment clinics.

methadone clinic

Whether it is the functional addict who is poorly performing at whatever job he/she has managed to hang onto through their addiction, or the long-term addict who has relied on crime to feed their addictions, this city
simply cannot afford to lose ten percent of its human resources. There is too much work to be done and we need ALL hands on deck. Drug addiction is killing this city and draining it of hard-working, tax-paying people that are vital to the city. Continuing to not acknowledge that a huge commitment of resources needs to go to this problem is doing this city a HUGE disservice — especially in a city whose major employers and real estate owners are hospitals whose facilities stand right in the middle of many of the communities being strangled by the outcomes from its citizen’s untreated drug addictions.

6.    Re-funding of youth centers and programs for at-risk youth/young adults

recs
Crime crime crime. Yeah, the city’s got it. Sure there are lots of things that could be done that might provide relief. But if I had to put my efforts into a single enterprise with an eye towards reducing crime, I would pick this one. We need the rec centers back. ALL OF THEM. And we need them staying open LATE, until midnight during the summer months when school was out like they used to. We need BNBL (Baltimore Neighborhood Basketball League for those too young to remember) back. We need summer job programs back. We need someone to finally build a legitimate sizeable dirt bike course so these kids could at least have the option of racing there. We need every type of program that directs youth’s energies to positive things. We need everyone involved, from the big area businesses to the small ones. It kills me that these are the first programs to go when the cutting budget time goes, but a youth jail miraculously appears in the place of these things. You have no idea what could be avoided if a young man could say to his friends, “nah man, I’m going up to the rec. I’ll get at y’all lata.” So please give them other options.

rec center

Just my two cents mind you. What do you recommend?

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