Monday, June 8, 2015

Just in time: A Regional Plan to Connect People

"Opportunity Collaborative", an initiative funded by a $3.5 million federal grant and coordinated by BMC includes public agencies and non-profits and is the Baltimore area's regional response to the innovative grant program further described below.

The co-chairs of the Collaborative are William H. Cole IV, president and CEO of the Baltimore Development Corporation, and Scot T. Spencer, of the Annie E. Casey Foundation. 

Although there were 74 other regions in the U.S. which  received grant money, only 10% of the original applications were funded.  Baltimore's grant is one of the largest.

This is the first time in decades that the Feds provided such an urban program, according to HUD community development director Harriet Tregoning. 

Michael Kelly, Scott Spencer and Bill Cole
respond to questions about the report. 
The Baltimore area Collaborative looked at three topic areas: Workforce, Housing and Transportation for our  2.7 million resident region. Today the Baltimore Regional Plan for Sustainable Development (RPSD) was released to the public during a gathering at the Baltimore Museum of Industry.

During an interview on WYPR this morning Michael Kelly, responsible staff person at BMC and Bill Cole of BDC spoke about the importance of their three year effort.

Kelly said that "coordination between the right people is at the core of this plan". The press release for the event promises that [the plan] "will help the Baltimore region coordinate investments in housing, transportation and workforce development to reduce disparities and connect all of our citizens to a prosperous future". In light of the recent focus on disparities, interest in the Opportunity Collaborative's work has grown and the release of the complete report is timely.

Kelly observed that the plan provides a "comprehensive menu of options" for change. "Resources are shrinking everywhere, which makes it even more important that we coordinate". We need "wrap- around services" and not only solve one problem at a time, not just child care, not just transportation, not just skills but all of the wrapped into one.
regional Stats and trends

William Cole who started his work on the board as a city council person before he was appointed to become the CEO of BDC noted that "the areas we need to focus on as a city are not surprisingly the same for the region as well". "We have a hard time getting residents to the job centers under 90 minutes", often times we have "last mile issues".  Cole dmenaded that the regional conversation needs to "create an interconnected public transportation system. Connected  places are places where more businesses want to be" he said during the interview.

At the opening State Senator Ferguson commented that we know the problem and asked: "do we have the courage to act?" Towards action some parts of the grant have been award to a total of 15 "demonstration projects" to date. 

Even though our region has the 4th highest per capita income and growing diversity and concentrations of poverty are decreasing,  the gap between areas of opportunity and those without remains and sometimes becomes stronger. 

The report provides a menu of options in the three focus areas for how to proceed in opportunity corridors and offers funding guidance as well. 

One of the questions from the audience was if job training should not also foster entrepreneurship instead of just working for others. Bill Cole responded that the Mayor doubled the budget for small business support. 
Marsha MCLaughlin asked how the business community can become engaged. Michael Kelly: "we have the attention of the business community right now".

Harriet Tregoning, Director of the HUD Office of Community Development closed the event with a reminder that it is such a good coincidence that this report with its systemic solutions could be released only six weeks after the Baltimore "events". This program has nurtured leadership and fought HUD to look at community again. She observed that the unrest was not a Sandtown problem and that Sandtown was not an anamoly but could have happened in many other communities. "You have momentum" Tregoning exclaimed, look it as a "commencement event". She noted that the West Baltimore MARC station was already designated as a federal "Ladders of Opportunity Areas". 

The real question, however, will be this: Will The Baltimore Metropolitan Council, largely a tiger without teeth,  have the force to get anything implemented, or better, will local government actually be wise enough to implement the recommendations, even though several of the regional members really don't care about the core of the region as long as their counties still thrive. Short-term that is, since long-term no region can thrive without a strong core and would affect everybody, even those a bit further out. 

The full report can be found here.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA
Speaker Senator Bill Ferguson addresses the crowd
in front of the backdrop of Baltimore's
"old industries" (Domino Sugar)


BBJ article about the event

The Federal Sustainable Community grant program was announced in 2010 and described this way:
The Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2010 (Public Law 111-117, approved December 16, 2009) (Appropriations Act), provided a total of $150,000,000 to HUD for a Sustainable Communities Initiative to improve regional planning efforts that integrate housing and transportation decisions, and increase the capacity to improve land use and zoning. Of that total, $100,000,000 is available for the Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program, $40,000,000 is available for the Challenge Planning Grant Program, and $10,000,000 is available for a joint HUD and U.S. Department of Transportation (DOT) research and evaluation effort. The Sustainable Communities Regional Planning Grant Program will support metropolitan and multijurisdictional planning efforts that integrate housing, land use, economic and workforce development, transportation, and infrastructure investments in a manner that empowers jurisdictions to consider the interdependent challenges of: (1) economic competitiveness and revitalization; (2) social equity, inclusion, and access to opportunity; (3) energy use and climate change; and (4) public health and environmental impact. (Notice of Finding Availability).

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