Thursday, November 5, 2015

Running for Mayor of Baltimore

All the troubles that Baltimore has gone through apparently don't prevent folks from applying for the job as mayor thinking of the position as a great job. I agree. 

Baltimore gives the mayor a fair share of power and with the right person in office the city could be pulled forward and upward, no doubt about it. 

Cities all across America have shown that leadership matters, from Chattanooga to Nashville, from Pittsburgh to Denver not to forget Charlestown, SC and mayor Riley who worked miracles for his city. 

Leadership requires ideas and, yes, the vision thing. Seeing a bigger picture and seeing the possibilities beyond the status quo. 

One of the contenders says that city hall shouldn't be the place where great ideas go to die. Surely. But it shouldn't only be that or a place where good ideas get nurtured, it should also be a place where good ideas originate. 

Setting a clear, understandable and predictable course for the future of our city is absolutely necessary. To make a plan a reality, though requires not only an excellent leader but one that is surrounded by an excellent team and also a renewed city council. Another place where good ideas should not be dying but germinating. 

SRB's course of growing the city and lowering property taxes to attract new residents was a good one. It has helped to give direction and guidance. But the focus floundered and the aims were too modest. 

"Greener and cleaner" before that was a nice slogan as well, but the city never distinguished itself in either department with the exception of the excellent work done by the sustainability team located in the department of planning. 

Far from being part of an excellent team, most Baltimore city departments are currently in a sad state. Underfunded, understaffed and discouraged. Many just muddle through with the great exception of the health department. It isn't enough for departments to manage the status quo or sometimes  fail to even do that. 

Planning, transportation and housing, to name just three, need to create, conceptualize and take the long view.  Too often plans sit on the shelves or stall for years for no particular reason. The division of labor between concept developers and implementers is still not sorted out. 

"Vacants to Value" was a great idea but to this day the public has little sense about progress, how it is measured and if the department achieved benchmarks and milestones. 

"Complete Streets", bike boulevards, the Circulator and the Harbor Connector are all great concepts  but execution is slow or barely perceptible or mired in scandal and systemic unsustainable deficits. That the Red Line could so easily be pulled has one of its root in this lack of in compromised buy in. 

A casino benefits agreement channeling those unholy profits into surrounding communities is a good concept, too, with a foreseeable long term funding stream. But the plans for the use of those funds is less than inspiring. 

Protected bike lane: going up in Denver

It is necessary to hear from candidates not only whom they would fire but also how they not only plan to find the best people possible but how they would entice them to come and stay here and how they would lead as a team. 

This election season for Mayor and Council is an excellent opportunity for making your voice heard. I quote here from State Senator Bill Ferguson's recent assessment:

"Do we embrace a genuinely more inclusive and prosperous Baltimore, or do we accept a stalled, divided collection of neighborhoods with wildly varying access to genuine ladders of opportunity? It’s this essential question that drives my belief that Baltimore’s upcoming municipal elections represent more than just an important political moment in time - the 2016 elections in Baltimore represent a fight for the soul of a city. We cannot allow politics as usual to prevail, we must hold all candidates and their visions to the highest standard as we evaluate their candidacies."

Participate in the candidates forums which start shortly with the very important subject of transportation. 

Most importantly, feeling disenchanted should never go as far as staying away from the voting booth. 

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

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