Thursday, March 31, 2016

Baltimore needs a global perspective

When Neal Peirce, historian, journalist and chronicler of cities wrote his seminal book Citistates in 1993 he predicted that nations would become less important and cities in their metropolitan areas more so.

The tall ship Stad Amsterdam (City of Amsterdam) docking at Baltimore's west-shore and its Dutch trade delegation trying to enhance business with the Baltimore region is a good example of this. Trading between Baltimore and Amsterdam goes back hundreds of years, after all, 150 years ago it was all about tobacco.
Clipper Stad Amsterdam at the Westshore

Baltimore, recently even more than usual mired in navel gazing thanks to the mayoral campaign, the upcoming anniversary of the unrest and a debate about revisions to the City Charter suggested by council president Jack Young, needs the occasional jolt that like a bolt of lightning illuminates the extent to which this port city is connected to the big wide world out there.

A pseudo historic sailing clipper is a curious place to discuss the future, but flying in a trade delegation of Dutch business people and public officials to then moor them on the little piece of Holland that the ship presents, is a very effective method of gaining some equal footing in a host city. For example, the Dutch "traders" can invite to a reception and dinner on their fleck of Dutch territory ("passport or ID required") and be the hosts sprinkling the Dutch trade representatives around at the festive dinner tables for chat and advertising while the ship is their own hotel.

The Stad Amsterdam is a replica of recent vintage, funded by the Randstad Corporation (a placement company). It is the result of the insight that the Dutch didn't have one of those stately government owned Navy training skippers like most other nations do and when tall ships convened at Amsterdam or Baltimore, the Dutch couldn't compete. So they built themselves their own tall ship, an idea not too different from the concept of the Pride of Baltimore.

On the ship there was a real Dutch Mayor on hand, Mirjam van t' Veld, not the Mayor of Amsterdam but of Amstelveen, a town close by. She had met our own Mayor and was gushing about "how much is going on in Baltimore". She was the first to admonish her Baltimore guests not to dwell on Baltimore's problems when there was also so much good about the city. (She had toured Under Armour, met with BDC officials and squeezed in a brief visit at the BMA).
The beauty of a tall ship

Fueled by ample free drink, Dutch business people at dinner tables continued the thread, dishing out opinions about Baltimore with the usual European directness. It turned out, some of these business people know Baltimore really well, one of them was even married to a former Baltimore resident. (Of course, the Stad Amsterdam had called in Baltimore before). Who would know that Baltimore's port is not only a port of call for international shipping lines like Maersk (Denmark), Wallenius (Norway) and Hapag Lloyd (German) but there is also a 700,000 square foot warehouse by the Dutch Company Steinweg in which mostly base metals are stored?The CEO of Steinweg certainly knows a thing or too about transportation, let alone his worldwide travels. It didn't take long until he arrived at the topic of Baltimore's transit and its deficiencies. His fellow countryman, an investment adviser, chimed in with his experiences in Atlanta. As a logistics man he kept on emphasizing the importance of infrastructure investment, something he considered lacking in the US in general.

Hank Jansson, the CEO of the small Dutch lighting company Lightwell ("de intelligente lichtmast") wants to produce and assemble his LED streetlights in Baltimore. He is still looking for the right contacts. He could also sell his color adjustable specialty fixture to be installed in high end changing rooms so that cloth buying would become a better experience by seeing the garment in the same light it would have in the intended setting.)
Peter De Kruijk Deputy Managing Director of 
Amsterdam in Business addresses his guests on the ship

Those trade trips are a popular topic of derision, especially when seen in the Baltimore fishbowl when undertaken by a delegation of Baltimore or the State of Maryland. They are usually considered a frivolous waste of taxpayer's money.  On some level they are, but then nothing opens the mind to what others do and think better than sharing food and drink during a 2 hour five course meal.

No clicking on Google maps and streetview can replace that. in the global competition between metro areas, Baltimore better get a good idea where it stands. The clipper will sail next to Philadelphia and Boston. Same mission, other global port cities.
Steinweg Stevedoring at US ports

Oh, and yes: Baltimore better elect a mayor who can comfortably present our global city, not only at home and in the neighborhood but also abroad.  And America better elect a president who doesn't think that global trade is of the devil.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Port of Baltimore 2015 statistics