Wednesday, April 20, 2016

On the anniversary of Freddie Gray's death: Three perspectives

 Nothing is more powerful than an idea whose time as come. Victor Hugo

It is the first anniversary of the day on which Freddie Gray died. Baltimore is the topic of many national news casts trying to find out if anything has changed since in the divided city. The day begins with Reverend Jamal Bryant being interviewed on NPR's "Morning Edition" about his hometown and what is different this year. Things are changing at a "snail's pace", says the Reverend. He adds:
In under a year, the city and state are poised to develop Port Covington, a development with Under Armour who is looking for a tax abatement that would be the largest in the history of the state.
So in that same time, we need to see something about the 16,000 abandoned homes, the 70,000 heroin addicts, the 43 percent high school dropout rate. So Baltimore knows how to make progress. I think that we're just selective in where and how we do it.
The squatter occupied house dubbed the Tubman House on the block
where Gray was arrested (photo: SUN)
In the afternoon on the lower level of the University of Baltimore Law School citizen advocates and organizers meet in the "Moot Court" room of the school. One of Baltimore's oldest citizen advocacy groups, the 75 year old Citizen Planning and Housing  Association, better known as CPHA, has convened citizens and community organizers "to discuss the ways the City incentivizes economic development such as Tax Increment Financing (TIFs) and who benefits from it" The panel discussion takes place on the eve of a vote of the Board of Estimates on the record half billion dollar TIF request from Under Armour's Sagamore Port Covington development company. The SUN had just posted that a deal was struck about community hiring and that the company would be exempt from the inclusionary housing rules that require 20% affordable units. Sagamore would do only 10% but without getting the reimbursement per unit from the city that the current inclusionary zoning code includes. The BBJ reported the possibility of the State selling the bonds and not the City.
Sagamore rendering of the public spaces proposed as part of the
development. "We build it together"
50% of the estimated cost  for public infrastructure
is supposed to be financed trough TIFs (image: Sagamore)

After the panel discussion and under the conversation management of Jayne Miller of WBAL and with the help of direct polling via smart phone consensus emerges that there isn't enough transparency about TIFs. The discussion about economic development ranged from straight subsidies to Community Benefits Agreements to enforcing the laws that are on the books (for example the Inclusionary Zoning) to TIFs. A sizable 35% percent of attendees was against the TIF for Sagamore, the rest needed more information. Not sure the lines between these different ways of promoting economic development and community equity became totally clear, but the desire to leverage money spent on development for the benefit of disenfranchised communities was palatable.

On the top floor of the building law students meanwhile snacked on pizza squares and had free beer and wine before listening to a panel speaking about "Building Social Impact" as part of a symposium of the Journal of Land & Development held for the law students.
Poll result at the CPHA meeting. 35% against a TIF (photo: Klaus Philipsen)

Thibault Mannekin, CEO of Seawall Development spoke first.

Wound up and energetic as always, he began with the Victor Hugo quote on top of this article. Then he told the young audience the Seawall story by starting out with the observation that "the City is on fire right now" and he didn't mean riots but what he sees as Baltimore's march towards to becoming "one of the best cities in the world" thanks to creativity and talent. And he isn't talking from the perspective of penthouses with waterview at the Inner Harbor but from his experiences with building affordable housing for teachers in Remington, a mostly white community that is now described as emerging and on the path to success, in large part due to Seawalls investments into a whole slew of community based projects there. Bill Struever who revived many communities before Seawall existed admitted, that all those community revivals happened in white communities while Sandtown failed. No Red Line he complained, adding that after 15 years of planning he has lost patience with these forever projects. But then, always the optimist and on the go, Struever presented his latest idea dubbed ReBuild Baltimore that includes not only one but four innovation districts, each anchored by an institution tasked to pull up one of the dis-invested adjacent communities.
Thibault Manekin speaks about his community based projects
in Remington: "from the inside out"
(photo: Klaus Philipsen)

These three very different perspectives, while not comprehensive, illuminate how many ways there are to see the same Baltimore.

They also show that a year later, Baltimore's future can't be thought anymore without addressing social justice and equity. That in itself is progress.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

Port Covington local hiring and diversity agreements approved by BoE (BBJ)





An excellent analysis of where Baltimore stands comes from Dan Sparaco who until recently was part of Mayor Rawlings staff. His three part series is titled "Now or never Baltimore"