Monday, November 21, 2016

What the new Mayor should keep

Given the smooth transition that both SRB and Catherine Pugh aspire to, it isn't likely that the new Mayor will throw out the baby with the bath water, no matter that this seems to be increasingly the general sentiment of voters.
Pugh transition leaders

Mayor Elect Pugh has already indicated that she will keep Police Commissioner Davis. Maybe less controversial, she thinks very highly of Health Commissioner Leana Wen, a sentiment shared by many. So she will certainly survive the change in administrations her as well.

Here a few a few more suggestions what and whom to keep:
  • The goal to grow the City. The goal of 10,000 households needs to be made more specific and be complemented with specific strategies how this is to be accomplished. Keeping residents from leaving and attracting new residents is not mutually exclusive and both needs to be both part of the strategy.
  • Some core elements of Vacants to Value (V2V). After decades of attempts to stave the flood of vacant buildings, Housing has finally devised a fairly workable process and has a few areas of success. The matter is much more complicated than "give us the dollar house program back". It is important that some staff that has worked through the issues of keeping track of vacant lots and houses, freeing titles for disposition and offloading them in a strategic manner for community use (community gardens etc.), rehabilitation or demolition remain and build on what has been learned to date.
    The importance of Baltimore's Public Markets
  • The Baltimore Office of Sustainability. This is a not very well known section inside the Planning Department which does great work and needs to continue making Baltimore a greener, more sustainable community that also works on climate adaptation and urban farming. Cities will have more responsibility now that EPA may become greatly diminished.
  • The Baltimore Charm City Circulator. The original concept of a city-run bus that complements MTA's service and provides free connections inside downtown and between downtown and various inner neighborhoods is still viable and popular even though operations have suffered from lack of funds. The Circulator needs to be self sustaining from parking taxes and benefits payments of institutions along the routes. The free commuter routes on the water should also be retained and integrated with the Circulator. 10 minute headways are key.
  • School CEO Sonja Santelises. Baltimore City students need steady and firm leadership that allows nothing but excellence. Under former school super Andres Alonso Ms Santelises has learned first hand how a strong manager can make a difference. She needs to have chance to bring her promising skills to bear.
  • Market Executive Director Robert Thomas. Mr Thomas is in this position since 2014 and some may wonder why not more improvements are already in place at any of the markets. It is hard to say what the reasons are for the sluggish pace but the Director is full of creative ideas and may not have had the chance to implement them as fast as he wanted. Municipal markets can play a key role in neighborhoods especially in a city as under-served in retail as Baltimore.He is a MIT trained architect, 

In my thirty years in Baltimore I have felt several times that the City was about to break free from its economically depressed state and finally break out to take the position it deserves and could play.

Each time either home-made problems (an indicted Mayor, policing and the unrest) or external crisis (the Great Recession) stifled the progress and the self doubting started all over again. The latest change in Washington, no doubt, represents yet another external challenge for Maryland and its biggest city. Mayor Elect Pugh has said that she is not fazed by this particular problem. She and a largely new City Council need to grab the bull by the horn and make Baltimore a leader in the important new role as a counter-balance to the anti-government regime shaping up in Washington. In spite of all misgivings, it is ineffective to start all over again every time when a new Mayor comes into office. It is much more effective to build on successes. In spite of Baltimore's reputation, there are quite a few.

The question what policies and people should stay in place and which should be toppled should be one in which many residents and stakeholders get engaged. I invite everyone to post comments below this blog or on the Baltimore City Voters FB page or on Catherine Pugh's online site.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

The above is solely the opinion of the author and entirely independent of the fact that he was appointed as a member of the Pugh transition team subcommittee for transportation.


  1. 10,000 households? Define that. What does that mean? Who is an acceptable member of a household and which citizens are outliers?

    1. The current Mayor's goal of growing the City by 10,000 households in 10 years is a policy objective that doesn't exclude anybody but aims at not only staving off the rampant population loss of the 1990's but reverse it. Growing back is a strategy that several "legacy cities" employed successfully, in part through property tax reductions.