I responded to both that I was optimistic that Baltimore located in a growing region, close to the nation's capital, with a thriving port, magnificent institutions and located near mountains and an ocean would have to do everything wrong to not thrive in the long run. The usual answer of Baltimore promoters. I added that Baltimore's enormous equity discrepancies offered a special opportunity of being an innovator in overcoming those injustices.
|Touting Baltimore at ribbon cuttings: Mayor Pugh and|
Developer Valery (Photo: Philipsen)
Thursday the President of the University of Maryland, Jay Perman, Plank's Marcus Stephens, Mayor Catherine Pugh and Downtown Partnership CEO Kirby Fowler promoted Baltimore at the Downtown Partnership's annual "State of Downtown" meeting. "The external brand of Baltimore right now does not reflect the reality. We still have a long way to go and we must evolve the brand of Baltimore to illuminate the truth," Perman said. Which, of course, raises the question what "the truth" is.
This is the week of the 50th anniversary of the assassination of Martin Luther King on the balcony of the Memphis Motel Lorraine in front of room 306, a room that reportedly hasn't been touched ever since. Similarly, there are some buildings on North Avenue vacated after the ensuing 1968 unrest which remain unchanged. Baltimore's poverty rate among blacks is also unchanged from the time the Kerner report was issued also 50 years ago. That is part of the truth as well.
Thursday morning at 11:45 a mother and daughter were executed by gunmen in their own home on Gorman Avenue in West Baltimore. The police spokesman would later say on TV that police deals with a "small circle of people which appear sometimes as perpetrators and sometimes as victims", presumably alluding to the fact that the son and brother of the victims was in prison for gang activity. That, too is part of the truth.
This week London, England reached 53 murders. The city of some 8 million is inconsolable that it surpassed New York's murder rate for the first time in memory. Baltimore's Mayor told the business leaders at the DPoB Annual Meeting that Baltimore's murder rate for the year is down 23%. The tally for 2018 is 63.
Tywonda Petty, 32, an East Baltimore resident witnessing police cordoning off an entire block of Aiken Street after a shoot-out on Tuesday told the SUN: “It makes you want to go somewhere else. The city is dead.” Another aspect of the truth.
Friday the Mayor cut the ribbon of a project far from Baltimore's waterfront in a neighborhood we have now come to call Station North. She mentions the New York Times list of 52 olaces to see in 2018. The list includes Baltimore. The project is developed by the African American developer Ernst Valery who does housing in Baltimore, Buffalo and Oakland. His mantra is "development without displacement". The actor Wendell Pierce who played a detective in The Wire and invested in the project says that “The social justice movement of the 21st century is economic development”. He mentions the development apprentice program that Valery had launched with six graduates to date, people trained to create wealth, one poised to work in West Baltimore. Counter to public perception there are many development dollars flowing into neighborhoods, in Greenmount West, in East Baltimore and also in West Baltimore. That, too is part of the truth.
|Affordable housing on Greenmount Avenue|
Issues are routinely seen through binary lenses and constructed in false alternatives such as: development downtown or in neighborhoods (instead of both), politicians working with developers or communities (instead of both), projects that help either the rich or the poor or those who are new in Baltimore versus those who are already here. All, for the most part, false choices.
Even the destructive, anti intellectual and populist rhetoric of the current US President is imported to divide residents by heaping derision on "the creatives", "the millenials" or "elitists" who take away from the working poor, or people of color. No doubt, such divisions exist, but there is no point in making them deeper.
Lazy armchair comments, easily launched via Twitter and Facebook, don't distinguish between council members, department heads, the Mayor and her staff, delegates or members of congress. To the cynics they are all the same. In the "throw the rascals out" view, anybody elected to anything is seen as a parasite.
Clearly, history shows that a people divided in fear and opposition achieve nothing, but a people united for something can make a real difference.
|Market rate housing Station North|
Baltimore won't heal from forever amplifying the horror that unfolds in its "no-go" zones. Baltimore won't heal either from white-washing the presence, or the history, neither in the literal nor in the broader sense. "Baltimore's brand" is tarnished, but maybe more importantly, its soul is bleeding.
Healing can only come from uniting around common goals and from believing that a better future is possible. There is power in recognizing that this better future is within reach if people unite. It remains elusive where division and fear reign.
The choice of narrative is between hope and possibility and despair and fear. The former build, the latter kill.
Klaus Philipsen, FAIA