Monday, April 23, 2018

All eyes on Baltimore - will the city be up to it?

Ok, FanCon fans won't see Baltimore since the organizers abruptly cancelled their event, not Baltimore's fault. Meanwhile, readers of the global British daily, the Guardian, could read at great length about Baltimore and specifically about the redevelopment of Middle East (now called Eager Park) and the adjacent Oliver community. While the headline "Gentrify or die? Inside a university's controversial plan for Baltimore" may be a tad too dramatic for the City's sensibilities, the article itself is quite nuanced and shows that the City is worth a lot of print space in an internal newspaper and not because of its murder rate. The Guardian writes in their fine British spelling:
Eager Park at EBDI (Photo: Guardian)
It’s a huge gamble by the largest private employer in Maryland: to drive a huge transformation of the urban landscape, tearing down most of a distressed neighbourhood, relocating about 740 families, and trying to combine a new biotech innovation hub with what it is hoped will be a sustainable mixed-income, mixed-race neighbourhood.
It’s a bet on symbiosis – between the university, a manufactured new residential community, and the existing neighbourhoods around it. It’s a bet to revitalise east Baltimore and set a model for anchor institutions in other cities. Above all, it’s a bet that the whole thing won’t turn out to be a cautionary tale.
Also making headlines is a brand-new national report from the Brookings Institution titled "Renewing America’s economic promise through older industrial cities". It isn't too surprising that Baltimore would be among the 70 legacy cities Brookings analysed in some detail. What makes it nice for Baltimore is the fact that the research paper places Baltimore in the top third of its cohort under the category "strong", a fact that the Daily Record immediately reported along with some quotes from Greater Baltimore Committee CEO Donald Fry. But this isn't a cheerleader paper in the spirit of many city promoters but a data based report that sees the problems squarely in the eye and and that challenges the traditional economic development approach.
Many share a growing awareness that traditional metrics of job growth and new capital investments are insufficient.
To start, leaders in older industrial cities must embrace the goal of inclusive economic growth as a shared responsibility. Alan Berube and Cecile Murray, Brookings
Finally, also brand-new, there is the Prospects for Regional Sustainability Tomorrow (PRESTO!), a presentation and description of four transportation scenarios for the greater Baltimore Washington region, published last week by Maryland's Center for Smart Growth after a gestation period of 13 years. The modeling is based on four snazzily named scenarios ("Revenge of the Nerds, Free for All Blue Planet, Lasty Call at the Oasis) simulating possible futures for land use and transportation with the help of a complex regional transportation model. The biggest innovation is that the models look at both Washington DC and Baltimore as a single metro region, something that is as rare as it is obvious.
Four scenarios for traffic from "Free for all"
to "Blue Planet" (PRESTO)
Growth in jobs will attract over 872,000 new residents or 410,000 new households, slightly less than the 990,000 new residents and 407,000 new households during the previous twenty years. Fifty-four percent of the new housing units will be single-family detached, a similar proportion to the current
52 percent single-family detached share. New construction will slow as land in the growth areas of the inner counties builds out. The likely result— more development is pushed beyond the state border. Rezoning or redevelopment, if implemented, could also accommodate additional new multifamily housing.
Eighty-two percent of future household growth will occur inside Priority Funding Areas, about the same share they have captured since 1999, but still well below the 90 percent target. (PRESTO)
None of these three new reports solves Baltimore's problems, has earth-shaking new insights, or absolves the City from pasts sins. Far from it, all three papers, each through a very different lens, illustrate quite clearly that the traditional way how this city and region were governed won't work any longer.
PRESTO: Looking at the combined metro regions
As economist Benjamin Friedman observes, the moments in modern history when growth was not widely shared were precisely those times when political
and social progress stalled.26 Growing inequality and a lack of overarching economic possibility and opportunity in many of our communities has
provided fertile ground for growing resentment across racial, ethnic, class, and geographic lines. 
In this Baltimore is certainly not alone, as the Brookings report shows, it also isn't the worst case by far. Yes, cities need to work in their region and that requires regional collaboration as both, PRESTO and the Brookings report clearly state. And as transportation models emphasize, this ins't just the region of Baltimore's local Metropolitan Planning Organization (MPO), i.e. Baltimore City with Harford, Carroll, Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore Counties, plus Annapolis, but also the DC region which is technically another MPO. The recently approved State bill for funding WMATA's Metro and MTA gave the region a whiff of this larger picture, something that the lawmakers sponsoring the bill clearly understood. But overall, there is much too little of such collaboration, let alone a real integration of the transportation systems.

The Brookings report indicates that even harder nuts must be cracked. Such as "the deep educational attainment disparities by race and ethnicity". The authors explain:
By limiting access to highquality schools for children of color, residential segregation may contribute to OICs’ significant educational attainment disparities by race and ethnicity. In these counties, only 22 percent of non-white/Hispanic adults have a four-year college degree, versus 38 percent of whites.
These aggregates, however, mask particularly striking attainment disparities in highly segregated cities and counties such as Baltimore (36 percentage-point difference), Brooklyn (31 percentage points), St. Louis and Essex County, N.J. (Newark) (30 percentage points), and Fairfield County, Conn. (Bridgeport) (28 percentage points). Moreover, a strong relationship exists between overall educational attainment and OIC economic performance, suggesting that efforts to improve growth and opportunity in these diverse areas must address those disparities. 
The equity issue is a moral and an economical issue. Or as the leaders of Innovation Village West Baltimore, Richard May and Andre Robinson like to say: "You can't win the game if you have only 1/3 of the players on the field". No matter how big the advantages of first tier older industrial cities which the Brookings report lists (great research universities, interesting architecture and a compact urban form, a culture of making, diverse economies), its all for nothing if the inequity in education, in wages and in jobs access isn't improved.

The article in the Gardian illustrates how difficult and complicated the seemingly simple equity paradigm can be in practice. Even after the great research university of Johns Hopkins invested in a neighborhood which hadn't seen real investment in decades, this alone didn't create equity even though it responds to the demand to invest in neighborhoods. It especially didn't create equity since the existing vulnerable populations had been displaced, even if this responded to the consent decree of avoiding concentrations of poverty. EBDI is being accused of raising inequity even though the displaced residents received relocation fees that far exceed the depressed values of their old homes and bought them homes in areas with much better opportunity and even though residents were offered to return to Middle East, after new homes were constructed. As the Guardian reporter duly notes, the EBDI plans smack of old style urban renewal, even though a lot of people engaged from the onset to avoid just that and to ensure that existing residents and communities would be protected and affordability be baked into any deal from the onset. 

The Guardian also looks at the Oliver community to the west of EBDI and an approach there that brings investment without displacement.
“There hasn’t been a single relocation. It’s very hard to build relationships when the community is gone.” Sean Closkey, ReBuild Metro, formerly Community Reinvestment Fund)
Critics will still question whether renters are truly protected, because they usually don't participate in whatever value creation there is in any community. The EBDI article in the Guardian describes the conundrum between conserving the status quo (often terribly unsafe, unhealthy communities with poor services and a very low quality of life) and investments which makes things better but raise costs. The EBDI debate ensues even where the early drastic approach of a blank slate with wholesale demolition and displacement of thousands is carefully avoided. 
EBDI: Change the game (Photo: Philipsen)

The conundrum is very real. Under the banner of gentrification, a word that is always meant as something bad, the debate leaves little room for discussing the benefits of value creation especially in communities where minority homeowners have been cheated out of the American dream of using a home as security and as an investment in one's own future due to redlining, racists ordinances and zoning and the entire slate of open or covert tools that resulted in keeping black people poor, less educated and without good access to services and opportunities. There can be no equity unless the artificially depressed property values increase for black property owners as well, allowing home equity to be accrued so loans can be made and buildings can keep up with the times. Yet, no legacy city has yet found the magic pill on how to let appreciation happen and avoid displacement, whether it is homeowners who can't pay their taxes any longer (in spite of the 4% homesteading cap on annual tax increase), homeowners who can't resist the lure of selling to fund other urgent needs or renters who can't afford the higher rents. 

The Brookings authors realize that help for the older industrial cities which they investigated won't come from Washington any time soon. Instead, it will take extraordinary local leadership not only in City Hall but also in the region, in institutions and in the private sector to turn the ship.
In general, the nation’s 70 older industrial cities possess the assets that matter in a modern, global economy—innovation capabilities and research universities, considerable STEM talent among a diversifying workforce, and a commitment to quality neighborhoods and employment centers. While federal policies could better strengthen these regional assets to promote growth in the industrial Heartland, such reforms are not likely to happen anytime soon. Instead, it will require local, regional, and state leaders to step up and together reposition their economies for growth and inclusion in an era of rapid global, digital, and demographic change.
Older industrial cities such as Baltimore have, indeed, a unique chance to show that community investment, development, chnage and equity can go hand in hand.

Klaus Philipsen, FAIA

1 comment:

  1. Excellent points, klaus. Baltimore, as challenged as it has been, truly does have a unique opportunity to step to the fore and lead, if we can manage to align and unite our government, business leaders, entrepreneurs, communities leaders around education and new economies.