Are we segregating and privatizing our publicly-funded public spaces?

Runners4Justice will run through Middle East Baltimore on September 12 to bring awareness to the 88-acre uneven development of the Johns Hopkins Bioscience Park by Forest City, East Baltimore Development Inc, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and the city, state, federal policies. While Eager Park, the new 5.5 acre park in this development was funded by state dollars and previously categorized as a public park, a spokesperson for Forest City recently stated in a public meeting that the park is a private park. When residents in the meeting asked for clarification the spokesperson confirmed that the park is private. The committee which raises funds and controls the finances for security, management, and development of the park consists of no historic Middle East Baltimore resident. The schedule of events occurring in the park has not been available to the public but is announced to the Johns Hopkins Medical community. This lack of accountability and segregation through privatizing function and control of the park continues to exist and only surfaces to the public through listening to residents living in the Middle East Baltimore community.

eager park

Eager Park is a park that sits in the middle of neighborhoods where drug dealing and shooting occurs frequently. The recently hired security services, Broadway Services, a unit of the Johns Hopkins University and Medical System won the bid for the park. This is an interesting development because security for the remainder of the 88-acre  development is provided by a locally-owned security firm, Frontline Management whose offices are located in the 88-acre development. Some local residents are asking why they were not involved in selecting the security services for the park. They are also asking what other decisions are occurring, in which they are not involved.

eagerpark5.5 acre Eager Park sitting in the middle of the 88-acre Johns Hopkins Bioscience Park

The quarterly public community meetings held by EBDI and Forest City are the only easily accessible opportunity for local residents to learn about the plans for development in their community. There is little opportunity to meet directly with representatives from these two organizations who control what happens in the 88-acre development for the Johns Hopkins Bioscience park.

This lack of accountability and transparency of how public dollars benefit the public good  is nothing new to Baltimore. Baltimore is a city with more than 65% African American and approximately 20% of family households living below the poverty line- more than half in some neighborhoods like those surrounding the new 5.5 acre Eager Park. Baltimore’s economic elite, like the Johns Hopkins University and Medical System, control the government and therefore what happens in the city. Promises are made by government that its policies and actions will benefit the public but after election or passage of bills that provide tax credits to wealthy developers there’s little accountability of the benefits back to the public. But in spite of this history, there is a growing movement to hold government and ts private partners accountable in the neoliberal1 political machine that exists in Baltimore today.

It’s imperative to hold our policy makers and their private supporters and partners accountable for our public dollars. Specifically we must continue to look  at how the different promised public spaces, financed by public dollars, will actually serve the public. The use of eminent domain to remove more than 750 households to develop the 88-acre Johns Hopkins Bioscience Park requires that a greater benefit to the public occurs. Who will measure this equity of benefit? It may be time for our city council representative for the area to invite Johns Hopkins Bioscience partners to show how benefit is being accrued to the local residents and businesses in affordable housing and amenities, jobs, transportation, and local business ventures.

On a recent walk through the public waterfront park of Harbor Point, also funded by public tax subsidies, I was asked by the restaurant staff adjacent to the park where I was going. This made me wonder how the residents of nearby Perkins Homes are treated as they walk through the park. Accountability as to whether publicly-funded spaces are freely accessible to the public is a critical part of assuring that public subsidies benefit public good. In the past physical walls around spaces was the way to deny access to the public, in effect privatizing spaces and maintaining segregation. Today security guards and attendants are replacing these physical walls. But in effect, the outcome is the same, segregation of public spaces. The accountability to assure that the health and wealth gap in Baltimore does not continue to widen will only occur if we monitor these spaces, listen to the local businesses and residents there, and request that our political leaders hold private interests accountable for public subsidies they receive.

harbor point

Harbor Point is a 27-acre water front property developing a mixed-use site with a projected cost of $1 billion and at least $107 in public subsidies. Included in this development are five distinct public urban parks including areas for both passive and active recreation, culminating in a 4.5-acre public waterfront park space.

 

  1. Neoliberalization is the action of the government to assure that private interests have as much opportunity as possible to grow their interests, regardless of whether this results in decreased benefit for the public good

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