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Millionaire supreme court justices

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…and the investigation that revealed the corruption

US Health System spends the most on health/capita and ranks last among eleven countries on measures of access, equity, quality, efficiency, and healthy lives

Effects of inequitable funding of neighborhood resources: disparity in accessing wealth and good health

Clifton Park Library Hours 2001 N. Wolfe Street

This week while attempting to deliver a book to the Clifton Park Library at 2001 N. Wolfe Street, Baltimore I was struck by the hours posted on the window. Basically it was open 4.5 hours three days of the week and 4 hours on another day for a total of 17.5 hours each week (4 days/week). This seemed such a short amount of time for a community to access a resource: both for children and adults. Knowing the hours of at least 5 other libraries this seemed like much less so I called the library and asked if the sign was current. After this was confirmed-also confirmed was that there is only part-time staff employed- I printed out the hours of all the libraries in the city for comparison then checked the racial makeup, earnings, and high school biology passing rate of the neighborhoods of each library (Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance). The data is clear, Clifton Park is a community with some of the lowest socioeconomic indicators as well as a majority African American population.[Balt.Disparity.Library.Race.Income.Biol] [BNIA; Enoch Pratt Free Library] Unfortunately, besides this distinction of the library with the least hours of operation in the city of Baltimore, several other communities in Baltimore boast a similar SES as Clifton Park.

Disparity in education, employment, health

An editorial co-authored by a Johns Hopkins researcher at the School of Education stated nationwide only 70% of African Americans receive a high school diploma in 4 years, compared to 80% in the general population. In an economy where employment is dependent on knowledge-base, only 40% of jobs are open to those with a high school diploma suggesting a growing demand for a population with college-level education for average employment. Therefore a child in Clifton Park who is already challenged by the conditions and spaces of poverty (under-resourced schools and libraries, recreation centers, health centers, extra-curricular activities for learning) and being a racial minority is already at risk for lack of employment opportunity in the future.

According to a study from another Johns Hopkins University researcher, students typically loose one to two months of reading and math skills during summer break. This lost is reportedly greater in low-income children. Experts advise that reading during the summer is an important way to minimize this loss which is cumulative and results in greater risk of a low-income youth not graduating from high school or entering college. With the two risk factors of low-income and being African American, children living and growing up in Clifton Park face greater likelihood of an inequitable future. It seems that having the opportunity to access a library only between the hours of 1-5:30 pm 3 days each week and 1-5:00 pm 1 day each week is a neighborhood resource that we could begin to address to increase their likelihood of graduating from high school and accessing employment. This employment should be the kind that pays a living wage with benefits that allows a path toward equal opportunity and good health. Indeed the places where our children live and grow affects their daily functioning and their ability to thrive in the future.

It is not only the opportunity for employment which is affected by under-funding neighborhood resources. These same chronically abandoned and disinvested communities are the ones which show the greatest disparity in health in Baltimore-shorter life expectancy, increased mortality risk. [Equity Matters/Place Matters] This research shows that in comparison to neighborhoods with shorter life expectancy and increased mortality risk, neighborhoods with longer life expectancy tend to offer less exposure to pollution and violence, access to better health care and healthier food, and other neighborhood characteristics such as abandoned and vacant housing. [Afro Thomas-Lester, A. November 17 2012]

Disparity in government spending for neighborhood resources

Why do these disparities in neighborhood resources exist and what is the role of government in addressing such disparities? If the places in which we live and grow matters in affecting our access to equity in health and wealth how do we assure that our neighborhoods are rebuilt to address these resultant disparities? It is interesting and important research and commentary from the Johns Hopkins University down the street from Clifton Park which at this very moment is expanding itself through the benefit of excessive government investment-millions of tax incentives from the city and state government.

Johns Hopkins Graduate Student Tower (r) 929 N. Wolfe St.
Parking garage (l). Both constructed within the past year

These are the same governments which choose not to allocate funds and invest in the future of our historically disinvested neighborhoods- ie funding the library in Clifton Park. These communities which receive disparate resources from all levels of government in turn have a negative effect on the health of the place- underfunded housing, schools, transportation, stores, recreations, infrastructure- and therefore the ability of the place to nourish the mind and body of growing children.

Besides the example of an underfunded library in Clifton Park, other neighborhood resources and institutions are underfunded across Baltimore. There are un-funded and underfunded recreation centers in Baltimore city-some now closed- which help young minds grow after school and during the summer. Five recreation centers and four Police Athletic League (PAL) facilities were closed between 2011-2013 [Baltimore Brew Reutter M, Feb 8, 2013]. They were all in low-income communities. Only this year was a long-term plan adopted to address the history of disinvested schools which provide the basic skills for chances of accessing a college education and equal opportunities later in life. [Baltimore Brew Fern S, April 3, 2013] Disinvested upkeep in the safety and security of neighborhoods continue most recently with 20 reported shootings and 8 deaths over one weekend. [Baltimore Sun Fenton J, June 25 2013] Such insecurity results in fear of businesses and other retailers to locate in neighborhoods perceived as unsafe. These perceptions, some supported by evidence, result in lack of supermarkets with healthy nutrition, choice of amenities, and higher prices for fresh produce and vegetables. Lack of adequate funding for fire stations to prevent lost of life, home, and business and the subsequent stress resulting from fears and worry of such occurrences is also a sign and symptom of abandoned communities. [Baltimore Brew Reutter M, May 10 2012] People in neighborhoods resourced with adequate numbers of fire stations don’t have to think or worry about these things and therefore have one less stress on the mind and body-which affects health outcomes. We cannot forget the need for adequately resourced and safe housing for all citizens, whether young or old, white or of African descent, male or female, public or privately owned or rented. Currently seniors in Northwest Baltimore must picket the Housing Authority of Baltimore for safety and sanitation issues in their housing complex due to lack of response from this office and eventual responses of ‘budget limitations’. [Baltimore Brew Fern S, June 21 2013] The clear evidence is that the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland continues to under-fund and disinvest our basic amenities in our most vulnerable neighborhoods while offering up big incentives and investments for those already with great resources [Daily Record Simmons M, Jacobson J, Feb 1 2011].

Why do the public officials elected to represent the people ignore this continued disinvestment of our most vulnerable and the resultant growth in the health and wealth divide? Why does the city of Baltimore and the state of Maryland continue to allocate resources to the communities who have the most while turning a blind eye on the historically disinvested communities-communities which have been victims of racist and classist policies and practices by a city and state which not only refuses to acknowledge this history and make repairs but insist on bulldozing through select neighborhoods to continue segregation and gentrification to serve the white and middle and upper classes. [Race, class, power, and organizing in East Baltimore] This growing process of gentrification continues unabated with rhetoric of ‘helping the existing community’ even while existing residents and businesses are displaced through eminent domain or eventual un-affordability. Evidence of more recent gentrification projects in Fells Points and the Inner Harbor reflecting this pattern in Baltimore is the increase in white student enrollment and white students living and decrease in African American student enrollment. [BNIA] [Houses rehabbed 01-09][BNIA] Of course association does not mean causation so continued tracking and evaluation must occur.

What will it take for us to recognize that continued subsidies to the wealthy developer builds the gap between those with means and those without. That unequal societies are unhealthy and result in greater separation and more violence. That unfair laws and policies continue to support public:private partnerships which maintain low-income communities and communities of color through displacement and separation while growing the wealth of developers and the market they serve through public subsidies-low-cost sale of public and private-land, interest-free loans, tax-free periods, PILOT (payment in lieu of financing), TIFs (Tax increment financing), Enterprise Zone tax-breaks. The likes of current and proposed benefactors of such corrupt anti-public practices include Johns Hopkins, EBDI, Forest City in East Baltimore, Paterakis and Beaty (H&S Bakery) and colleagues in Harbor East and Harbor Point, Lexington Square Partners and colleagues for the Lexington Street Superblock, CBAC Gaming and Caesar’s casino and colleagues in West Baltimore, Under Armour in Sourhwest Baltimore. We cannot forget the direct subsidies such as the recent state-approved 1.3 million contribution toward construction of a 7-acre park of the Hopkins-EBDI-Forest City gentrification project in East Baltimore community. Or the additional state funds for a new contract community school -Henderson-Hopkins- not welcoming to the existing community [Baltimore Sun June 22, 2013] Meanwhile, the Mayor of Baltimore proposes a water bill increase which challenges the budget of low-income and fixed-income people in the city while likely presents ittle challenge to the class of people her administration is welcoming to rebuild the city. This political corruption, cronyism, and public:private partnerships continue as government neglects the libraries, schools, recreation centers, infrastructure, security, and fire stations and other neighborhood resources which would help assure that everyone lives in a safe and healthy community which supports children ready to learn and access skills toward future equitable economic prosperity. Instead these big developments have proposed and produced little stimulation to the local economy-EBDI construction projects fails to meet their promises of local hiring in their first 10 years; Lexington Street Superblock project promises employment with approximately $20,000 annual wage. Still the past and current Mayor’s administration and city council in Baltimore continue to approve and propose public subsidies with no guarantee of public benefit. Why do so many think this is okay? Is it because we have become complacent to the inequality and inequity which has grown the city at the whims of those with power? Do we not see the glaring inequity because it has been around us for so long, perhaps even believing that at some level our social norms are okay though unjust?

Thinking, speaking, and acting to change the accepted norms of inequitable distribution of resources

We must all become more informed
– about the political corruption that has and currently exists
– of the effects of the history of such corruption and how it has grown the wealth and health gap in Baltimore and beyond with disproportionate effects on African American communities
– of alternative ways of rebuilding our communities toward equity and sustainability
– about the stories and lives of local communities directly impacted by inequality and their vision for change
– about building coalitions across diverse interests
– about challenging the accepted norms that race, class, and other systematic inequities are okay because they have been around for so long
and act for change in our individual communities and interest groups and across communities and coalitions through organizing.

We can be inspired to various forms of actions through old and new examples of organizing and resistance. Effective organizing can stop the abusive power of the wealthy and government to take back the offices of government for authentic representation of the people and build community-led initiatives to take back our communities. The current and historical mantra and practice of rebuilding communities through gentrification must end. We should ONLY gentrify a community if the majority of the gentrifiers are the existing residents. How do the existing residents and businesses become gentrifiers in their own neighborhoods? This can happen when existing residents are not displaced to allow a different race and class of people to take over the neighborhood; living-wage jobs with health and retirement benefits are created along with local business-ownership and investment opportunities; affordable housing and alternative models of rent control are instituted as part of development plans; recreational centers, parks and schools are co-created and advised by and serve the existing residents; transportation changes, entertainment and other retail amenities are advised and serve the existing community; mental and physical health services are created to meet the needs of the existing community after assessment for health needs; vocational and other types of training programs and schools which prepare existing residents to benefit from the rebuilding process and outcome are part of the development plan. This model of ‘community gentrification’ is a slower one and not the immediate change so typical for our culture of ‘instant gratification’: instant gentrification. Bringing in people who are already gentrified simply continues the history of serving the needs of those who have power while continuing the disinvestment in and hiding of those who have been neglected by historic and current racist and classist laws and policies resulting in our currently marginalized and exploited communities. In order for the existing residents to become the gentrifiers, they must be involved in the changes in their community and be co-planners. Such plans should include the rebuilding of the people and the place through economic, health, and educational gain-gentrification from the ground up. If community change does not support this type of ‘community gentrification’ it should not be supported by government subsidies.

A changing tide?

It is apparent that the continued outcry by affected residents and representatives, the media, and community activists and organizers in Baltimore over the past several years in light of the growing political cronyism, income and health inequality, and abuses of power is having some small impact on those elected to represent the people. One example is the recent legislation introduced into the Baltimore City Council in regard the proposed rebuilding of Harbor Point. The legislation proposed a concrete way to assure shared benefit for existing residents and developer from the $52 million enterprise zone tax-break through allocation of $16 million directly to the low-income community which qualified the project for this tax break [Daily Record Simmons, M June 24 2013]. If passed, this type of legislation along with critical planning, decision-making, and implementation by existing residents of the area begins to redistribute public benefits directly back to impacted residents and seed and grow an economic base. Similar legislation aimed at assuring public benefit from public subsidies was targeted in recent legislation approved by the same city council: local hiring law requires 51% of jobs go to city residents if the developer receives more than 5 million in public subsidy. [Baltimore Sun Broadwater, L June 4 2013] While public subsidies are often offered to developers due to the impoverished and under-resourced state of low-income communities in which they develop, a systematic evaluation of exactly how these subsidies benefit the historic people and place of the rebuilt area is missing in Baltimore. Evaluation of this local hiring legislation and the pending Harbor Point legislation will be necessary to assure implementation and intended outcome.

The systematic organizing by residents, organizers, and community partners in Middle East Baltimore to change the current $1.8 billion ‘negro removal’ and gentrification project of Johns Hopkins, EBDI, Forest City-generously supported by Annie E. Casey Foundation, and government/public subsidies- was effective. It resulted in 1) changes in the amount of money individuals were compensated for homes taken by eminent domain; 2) changes in the unhealthy demolition practices that were occurring and development of a new demolition protocol now adapted by the state of Maryland; 3) opportunity for some residents to remain in the rebuilt community. [Race, class, power, and organizing in East Baltimore] This organizing success showed Baltimore and beyond that when residents are organized they become powerful in their own right and can change the game plan of powerful developers and public: private-driven partnerships that do not equitably benefit communities.

Here are more hopeful examples of a changing tide:

– Grassroots citizens group in New Jersey boot entire city council after council attempted to use eminent domain to seize their land for private development http://reason.com/blog/2013/06/13/attempted-land-grab-ends-with-voters-boo
– New London, Connecticut’s ‘carefully considered plan’ justifying using eminent domain to demolish an entire community for private economic development has developed nothing in almost 10 years http://reason.com/blog/2012/04/27/connecticut-agency-seeks-to-whitewash-it
– House Judiciary Committee approves legislation to protect property from certain eminent domain transfers http://www.loansafe.org/bill-to-protect-private-property-rights
– Civil rights leader supported by comprehensive plan for community-led rebuilding elected mayor of Jackson, Mississippi http://www.democracynow.org/2013/6/6/civil_rights_veteran_chokwe_lumumba_elected
– Dudley Street Neighborhood Initiative’s John Barros runs for mayor of Boston https://vimeo.com/64914877 while DSNI practices a resident-driven planning process http://www.dsni.org/neighbors-begin-planning-city-owned-land-dudley-street
– Cleaveland model: worker-owned co-ops and their expansion in the future http://www.thenation.com/article/cleveland-model?page=0,1#axzz2XMzg8poa
– East Baltimore residents protest lack of employment opportunities at Hopkins/EBDI/Forest City development http://thedailyrecord.com/video/2012/03/29/protest-at-ebdi-lead-to-arrests/
– Poppleton residents organize and testify to save award-winning park from developer http://www.baltimorebrew.com/2013/04/05/poppleton-residents-rally-to-save-award-winning-neighborhood-park/
– Opponents of a proposed Royal Farms store in Hamilton gather evidence showing public:private power in deciding what happens in their community and rally against developer and mayor http://www.baltimorebrew.com/2013/05/28/opponents-of-hamilton-royal-farms-say-project-is-anointed-from-on-high/

Change is happening everywhere! and we can be inspired to act for change toward equity -in ourselves and our communities, right here in Baltimore and beyond. We can be part of the changing tide that assures a sustainable future for all through equitable distribution of resources in all neighborhoods today.

Clifton Park Library 2001 N. Wolfe Street

Local residents protest for jobs at the Johns Hopkins/EBDI/Forest City Development in 2012. In the background, Graduate Student Tower 929 N. Wolfe St (l), Hopkins Biotech Building 855 N. Wolfe St. (m) both constructed within the past 6 years with minimal local hire. Photo: Maximillian Franz