It was the perfect day for highlighting contradictions on Saturday afternoon in Middle East Baltimore- the 88-acre area neighborhood demolished after more than 800 families were forced to move to make way for the Bioscience Park at Johns Hopkins. Promising 8,000 jobs to local residents and a redevelopment that would benefit the existing community, the project has yet to deliver on either of these, 15 years later. In Middle East Baltimore on a hot and humid Saturday afternoon the celebration of recently canonized Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who served the poor endlessly, was happening at St. Wenceslaus Hall on Madison and Duncan. Meanwhile, two blocks down the street at Rutland and Eager, the rich and powerful Johns Hopkins University was making sure that the area they cleared of low income, working poor black folks, would be inhabited by those they felt deserved the land: their employees and others of similar class. They were having their lottery drawing to pick the employees who would receive a $36,000 grant toward purchasing one of the new luxury homes being built -starting in the upper $200,000‘s. There were up to 50 lots for purchase that day.
At the church hall the Sisters of Charity who live in the nunnery next to St. Wenceslaus Church on Collington Avenue, the order Mother Teresa belonged to, in their white and blue striped robes were preparing the hall for the feast of celebration. After the mass, they were moving around the hall making sure neighbors and churchgoers had enough to eat, and take home. If you drove to the celebration mass – lead by Archbishop Lori- and lunch you could park on Madison or in the parking lot behind the hall. Of the more than 100 celebrants who attended no one appeared fearful of where to park or the adjacent houses, mostly boarded. Over at the Johns Hopkins Open House however, there were assistants helping potential home-buyers find parking on the street, making sure no one was robbed while parking. A story of contradiction of talk and of intention.
But the contradictions don’t begin or end here. The area being redeveloped has been a contradiction in the making. From the way the majority of residents and businesses living in the neighborhood in 2001 learned that they would be displaced- through the newspaper- to the resistance by Johns Hopkins personnel to acknowledge publicly that the development would be for their expansion. From the use of eminent domain to take people’s property for a private development to the rhetoric that it would serve the public good even while the first retail shop did not accept food stamps. The 7-acre park, including a dog-park, spits in the face of residents who had to move for land better served by dog’s urine. The message is clear: to serve the rich we must displace the poor! From the stress and illness caused by serial forced displacement to the fact that it was instigated to benefit a renown health care institution. From the withholding of the truth by then-president of the Annie E. Casey Foundation of consultant’s attendance at meetings -advising against the intention, process, and outcome of the Hopkins expansion- to the continuous rhetoric of transparency and accountability. And it goes on.
These contradictions and corruptions do not go un-noticed. Last week, only four days before the big Johns Hopkins Open House to sell the community as the new up-and-coming gentrified area, EBDI’s* office on the 1700 block of Chase street was vandalized; a brick thrown into the glass door. This vandalism is not new to the security guard-patrolled area. Within the last 7 months, two row houses on the same block as EBDI’s office, in the same square block of the pending luxury town homes sold-off on Saturday, have been vandalized in the same way.# Nothing stolen, bricks from the same razing occurring down the street thrown into the shiny glass doors of the newly renovated row houses. Neighbors in and outside of the 88-acre area are aware of the contradictions and showing their awareness.
Some new inhabitants of the renovated houses near EBDI’s office also show their contradiction in intention. New to the neighborhood and saying they want to get to know residents who originally lived there, they show their contradictions by putting their trash in the bins of these very neighbors they want to get to know better, even when asked not to do so. These neighbors happen to be new white inhabitants of the gentrifying area who feel it is okay to place their trash into the bins of historic neighbors. [There is a thread here, one of moving what we consider “trash” away from us so we do not have to continuously see it…fear of the unknown driven by socially constructed judgements?] This is the new community-building occurring, kept quiet so that the gentrification continues and eventually removes all historic residents. This type of social engineering that Johns Hopkins, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and EBDI initiated-building a mixed-income community- is a contradiction in intention and practice. None of these powerful stakeholders care to address the history of racism and classism which has existed between Johns Hopkins and the community for more than 70 years. A 70-year history of Johns Hopkins pushing people out of their homes for expansion, in large form and small form-ie the 1950’s Broadway Redevelopment Project which expanded Hopkins into 59 acres after displacing over 1000 majority poor and black families. Instead in 2002-2006 the university again directed the displacement of another 800 families, this time for 88-acres of land with no plan for them to return and engineered the rebuilding and rebranding of this historic community of black people.
The current executive director, Ray Skinner, stated that only housing for incomes at $60,000 and above will be built going forward and no more affordable housing would be built (per EBDI community meting summer 2016). With 1400 units planned, there is no evidence that more than 450 affordable units are currently built as dictated by legislation. If Mr. Skinner chooses to use the Johns Hopkins Student housing (more than 500 units) as evidence of affordable housing, he should be reminded that during negotiations (in the mid-2000s) and written in the minutes of meetings with EBDI, the Annie E. Casey Foundation, and SMEAC (Save Middle East Action Committee, Inc) it was clearly stated that student housing do not count as affordable housing. It is also written in the legislation stating that 1/3 affordable, 1/3 moderate income, and 1/3 market rate income housing, divided equally between rental and ownership units, should be built. While EBDI representatives at that time suggested that student housing should qualify as affordable housing, it was made clear that this was negotiating in bad faith and hypocritical to the intention of affordable housing for citizens of East Baltimore and beyond-another contradiction.
In late 1990s/early 2000s Portland Oregon’s HOPE VI project, low-income residents who returned to the mixed-income development had difficulty getting along with the new inhabitants. There was no trust between these two groups and the returning residents reported that the new moderate-income inhabitants, the owners, the landlords, and the housing managers discriminated against them in various ways. Here in the 88-acre gentrification project of Johns Hopkins University, some residents of the newly developed rental units of Chapel Green are reporting the same type of discrimination by housing management and new residents. They are being told not to barbecue in the back of their units, not to sit on the steps. This type of social engineering also occurred in Portland and resulted in distrust and lack of cohesion between the rich and poor residents, and the returning and new inhabitants. This mistrust escalated and resulted in a shooting. In light of this history of conflict in these types of redevelopment/gentrification projects, in 2010 it was proposed to the Annie E. Casey Foundation and EBDI that a truth and reconciliation process needed to occur to heal the past and current division between Johns Hopkins’s violence in Middle East Baltimore before a new cohesive community could be formed. These suggestions fell on deaf years. The vandalism and the continued contradictions foretell the future of this gentrifying area if such a process does not occur. There is healing that must occur and unless the powerful stakeholders address this contradiction in rhetoric and practice, no amount of social engineering will assure a peaceful community grows out of this legacy of structural violence: racism, classism.
Addressing the contradiction of how this 88-acre expansion of Johns Hopkins University/Medical Campus will benefit the local area is crucial. We can begin with: where are the jobs for local people? It is not sufficient to say that people do not qualify. If the project was ever intended to benefit local residents, this challenge to employment would have been part of the planning and implementation of redevelopment of the area and would have established a process to help residents qualify for upcoming jobs: drug rehabilitation, mental health services, job-readiness programs, GRE programs, credit history challenge. These and similar services would have started to address the inequitable conditions resulting from decades of disinvestment and exploitation by systems of public:private partnerships building their wealth in these very same communities. Such planning would have occurred well in advance of the forced displacement. Equitable planning would have included residents to advise what benefit for local residents and businesses actually look like; not just benefit for the powerful Johns Hopkins University and similar privileged brokers.
Crime continues in Middle East Baltimore, even though it has been re-branded with a name to silence the history of the 21st century “negro removal” that occurred. Shootings, by police and residents, drug dealing, squatting, all continue in the 88-acre area and the peripheral neighborhoods, and beyond. The acts of vandalism occurred while security guards on foot, on segways, and in cars patrolled the 88-acre area. Human walls, in the shape of security guards, have replaced cement walls of the past used by the Johns Hopkins University to “keep out its neighbors” but neither will address this history of systematic and structural violence perpetuated by the powerful people of the city and state of Maryland. This historical trauma lives in the minds, bodies, and spirits of residents of Middle East Baltimore, even with the re-branding. Johns Hopkins University continues to proclaim that it calls Middle East Baltimore its home. But that is rhetoric in light of the billions spent over the decades to consistently remove the people who inhabit Middle East Baltimore and replace them with a class and race of people whom it feels represents itself and of which it is not afraid. Our local media, fearful of the powerful giant and its friends, sings the praises of the university and report out untruths about their willingness to rehab houses for existing residents before displacement occurred. Or perhaps the local media prefers to do superficial research listening only to the ones who have the resources and access to resources. An appropriate summary of this type of media control is provided by the African Proverb: Until the lion has his or her own storyteller, the hunter will always have the best part of the story.
The university, and it public:private partnerships throughout the years have directly and indirectly participated in the disinvestment of Middle East Baltimore and much of East Baltimore. Instead of addressing this with transparency and accountability, it has chosen to push away the problem through displacement of residents, churches, and businesses. It guards itself with a security budget and force which has continuously grown. The solution is not policing, as is apparent with the killing of Freddie Gray and many more like him. During the Uprising in April 2015 the National Guard was circulating and protecting the Johns Hopkins Hospital, like the other places of power and wealth in the city. These places of power, knowing the truth of how they achieved their resources, fear when the people rise up to take back what was wrongfully taken.This may well be the faith of the Johns Hopkins Bioscience Park until a process of truth and reconciliation occurs. Continuing on this course of deepening the hole of structural and institutional racism and classism in the guise of gentrification and science will bring no resolution to our country’s and our city’s history and legacy of separate and unequal. And this way of rebuilding continues to provide examples for how the city distributes the taxes of its residents to developers like Johns Hopkins University, Sagamore Development (in proposing more than 660 million tax benefit for a white enclave of Port Covington), and Beatty Construction (building Harbor Point for the creative class and receiving millions in tax benefit). The trickle-down economics did not work when the city subsidized the Inner Harbor, the Charles Center, or Harbor Point. When you keep doing the same thing, how can you expect something different to result?
This continued path of uneven development has not benefited our most vulnerable citizens of Baltimore. Public parks, schools, recreation centers, food markets, housing and libraries in our most disenfranchised neighborhoods continue a path of disinvestment and deterioration. And the people inhabiting these places provide the evidence of this history of uneven development and investment: in substandard and unsafe housing, substandard education, decreased life expectancy, under employment, increased incarceration, overweight and obesity, stress, and chronic illnesses. When will this path of inequity end? What would Saint Mother Teresa say today to the growing inequality between the rich and the poor being socially engineered by Johns Hopkins University and the city of Baltimore in her neighborhood of Middle East Baltimore and beyond? We cannot allow this to continue Baltimore.A racial equity assessment is needed in Baltimore. Such an assessment would help to shape laws, fund equitable and sustainable development policies capable of being implemented and evaluated, direct appropriate use of tax dollars for disinvested communities and people, promote honest dialogue followed by transparency and accountability, and redistribute the wealth gained through exploitation of its most vulnerable citizens. This will begin a path toward equity: an honest and fearless path which meets the difficult history with a fresh plan and action for peaceful change.
*EBDI- East Baltimore Development Inc. the quasi public-private development entity created by then Mayor O”Malley to carry out the development. The board did not feel it necessary to have any residents from the impacted community on this board and was forced through protests to allow residents on the board. However decisions continued to be made by the powerful board members representing Johns Hopkins University, Annie E. Casey and other Foundations, and the Mayor’s office.
#Data suggest that the crimes reported by residents/businesses and collected by the Baltimore Police Department does not correlate with actual crime committed. Two of the three vandalism incidents noted were not reported to the police. After having my car broken into on the 2100 block of Madison recently, the police officer said I should not file a report, that it would take too much time and he would have to call another officer. He asked me “what would it do?”