Yesterday I distributed several books (Race, Class, Power and Organizing in East Baltimore, RCPOEB) to residents impacted by the ‘displacement and dispossession project’ in East Baltimore affecting more than 800 households for the expansion of Johns Hopkins. They were leaving St. Wenceslaus church on Ashland Avenue and each had a story to tell about how they were impacted. As I was driving away, I stopped by the new 7-11 in the only ‘Biotech Building’ built to date in the 88-acre project area at Wolfe Street and Madison Avenue. Called the ‘John G. Rangos Sr. Building’ it is leased primarily by Johns Hopkins School of Medicine. Harbor Bank occupies space in the downstairs- whose president was the first board chair of EBDI-the quasi public:private entity directing the 88-acre development. A 7-11 convenience store occupies space on the corner of the building facing existing Johns Hopkins’ buildings. The door of the 7-11 boasted two large signs: No food stamps. Several residents were told by the cashier that it was not their doing but the policy of the store.
In a community where the majority of residents live below the poverty line and the majority of students receive free lunches, it is difficult to understand why a 7-11 would not accept a means of currency normally used in the community. Two blocks down the street and one block south on Monument and Chester another convenient store does not discriminate against the local community in this way. The difference in the locations is that the new 7-11 is part of the 88-acre Johns Hopkins expansion project. As the book RCPOEB describes in detail, this development project’s intention was not about maintaining the historic community but displacing the people to make room for a different race and class of people. Still, current and past presidents of Johns Hopkins and EBDI, and current and past chairs of EBDI’s board have waxed on and on about how this rebuilding effort is about the people of East Baltimore. The most recent was at a public meeting in Middle East Baltimore on January 16, 2013 where the same dialogue between the powerful stakeholders and disenfranchised residents occurred. The politicians and EBDI officials reported how wonderful the project was while impacted residents continued to challenge them for transparency, consistency in words and actions, and evidence of equity for residents. Several days later they still await documentation promised that children of displaced historic residents will be guaranteed admission to the new community school in perpetuity (see below).
A 7-11 which does not welcome the local residents as a worthy and respectful consumer by discriminating against their means of purchase is evidence of the true intention of the rebuilding project. And it is typical of the inconsistency of words and actions in this 10-year old rebuilding project. Such discriminatory practices also continue to assure separation and marginalization of historic residents of East Baltimore from the new and welcomed residents of the rebuilt area. A history which the Johns Hopkins Medical Campus continues to assure will not end.
Another is the new community school that is being constructed on 7 acres of the project site. There has been much public relations about the community impact of this school. Lost in between the public and the private relations is the evidence of what similar attempts of using schools for gentrification has accomplished. Well, it has accomplished exactly that. The current plan for the new K-8 community school follows in the footsteps of one in a similarly disinvested neighborhood adjacent to the university of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia. A new public school in partnership with the University-Penn Alexander- was built to gentrify the community and attract a different race and class of people to buffer the university from surrounding neighborhoods. Ten years later, it has done just that and changed the community from a majority low-income to majority moderate and market-rate income dwellers with their community school as a magnet-in attendance at the school is 30.2% economically-disadvantaged – 69.8% economically-advantaged. As described by one parent attempting to send her child to Penn-Alexander: ‘Admit Penn Alexander was built and is funded by the U of Penn to create an “oasis” for the select few. It is not a an “urban school” any more than Masterman is an “urban school.” They serve the elite rather than the public.’
A similar tool for gentrification was initiated in Middle East Baltimore when the board of EBDI hired the executive director of the development project surrounding U of Pennsylvania in West Philadelphia and the board of Johns Hopkins hired the vice provost of U of Pennsylvania who oversaw their new school development to become the new president of Hopkins. As president of the Johns Hopkins University he continues to assure the public and private stakeholders that the school will bring together community residents and Hopkins affiliates. But if segregation continues in the 7-11 housed in the building constructed as a partnership between Johns Hopkins and Forest City Development, why would we expect a true partnership to emerge in a school directed by similar partnerships?
This new community school-Henderson-Hopkins Partnership School- will be the first new public school in East Baltimore in more than 25 years and will be financed with a combination of New Market Tax Credits, Tax Increment Financing bonds, foundation and university grants, and state infrastructure funds and operated by Johns Hopkins and Morgan State University’s Schools of Education.The current principal of the new community school in Middle East Baltimore projects that out of the total 540 students for final enrollment, the majority will live in the rebuilt community or be affiliated with Johns Hopkins. With the majority of housing construction planned to attract moderate and market rate earners in the rebuilt community, a gentrification in school and housing will be the outcome-like its role model of Penn Alexandar. Research by Bloomfiled-Cucchiara and others on using schools as gentrification magnets confirms this pattern.
A 7-11 that excludes customers from the historic community and a school which plans to assure a minority of historic residents are in attendance continue to remind us that the ‘New East Baltimore’ is not about preserving a history but about displacement and dispossession. Still we hope that organizing in voice and person will continue to challenge this old way of rebuilding communities like Middle East Baltimore and pave a way for more equitable and sustainable development. Join us on March 9, 2013 and be part of the change!