Politicizing our memories: Have we forgotten the history of Middle East Baltimore?


Our memory is also a struggle for memory against forgetting…The struggle for memory against forgetting requires the politicization of memory, distinguishing nostalgia from remembering that serve to illuminate and transform the present” bell hooks

This morning was overcast, clouds suggesting it may rain at any moment. There was a lot of activity on the 900 block of N. Wolfe street, extending down the 1100 block to Chase Street. The activities being planned were part of the newest addition to the re-branding of the neighborhood. The 7-acre park opening today is part of the 88-acre redevelopment of the Johns Hopkins Biotech Park that started in 2001. This is Middle East Baltimore, slowly being rebranded by the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, the Annie E. Casey Foundation and its sister non-profits of the ‘non-profit industrial complex’, the city of Baltimore, the state of Maryland, and the new inhabitants who are slowly moving into the neighborhood. ‘Eager Park’ is the new brand. This re-branding is nothing atypical in a developing area. And it’s not atypical either that the name is chosen, or ‘suggested’ by the developers and their proxies-in this case Forest City and East Baltimore Development Inc. (EBDI). But the rebranding this morning is something that we must remember. The remembering that bell hooks talks about. Because if we forget again, we will re-live this process of displacement of another neighborhood again. This remembering is a politicization because it recognizes the power of a continuous exploitation of one group to benefit another and resultant  inequity that exists today.

The new 7-acre, $14 million park in Middle East Baltimore, ‘Eager Park’

The flyers touting the parks’ opening celebrations from 8:30am until 5:00pm included a parade, ribbon cutting, and a festival; a DJ and dancing, several marching bands, and the children from the new school-also part of the 88-acre redevelopment. There would be dance and musical performances and fitness demonstrations in the brand new amphitheater in the park. The name of the park was decided by the developers and their design contractors, ‘Eager Park’.  The hope was that the $14 million park would usher in the re-branding of the area. There was no mention of the history of the naming of the area that the new parks’ name was attempting to erase, forget.

Why forget? It is important for the powerful developers of this 88-acre development assure that we forget that more than 750 Black families were displaced to make room for this 7-acre park and everything else being developed. The initial master plan made no mention that residents were being forced off their land to make room for a park. The rhetoric in 2001 was that displacement had to occur to demolish the almost 2000 homes in this ‘blighted’ and abandoned area. In order to use eminent domain to take private land and pass on to a private developer, the city government partnered with the university, like it did in the 1950s. That time the government policy that subsidized this private developer’s wealth gain was urban renewal. The first master plan in 2001 justified the development using eminent domain to acquire resident’s homes through the rhetoric of public benefit via 8000 new jobs in the 5 biotech parks and the various amenities.  Sixteen years later the project has provided less than 1500 new jobs. The plan made no mention of how the displaced residents would be able to return: it was a one-way ticket out of the area to make room for the new race and class that the powerbrokers felt could ‘renew’ the area. For the prestigious medical institutions and its partners it’s important for those moving in to forget this history or never know it.

The ribbon cutting ceremony in the amphitheater of the new park, with different stakeholders in attendance, including the president of Johns Hopkins University, Ron Daniels, the mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, City Council president Bernard Jack Young, Senator Nathaniel McFadden

The ribbon cutting ceremony with different stakeholders in attendance, including the president of Johns Hopkins University, Ron Daniels, the mayor of Baltimore, Catherine Pugh, City Council president Bernard Jack Young, Senator Nathaniel McFadden

Why is it important to remember this history? This development happening today is the same type of development that happened in the 1950s. We have mostly forgotten about the 1950s urban renewal project -Broadway Redevelopment Project- where 59 acres was acquired by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions and its partners for expansion. It was remarkably similar to this current redevelopment-displacement of more than 1000 majority Black families. There was housing for students and staff, professional buildings (now we call these biotech buildings), a hotel, retail and amenities to support the needs of the new inhabitants. This memory is political and is required if we are to ‘illuminate and transform the present’. If we (SMEAC, Save Middle East Action Committee, Inc, the community organization that changed the way the development occurred) had remembered during our struggle for equity during the early years of this current development, we would have leveraged this history. But we didn’t know and those who knew at some point, those who were actually involved in the struggle in the 1950s and 1960s either forgot or felt overwhelmed by the challenge before us. Our collective memory of this history would have confirmed that the political powers of majority White institutions, in Baltimore the Johns Hopkins University and Medical systems, continue to take what they want without regard for their neighbors. We would have confirmed how this continuous exploitation of land on the backs of poor and Black communities is another part of the history of serial forced displacement. We would have affirmed that yet again, the white powerful elite and the government had partnered to segregate those different from themselves by displacing them. Like this current development, the 1950s developers had no intention of assuring that existing residents could return-none did because the new housing was unaffordable for them. Had we known of this history, we would have used this information in our organizing campaign. We would have proposed policy and legislation that would delineate how development must occur: in partnership and with control from the historic residents currently occupying the space. We would have assured that the legislation to build affordable housing was built had more teeth. Because 16 years later, of the 1200 new housing units planned, there remains no affordable housing for ownership.

Today there is a petition by two different community members to rename the park, in line with the history of the area. One of the names suggested is ‘The Lucille Gorham Park’. Recently deceased, Ms. Gorham (who named the community ‘Middle East Baltimore’) was a long-time community activist who lived her adult life attempting to increase public support for renewing her neighborhood, without displacement of her neighbors. Much of her work focused on engaging with different members of the institution to stop the continuous encroachment and gentrification by the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions. In the 1980s she received a commitment from the then president of the university that the institution would not expand beyond Madison street. She had participated in a development project in the 1960s –Gay Street 1 Project- where this continuous encroachment was not the only way to change a neighborhood. The Gay Street 1 developed an area of less than 50 acres with a grassroots emphasis, residents made the decisions and participated directly in the master plan and the development. After her years of struggle to stop the university from swallowing up her neighborhood she was eventually displaced for this 88-acre Biotech Park. ‘Eager Park’; the park rolled over the previous commitment by the university not to expand northward beyond Madison. The outcome of forgetting.

Groundbreaking for a new hotel in the 1950s Broadway Redevelopment Project

Groundbreaking for a new hotel in the 1950s-1960s Broadway Redevelopment Project

This morning I chatted with several residents, new and historic. Two of them were residents displaced for this new park; both actually lived on the ground that is now being used for a park. Their comments: “why did we have to move for a park, a park?’; ‘this is a sore spot for me, can’t talk about it”. The new residents felt differently, they saw hope: “ I think the kids will benefit from seeing something different than all those abandoned houses that were here before”. Everyone is speaking from their experiences, what they lived and are living. There is no doubt that the development and its amenities will bring benefit. The questions of ‘who must be sacrificed for the benefit of others’ and ‘why must the  same group of people be sacrificed’ remains unanswered. The question of process and outcome remains unanswered. These are not impossible questions to answer but they are questions that beg us to look into the root of the way we have built our society. Our history can benefit us in looking into these roots. Why were these neighborhoods segregated and disinvested in the first place? Why do we continue to feel justified in segregating those who are most affected by this history of segregation and disinvestment. Memory is political because it reminds us of a history that requires attending to, so we don’t keep doing the same things today and in the future.

Reference: Race, Class, Power and Organizing in East Baltimore: Rebuilding Abandoned Communities in America . Lexington Books, 2012.  Text is available free here. Click on book content.

Who belongs in Baltimore? Community rebuilding must happen for everyone

I attended a conference several weeks ago at the Hyatt Regency on Light Street in Baltimore. So I took the free Circulator bus from Middle East Baltimore and walked along the water to the Inner Harbor. This was pleasant. But along with the pleasure came the awareness of the challenges facing our city. For example, the number of police officers at the ready in the Inner Harbor, ready to remove anyone who did not “look” like they belonged, was questionable. At one point when a person who “looked” like they may be homeless sat down at one of the empty tables in the Inner Harbor, there were 3 police officers who came by and harassed him: “what was he eating? where did he get it? The man said “I’m going, I’m going”. After this harassment they left and a few minutes later the gentleman got up and left. I suppose he would finish eating somewhere he belonged?

Exactly where is that? Is it somewhere where those who “look” like they belong can’t see him, won’t be distressed by his appearance? The saying “out of sight, out of mind” is deep and true. If we don’t see the despair and the obvious separation of how we exist in society, we don’t have to think about it and question why it is some have access while others don’t. Is Baltimore city able to be a home to all of us? Those with means and those without? Those who look like they belong? Those who don’t? What does “belonging look like these days? Obviously the Inner Harbor is being secured for those who “belong”.

The challenge of homelessness and poverty, racism and its continuing legacy, and its root causes continue in Baltimore. The different incidents on my walks through the Harbor and nearby areas confirmed this. Other incidents occurred at the bus stops. One man was sleeping at one stop. Another was sitting with his bag. I wondered how he could exist with only that one bag. I asked about his family: he had 4 children, the first two were twins and now 24 years old. He saw them regularly but not the other two. I offered him an orange then the bus came; that was across from the Reginald Lewis museum. At a stop near University of Maryland, someone asked me for change. I told him about the clutch for my 17 year-old car in the shop and how much that was going to put me back. He then said, “how are you doing?”. We had a conversation about challenges in life and how we take care of them, and ourselves. I offered him a peach and he accepted and left. At one of the 4 stops around Johns Hopkins East Baltimore campus, someone asked me if it was free to ride the Circulator. I responded yes but thought we should have to pay; “why should we ride free when folks taking the MTA have to pay?” We shared that maybe those with an MTA ticket could ride the Circulator for free, the rest pay. This conversation begs the question: who exactly is the Circulator bus for? As we rebuild Baltimore are we all clear as to who we want in the city?

One morning, about 730am, as I was walking across the skywalk from the Inner Harbor pavilions to the Hyatt Regency, I came across a woman sleeping on the steps. sleepShe had 2 paris of socks laid out on the cement to dry. Did she wash them in the fountain water near the steps? She had a sign next to her that said something like, “I lived with my father, then he died, then I lost the house and now am homeless”. Not 20 steps away, I entered the Hyatt Regency, its posh, air conditioned-chilled, and politeness stung me and I thought of the woman on the steps. There seemed so much space in this hotel, taken up with aesthetically-placed chairs to assure its occupants a spacious and easeful feeling. I wondered why couldn’t she access these spaces for the night, to rest. I recognized how artificial the built environment was for some; how much it seeks to create incubators, bubbles of separation and insulation from each other. Eventually we justify it as safety, not questioning the origins of separate and unequal that paved the road to today’s poverty. We don’t want those with access to have to think about those without. How are we rebuilding Baltimore to continue this legacy of separation?

As I walked through Harbor East, just in case the path favoring Baltimore’s inequity and separation did not penetrate enough, a reminder was provided by the recent signage in Harbor East: “Baltimore’s Luxury District: right this way”. luxuryThe cranes to the right and left of this sign, a timeless indicator of economic development and job opportunity, confirm that the city is growing. But for whom? The Harbor Point development on the left will usher in a high-rate cost of living while the expansion of the Four Seasons on the right will usher in luxury condominiums for those with means. In this era of privatization of public services, government gifting of tax incentives to the rich to develop, global permeation of local markets, we still have no plan for how we will assure that everyone who wants to stay in Baltimore benefits. Weak policies for affordable housing with no follow-up for implementation currently exists in Baltimore. No plans for equitable education and social services for our existing residents and no living wage policy exists. The trickle-down economics we believe in hasn’t quite trickled down into majority Black Baltimore where 37% of young Black men are unemployed, compared to 10% young White men. Still our politicians and public officials maintain that the generous benefits of our tax dollars to the wealthy to develop and live in Baltimore will trickle down to the masses. To fulfill this plan of trickle-down economics, we have a Circulator bus running in circles in areas that house the professional and “creative classes”, we have Zip Cars and bike lanes serving the same class. The Mayor’s plan for 10,000 new families in 10 years focuses on rebuilding of houses for $150,000. Low income people cannot afford this. Who will “belong” to Baltimore in the next 10-20 years? The City Paper’s annual “best of” series remind us of what our city leaders consider equitable and sustainable development: best example of gentrification seen in Middle East Baltimore shepherded by EBDI (East Baltimore Development Inc.), Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, Forest City, Annie E. Casey Foundation, and our local and state government. In this development of an 88-acre area just north of the Johns Hopkins Medical campus, our city and state leaders and its well-resourced profit and non-profit leaders are quite comfortable determining who belongs as they assured displacement of more than 750 majority African American and low-income families to make room for a different race and class of people. They know who belongs in our city!

Courtesy of BRACE

Courtesy of BRACE

One morning one rider on the bus reminded me of Baltimore’s resilience: “we can’t wait for them to give us jobs, we have to make our own jobs”. He went on to describe how his cousin made money by dressing up as Santa Claus, buying a camera, and making money during the Christmas season. He had a couple other local entrepreneurial stories like this. Baltimore’s residents need jobs, and support structures which help them to become business owners and not forever at the whim of capitalist anchors such as hospitals, universities, and non-profits. Jobs must provide a living wage so people can afford to live in the places being redeveloped. Only with living wage-jobs will low and middle-income people be able to stay in Baltimore and enjoy the fruits of this economic development occurring around the city. Instead of steering Baltimore city residents into the county-with housing vouchers not being accepted in the city- the city’s economic and community development plans must plan for affordable housing, self-employment, and living-wage employment. Anything else will continue to create the conditions of one-check-away from homelessness increasing around our city. As we prepare to vote for city officials, let’s ask each of them, whether new or old to the position, what they will do about affordable housing and integrative economies that assure local entrepreneurship and living wage-jobs. If our elected officials are not ready or willing to address our housing and employment, education, recreation, transportation, and health challenges in Baltimore, so everyone benefits, vote them out. It’s really simple, we have to vote with our feet and hearts, and not with our mouths.

While we act individually on the political front, we must continue to build our collective movement across multiple issues on a path toward equity for all. In support and elaboration of the Black Lives Matter movement, the southern movement, the Standing Up for Racial Justice movement, and all the university-based movements happening nationwide, we can build a movement to take back our cities so all can participate. Baltimore belongs to everyone who wants to be here.

Redevelopment policies and implications for health

Excerpt from Introduction of ‘Race, Class, Power, and Organizing in East Baltimore’:

Health Outcomes
Socioeconomic and political oppression of African American people throughout the history of America has directly resulted in the creation of neighborhoods of urban decay and poverty in the 21st century, which in turn affects the health of individuals living in these neighborhoods. The unequal and discriminatory laws and policies resulted in disinvestment and marginalization of communities in which majority African American lived leading to unhealthy physical environments of unsanitary, abandoned, and run-down streets, schools, parks, health clinics, recreation centers, stores, and houses, and high crime. The consequences or effects of living in such disinvested neighborhood, help to determine exposure to different levels of stress faced daily by individuals living, playing, working and learning in these communities as well the internal and external resources available to address these stressors in a healthy way.
The effect of having a low-paying job or no job, being African American or part of a racial minority, and education below high school level independently and together affects the health of an individual. These socioeconomic factors or social determinants increase the likelihood of an individual having a variety of physical and mental illnesses and a shorter lifespan.
The neighborhood effects and social and economic characteristics of individuals living in East Baltimore, together and individually, resulted in East Baltimore being characterized as one of the least healthy communities in America.
Community rebuilding efforts must therefore assess the communities’ health history and assure that the processes of rebuilding are participatory and not hierarchical as has been the intention and practice of EBDI and its partners. Rebuilding with input and direction from those living in the community can begin to change the historic oppressions that have directly and indirectly contributed to creating unhealthy communities. Assessment of the health impact, as well as the economic, social, educational, environmental, and political impact, on the people affected by community rebuilding processes must be included in an analysis of “benefit for whom.”
For those who organize and challenge the powerful stakeholders for more equitable rebuilding processes, the consequent health impact of increased stress must be assessed in light of the already existent stress resulting from living in abandoned and disempowered communities. These types of analyses must be incorporated into the strategies for rebuilding communities like Middle East Baltimore in order to address the historic damage and narrow the gap of unequal benefit to the stakeholders involved today. Such comprehensive analyses will begin to address the power imbalances which serve to widen the growing disparity in health between communities with differing degree of resources and which are separated by race and class.

For more specific discussion of the effects of unfair development as a social determinant of health and potential mechanisms for poor health outcome see chapter 9, ‘Poverty of health’.

This link ( Development and health) provides a PDF of a presentation at Morgan State University on October 22, 2013 highlighting the health effects from the racist and classist development policies and practices that have shaped our cities in America.

Enjoy and organize!!

Organizing Against the Academic Industrial Complex

Join us at 2640 St. Paul Street in Baltimore for an exciting and revealing discussion about the Academic Industrial Complex: highlighting the activities of Syracuse and Johns Hopkins and organizing efforts to to challenge these powerful land grabbers…presented by John Burdick and Marisela Gomez
Hosted by 2640 and Red Emma’s

link to flyer

Study Circle Pamphlet: Race and class determine ‘who gets the land’

Dear friends,

The link below will allow access to a web version of a pamphlet developed for study circles addressing community organizing and community rebuilding in Middle East and East Baltimore. The ‘points of reflections’ on the last pages uses the book as a resource.
There is also a print version of this pamphlet which will print into a 2-sided pamphlet, front to back, and can be stapled for convenience. Please be in touch with me if you would like access to the print version.

Please use as a tool on this path of changing the status quo of rebuilding disinvested and abandoned communities for the white and middle and upper classes while neglecting low income and historic communities of color-and the acute and long-term trauma caused by these oppressive and discriminatory practices.

In spirit!


Rebuilding Middle East Baltimore:
Race and class determine ‘who gets the land’
Marisela B Gomez

Images: Groundbreaking for Hopkins student housing during 2 rebuilding projects in East Baltimore (1956 Broadway Redevelopment Project, black and white photo; 2001-current Johns Hopkins and EBDI Development Project, color photo). In both, more than 800 households, of low income and African American people, were displaced to make room for Johns Hopkins expansion. The legacy of this history of power imbalance continues today, in the people and the spaces of East Baltimore.

Bus and Book Tour: Impact of Racism on Development in East Baltimore

Baltimore Racial Justice Action presents:

Upcoming Bus Tour: Impact of Racism on Development in East Baltimore
Saturday, August 10, 2013, Meet at 12:30; Bus leaves at 1:00; Return at 3:00 for Q&A and snacks
United Evangelical Church of Christ in Canton, 3200 Dillon St., Baltimore, Md. 21224
Call 410-645-0878 for more information

Tour with Dr. Marisela Gomez, author of Race, Class, Power and Organizing: Rebuilding Abandoned Communities in America. The tour will cover the story of how racist and classist policies and practices created a disinvested, low-income and working-poor African American community in Baltimore Maryland and what happened to the community as a result of “development”. Participants will see the peripheral areas still experiencing similar characteristics of poverty and abandonment of the Middle East area before rebuilding began, with the same pattern of power and disempowerment previously existing between the Johns Hopkins Medical Institution and Middle East Baltimore. Net proceeds from the tour will be used to purchase books for displaced residents.


Chapter 10, Epilogue added

Go to ‘Book’ page, ‘Book Content’ on drop-down menu

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

Renaming history to hide past and present racism and classism in East Baltimore

The recent article ‘Prospect of prosperity means loss of name: ‘Rebranding’ Middle East at the cost of its heritage’ on May 26 by Steve Kilar suggests that we just have to accept that branding by public-private partnerships rule the day and any history which reminds us of what needs to change to make us a more equitable city is removed.

Perhaps it is more about keeping the biggest employer Johns Hopkins University and Hospital, aka as the powerful 1% of Maryland basking in its continuously expanding geography in East Baltimore, feel safe and happy? A name change in line with its vision of a ‘mixed-income’ community and its decision of whose history is worthy of being preserved and whose is forgotten simply reflects its power.

A bit more reflective of the process of this suggested name change would be the agreement with residents by Forest City and EBDI not to change the name after residents said they did not want this to happen. Nevertheless, off they scampered with those public funds to hire yet another marketing firm to do yet another campaign. The public meetings where this current new name was supposedly presented to and accepted by the community were not really public; public is when all the affected community is made aware and invited. The process of community input by EBDI and Forest City is to target selected community members who will not rock ‘their’ boat on the way to a white-washed community of means. Meanwhile it is exactly this repeated history of non-transparency, back-door meetings, and land-grabbing by the powerful Johns Hopkins supported by its public and private partners which must be acknowledged and changed to prevent the continuous uprooting of historic low income and African American residents to accommodate the elite university.  

But how can it when the history continues to be buried and renamed and residents continue to be displaced: out of sight out of mind. This history continues to repeat itself evident by the initial 14 acres of Hopkins in 1889 expanded to the current 70+ acres in 2013. Where are those thousands of families who previously lived in the 60+ acres next to the temporary and changing borders of Johns Hopkins and its affiliates? Where do they live? How have they benefited from the expansion of Johns Hopkins into their land? What happened to their voice in rebuilding their community, their social networks that provided stability? We cannot honestly answer these questions because we have systematically abandoned, disrupted, and displaced the history of this community to make way for the ever expanding giant of Johns Hopkins? Will the name of the community change to seal this lost history? 

Will our segregated-separate and unequal- city every change or simply grow more so? There remains hope if we keep lifting up the truth in the midst of the glamorous changes being shoved down residents’ throats. Let us remember what Mayor O’Malley said in 2001 at the beginning of this project: ‘We really need to arrive at a common vision that can be shared by Johns Hopkins and the citizens of East Baltimore… If that can’t happen, I’m not going to force it down anybody’s throat’. (‘City, Hopkins weigh plan for east-side development More than 20 blocks could be razed for `bioscience park’; Building on city’s strengths’ The Sun 11 January 2001) Well Governor O’Malley, there is some major forcing going on so maybe you can step in and facilitate that common vision! Unless that was just convenient rhetoric back then when your administration was buying public support for a project which never intended to respect the human rights of residents abandoned and marginalized by past and current inequitable systems, policies, and practices? A project which always intended to bury a history of one people for the continued expansion of another.

Chapters 8, 9 of Race, Class, Power, and Organizing in East Baltimore

Check them out in Book content!