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.

Baltimore and beyond: where are the affordable housing?

A recent repot from Mc Kinsey Global Institute warns us “… Decent, affordable housing is fundamental to the health and well-being of people and to the smooth functioning of economies. Yet around the world, in developing and advanced economies alike, cities are struggling to meet that need. If current trends in urbanization and income growth persist, by 2025 the number of urban households that live in substandard housing—or are so financially stretched by housing costs that they forego other essentials, such as healthcare—could grow to 440 million, from 330 million. This could mean that the global affordable housing gap would affect one in three urban dwellers, about 1.6 billion people.”
McKinsey Report

Nationally the lack of affordable housing has been reported on by multiple sources, in Baltimore and beyond. The most recent figures suggest the largest lack of affordable housing in the US. “Like many American cities, Baltimore faces a serious housing crisis. Vacant lots and homes pervade the landscape, yet a large number of residents are struggling to find affordable places to live. Close to 50 percent of metropolitan Baltimore households are “rent-burdened” — defined by the federal government as paying more than 30 percent of income on housing. The once thriving industrial economy that powered this city, like so many across the country, has all but vanished, leaving in its wake a shrinking population and a dearth of well-paying jobs to afford the ever-increasing rent. Of 80 low- and moderate-income Baltimore jobs analyzed by the Center for Housing Policy, less than 35 percent make enough to meet the threshold of rent affordability for a two-bedroom apartment.”
alternet

The Atlantic

Baltimore Brew

And yet, we continue to build housing for the wealthy, gentrify our neighborhoods, displace our social challenges into someone else’s back yard, and guarantee profit for the rich.

Tonight neighboring cities Baltimore and DC are fed up. At a rally this evening in front of city hall in Baltimore residents and advocates called for a negligent city government to resist the continued privatization of public services: the most recent being water in the city of Baltimore. But the lack of affordable housing and living wage jobs due to corporate take-over of our public servants and and inadequate funding of our programs runs a close tie to the issue of water privatization.

water rally

In DC today, long-time residents are participating in a sit-in at Councilman Bowsor’s office. Why? Because their public housing rent has been increased more than 50%, some as much as $600/month, after the limit on affordability expired and city representatives allowed market forces to run public housing. This pattern of privatization is running like wildfire in our cities as strapped governments turn over their duties and responsibilities to corporations. In effect, they are continuing their negligence to the public by not only assessing lower tax rates on the wealthy, but also offering additional tax breaks for developers and corporations to build unaffordable housing, take over property and land with generous government subsidies, ignore equitable hiring practices, treat social challenges like dirt to be hidden from the eyes of the elite, and build schools which discriminate against the poor. When will we end these persistent injustices that sustain inequity? Perhaps we can take a lead from our DC sisters and brothers!
ONE DC

Participatory democracy: right-to-vote, right to participatory development, and the right of government to prevent foreclosure

Right to vote in Hong Kong

Assuring democracy in countries which claim democratic governments is already difficult! What about countries which make no qualms about non-democratic systems of government? The current struggle in Hong Kong for voting rights in Hong Kong’s upcoming election is just that. Residents of Hong Kong are demanding that they have representative vote of their region’s interest in the new chief executive-governing leader- and have been ignored by the powerful government bodies of China and Hong Kong. (1) In response students in Hong Kong have taken to the streets and occupied them, initially called Occupy Central. This has expanded to the general public now called ‘the Umbrella Revolution or Movement’. Their intention is to gain support for their demands for some form of participatory democracy. This past weeks’ demonstrations witnesses this struggle and has garnered solidarity across the globe-from US to Germany, Australia to Belgium, UK to Canada. (2) In spite of such massive turnouts and show of people power protesters have met with violence from the police authority as well as anti-democratic thugs. The occupation of public space continues today with people camping on streets as Hong Kong demands public / human rights to determine their lives-participatory democracy. (3)

Right to equal participation in development in DC and Baltimore:participatory development

In the District of Columbia, public housing residents have been organizing and demanding that the city government and housing authority stop development which threatens their displacement and continue gentrification. OneDC, a local grassroots organization has led the momentum for resident-owned and -driven development for many years. Now they confront city officials to demand that they are part of all development plans which involve their community. (4) Such a demand, representation in decisions that affects your life, seems quite reasonable and certainly would be an assumption for those in power. But for these same individuals who make decisions for public housing residents, their exclusion of residents from planning seems to suggest that these rights should not be afforded to low-income and of-color communities. Such blatant discrimination in housing and community development and urban planning in the US is meeting greater challenge as evidenced by OneDC’s challenge to the powerful stakeholders’ deciding the faith of public housing residents in the ‘People’s Platform’. (4) They are demanding participatory development.

In Baltimore, RHA (Right to Housing Alliance) and residents have led the charge to assure HUD’s recent program to privatize public housing (RAD, Rental Assistance Demonstration) does not leave residents with no rights. While some have called for minimizing or removing private capital from this demonstration project, Baltimore has demanded that residents remain a direct party in the decision-making between management and tenants. (5,6) Even though everyone would expect such a right, HABC appears to feel that public housing residents should relinquish their rights to decision-making in their homes. Such discrimination by Baltimore’s city leaders, supported by neo-liberal policies and programs of the US continue to assure that those without power remain separated from and at the mercy of those with power. RHA has organized and rallied in support of more transparent decision-making and negotiation on contracts being formulated for private developers-demanding participatory development. (6, scroll down for full article by Cohen).

The development for community equity has not found a foothold in Baltimore as yet, but we have hope that participatory development will rise up in Baltimore. The recent project announced in Sharp Leadenhall could potentially lead to more gentrification or equity: dependent on resident’s organizing and assuring a place at the decision-making table with a Community Benefits Agreement in hand for negotiation. (7) Anything else would leave too much dependence on the developer to make a ‘good-faith’ effort to accomplish in regard benefit to existing community. In the past, these ‘good-faith’ efforts, whether in legalize or verbal, have amounted to nothing. This is evidenced by the current Hopkins/EBDI/Casey development in East Baltimore which continues to project moderate and market rate housing, more Hopkins buildings, a school to attract higher income residents, a hotel and a park intended to benefit new residents while affordable housing or permanent employment for local residents remain missing. East Baltimore residents may well heed West Baltimore’s lead in suing the state of Maryland for development of transit-Red Line train system- which excluded their participation in deciding on a route which will disrupt their community and cause harm. (8) All of these development projects continue to receive large government subsidies in the form of new market tax credits, state grants and loans, TIFs, and PILOTs. The city of Baltimore could easily assure that these government subsides make their way back into the pockets of residents by legislating affordable housing in each development is assured for 99 years, a living wage is paid by all new businesses which receive government subsidies, and mandating local/co-op business ownership in each development area. New York City recently legislated a realistic living wage mandate for development and businesses which receive more than $1 million in city subsidies. (9) The current wage of $7.25/hr required by law in the state of Maryland will do absolutely nothing to lift working class people out of poverty, if they benefit from employment in new or ongoing development projects-some ongoing development projects are exempt from recent local-hiring mandates exempting major developments that have benefitted unfairly from public subsidies such as the Hopkins project in East Baltimore. Until we revolutionalize the accepted unjust and neo-liberal policies and practices governing housing, community, and economic development in Maryland we will continue to grow the health and wealth disparity gap in Baltimore, already ranked in the top 10 (of 50 big cities) in regard income inequality. (10)

Government can prevent foreclosure

Across the US citizens affected by the foreclosure crisis-an outcome which was enabled by the banking industry and real estate groups- are demanding their rights through legal strategies. Several cities are challenging the courts to allow city governments to use eminent domain to take late or default mortgages and negotiate with residents for a more affordable rate. For example, New Jersey admits that this strategy may force banks to negotiate with owners for fear of their mortgages being taken by the city through eminent domain. (11) Richmond, California has already implemented eminent domain to seize mortgages greater than the value of homes with San Francisco pending a decision next week on similar strategies. The two cities are considering pooling resources and promoting a national movement toward taking underwater mortgages back from lenders and offering home owners a more affordable mortgage. (12) The use of eminent domain in this way forces lenders who participated in driving up the housing market through loans based on ghost collateral to re-negotiate in more just ways with those they offered credit. City governments willing to stand up for public rights welcome in a new era of democratic participation through public offices. Cities which continue to document foreclosure challenges, like Baltimore, would benefit from similar strategies for participatory democracy. (13)

participatory democracy

1. Live stream from Occupy Central / Umbrella Revolution in Hong Kong
2. Solidarity for Hong Kong across the world
3. Ongoing coverage from Hong Kong news sources
4.People’s Platform for an Equitable DC
5. Rental Assistance Demonstration Program
6. Right to Housing Alliance, RHA
7. Proposed mega-project in Sharp-Leadenhall get tentative support
8. W. Baltimore homeowners sue state to block Red Line
9. DeBlasio to raise living wage
10. Gentrification, inequality, and the paths toward housing equity.
11. New Jersey Mayor address foreclosure problems
12. San Francisco to decide on eminent domain to prevent foreclosures
13. 2007-2013 foreclosure data in Baltimore, MD

Gentrification, inequality, and the paths toward housing equity

  

IMG-20121119-00011

Luxury apartments replace public housing in East Baltimore

This writing associates gentrification and inequality with the understanding that association is not causation. Further studies are analyzing the relationship between gentrification and inequality and vice versa. In the mean time, glance at the table compiled from two reports: Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank on cities undergoing gentrification through 2009 and Brookings Institute on inequality in cites in 2012. Seven out of the top 10 cities experiencing gentrification and inequality are the same: Boston, NYC, San Francisco, Washington DC, Atlanta, Chicago, Los Angeles. While the years are not consistent across the reports for a rigorous comparison it suggests a pattern of association. In the Cleveland Federal Reserve Bank report on gentrification in cities Baltimore is ranked the highest in cities with low price land tracts (95% of land tracts are low price land tracts). However for the period studied -between 2005 and 2009- only 5% gentrification occurred in these tracts. (1) This is consistent with BNIA (Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance) data showing an increase between 2005 and 2007 but leveling off into 2009 (See June 2013 post on this site for graph of rebabbed houses in Baltimore as a proxy for increased house value).

Top 10 cities gentrified 

2005-2009*

Top 10 cities with largest income inequality 2012#
Boston Atlanta
Seattle San Francisco
New York City Miami
San Francisco Boston
Washington, DC Washington, DC
Atlanta New York City
Chicago Oakland
Portland Chicago
Tampa Los Angeles
Los Angeles Baltimore
*http://www.clevelandfed.org/
research/trends/2013/1113/01regeco.cfm
#Brookings Inst. Rpt

In the Brookings Institute report Baltimore ranked 10th out of 50 big cities in the US for the greatest gap between the rich and the poor in 2012. (2)  This current income inequality may reflect more recent gentrification processes which have occurred subsequent to 2009.

There are two big initiatives of revitalization ongoing in Baltimore, one a legacy of a previous mayor (now governor) and the other of the current mayor: 1)The ‘college town gentrification project”:  the big players are U of Maryland, U of Baltimore, Maryland Institute College of the Arts on the west side and Johns Hopkins on the east side (3) and 2) ‘10,000 families in 10 years’ targeting recent immigrants, lesbian/gay/bisexual/transgendered communities, Washingtonians who want lower-priced water views. One tool for these projects is the ‘Vacants to Value’ program initiated by the current administration which aims to sell vacant  property at low cost to new residents  as an invitation into the city. Several  reports from existing residents reveal they are not given equal opportunity to purchase vacant property through this program. The socially engineering project of constructing a new Baltimore is determined to rebuild it with people of a different race and class and de-concentrate the existing fabric of this inner city. In addition the recent report from Baltimore Brew regarding the city’s plan to sell public housing buildings to private developers/managers with no transparency to the public as to the long term plans for these buildings will add to further displacement and likely gentrification. (4) The Housing Department has the right to negotiate on behalf of current and future residents to assure that these units remain affordable yet the public remains uninformed as to these details. Dispersing housing vouchers to current tenants may allow low-income residents to move to areas with better socioeconomic status but it does not guarantee increased income for them to afford the goods and services of these different neighborhoods. In fact the current data shows no consistent patterns of increased employment for low-income residents forced to move when public housing is planned for demolition. (5) The results of these rebuilding and gentrification processes will be important to track to determine correlation between the changing higher income earners in the city, the predicted 28% increase in housing prices in Baltimore, and the income and housing value of displaced and existing lower income residents-the inequality gap. (6)

7-11 in the Johns Hopkins Rangos Building does not accept food stamps

New 7-11 in the Johns Hopkins Rangos Building in East Baltimore gentrification does not accept food stamps, dictating who is invited into the community

Gentrification results in a different class and often race of people inhabiting a previously disinvested area. (7) This results in increased taxes, better public infrastructure/services, greater investment in education, recreation (bike lanes, human/dog parks) etc with the consistent effect of displacing existing residents who cannot afford the increased taxes, services, and merchandise in the area.Displacement of local businesses occurs secondary to new residents desiring different products, usually more costly. Does this lead to greater inequality/gap between the rich and the poor? It can if people are unable to afford something they previously afforded (home, taxes, products, services) whether in their current neighborhood or neighborhood of displacement. In the current neighborhood the new higher income residents create a market that drives housing prices up, as well as services and products. For a low-income earner moving into a higher income neighborhood because of displacement they still pay a higher percentage of their income for the housing if more affordable housing is not constructed in the area. If existing residents have increased costs to live but no increased income to support these costs, there is less left over after housing expenses.

These initiatives of the past and current mayors seek to increase higher income earners while little has been done to train the existing workforce to be competent to benefit from the projected new jobs and assure increased income that can afford the increased cost for housing, products, services and taxes. Neither has there been affordable housing planned to accommodate the displaced residents unable to afford the rising cost of housing and property taxes. Many of the neighborhoods targeted for revitalization include communities which have been disinvested and under-resourced in education, health care, nutrition, recreation, libraries and all the other assets that support a thriving and healthy community. The outcomes of such disinvestment over time result in the health disparities-including drug and alcohol addiction, development delays, lead poisoning, high incarceration rates, depression, anxiety- we witness in Baltimore and similar urban cities of low income and color. (8) This default of benefit to the higher income residents continues the status quo of growing health and wealth inequality supported by powerful public-private partnerships.

DSCF6672

East Baltimore expansion of 88 acres anchored by Johns Hopkins University

The struggle for equity in housing rights for communities of low income and color  targeted for the negative impacts of gentrification and greater inequality continues. In Baltimore residents in Middle East organized and challenged Johns Hopkins University, the city government, Annie E. Casey Foundation and other powerful stakeholders for fair market value for their homes, equitable relocation costs, and healthy demolition processes after being targeted for displacement by eminent domain. (9) Residents in Washington DC organized and established cooperative housing when their rental building was threatened for developer buy-out (10) In Brooklyn tenants organized and formed a union to assure they can stay in their rental housing after private landlords threaten them to move and increase rent in a quickly gentrifying area. (11)  In California Oakland is addressing workforce development in the creative arts and San Francisco is assuring residents are not further pushed out by gentrification (12). To address the issue of increasing property taxes which force out existing residents Philadelphia, Boston, Pittsburg, and New York have introduced or passed legislation either capping or extending payment for property taxes. (13) Legislation to mandate a set target of affordable housing being built in all new housing developments and a set target of local hires, workforce training for eligibility for employment, and social programs to assure eligibility can be tools to assure more equitable housing and employment which will sustain incomes and prevent displacement. (14) There is  more discussion about how to prevent gentrification once revitalization begins in adjacent neighborhoods and online media has served as a platform for raising greater awareness of this issue. (15) Lastly, anti-displacement strategies have and can include city, regional, and federal-sponsored research and planning to assess potential for current affordable housing stock and likelihood of displacement as a result of revitalization and funding for  prevention strategies. (16)  An example of a plan to prevent displacement secondary to planned revitalization in Somerville, MA was recently released by the Metropolitan Area Planning Council of Somerville  suggesting a need for 9,000 new affordable units to assure no displacement occurs (17). Besides organizing at the community level planning and training upcoming leaders to replace current leadership at the city, state, and federal levels, who ignore and support the negative effects of gentrification and inequality through private:public partnerships, is occurring and remains a critical path toward housing equity (18)

More on ‘Arts to Gentrification’ in Station North Arts and Entertainment District

ARE YOU THERE, LORD BALTIMORE?
IT’S ME, OLIVIA ROBINSON, CITIZEN JOURNALIST

by Olivia Robinson

I am sitting in a folding chair at the New Greenmount West Community Association meeting. The meeting is being held in the basement of the old P.A.L. Center on Guilford. (1) Right now, a member is reporting about the second affordable housing structure to be built in Greenmount West – like the first, this building will be for artists-only. After twenty years the tax credits will run out and then the affordable pricing limits will be removed and market rate prices will be allowed. In general, those at the meeting seem positive about development activity taking place in their neighborhood.

The Greenmount West, Charles North, and Barclay neighborhoods make up the “Station North Arts and Entertainment District,” designated in 2002. This title, mainly propaganda for attracting interest from outside the district, calls attention to a special minority in the area: generations of artists and art students. According to 2010 census data, there are almost an equal number of construction workers living in the area as those working in the arts, and even more people who file under the title “Education Services” (including health care and social services). An “Arts and Entertainment District” creates a promotable image of leisure and culture, while a “Health Care and Social Services District” is simply not sexy. Instead, it points to poverty and services needed, rather than wealth and cultural services rendered.

Our Arts and Entertainment District is a smart marketing tool for attracting people and money to the area – yet it does feel covertly classist and racist. The vast majority of people who recognize themselves as artists in the Arts and Entertainment district are white and often from privilege. Again, according to the 2010 census, 72% of the general
Arts District population are black while 82% of the artists are not. During the meeting when I hear about the second artists-only affordable housing project, I cringe. It’s not overt racism, but it’s not far from it either.

Second on the NGWCA meeting agenda are updates from Senator Catherine Pugh, MICA President Fred Lazarus, and Principal Nathan Burns about the newly finished Baltimore Design School, a magnet high school for design students. C. Pugh and F. Lazarus have been instrumental to the Arts District’s successful momentum. While I am generally wary of development, I believe in their good intentions. BDS now inhabits an old factory that was vacant for 25 years. In Greenmount West, the vacancy rate went down from almost 50% in 2000 to 33% in 2010. It seems that the
development in the area is effectively bringing in live bodies. How our city became so vacant, though, is rooted in ugly, racist property laws and policies of the 20th Century. The rows of boarded up buildings should remind us to be critical about how we ‘develop’ the city and for whom – even with good intentions of the landlords and leaders. (2)

In the 1930’s (and as part of the New Deal), the federal government drew city maps to designate where federal, state, and city funds would go for public services. Middle and upper class, white neighborhoods were seen as “good investments” and outlined in green or blue. African-American neighborhoods were outlined in red, indicating
undesirable neighborhoods that were not worth investment. Private banks also used these maps as guidelines for lending money: green means go, red means no. This practice would come to be known as Red-lining.

Additionally, during the Blockbusting of the 1940’s and 50’s, real estate moguls were able to use the societal racism to make a profit. (3) Such profiteers would cheaply buy homes from white families by scaring them that a black family was moving in. Then they would sell the properties at a higher rate to black families looking to move into those
same neighborhoods. Since the highest paying jobs were held by white people, the city’s tax base began to decrease. Demographics in some neighborhoods inversed. The city continued to lose population for the next 60 years as people who could afford to move to the suburbs, did.

As people left their homes, many were left vacant and rotting. Vacant properties with unpaid taxes slowly became the city’s property. In Greenmount West, about half of the vacant homes are owned by the city and HUD. When there is a critical mass, the city issues an RFP (Request for Proposals) from big development companies, frequently providing enticing tax incentives. In addition to RFPs, a variety of “plans” are created for neighborhoods in Baltimore.

The density of data and plans for property and renewal is overwhelming to digest. The process is not transparent to the uninitiated. I found the most recent Urban Renewal Plans dating back to 1978 with multiple updates since. (4) Vision Plans and Master Plans are more recent creations. The Charles North Vision Plan is a powerpoint presentation. Its creation was a lengthy undertaking, coordinated through one of the many non-profits in the area and then approved by the mayor in 2008. It lays out lovely new spaces full of people. The 2010 census tells us that 65% of the people living in Charles North are African-American. Why then, in the Vision Plan’s illustrations of the future, are 95% of the people of European or Asian descent? Is it part of the Vision Plan to change the demographics of the area? If this is not the plan, it seems incredibly uninformed of the hired planning company to not know, reflect, and include the current makeup of the neighborhood – and not just the demography of the people who own land in the commercial portion of Charles and North. (5)

In contrast to the Charles North Vision Plan, the Greenmount West Vision Plan (and more detailed Master Plan) champions the inclusion of neighborhood renters and homeowners in the development process. It suggests CBAs (6), planned affordable housing, and encouragement of neighborhood association input and approval of plans prior to their execution. Perhaps the Greenmount West area may be able to leverage a more equitable development process and model.

I hang around after the NGWCA meeting. The informal conversation is touching on the large new construction projects. I hear concerns about whether or not the construction jobs were actually going to any local residents. Ultimately, because our current system for investment and development is not community or democratically controlled (7), it
remains to be seen if the good intentions of landlords and people in power who initiate projects are able to integrate the voices and aspirations of those who are already present. Will they grow into enforceable CBAs, environmentally progressive construction, affordable rent, and provisions for rising property taxes – all written into the contracts of growth? (8)

Footnotes
(1) Fifteen years ago I used to volunteer in the afterschool program that the Police Athletic League ran in the building. Friends of mine lived in a row house on Oliver Street around the corner. The houses on either side of theirs were occupied by individuals, families, children. I left Baltimore in 2002 and when I returned for a visit in 2010, the entire block was vacant. One of my friends who had lived there, Flo, died in the Haitian earthquake earlier that year. I remember the boarded up row-homes feeling like a physical manifestation of the sadness and emptiness left in the wake of his death. It seems the entire block of nine vacant homes was sold to TRF (a developer from Philly) for $190K in 2011. The housing market, left to its own devices, fluctuates drastically. The same block was purchased in 1994 for $113K and sold again in 2005 for $315K.

(2) Prior to WWI, the House of Lords was an arm of government made up of “Lords” – men who had received land and the official title of Lord by birth. Lords were born with the presumed wisdom (through inherited culture and education) and responsibility (with their wealth came the sufficient time) of ruling. In this position of power they were expected to benevolently govern while also keeping their class position stable. The eruption of the two World Wars effectively helped speed the dismantling of these assumptions, but certainly not eradicating them.

(3) Morris Goldseker was one such real estate tycoon who made millions in Baltimore during the 1930s to 1960s.

(4) In the past, Urban Renewal Plans have often been re-termed as “Negro Removal Plans” by those living within sites of development.

(5) The Goldseker Foundation (founded by Morris Goldseker) helped to fund the creation of the plan. It also helped fund the Open Walls mural project, a mural program that supported a cadre of international muralists work in Baltimore.

(6) Community Benefits Agreements, including but not limited to ensuring training and jobs for neighborhood residents to find employment within the new construction.

(7) The Housing Commissioner alone ultimately selects the winning proposal from the bids made on RFPs.

(8) Or even better, the creation of Community Land Trusts? A Community Land Trust is a nonprofit corporation that develops and stewards affordable housing, community gardens, civic buildings, commercial spaces and other community assets on behalf of a community. “CLTs” balance the needs of individuals to access land and maintain
security of tenure with a community’s need to maintain affordability, economic diversity and local access to essential services. For more information on Community Land Trusts: http://www.cltnetwork.org/

Essay exhibit at the D Center, Baltimore

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