Before Harborplace Goes Forward, Learned Lessons Should be Applied

As we embark upon another debate about whether Baltimore should sell bonds and offer tax incentives to aid in the development of a billion-dollar harbor development project, some old points of view are being resurrected. Many will argue the efficacy of the city investing millions of dollars in a development project, but what is missing in the current, as well as previous debates, is a real discussion and agreement on how the city’s investments in downtown development projects benefit the residents of the impoverished inner city neighborhoods.

We debated over Harborplace. The proponents believed that it would bring new revenue to benefit both the city and its impoverished neighborhoods. Others did not believe that downtown development would benefit Baltimore’s impoverished communities. Approximately 35 years later we know that Harborplace brought new visitors and additional revenue to the City, but we also know that the same Baltimore neighborhoods that begged for transformation are still poor.

We had a similar debate over Harbor East, and now we are making the same arguments over Harbor Point.

The question that Baltimore’s elected and appointed officials should answer is what have we learned about community human and economic development?
Socioeconomic factors such as employment opportunities, income, education, healthy food, healthy housing, safe parks and recreational space, healthcare, safe neighborhoods, and transportation affect quality of life issues such as crime, neighborhood blight, home maintenance and ownership, decisions regarding the location of businesses, economic development opportunities and health outcomes.

What is the city’s human and economic development plan for the residents of the impoverished communities? How many and what type of jobs will go to people like the residents of Perkins Homes and specifically, how will the taxes that Harbor Point generate benefit these impoverished communities and their residents?

Have good intentions worked, have sincere promises worked, has legislation worked, has increased police presence worked? The answer to these questions can’t be avoided. If the answer is no, then city officials have an obligation to agree on a specific plan realistically designed to organize, empower and transform the lives of the residents of the impoverished inner city communities in question to be in a position to take advantage of the possible benefits to include education and training, social services, living wage jobs, cultural enrichment, etc. Otherwise we can expect the same outcome that we have experienced to date.

We must move beyond mere good intentions to a workable plan to connect Baltimore’s residents – even its poor residents – to the affluence expected from development.

It has been the vision of Sojourner-Douglass College that opportunity excludes no one because of race or life’s circumstance. We have been working with the residents of the Oldtown community to establish with residents a vehicle for even the most hopeless to achieve outcomes for themselves that no one could imagine.

People of color have achieved remarkable affluence and accomplished extraordinary things under limited conditions. Conditions we no longer have to endure. Whether the community was Tulsa, Oklahoma during the early part of the 20th century, Harlem of the same period, or Baltimore 60 years ago, our parents and grandparents overcame. As undereducated and underemployed as they were, they nonetheless sparked a demographic movement from poverty to middle class status that produced most of us.

The same outcome can still be accomplished by us today. But we need what they could take for granted – the power of social networks to connect people for effective action. It is to take advantage of this history that we are focusing our effort in Oldtown to restore, revitalize, and expand long broken social networks to enable the people of Oldtown to reclaim their own future by working together once again to accomplish extraordinary things.

Working with the stakeholders of Oldtown, Sojourner-Douglass has incorporated Change4Real Community Corp. as a vehicle for organizing the local stakeholders into an effective social, political, and economic presence sufficient to transform the community from poverty to prosperity that the residents can enjoy.

Change4Real was created not just to represent the community, but to contain and effectively be the community – to be the presence at the table that makes the community a place where people want to live.

More to the point, the footprint over which Change4Real is intended to operate includes the Perkins Homes public housing development. Change4Real is a vehicle capable of translating change for and by the residents of this community from the kind of direct investment suggested by Councilman Stokes’ resolution.

Dr. Simmons is founder and president of Sojourner Douglass College in Baltimore City and surrounding counties as well as the Bahamas.

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Before Harborplace Goes Forward, Learned Lessons Should be Applied


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