By J. K. Schmid, Special to the AFRO

It’s a 40-minute wait for the 26 Mondawmin Metro bus at stop 4993, in Westport. When it arrives, it’s empty. Dump trucks rumble up and down Annapolis Road every five minutes. Across the street, former businesses are boarded up or completely pulverized into piles of half-bricks. On the bus stop side, home after home is boarded up. The stand of bright blue chicory plants between row houses grows five feet tall and almost hides the discarded Royal Farms cups and empty bags of Utz snacks.

To the north, the Wheelabrator smokestack reads “Baltimore.”

Other than the trucks, it’s a quiet and lonely spot.

Blighted conditions in communities like Westport in South Baltimore are common in Baltimore regions outlined topographically as the “Black Butterfly.” (Photo credit by John Schmid)

But, Westport isn’t alone.

The South Baltimore community sits in the “Black butterfly,” the apex of the left or west wing of a shape that describes the pattern of mostly Black neighborhoods spread throughout Baltimore City.

Transportation, housing, access to food; these are issues that blight huge swaths of the Black butterfly, and Westport may not be the most challenged community.

Renee Hatcher and Lawrence Brown have completed a project called Baltimore Equity, a joint effort between the University of Baltimore and Morgan State University. Hatcher was a teaching fellow at the Univ. of Baltimore’s School of Law Community Development Clinic, but she’s now an assistant professor of law and program director at The John Marshall Law School Business Enterprise Law Clinic in Chicago.

Lawrence Brown is assistant professor in the Morgan School of Community Health and Policy and coined the term “Black butterfly.”

Coming together, sharing knowledge and students of law and policy, a so-called powermap and toolkit are now published at It took two years of work.

“This idea is to just try to provide information that is more accessible to folks who are actually every day striving to improve their community,” Hatcher told the AFRO.

The powermap lays out the availability, or lack of services and accomodations enjoyed by the center of Baltimore, a “White L” shape that skews disproportionately to the city’s White residents. As investment in communities deteriorate, indicated by the availability of health professionals and lead abatement, banking and financing, a viable housing market or transportation access, communities are color coded from pool table green to blood red. Colors are tied to a numerical score for the services available. North Baltimore/Guildford/Homeland, (the darkest green) scores 23.5 out of 26. Westport, (red), scores an eight. Greenmount East, which is the darkest red, scores a one.

The final array of colors ultimately reflects the redlining patterns of green, yellow and red of Depression-era Baltimore housing policy.

“How can communities have control over what happens in their neighborhood or how can they address certain issues, like their quality of life? That’s the idea behind the toolkit,” Hatcher said. ”What are some ways that people can organize and build institutions that can actually address their material needs and improve their quality of life, in divested, mostly low income, Black neighborhoods in Baltimore?”

The toolkit offers suggestions and options such as community land trusts, community benefit agreements, and local hiring ordinances.

The new powermap captures the broad strokes of Baltimore’s many crises of dignity and justice, but doesn’t quite reach into the plight of another dark red neighborhood, like Sandtown. While some blocks are almost wholly abandoned, others look untouched since Mayor Schmoke’s revitalization efforts in the 1990s.

“Even within the wings of the butterfly, you can have wings that are mostly black, but have different spots and patterns in them,” Brown said. “I think of Baltimore in that same sense. When I say ‘Black butterfly,’ there are White enclaves in the Black butterfly, just as there are Black enclaves in the White L. It’s not this completely homogenous demographic layout, there’s complication within that metaphor, and I think the powermap illustrates the complications connected to the metaphor White L and Black butterfly.”

Hatcher and Brown both say that with a working concept like Baltimore Equity, they expect the Baltimore model will prove portable to other cities like, Washington, D.C. and Chicago. Yet, Hatcher and Brown believe the Baltimore model can be improved further.

“It’s a good place to start, and it would be nice to drill down into neighborhood statistical areas,” Brown said. “The powermap is utilizing community statistical areas and there are 55 in the city. But there are over 255 neighborhood statistical areas, and you could have three or four neighborhood statistical areas inside of those different community areas. So, you could drill down to even smaller units of analysis to get even more detail and the variation within the communities’ statistical areas.”