Baltimore must become more of a pedestrian city if it is to grow and attract investment, according to Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake. In pursuit of that aim, Rawlings-Blake recently moved to reduce or eliminate a number of fees on small businesses, that not only exact an economic cost but also stand in the way of business owners making improvements to their facades and sidewalk areas (like installing bike racks) that can attract more foot and bike traffic to the city.

“I think if Baltimore is going to be a growing city we have to become a more pedestrian city,” Rawlings-Blake told the {AFRO} during an interview on the fee reduction and her views on developing Baltimore economically.

“Cities across the world that are vibrant and thriving aren’t car-centered cities. They are focused on strengthening their neighborhoods, neighborhoods that have multiple modes of transportation options, that are walkable, that encourage cycling. And if we want to fit that model and continue to attract people to move in the city, and, quite frankly, keep people in the city, we have to try to create those amenities that make people want to stay.”

Keeping people in the city, as well as attracting new residents, are long-standing challenges for Baltimore. According to the mayor’s comprehensive economic development strategy report, released in 2014, about 200,000 people work in the city but live elsewhere, taking wealth generated within the city outside of its boundaries.

The report also notes that many city residents, and particularly African Americans, have not been able to “benefit economically” in the city, and calls for more job training programs as well as a greater commitment to minority- and female-owned businesses.

There are also challenges imposed by the federal government, says the mayor, such as the failure of Congress to fund infrastructure projects or EPA mandates that cities must abide by but which are unfunded, imposing costs on already cash-strapped budgets in many places.

“Cities across the country, whether in old cities like Baltimore or younger cities, are facing very tough infrastructure challenges, and where I believe that the Congress has a chance to act and to move our country forward by creating jobs that can’t be outsourced, and that would strengthen our communities for years to come, they find ways to do nothing,” said Rawlings-Blake. “And while that happens our cities suffer, and our communities suffer.”

Overcoming such challenges involves taking some risks, and the reduction in fees on small businesses is expected to cost the city about $800,000 in revenue in the first year, with the idea being that the increased growth it will help spur will resolve the revenue loss over time.

The mayor says she has also overseen the greatest reductions in Baltimore’s property tax in four decades, another measure that bets on its ability to spur growth by stanching the flow of wealth into neighboring jurisdictions who can offer lower property tax rates.

“My commitment is to do even more,” said Rawlings-Blake. “We have to put ourselves in a more competitive position with our surrounding jurisdictions. We are not going to get a property tax rate that is equal to the surrounding jurisdictions, but the property tax is only a part of a larger picture, and if we can critically evaluate the fees and other things that we impose, there might be a way to level that playing field and create a more strategic advantage for investment in Baltimore.”

Creating that advantage also requires making gains in public safety, efforts the mayor says must run alongside the city’s efforts to attract more residents and businesses.

“I know that if I don’t continue to make the city safer – and it’s made a lot of progress – I won’t see the amount of growth that I’d like to see, and whatever growth that we see won’t be sustained,” said Rawlings-Blake. “So, you have to continue to push on the public safety front, and at the same time work to spur development, investment, and create jobs. You have to do that, you have to work to make the city cleaner . . . we have to look for how to deliver potable water in a more efficient, effective way. You have to do all of those things.”