2015 Annual State of the City Address  - 2015-03-09 at 15-20-02-M

Baltimore City Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, giving her annual State of the City Address. (Photo courtesy of baltimorecity.gov)

Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, in her annual State of the City Address, on March 9 speech, she touted sharp decreases in Baltimore’s unemployment rate, more businesses moving into or staying in the area, decreases in the homicide rate, and development across the city as accomplishments. However, community advocates raised questions about who exactly is benefiting from the city’s growth, and whether there is sufficient focus on the city’s most vulnerable.

“The state of our city is strong,” said Rawlings-Blake towards the conclusion of her speech. “We are growing Baltimore and I plan to keep that momentum going. We are building on a strong fiscal foundation. We’re making Baltimore safer. We’re restoring public trust in government. We’re building new recreation centers and schools. We’re ensuring our children are healthy. We’re creating more jobs and economic activity. We’re growing small businesses and promoting entrepreneurship, we’re taking back our vacant properties one by one, and making our communities stronger.”

The Mayor said Baltimore saw a 10 percent drop in homicides in 2014, a one-third drop in unemployment since she took office, a 50 percent decline in the high school drop-out rate over the past five years, and an improved credit rating from Standard & Poor’s.

Rawlings-Blake also rolled out a number of new proposals. These included a plan to sell city-owned parking garages to private owners to fund new recreation centers, and a mentorship effort in the vein of President Barack Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper initiative. She also proposes expanding the Baltimore for Healthy Babies initiative to include school age children and teenagers to improve the health of our city’s youth.

“The fundamental issue of economic development is that people define it in such broad terms,” said Dayvon Love, director of research and public policy for Leaders of a Beautiful Struggle. “People say, ‘such and such a thing has $15 million worth of economic impact,’ but there’s no discussion on who that actually directly impacts.”

Love said the reduction in state aid to Baltimore City public schools, the result of increased value in the city’s property tax base, is a good example of this failure to address who actually benefits from the city’s development efforts. Much of that increase stems from the value of newer developments, many that do not yet generate tax revenue because of agreements with the city. This creates wealth for developers while depriving the city of funds that could help close the gap in our city’s school budget, thus benefiting a more representative cross-section of Baltimoreans.

“There needs to be a more substantive engagement on what economic development looks like in a way that isn’t focused on bringing industry to Baltimore by itself, but is interested in developing a population of people in Baltimore that have access to the economic dynamics that are happening in our city,” said Love.

Kim Trueheart, chair of Liberty Elementary School’s Recreation and Tech Center’s steering committee, said she was struck by what was not addressed in the speech. “There was nothing about affordable housing. There was a statement in there that said we’re going to build housing for new people – I thought that was outrageous,” said Trueheart. “There was nothing about homeless people, and we just got through, barely, several weeks of dramatically cold weather, and had to go to extreme measures and open up the War Memorial building, and yet there was no conversation at all about that.”

ralejandro@afro.com