Baltimore leaders need to invest in the entire city not just the waterfront

If there were any doubt about Baltimore still being the Wild Wild West, one need only look to Greenmount Avenue near 27th Street, where two shootings occurred in under 24 hours before Thanksgiving. The totals: 16-year-old Daniel Pearson is dead and four more are in the hospital . The first shooting occurred with patrolmen so nearby as to stun police with their brazenness.

Gunfire is no joke.

When police tell you how close they were to the shooting that night, their eyes wide with alarm, you can imagine the distance in yards and feet. To wonder how the shooter escaped into the dark ether with police so near, the abandoned properties along that stretch of Greenmount Avenue are all one needs to know.

Baltimore City’s  homicides are on pace to shatter last years’ numbers. Greenmount Avenue is the scene of the latest where teenager Danial Pearson lost his life. (Wikipedia Commons)

In spring 2010, 72-year-old Charles Bowman, a Vietnam veteran was murdered during his nightly routine of Chinese takeout from Greenmount Avenue on his way to work as security guard for the Afro American Newspaper. Since then, the Baltimore Police Department has placed three roving squad cars, 24 hours a day along a three by eight block stretch of the city that includes Greenmount.

While the open air drug markets have diminished almost to nil, the shootings haven’t abated. In the three years previous to  Bowman death, there were four murders in the three by eight section of Baltimore. SinceBowman’s murder, seven more individuals have been murdered in that now heavily patrolled area.

Something tells me it’s not simply about policing.

Contrary to common belief, investment has been coming to Baltimore for thirty years. From the once barren Inner Harbor to the newly erected condos and shopping districts in Harbor East, Canton and Tide Point, Baltimore has seen tremendous investment growth along the waterfront. Chain retailers are mixing with existing small business to provide an array of goods and services, creating neighborhoods for the majority well heeled who have moved to the once desolate waterfront.

Question for the reader: Are the tax breaks and updates to city infrastructure given to high end developers and businesses in an area centered on less than 7 percent of the land mass in Baltimore City a good thing?

Answer: Yes, absolutely.

The city of Baltimore has vacant, seemingly virgin land where waterfront industrial business used to be. The reclamation by the Under Armour plant and retail area on the south side of the harbor and a Four Seasons Hotel and more condos on the north side, have turned these areas from blight into fancy, with some jobs for Baltimoreans. The problem is the lack of investment throughout the other geographical 93 percent of the city.

Charles Bowman was killed in 2010 at the Chinese takeout restaurant Yau’s on Greenmount Avenue. His killer was caught and convicted.

To explain the demographic layout of Baltimore, it is best to view the city in terms of rings. The inner ring is the smallest and encompasses downtown and the new harbor areas where investment and many of the wealthiest people now live and work. Beyond that is a second, far larger and more economically diverse ring. The second ring is filled with neighborhoods still trying to stay afloat. The last, outer ring is almost suburban as it blushes up against the county borders with the city.

Most of  us remember being young and taken to the department store by mom or dad to buy school clothing. A drag it was to be told by our parents how smart we looked in clothes we thought should be burned. Still, we saw other kids too. Of different colors and classes, we saw kids from different places, quietly enduring the same childhood ritual as we. In those moments, we may even have realized we were all being programmed to behave like good little citizens.

In today’s Baltimore, there is no Macy’s or Sear’s to get clothes for the kids. In Baltimore, there is no Sports Authority or a Trader Joe’s for healthy, relatively cheap food. In the second ring, where more than half the city lives, there is no Home Depot or Lowes to easily reach by bus or foot. Howard Street, once Baltimore’s ‘Shopping Mile’ has been reduced to a series of wig shops and antique stores.

Hutzler’s, Hecht’s and Stewart’s, once the anchors of Howard Street and the mid-Atlantic region, have been gone so long that the youth have no idea they ever existed. The preparations for revitalizing Howard Street have been debated for more than a decade with no results. All the while, the citizens of Baltimore are forced to shop beyond the city lines to get clothes for the kids. Any who gets these tax dollars? Certainly not Baltimore City.

Daniel Pearson lived in the second ring, three blocks from me. He was murdered just a block from his home and little more than a mile north of City Hall. That mile might as well have been fifty. Along our stretch of Greenmount Avenue, there are more liquor stores than food stores and more shuddered windows than open store fronts. Still, there is another Dollar Store being erected with cheap overseas knock offs, two blocks south of where young Pearson was shot. Once opened, it can compete with the Dollar Store just five blocks north.

Of the roughly 25,000 inmates detained in Maryland state facilities, more than 17,000 are from Baltimore City. Annually, we make up about 68 percent of the state prison populace yet we are little more than 10 percent of the states population. The majority of these inmates were born and raised poor in the second ring, where century old water mains seem constantly to break and families have the daylong trek out of town by bus to get clothes for the kids.

What a great view and great investments, but how about investing in other parts of the city? Where’s Macy’s?

Baltimore’s leaders showcase the city in the hope the viewer has a pair of Charlie Sheen ‘Winning’ glasses on. In touting the new condos, hotels and shopping on the waterfront, their hope is to draw 10,000 new families to live and work in Baltimore in this decade. The problem is that there is only so much waterfront to build on before having to tackle the aging infrastructure where people currently live. Unless city leaders seek to invest as much in existing communities like the Greenmount shopping corridor and Howard Street, their investments on the waterfront will only help them break even at best.

Today, there should be a Macy’s inhabiting the beautiful old Hutzler’s building on Howard Street. There should be no waiting to fill such an obvious need. Just get it done. That the last three mayors havent is absurd for everyday there isn’t a viable store for city parents to shop locally for kids clothes is a day Baltimore grows economically weaker and more socially isolated.

Baltimore has a parenting problem with so many juveniles taking to the gun as a matter of common recourse over disputes. Disputes most adults would find laughable were the results not so lethal. We have parents who are currently unwilling to recognize how their behavior reflects on their children’s. They too need socializing in the hope it has a positive influence on the young.

As well, I fear Baltimore’s leaders are wearing Sheen’s ‘Winning’ glasses too. They seem glassy eyed toward waterfront investment only. Unwilling to see the importance of investment in older neighborhoods and the socializing effect it has on kids and families. In ignoring the cost that taxpayers will continually bare for the treatment of more victims like those in this weeks shootings, they also ignore the exponential gain that comes with providing amenities and employment in areas desperate for both.

Ultimately, they ignore the obvious resolve and being of parents like my father, a dad like a million other dads. A parent who, regardless of class or color, endured the complaining of their child during shopping ventures and responded kindly but firmly:

“Shut up, boy. Let’s go.”

One thought on “Baltimore leaders need to invest in the entire city not just the waterfront

  • November 26, 2012 at 11:55 PM

    Great story. Being an avid fan of The Wire and after watching the documentary that spawned that TV show, Baltimore has been of interest to me. Here in San Diego we’ve had much the same history: downtown ocean front development trumps everything. Older communities are left to fend for themselves. Some years ago I moved into an older, less prosperous section of San Diego and on my first night in that new place a running gun battle took place between two armed groups and then the police, less than a block away from where I was living. We the people need better lobbyists.

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