By Julie Scharper, The Baltimore Sun
8:18 PM EST, December 6, 2012
The Johns Hopkins University pledged Thursday to spend $10 million over the next five years to strengthen and stabilize neighborhoods near its North Baltimore campus.
"The interests of our neighbors — safe streets, the elimination of blighted properties, the development of the local workforce — are also the interests of our university," said Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels. "After all, the future of Johns Hopkins is inextricably linked to that of the community and we are deeply and purposefully committed to Baltimore's success."
Hopkins hopes to spark redevelopment in blighted neighborhoods, improve the quality of public schools and attract more shops to 10 neighborhoods that stretch from University Parkway to Penn Station. University officials want to draw 3,000 new households to these neighborhoods and stimulate an additional $50 million in investments from businesses and foundations.
"We hope this is just the starting point," said Daniels.
Thursday's announcement represented the culmination of a year of study and planning by university officials and community leaders as part of the Homewood Community Partnership Initiative. The group drafted its goals after scores of interviews with residents and community leaders and a daylong workshop earlier this year.
A 95-page report prepared by the task force identifies many of the challenges that the areas near the university face.
"The neighborhoods around Homewood are not devastated, but outsiders (and a good number of current residents) perceive them as rundown, unsafe, and lacking the quality of life and exciting retail establishments that characterize so many other areas around the universities with which JHU competes," the report says. "Urban legend or not, there is a reason why people believe that JHU Security should advise incoming freshmen not to go beyond certain streets."
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake praised the university's efforts as an anchor institution — a term used to describe the growing trend of universities, hospitals and foundations seeking to improve and stabilize the areas around their campuses.
"Anchor institutions depend on strong communities and strong communities depend on strong anchors," she said. "It is our hope that Johns Hopkins will serve as a model for the area's other anchor institutions."
The university plans to target the neighborhoods of Charles Village, Remington, Wyman Park, Barclay, Charles North, Greenmount West, Old Goucher, Abell, Harwood and Oakenshawe. The Waverly "Main Street" business program along Greenmount Avenue also will be eligible for aid.
The neighborhoods, which lie to the east, west and south of campus, represent a diverse swath of the city. While Oakenshawe and Charles Village are stable and relatively affluent, other areas have been troubled by persistent crime. At least eight people have been shot along Greenmount Avenue in recent weeks.
Andrew B. Frank, Hopkins' economic development chief, is spearheading the group along with Joseph B. McNeely, executive director of the Central Baltimore Partnership, and Karen Stokes, president of the Greater Homewood Community Corp.
Frank said the group is looking to expand a program that provides housing incentives to those who live near their work and to support Rawlings-Blake's initiatives, such as a campaign to support urban gardens. The partnership also will offer grants for small development projects that otherwise might not be feasible.
"We're talking about everything from incentives for housing to schools," said Frank, a former deputy mayor for economic development.
Stokes said the group has already devoted a small portion of funds to hire staff for a recreation center attached to Barclay Elementary School. Community leaders have formed an advisory group to direct the center, and students from Hopkins' Carey Business School are helping them draft a plan to make the center self-sustaining.
Stokes said she hopes the funds also will be used to reinvigorate Margaret Brent and Barclay elementary schools, which draw students from the Charles Village area. While many young professionals live in the area, few send their children to these schools.
"We want to attract people to these neighborhoods because the schools are great," said Stokes. "We want Hopkins professors to want to live here because the schools are great."
The task force's report notes that some students choose not to attend Hopkins because of "real and perceived conditions of the off-campus experience." While new shops and restaurants have opened along St. Paul Street near campus over the past decade, Charles Village pales in comparison to "college towns" that surround other major universities.
"The stronger neighborhoods bordering the campus can offer a false sense of security," the report says. "Many of the neighborhoods in which JHU's students, faculty, and staff live and through which they travel are less safe, have more blight and vacancy, suffer from disinvestment, and lack neighborhood retail."
Hopkins students and employees also have been the victims of high-profile crimes in recent years. Stephen Pitcairn, a 23-year-old research assistant, was fatally stabbed for his cellphone as he walked along the 2600 block of St. Paul St. in 2010. Five years previously, a Hopkins volleyball player was killed in her off-campus apartment by the former boyfriend of one of her sorority sisters. And a year before that, a student was fatally stabbed in his fraternity house as a late-night party wound down.
Community leaders — particularly those in less-affluent areas — said the influx of cash is sorely needed.
Dale Hargrave, president of the New Greenmount West Community Association, said he hopes the partnership would help fund the renovation of rowhomes and apartment buildings for lower-income residents.
Sandra Coles, the head of the Greater Greenmount Community Association, said she was glad that Barclay, where she lives, would benefit from Hopkins' largesse, but she regretted that Midway, a neighborhood also represented by her group, was not included.
"The monies are going to go where Johns Hopkins students are," she said. Midway residents "don't understand Barclay somehow being favored."
Farther south, Don Donahue, president of the Charles North Association, said he would like to use the funds to establish a land bank to facilitate the sale and revitalization of vacant buildings.
Revitalization projects led by the University of Baltimore and the Maryland Institute College of Art are converging on the Charles North neighborhood, which includes the blocks near the train station and the Station North arts and entertainment district.
Donahue said he was heartened to hear Daniels say one of his goals was to make streets better lit and more walkable from Hopkins to Penn Station.
While Hopkins' presence has been strongly felt in Charles Village for decades, the latest initiative represents an expansion of the university's footprint.
The university's decision to help Greenmount West pleased Hargrave.
"We all live in the same place called Baltimore City; we have some pressing issues and pressing needs and if we put our heads together, it's a win-win for everyone," he said.
Baltimore Sun reporter Jeremy Bauer-Wolf contributed to this article.
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