Johns Hopkins symposium to bring local leaders to Baltimore

The Johns Hopkins University will host a symposium this week in Baltimore for 300 government leaders.

Local leaders from across the country will meet in Baltimore this week to discuss ways to address social and economic problems confronting cities.

The symposium, led by the new 21st Century Cities Initiative at the Johns Hopkins University, will draw mayors from Philadelphia, Atlanta, Baltimore and elsewhere to discuss efforts to create more economic opportunity in inner city neighborhoods, reduce violence and close gaps in education.

The 21st Century Cities Initiative, launched last year, is led by former Obama administration official Ben Seigel. The group will detail efforts by the White House to engage more directly with individual cities — including Baltimore — to tailor federal responses to their specific challenges.

White House officials have created several programs to help city officials nationwide work with federal agencies — to give guidance in applying for federal technical assistance or grants, for instance.

The administration set up a task force for Baltimore following last year's riots.

"The very best solutions are not top-down, one-size-fits-all, but rather locally led and based on the data," Valerie Jarrett, a senior adviser to President Barack Obama, said Wednesday. "We've changed the way the federal government works with communities one city at a time."

The symposium is scheduled for Thursday and Friday in Federal Hill. It is not open to the public.

Despite years of effort and billions of dollars in federal spending, Baltimore and other cities still face many of the problems with blight, unemployment and crime that prompted President Lyndon Johnson's Great Society initiative in the 1960s.

Many city-focused programs that have been in place for decades have lost funding in recent years.

The Obama administration has been working on an approach that places senior officials on the ground in cities, not only to coordinate federal efforts, but also to look for effective local programs that could be put in practice elsewhere.

It's not clear what will become of that effort when the next president is sworn in next year. Tara McGuinness, a senior adviser at the Office of Management and Budget, said the administration is working to institutionalize the approach so that it continues in the future.

"We're working to bring these practices into the lifeblood of the federal government," she said.

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