December 8, 2012
When Baltimore officials have talked about the city's "anchor institutions" — universities, hospitals, churches and other nonprofits — it has occasionally been unclear what sense of the word "anchor" they have sought to convey. When talk turns to what these tax-exempt entities contribute to keeping the city alive, the word has sometimes carried less an aura of stability and more a sense of great weight dragging things down.
With today's announcement that it will invest $10 million over five years in its effort to organize the neighborhoods around the Homewood Campus around common development goals, the Johns Hopkins University is going a long way toward changing that. Still facing criticism for its most recent urban project, the East Baltimore Development Initiative near Johns Hopkins Hospital, the university is pioneering a strongly collaborative approach with the communities around Homewood and to the south. If it works, it could become a model for the rest of the city's institutions.
The project is spearheaded by Johns Hopkins President Ronald J. Daniels, who won high marks for similar efforts during his time as provost of the University of Pennsylvania. In announcing the funding for the Homewood Community Partners Initiative, he said his goal was not simply to make the neighborhoods around campus nicer but to harness the "moral and intellectual energies" of the campus and the community around a common purpose. It is a holistic approach developed through a year of dialogue between the university and surrounding community groups and businesses that recognizes the degree to which the fate of one is intertwined with those of all others.
Accordingly, the announcement included no master plan, no fancy architectural renderings. A consultant's report about the initiative includes specific ideas but in the form of a guidebook rather than a roadmap. Andrew Frank, Mr. Daniels' advisor on economic development and formerly a top aide in City Hall, said the funds will likely be used to seed an investment pool to provide gap financing for real estate development projects in the area and to provide community betterment grants, among other things. He said the university hopes to leverage its investment to provide a total of as much as $60 million over the next five years. But what gets done will be determined through collaboration between the university and the community. Meanwhile, Mr. Daniels said Hopkins would increase its efforts to hire and purchase locally and would focus more resources from its School of Education into community schools.
For Hopkins, there is some self-interest at work. Strong neighborhoods around campus will make it easier to attract and retain top-quality faculty and students, and Hopkins' competitor institutions are already doing the same thing. From the city's perspective, this initiative could go a long way toward fulfilling Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's goal of attracting 10,000 new families to the city over the next decade; indeed, Hopkins officials think this initiative alone could be responsible for almost a third of that total.
The $10 million is certainly significant, but of more lasting — and replicable — importance is the structure for collaboration that preceded it. As important as Hopkins has been to the city, it has not always been trusted. The process by which the Homewood Community Partners Initiative was developed — hundreds of interviews, surveys, reviews of community plans and a series of meetings with stakeholders over a year — promises a solid foundation for a partnership based on mutual interest.
Not every institution in the city will be able to make the kind of investment Hopkins is promising. But that model for developing common goals is one that can be replicated. The Maryland Institute College of Art has already been something of a pioneer in this area, and Morgan State University President David Wilson has made the improvement of the neighborhoods around campus a top priority. The city's other anchor institutions would also do well to consider Mr. Daniels' rationale for this effort: "The future of Johns Hopkins is inextricably linked to the community, and we are deeply and purposefully dedicated to Baltimore's success."
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