My final full day in office begins like my first -- full of hope for Baltimore City. I love this city and leave City Hall after 23 years in public service secure in the knowledge that Baltimore's best days are ahead. It has been a privilege to serve the people of this great city, but it is time now for me to move on and begin a new chapter in my life.
People often ask me, "What was your greatest accomplishment?" My answer is simple: my staff. We recruited and held onto experienced, talented and passionate individuals who worked tirelessly to improve services, respond to constituent issues and reform government.
From my first day in office, I was committed to making Baltimore a cleaner, greener, healthier and safer city. Of course, these are hollow words if not followed by actions. For example, early in my term we took action to secure passage of the indoor smoking ban, leading the way for a statewide ban.
Public safety should be a mayor's top priority, as it was with me. By focusing on the most violent offenders, strengthening community and institutional partnerships and going after illegal guns, we achieved historic lows in homicides and nonfatal shootings. In 2008, Baltimore recorded the fewest homicides in 20 years. As a result, Baltimore ended the decade with the largest decrease in the total crime rate among the 20 most populous cities. The progress continues, with Baltimore recording the lowest number of homicides in the month of January since 1977.
We implemented and expanded programs to help "connect the dots" by providing alternative pathways for young people and the most vulnerable in our society. By partnering with the private sector, we expanded our YouthWorks summer jobs program to ensure that no young person was turned away. A record 6,500 young people participated in YouthWorks last year, and we doubled the number of businesses participating in the program.
We turned words into deeds and began implementing the 10-year plan to end homelessness. As recommended in the 10-year plan, we are building Baltimore's first ever 24-hour, seven-day-a-week housing resource center for individuals. In addition, we adopted an inclusionary housing law requiring affordable housing in market-rate developments assisted with city funds.
Among many other greening accomplishments, our new Office of Sustainability worked with the newly appointed Sustainability Commission to produce Baltimore's first sustainability plan. In 2008, Baltimore earned the honor of being ranked one of the nation's top 10 most sustainable cities by SustainLane. As we confronted the city's historic budget deficits, we changed the way the city delivered services. For example, the Department of Transportation's Operation Orange Cone initiative paved more than 600 lane-miles in three years, more than double the previous three years. And, with the Department of Public Works' new One-Plus-One initiative, we saved $7 million and increased recycling 50 percent in just one year.
On the economic development front, we made progress across neighborhoods and downtown despite the worst economy since the Great Depression. Downtown, we moved the west side's Superblock project forward, having settled three inherited lawsuits, completed property acquisition and secured Board of Estimates approval for two major development agreements. Other economic development accomplishments include retaining Legg Mason's headquarters and 500 jobs in Baltimore City and assisting with the expansion of Morgan Stanley into the first building at Harbor Point, expected to create 900 jobs over 10 years. In the area of tourism, our merger of the Convention Center with Visit Baltimore produced great results; convention bookings broke records in fiscal years 2009 and 2010.
We worked with the City Council to move two transformational, transit-oriented development projects forward: Westport Waterfront and East Baltimore Development Inc. Both projects will create thousands of construction jobs, provide an array of affordable and market-rate housing opportunities and promote access to public transportation. We advanced the Red Line by sponsoring a Red Line summit that kicked off an intensive community engagement process, resulting in the Red Line Community Compact, a document of guiding principles and strategies for the city to advocate during the design and construction of the project.
Looking forward, I urge my colleagues to eliminate the barriers in neighborhood redevelopment and move forward with the proposed land bank. Land bank programs have been established in many cities across the nation to tap into the potential for urban redevelopment. Baltimore is estimated to have more than 30,000 abandoned buildings and lots. An urban land bank has short-term fiscal benefits as well as the potential for long-term community development benefits by removing blight and creating a synergy of benefits with the potential to spur additional reinvestment.
I end where I began, eternally optimistic about Baltimore's future. I am grateful to my family, friends, colleagues and supporters. I wish the new administration the very best during these unprecedented economic times. May God bless and watch over the city of Baltimore.
Sheila Dixon has served as mayor of Baltimore since January 2007.Copyright © 2014, The Baltimore Sun