When Baltimore's government, colleges, businesses, non-profits, arts institutions and citizens work together, the city's future comes into more distinct focus. It is a future where creativity and innovation are competitive advantages, where our culture and affordability make it one of the greatest places to live and work, and where residents can think of no place they would rather call home.

For years, the city's independent colleges have been working to leverage the energy of our students, the talent of our faculty and the growth of our institutions to make the surrounding communities more vibrant and safe and to ensure that the children and residents of those neighborhoods have access to the phenomenal learning and collaboration experiences occurring on our campuses. We welcome Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's Anchor strategy initiative, to be announced Wednesday. It includes partnership agreements between major Baltimore higher education and medical institutions and the city government to advance economic development in various communities through increased cooperation relating to the four priority areas of public safety, local hiring, local purchasing, and quality of life issues that affect us all. It is everyone's responsibility to actively and aggressively take action to build upon the Baltimore we love and to create the Baltimore we envision.

Baltimore's independent colleges attract some of the world's brightest and most creative students, faculty, and researchers — creating a culture of inventiveness that rivals any on the planet. As we continue to grow, we have looked for opportunities to invest in the city's forward progress as a world-class city. The Johns Hopkins University, for example, has partnered with the city, state and Annie E. Casey Foundation to invest $1.8 billion in East Baltimore over 20 years. The aim is to create a revitalized mixed-income neighborhood where new housing, retail, dining, public education and child care facilities, supported by science and technology jobs, supplant largely abandoned housing, high crime and infant mortality rates, and a poverty rate twice the city's average. The university's similarly focused $10 million Homewood Community Partners Initiative will reinforce neighborhoods in Central Baltimore.

Likewise, Loyola University Maryland's York Road Initiative will enhance education, youth development, and enterprise in the area by leveraging academic programs to provide business acceleration, tutoring, speech-language pathology and audiology services to underserved populations and move administrative personnel into previously abandoned buildings. Loyola joins Notre Dame of Maryland University, which for years has provided health and education services in the York Road area and last year saw its faculty, staff, administrators and students volunteer more than 100,000 hours in service learning partnerships with more than 40 community-based organizations.

Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA), which helped launch college-based community engagement more than 30 years ago, has pushed its students to use art and design as tools to foster positive change. And the college has invested millions of dollars in establishing living and learning facilities on North Avenue, helping to transform the previously abandoned and blighted area into the Station North Arts and Entertainment District, named one of the nation's 10 best arts districts earlier this year by USA Today. MICA and Johns Hopkins have partnered with the Maryland Film Festival on a $17 million project to rejuvenate Station North's Parkway Theater and create a hub for filmmaking in the state as new film programs are launched at both schools.

The example set by the independent colleges shows how impactful we can be when social engagement is purposeful, strategic and all-encompassing. Not only are we using our physical growth as multibillion dollar investments in the city's economy, our faculty and students have also taken the initiative to foster positive change in almost every area of need — volunteering at homeless shelters, providing mentoring and tutoring to children from challenged neighborhoods, offering free clinical services, working to rehabilitate prisoners and providing novel solutions to challenges ranging from poverty to obesity to teenage pregnancy.

Of our more than 10,000 spring graduates who came here from all over the world, we know that more than a third plan to stay in the Baltimore area, infusing a wide range of well trained professional expertise into the economy and social structure — launching new companies and industries around their academic training, one-of-a-kind artistic productions, and cutting edge research conducted in the city. As we continue to look for additional ways to support the communities we live in, we hope that others will follow our lead.

To paraphrase a former president, there is nothing wrong with Baltimore that cannot be fixed by what is right with Baltimore. We are proud to partner with the mayor to move the city forward.

Joan Develin Coley is president of Notre Dame of Maryland University; Ronald Daniels is president of Johns Hopkins University; Fred Lazarus IV is president of Maryland Institute College of Art; and Rev. Brian Linnane is president of Loyola University Maryland. They can be reached at communications@mica.edu.


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