My father, through the Enterprise Foundation, started investing in the Sandtown-Winchester neighborhoods 25 years ago with the hope of proving that it was cheaper for society to fix the problems in a poor inner-city neighborhood, than it was to ignore them. His hope was by addressing all of the needs of the neighborhood at once, better housing, better schools and more job opportunities, you could transform the neighborhood into a healthy community that people would want to live and invest in.
The events since the death of Freddie Gray, a Sandtown resident, have made clear that my father's dream has not been realized. But, with the national and international focus on Baltimore and discussion of what ails our inner-city neighborhoods, a new opportunity has arisen. We can ascertain why my father's efforts did not succeed and what else needs to be done to help not only Sandtown, but all the country's blighted inner-city neighborhoods.
I wholeheartedly agree with Elijah Cummings heartfelt plea to "make Baltimore a model for the nation." How do we do that? The problems are multi-faceted and complex, but solvable. Common sense should lead the way.
Clearly, policing practices have to be radically reformed. A recent David Simon interview with the Marshall Project, details the history of how police community relations got this bad and what can be done immediately to change that. We need to listen to the youth and citizens of East and West Baltimore about what their needs are and create programs and opportunities to meet them. Where does the money come from? Let's take advantage of the sudden media focus on Baltimore to attract NGO (non-governmental organizations) and foundation money to invest in solving our problems.
One often overlooked problem in Baltimore is our transit system. Our present system discriminates against the poor in East and West Baltimore, by making it difficult and even impossible for them to get to jobs or school in a timely and reliable manner.
The Opportunity Collaborative, a project of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council has created maps that show the average length of commute for a citizen of East/West Baltimore to job centers around BWI/Nursery Road, the new Amazon project, and Hunt Valley was 90 minutes one way — that is, if the bus shows up and doesn't pass you by already overcrowded. These are the places where jobs are currently available that pay well enough to lift people out of poverty. We need to better connect people to opportunity.
A recent article in the Baltimore Brew details the travails of a new resident to Baltimore trying to take a bus across North Avenue and out Harford Road to get to work on time. The buses were continually overcrowded and passed her by. Bus drivers routinely stopped 150 yards short of bus stops so they could let people out and not have to deal with the crowds at the stops waiting to get on.
If Baltimore is to compete with other urban areas in attracting new residents, keeping old ones, and creating job opportunities, we must have an efficient and reliable transit system. Over one third of Baltimore residents do not own cars. Increasingly, the millennial generation is choosing to live in places where they do not have to own a car due to both economic and environmental considerations. Fixing the transit system is one piece of the puzzle. We need to be working with all pieces simultaneously.
The Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health in 2013 released a study that measured the health of young teenagers in 5 cities worldwide. They considered parameters such as being a witness to or victim of violence, feelings of safety in one's home or neighborhood, feeling of disconnection from the society around them, sexual assault, teenage pregnancy, and single parenthood, among others. Baltimore ranked at the bottom alongside Johannesburg, South Africa and worse than New Delhi, Shanghai and even Nigeria's third largest city. The shocking thing was the neighborhoods studied in Baltimore were within blocks of Johns Hopkins Hospital, one of the premier health institutions in the world in the richest country in the world.
We can and must do better.
James W. Rouse Jr. is the son of the developer and one of the founding members of Transit Choices. His email is email@example.com.