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Waterfront development has benefited a privileged few, impoverished the rest

Thanks to Dan Rodricks for contributing to the discussion of Baltimore's economic development strategy ("On deals for developers, you Can't beat City Hall," July 4).

One wishes Mr. Rodricks had ventured deeper into these muddy waters. Alas, his conclusion that "City Hall will give millions to millionaires" seems correct, but it needn't be that way. Why should Baltimoreans settle for the same failed policies?

Harborplace, Harbor East and Harbor Point could be considered successful, if by success we mean increasing the wealth of developers, real estate attorneys, bankers, bond sellers and restaurateurs.

If we measure success in terms of benefits to the city as a whole, however, these projects are wasted opportunities, producing jobs that pay poverty-level wages and block after block of vacant houses within walking distance of such monuments to trickle down economics.

Shouldn't billions of public dollars produce a healthier and wealthier city? Yet by many measures, Baltimore fares worse today than it did prior to the waterfront development of the late 20th and early 21st centuries.

In 1970, 18.4 percent of our neighbors had incomes below the federal poverty line. By 2013, that number had risen to 25 percent. In 1970, the U.S. Census Bureau reported that 5.3 percent of city housing units were vacant; in 2013, the agency estimates the vacancy rate at 19.7 percent.

The health of Baltimoreans also has plunged. The life expectancy for Sandtown-Winchester residents of 65.3 years is equal to that of people in Burma. Residents of Upton/Druid Heights can expect to live only 62.9 years, comparable to people in Eritrea.

Of course, Roland Park residents (some of whom surely benefit from public subsidies to developers) live nearly as long as the citizens of other advanced industrial countries.

Rather than simply admiring the gleaming hotels, office buildings and palatial homes that our public subsidies have produced, we should attend to the "rot beneath the glitter" cited in a 1987 Goldseker Foundation report.

An effective development strategy would benefit all of our neighborhoods. Our best tourist attraction would be an entire city of healthy, happy residents.

Jeff Singer, Baltimore

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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