Before Hogan's demolition, community building

Hogan's demolition plan is welcome, but it won't work without grassroots community building.

The Sun editorial "Hogan's urban renewal for Baltimore" (Jan. 6) was spot-on. To those of us who have long been committed to strengthening Baltimore's neighborhoods, Gov. Larry Hogan's promise of $94 million in demolition funding and $600 million in development incentives is a hopeful sign.

Strong City Baltimore agrees with the governor that for our city to grow and thrive, many thousands of abandoned houses will need to be removed. For a decade, targeted code enforcement has been one of my organization's priorities — an effort that has seen the number of vacants decline from more than 800 to fewer than 400 in our focus areas.

To move Baltimore forward, we must work on building things up, not just tearing them down. That's why we agree wholeheartedly with The Sun that "the question of which blocks to target and what will become of them after they are cleared must be answered through extensive community engagement." We need a holistic approach that unleashes our city's tremendous human potential and includes local residents' voices at every step of the way.

Now is the time for thoughtful consultation with affected parties, rather than a top-down approach that imposes an outsider's agenda on local communities. Over our organization's 46-year history, we have learned that positive, lasting change is achieved by supporting neighborhood leaders, fostering civic engagement, and building community.

For this demolition program to succeed, the affected neighborhoods will need to be organized and engaged, a nuts-and-bolts process that includes door-knocking, asset-mapping, and reinvigorating neighborhood associations. While we are grateful that the state has found funds for massive housing demolition, we should also agree to prioritize ground-level organizing in neighborhoods and schools. At Strong City, we have seen this approach improve communities from Medfield Heights to Remington to Harwood and Barclay.

We welcome Governor Hogan's interest in our city's problems, and we stand ready to work with him, as we will work with anyone who shares our commitment to building and strengthening Baltimore's people and neighborhoods. 2015 was a tough year for all of us who love Baltimore, and the new year brings both enormous challenges and opportunities. Let's get to work.

Karen Stokes, Baltimore

The writer is CEO of Strong City Baltimore.

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