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CityLab comes to Baltimore Wednesday

As Baltimore officials attempt to tackle some of the city's long-festering problems, experts from around the country are coming to town to discuss ideas for progress.

At "CityLab Baltimore," which takes place Wednesday afternoon, leaders from New York, Boston, Rhode Island, Albany, N.Y., New Orleans and Detroit plan to discuss ideas to address blight and drug abuse, among other problems.

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"The basic idea is to create a moment for city leaders to exchange ideas about what's working and what's not and how we can get better together," said James Anderson, who leads the government lnnovation programs at Bloomberg Philanthropies.

The Atlantic, the Aspen Institute and Bloomberg are co-sponsors of the event, which will take place at the Parkway Theatre at 5 West North Avenue at 2 p.m. The theater quickly filled up, but organizers said additional tickets might become available.

Out-of-town speakers include former New York Mayor Michael R. Bloomberg; Nicole Alexander Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health; Michael Botticelli, director of the Grayken Center for Addiction Medicine at Boston Medical Center; Judy Reese Morse, deputy mayor for Citywide Initiatives City of New Orleans; Maurice Cox, planning director of Detroit, and Albany Mayor Kathy Sheehan.

Baltimore speakers include Mayor Catherine E. Pugh; Michael Braverman, director of the Baltimore City Department of Housing and Community Development; Leana S. Wen, Baltimore health commissioner; Baltimore Gas & Electric CEO Calvin Butler; Beth Blauer, director of the Johns Hopkins University Center for Government Excellence; Sammy Hoi, president of the Maryland Institute College of Art; and Joshua Sharfstein, associate dean of public health practice and training at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

Bloomberg and his organization are playing an increasing role in Baltimore. During her successful mayoral campaign last year, Pugh visited Bloomberg to discuss improving Baltimore by building better housing and reducing homicides, among other ideas.

In January, Pugh announced that Baltimore was selected for Bloomberg's Innovation Team program. The city will receive as much as $500,000 annually for three years, officials said.

The event Wednesday comes at an important time for the city. While the rate of job growth is increasing and Baltimore's waterfront is bustling, the city has lost residents, and homicides and drug overdoses are at record highs.

Baltimore has gained about 7,000 jobs in the past two years, while major developments like Harbor Point and Port Covington are being built.

But the population dropped by more than 6,000 people last year, according to the most recent Census estimates. The city leads the state in fatal drug overdoses. More than 200 people have been killed this year.

Anderson said the opioid crisis would be a particular point of focus for the event.

"New mayors have an incredible opportunity to look at everything anew and look at what's working well and what's not," Anderson said of Pugh. "We're excited about her leadership and we've really appreciated her intense interest in looking at what's working well in other cities and what she can bring home to Baltimore."

Anderson said good ideas can often take a while to spread. Bike sharing programs, for instance, have been around for decades but still aren't in many cities that could use them, he said.

"People leave with new contacts, more information and some inspiration and that's our goal," he said. "One of the real breakthroughs is there's increasingly a community of mayors that's committed to working together. It's one of the most important developments we'e seen."

The event is considered CityLab's first "pop up" event. It will serve as a precursor to the CityLab Paris gathering that will take place Oct. 22 to 24.

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