Neighborhood leaders unveil plan for revitalizing Southeast Baltimore


In Southeast Baltimore, where declining employment opportunities and illiteracy plague some of the city's oldest communities, neighborhood leaders have put together a blueprint for jobs, affordable housing and education programs.

After 18 months of study and debate, the Southeast Planning Council -- made up of 40 to 50 neighborhood leaders -- last week released its Southeast Community Plan.

The plan, perhaps the most ambitious created by any group of Baltimore community leaders, calls for an industrial park, the creation of small businesses, the formation of employment training programs, the expansion of literacy and Head Start programs, and a program to help businesses find homes for workers in the area.

"We started out with the assumption that the community knows best about what it needs for its future," said Sister Barbara Ann English, one of the leaders who wrote the plan.

"This plan is really saying we're trying to create a future in Southeast Baltimore where the children will have hope," she said.

Now that the plan is complete, it is up to community leaders to lobby government officials for funds and legislation to support many of their goals and to work with developers of both housing and industry.

The plan covers an area that includes 67 communities, including such well-known neighborhoods as Little Italy, Fells Point, Butchers Hill, Canton and Patterson Park.

The boundaries are Fayette Street, Monument Street and Pulaski Highway on the north, Fallsway on the west, the harbor on the south and the city line on the east.

The planning process brought together people of various races -- black, white, Hispanic and American Indian -- as well as of different economic backgrounds -- working class, yuppies and senior citizens on fixed incomes.

On bus tours throughout the larger community in the planning process, neighborhood leader Carolyn Boitnott watched peoples' view of the community broaden.

"You had people with parochial visions. It was neat to see them expand their vision just by going across the road," she said.

Portions of Southeast Baltimore have benefited from the development of expensive waterfront homes and the gentrification of older neighborhoods. But many other neighborhoods have languished because homeowners moved out and renters moved in.

The area also has been hit by a 48.5 percent loss of jobs in the Canton industrial district during the past two decades, leaving 300 acres of underused and vacant industrial land, according to the report.

"I keep reading there's a hopelessness among people in Baltimore. But I think there's a sense of hope among people working on this plan," said David Casey, another leader who worked on the plan.

Among the plan's goals are:

* The creation of an industrial park in Canton along with job training programs.

* The formation of a community-based loan fund to help businesses and developers of affordable housing.

* The establishment of a center to help small businesses.

* The revitalization of the Highlandtown business district along Eastern Avenue by soliciting new businesses.

* A push to lobby for legislation requiring developers building more than 50 units of housing to set aside 20 percent of the units for low- and moderate-income residents.

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