Meeting to focus on making the city whole


Baltimore neighborhood leaders will be meeting tomorrow night with city planners to hear about ways that they can get involved with the future development of their communities.

Using an approach they call "cluster analysis," planners hope to encourage Baltimore civic leaders to think more about the city as a whole rather than as a collection of individual neighborhoods, said Israel C. Patoka, director of the Mayor's Office of Neighborhoods.

Cluster analysis is a method of collecting and evaluating demographic data from city neighborhoods. Planners hope the data, from sources such as Census 2000, will help them gauge the health and economic stability of different areas of the city. They also hope it will give them ideas on how to improve the quality of life.

Mayor Martin O'Malley said it's important for city residents to see the bigger picture.

"City government can no longer afford to treat any neighborhood or community group in isolation from surrounding neighborhoods, from community groups that claim the same turf, or from market realities that are bigger than any single neighborhood," O'Malley said in a statement.

The cluster analysis research project will be done as part of a city initiative called SNAP, which stands for Strategic Neighborhood Action Plan. Patoka welcomed 40 to 50 neighborhood activists who came to the first SNAP meeting last week to get an overview of the program. The meeting at 6:30 p.m. tomorrow's at 417 E. Fayette St. will offer a similar briefing.

The city defines a cluster as an area with 10,000 to 30,000 residents. Once certain clusters are agreed upon, local leaders and partners will be expected to analyze the area's housing by looking at its trends of vacancy, ownership and median assessed value, city planners said.

Then, by answering 10 questions, cluster applicants can make their case in a city competition that ends Nov. 22. Three to five clusters will be chosen for the SNAP program, city officials said, which means they will work together with major city agencies to formulate and complete an action plan.

The SNAP components include a formal vision statement, an inventory of common assets and anchors - such as hospitals, parks, museums and schools - and the setting of goals with specific ways to achieve them.

As the pilot program, a Southwest Baltimore coalition's strategic plan was distributed to give community activists an idea of the teamwork and rigor required.

Improving the health of residents was one goal stated in the Southwest pilot plan. Two measures of progress given were the number of babies with low birth weights and the number of emergency calls by type, including drug overdoses. In the first SNAP program round, three to five proposals will be selected in January, city officials said.

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