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Don't pave paradise [Commentary]

Two years ago I moved to Baltimore, where the roads are littered with pot holes (and litter) — I should know because I've had to circle them to find parking. Two of my housemates have had their cars broken into, my high taxes make my escrow payments exceed my mortgage, and a train bellows its horn in my neighborhood at all hours of the night. So it surprises me that in my first public request of this city, I am simply asking for it's leaders to do nothing at all.

I am a 33-year-old professional, and I am a demographic that every city fights to have. I have invested in a home in Federal Hill, have a high-paying job in the tech sector and no kids taxing the school system. There are thousands like me in Baltimore. Despite the above complaints, it's not a bad place to live.

There are great running routes through the Inner Harbor and to Fort McHenry. There is a vibrant social life of bars and restaurants. Federal Hill is within walking distance to both the football and baseball stadiums and has easy access to the major highways. It also has seven beach volleyball courts at Rash Field filled with as many as 2,500 young professionals every spring and summer day.

The volleyball courts are what those in the tech world call a "discriminator" — something that customers value and competitors can't duplicate. Most cities have volleyball leagues, a subset of them has beach volleyball leagues, and an even smaller subset has waterfront beach volleyball courts. Only one city though is apparently trying to destroy its waterfront beach volleyball courts. This month, the city confirmed its desire to replace the courts with a park-topped parking lot. How many cities want to turn their highly-popular waterfront beach into a parking lot, removing a key discriminator between themselves and other cities trying to recruit young professionals and spending $32 million to do it?

The community has protested the decision, and the city claims to have heard our voices. After destroying this Inner Harbor icon, they plan to put in new courts in the Cherry Hill area. This will be a poor substitute for Rash Field. The courts there are in a prime location; it's a beautiful place to play and is enjoyed by both players and spectators sitting on the bleachers or relaxing on Federal Hill. Visiting tourists frequently watch the games, allowing them to feel like they have connected with Baltimore. Rather than hiding the courts in the inner city, Baltimore officials should be drawing the tourists to the volleyball courts. What better way to get a positive experience about the city than to watch young people on a warm summer day play beach volleyball? Instead, the city wishes to banish the courts to a part of the city away from the eyes of tourists, away from where young professionals live, away from the businesses they frequent and away from the courts' current harbor location.

The city may feel they can do this because young professionals do not vote in the same numbers as older generations. It would be a mistake though to think our opinion does not matter. Young professionals vote more powerfully than any other voting bloc in the city, just not on election day. They vote by moving away. The things that make this demographic so valuable — their lack of retirement or child education costs, ability to start new jobs or begin their own businesses — also allow them to easily relocate. They're not tied down to an area; they don't have a family rooting them in place or need to worry about moving their children or losing their pension plan. The best talent has their choice of where to live. Many city leaders understand this; they work to make their cities appealing to young people. Few are working as hard as Baltimore to push them away. Over 700 teams play on Rash Field; removing those courts is the most powerful message the city can send to its young educated workforce that it simply doesn't care about keeping them. Young professionals are not going to wake up the day the courts are gone, pack-up and leave. But given the choice of whether to leave or stay, it's one of the few discriminating connections this city has to keep them.

Gary J. Katz is a Federal Hill resident. His email is

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