Dan Rodricks

The big 'ifs' that hold Baltimore back

I know: The shootings and homicides continue at an insane pace. But almost every time I turn a corner in Baltimore, I see scaffolding. Or I look up from a walk-and-talk on my smartphone to spot shiny steel framing in new buildings, or in the additions to old ones.

From Greenmount West to the Johns Hopkins medical complex, from Locust Point to Fells Point, to Mulberry Street and the Enoch Pratt Free Library and Center Stage, there's a ton of work underway in the city. It seems almost transformational.


If we could just stop the shootings and the killings.

If we could do more for the 23 percent of the city's population still living in what the federal government considers poverty. ($12,060 in annual income for an individual; $24,600 for a family of four.)


On Friday, I stopped for a brief chat with a man who paid $244,900 for a renovated, three-story rowhouse on a street just north of Johns Hopkins Hospital. Only a few years ago, all the houses in the block had been vacant, the windows and doors of each sealed with plywood. The relatively rapid transformation of that street approaches the astonishing.

The city's interactive map of building projects is an impressive mess of colorful dots. It shows investments of $8.6 billion since 2010, resulting in 13.6 million square feet of new construction or renovations, and more than 26,000 residential units. And there's more in the pipeline: A new, 140-acre Enterprise Zone has been established, with expanded tax credits for businesses, in the area of West Baltimore hit hardest by the vandals and arsonists of April 2015.

The city's unemployment rate that month was 7.4 percent, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. It was 5.9 percent in November.

So, yeah, Baltimore has made progress. Things are happening in the old Mobtown, more than you'd think from the city's press clippings.

If we could just reduce the shootings and killings.

If we could just get more people out of poverty.

If we could get better results from the public schools, and send more young Baltimoreans to college or into training programs that would lead to better-paying jobs. Maryland and the Baltimore region have seen excellent progress in their college-educated profiles — that is, the percentage of citizens 25 or older with at least a bachelor's degree. For the state, it was 37 percent in 2014. For the metro area, it was just under 36 percent. For the city, it was around 28 percent.

You can see how this, among other factors, translates to a disparity in incomes: According to the most recent census, Maryland remains one of the wealthiest states in the country, with a median household income of $75,847. The city's median household income was $42,241.


So, yeah, even with all the cranes and scaffolding around the city, there's a lot of work to do, something that became clear, if it wasn't evident already, on the day of Freddie Gray's funeral, when the city erupted in riots.

The governor of Maryland, among others, professed love for the city and pledged to help it recover from the unrest. In the smoky aftermath, Larry Hogan had an opportunity to lead Republicans down a path they had avoided for decades — through the heart of a major American city whose problems had long festered under Democratic leadership.

Though a suburbanite who drew wide support from the counties, Hogan recognized Baltimore as the economic engine for the region. As recently as last month, at the inauguration of Mayor Catherine Pugh, the governor said he and the new mayor had a "shared vision for Baltimore" that included world-class schools, a pro-jobs economic climate and safer neighborhoods.

He offered a "renewed partnership" between the state and the city, expressed confidence in the Democrat Pugh and belief in the ideal of bipartisanship toward solving problems.

Hogan sounded convincing.

If only he had a record to match his rhetoric.


A couple of months after the unrest in West Baltimore, he killed the $2.9 billion, city-spanning Red Line light rail project that had been planned for a decade, rejecting nearly $1 billion in federal funding. Then, last month, Hogan voted, as a member of the Maryland Board of Public Works, to cancel the $1.5 billion State Center redevelopment project that would have brought new housing and thousands of jobs to the old government complex on the west side of midtown. That project had been 10 years in the making, too. The Red Line and State Center were potentially transformational.

And now Hogan has proposed a budget that chops $32 million from the state's post-riot help for Baltimore, things like extended hours at branches of the Enoch Pratt Free Library, neighborhood association construction projects, city teacher retention.

Yeah, Baltimore keeps making progress, bit by bit, block by block.

If we could only get the governor on board.