Stronger neighborhoods, stronger Baltimore

MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blake's vision of increasing Baltimore City's population by 22,500 people over the next 10 years is the kind of ambitious goal we should enthusiastically embrace. More and new people bring new energy, new ideas, economic vitality and, very practically speaking, increased revenue for the services that keep the city vital.

There are many challenges to achieving this goal — after all, like many other former industrial cities, Baltimore has consistently lost population over the past 50 years. To succeed, we'll need to attract and retain jobs, make the streets cleaner and safer, fix the schools and reduce property taxes. And there is one more critical ingredient: making our neighborhoods attractive enough to hold onto current residents and attract new ones.


What are the most promising ways to create and sustain strong communities? A study just released by the Goldseker Foundation, "Great Neighborhoods Great City, Strategies for the 2010s," analyzes what happened in the city's neighborhoods during the past decade and suggests strategies going forward. Census data from the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance at the University of Baltimore and the Baltimore City Department of Planning indicate that the city can be roughly divided among neighborhoods that are stable and attractive (36 percent); those "in the middle," that is, stable but requiring attention to offset potential deterioration (35 percent); and those already seriously deteriorated (29 percent), whose residents continue to leave.

The stable communities are retaining residents and will continue to thrive, provided city government continues to offer basic services. The badly deteriorated neighborhoods are not likely to attract newcomers and need long-term interventions. These include aggregating vacant land for future investment and interim uses like urban farming. It will be important to provide basic city services to the remaining residents in these communities as well.

The middle neighborhoods, though requiring modest levels of public and private investment, have solid, reasonably priced housing and important physical and economic assets like colleges and universities, medical centers and parks. Some also have schools that are performing better than we typically expect. It is in these neighborhoods that population growth must happen if Baltimore is to meet the mayor's goal.

Here are some ways to do it:

•Aggressively market these neighborhoods and their assets through Live Baltimore, which has been doing this successfully for the past decade.

•Widely adopt the principles and experience of Healthy Neighborhoods Inc., whose sole mission over the same period has been precisely to improve real estate values and resident leadership in these communities.

•Build upon existing areas of strength, like the University of Maryland, Baltimore BioPark, Station North Arts and Entertainment District, and the Hopkins medical centers of East Baltimore and Bayview.

•Focus greater private mortgage and home improvement lending in these middle neighborhoods.


•Target city government investment in these neighborhoods, since federal funds typically carry household income restrictions that don't apply in these areas.

• Provide more employer-funded live-near-your-work incentives, in collaboration with the city's existing program.

•Don't think of this as solely a city government responsibility; institutions and city residents share the task of improving neighborhoods and increasing population. The mayor and her administration need to create the culture and processes to do it, but they need everyone's help.

Done right, the work that led to an additional 8,600 young, college-educated residents living within three miles of downtown during the 2000s could turn out to be only the beginning of things to come in the decade ahead.

Tim Armbruster is president of the Goldseker Foundation. His email is tdarmbruster@goldsekerfoundation.org. Paul Brophy is program consultant to the foundation. His report can be found at http://www.goldsekerfoundation.org, under "About the Foundation/ News and Publications."