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What young professionals want from Baltimore’s next mayor | COMMENTARY

A view of Baltimore City Hall from the steps of the War Memorial Building in Baltimore.
A view of Baltimore City Hall from the steps of the War Memorial Building in Baltimore. (Patrick Semansky / AP)

It’s no secret that Baltimore City is in dire need of transformative change. We have seen an increase in crime, a decrease in positive educational outcomes and decreases in our economy. Change cannot happen without collective action from the government, residents, the private sector and other community leaders.

As millennial leaders, we understand the importance of change from a different perspective. What worked in the 1990s and 2000s will not work in 2020 and the future. There are several issues we believe a new mayor of Baltimore should think about.

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We can start with crime. The issues related to crime are multiple: concentration of poverty, mental health, lack of economic opportunities, etc. While this will not be an easy fix, we have to start controlling the things that we can. Opening more recreation centers won’t be enough, just as creating more economic opportunities may not be a panacea, and neither may opening more mental health and substance abuse services. But they certainly cannot hurt.

Crime is the all-hands-on-deck problem that Baltimore must confront. All aspects of Baltimore — businesses, the activist community and those who were formally in “the game” must be incentivized to come together to think through ways to impact the outcomes of our communities. No more operating in silos.

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The business climate should also be a high priority. For decades the city has wasted money on initiatives with little to no positive return to our citizens. Small and large businesses regularly move out of the city because of taxes, crime and leadership. This can no longer be the case. Businesses drive the economy, and small businesses in particular drive our local economy. Unless we operate the city with a mind to both incentivizing new businesses to operate in Baltimore and maintaining the businesses here, we will continue to see the economic decline and lack of opportunities that have continued to plague our city.

While the government cannot be wholly run like a business like President Donald Trump is attempting nationally, there are aspects of operating a business that should be adapted by our city government, such as practicing fiscal responsibility. Lawmakers need to continue to review and make massive changes to the city’s budget by removing line items that do not positively impact our residents. This involves using concrete data (quantitative and qualitative) that have been adapted to the current times. Don’t defund departments because it’s the “thing” to do, instead ensure that money is being appropriated to departments that will have a positive long-term impact.

Human resources evaluations also need to be strengthened and nepotism in hiring stopped. The next mayor should conduct a full evaluation of department leaders. Rather than continuing to allow individuals to head departments based on their past service or relationships, conduct an assessment of the needs of these departments and identify individuals with the requisite skill, foresight and connection to Baltimore City to make necessary changes.

The next mayor should also conduct a needs assessment of Baltimore City. When was the last time a full needs assessment was completed to make valuable decisions for our communities? Just like a business, it is important to understand the needs of your customers, in this case the citizens.

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To prepare the next generation to get good jobs, education should be at the forefront of everything the city does. Our children are currently pushed to the back burner because of lack of funding, sound policies and infrastructure. When our children thrive, our city can thrive. Children become adults, and if they aren’t afforded great educational opportunities, they will continue a suppressed system. Educational opportunities should better align with employment opportunities. The next mayor should be intentional about funding education, after school programs, vocational programs, tech-based learning and adult literacy programs.

The city also needs to rethink how it looks at real estate and the way it attracts investment and provides opportunities for local developers and residents. Baltimore approaches its real estate holdings as a liability, rather than an asset. For far too long, properties have been allowed to lay vacant and dilapidated and allowed to fall into decay. The city needs to create a system to better incentivize these property owners to make these assets serviceable. This can be done through either the carrot, tax incentives, or the stick, increased taxes on dilapidated, uninhabitable buildings.

Baltimore has seen the results of our stagnant thinking on these issues. There has been an influx of new millennials into the city. Let’s utilize that resource and create opportunities in housing and jobs for city residents that will help to elevate us from this state of madness.

Tammira Lucas (talucas@camdenpartners.com) is executive director of The Warnock Foundation. Venroy July (venjuly@gmail.com) is co-founder of Baltimore Young Professionals.

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