While I truly appreciate Maggie Master’s willingness in her commentary, “The tale of two Targets, a Baltimore segregation story” (Nov. 20), to recognize and call out the deep disparities between rich and poor and, too often, white and black Baltimore, some of the conclusions she reaches are flawed. As a resident of one of the city’s northern neighborhoods, I realize that my family is quite lucky. While we’re not in Canton or Federal Hill, we still live in a relatively peaceful, affluent neighborhood where my children are sheltered from the woes West and East Baltimore must face — woes largely a result of a long and detailed history of systemic racism. I believe Ms. Master and I would agree on this. But when it comes to how to help solve the perplexing and persistent social ills created by our history of racism and segregation, we must be careful not to oversimplify the problem.
Ms. Master states that we “should hold Target accountable for abandoning West Baltimore, but the city must also accept responsibility for the fact that it never truly set that location up for success.” I have a few problems with this assertion. First, as liberal economist James Galbraith points out in his book, “Predator State,” like it or not, we live in a capitalist society. We should never expect for-profit businesses to act for any other reason than to protect the bottom line. That doesn’t make them evil, it just means they are operating as we should expect within the confines of the system we’ve created. In fact, to believe they would act in any other way relieves government of its responsibility to shape the market in a way that works for the public. This tendency among we liberals to “expect more” from the corporate world actually undermines one of the key tenets of progressive economic policy — that it’s the role of good government to make the capitalist system work for everyone, not just the capitalists.
Of course, Ms. Master does suggest that government had a role here but she assumes that the best thing for the city of Baltimore would have been for leaders to utilize public resources to ensure that Target remained in Mondawmin. She later cites the use of tax incentives for Under Armour, Canton Crossing, etc. while lamenting the lack of investment in Baltimore’s poorest (and predominantly black) neighborhoods. This is a very common complaint from residents and pundits alike but misses the truth.
This is not a zero-sum game. Freddie Gray’s West Baltimore does not struggle dueto Federal Hill’s success, and the Mondawmin Target did not fail because of the Canton Crossing store’s profits. Baltimore’s resources are finite and investment decisions must be made with the long view in mind. It will take decades, possibly generations, to reverse the legacy left by redlining and segregation in our city. While that work is ongoing, the city needs and depends upon places like Canton, Federal Hill and the future Port Covington — places where people are drawn to visit, live, raise kids and pay taxes. We need to stop demonizing investment in neighborhoods like these.
There is much evidence to support the idea that public redevelopment dollars are best spent in areas already on the rise. If we nurture and support the areas of our city already providing a vibrant and safe lifestyle, the effects can spread outward, reinvigorating nearby neighborhoods to the long term benefit of the city as a whole. If we don’t, we risk losing the things we need most if we ever want to solve the deep-seated and troubling issues in our most vulnerable neighborhoods. Things like a strong individual tax base, a robust creative class and a stable population of dedicated Baltimoreans who feel safe and comfortable enough in their environs to concentrate on helping their fellow citizens enjoy the same things.