Neighborhood Institute's focus: Growing Baltimore through housing and arts

Growing Baltimore's population will take much more than lowering property taxes, said organizers and participants at the Greater Homewood Community Corp.'s fifth annual Neighborhood Institute.

"We need to turn renters into homeowners. And buy art!" said Karen Stokes, executive director of Greater Homewood, whose mission is to build and strengthen urban communities in north-central Baltimore.

About 200 people attended the institute at the Inn at the Colonnade on Saturday. Subtitled "Love Where You Live," it was a day-long discussion of how to use everything from housing stock to art to help grow the city's population by as much as 10,000 households in the next 10 years, a goal set by MayorStephanie Rawlings-Blakein her recent State of the City address.

Using the mayor's call as a jumping-off point, organizers and speakers stressed the need to attract and keep residents ages 25-34 in north and central Baltimore — "the years of decision" for people deciding where to live and whether to buy a house, said Peter Duvall, Greater Homewood's community revitalization coordinator.

"It's key to a city's future to attract people in that age demographic," Duvall, a resident of Old Goucher in south Charles Village, told 50 people at one of the first workshops, "10,000 New Households: Where Will Baltimore Live?"

And in a panel discussion called "How Can We Grow Baltimore?" panelist Paul Graziano, the city's housing commissioner, stressed the importance of city programs like Vacants to Value, in which the city is rehabbing and selling — with offers of homeowner tax incentives — many of the 4,000 abandoned, uninhabitable row houses it owns, including nine in the 2800 block of Remington Avenue.

"There's a lot of opportunity out there," Graziano said.

Panelist Doreen Bolger, director of the Baltimore Museum of Art, extolled the vistues of attracting artists and musicians to live in the city, which was hailed by Rolling Stone magazine for its music scene in 2009.

"The arts make the city better for everyone," Bolger said. "Artists are great neighbors. They have an interest in building community."

And she said festivals such as Artscape, award competitions such as the Sondheim Prize, and cultural institutions such as the BMA and Maryland Institute College of Art are important resources. She quipped that MICA really stands for "Most Important Cultural Attraction."

But Bolger added, "Artists need affordable housing. Live/work spaces for artists is a critical need here."

Panelist Courtney Conner Bettle, executive assistant in the public school system's Office of Engagement, said long-term bonds for school renovatons and construction, including a new school that is planned in Waverly in 2013, are also critical in keeping young families in the city and attracting new families. She said the focus is on giving parents and principals more of a voice in school programs and budgeting. Principals now have autonomy in deciding how to spend their schools' limited budgets, and schools are required to hold community budget forums each year, she said.

Stokes, of Oakenshawe, was among several community leaders who stressed the need for more apartments in up-and-coming neighborhoods and arts districts like Charles North near Penn Station, the Station North arts district at Charles Street and North Avenue, and along the York Road corridor, especially at a time when people are having fewer children nationally, according to 2010 Census data.

But they said some residents, especially along York Road, aren't keen on higher density.

However, Radnor-Winston resident Karen DeCamp, director of neighborhood programs for Greater Homewood and president of the York Road Partnership, said, "I think York Road is the place where people would support more density," especially if the corridor was made more pedestrian-friendly and if apartment or condominium buildings are built with street-level retail, such as in the 3100 block ofSt. Paul Streetin Charles Village.

Stokes said Charles Village is a prime example of a neighborhood that offers something for everyone, with a mix of quiet, residential streets for homeowners, market-rate apartments and housing for Johns Hopkins University students.

The general consensus at the institute was that a happier populace will bring more recognition and people to the city.

"People have to love where they live," Graziano said. "We want people to stay in the city. We want more people to come to the city."

Copyright © 2018, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad