International urban experts got a crash course in the city's revitalization efforts from Baltimore's leaders and community advocates June 17 to 21 at the 30th annual International Fellows Program sponsored by the Institute for Policy Studies.
More than 50 scholars from as far away as New Zealand addressed "Baltimore in Transition: How Do We Move from Decline to Revival?" During the four-day conference, the group toured the Inner Harbor and the West Side downtown development and a range of neighborhoods from distressed to upper-income. They had briefings on the challenges facing policy-makers in Washington, D.C., from members of the Maryland congressional delegation and from big city mayors including Baltimore's Mayor Martin O'Malley.
"The conference focused the best thinking and experience from around the world on the challenges facing Baltimore. We were fortunate in having leaders from throughout the city join us and contribute to our discussions," said Sandra Newman, director of the Institute for Policy Studies. "The fellows reached some conclusions that we hope will be useful to Baltimore and other post-industrial cities that are trying to retool their economies."
Many of the fellows--all of whom had studied at IPS at some point in their careers over the past 30 years--hailed Baltimore as an international model yet, after a tour of the city's poorest neighborhoods, were surprised by the conditions of the inner city.
"Baltimore has taught us a number of lessons," explained Ian Appleton, professor of architecture at the University of Edinburgh, who was an Urban Fellow at Johns Hopkins in 1972. "The developments focused on the Inner Harbor have been models for many cities in the United Kingdom, especially if they have a stretch of waterfront. Returning to Baltimore, I can see many successes." But he termed the condition of some city communities, once models of revitalization, as "appalling."
Appleton and others pointed out the need for more balanced planning to rebuild neighborhoods. U.S. cities, they said, have taken two extreme positions, either planning from the top down, which becomes overly authoritarian, or solely from the bottom up.
Fellows talked with Reps. Benjamin Cardin and Elijah Cummings and Sen. Paul Sarbanes in Washington, D.C. Frank Vonk, a city planner from the Netherlands, questioned the lack of national urban policy in the United States, an issue that he had raised in testimony in congressional hearings more than 10 years ago.
"We don't really have an urban strategy," acknowleged Sarbanes. "We've never put together the pieces." Such legislation is hard to pass, he said, as voters move out of cities and into the suburbs or rural areas. On the question of lack of comprehensive planning in cities, Pittsburgh mayor Tom Murphy pointed out that Americans traditionally place individual property rights over what the government tells them to do. The mayors' roundtable discussion also featured O'Malley, Mayor Anthony Williams of Washington, D.C., and Edward Rendell, former mayor of Philadelphia.
All the mayors acknowledged that urban problems such as crime can appear unyielding. O'Malley related that his predecessor, Kurt Schmoke, gave him a present after his inauguration. "It was the most valuable gift he could have given me. He said, 'For the next year, you can blame everything on me.'"
Edward Burns, co-author of The Corner, the best-selling book that was made into an HBO mini-series, singled out drug treatment as a critical need, in an appearance at Homewood's Glass Pavilion. There are in the city 60,000 drug addicts, whose lives are centered on sustaining their habits, Burns pointed out. "When you come to the corner, everything's very simple. Get the blast [the drugs]. That's the only rule."
The conference participants drafted recommendations for the city in five major policy areas: housing redevelopment, vulnerable neighborhoods, West Side downtown redevelopment, large entertainment complexes and industrial reuse. These will be finalized and distributed to city leaders and interested citizens by the end of the summer.
To hear the mayors' roundtable discussion, go to www.jhu.edu:8080/ramgen/news_info/realmedia/mayors.rm.