Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley last week welcomed a report from the International Fellows in Urban Studies program at the Institute for Policy Studies that addressed critical issues facing the city, saying that it both sparked new ideas and provided positive affirmation for some of his policies.
The fellows are an international group of urban practitioners and scholars who have spent one or two semesters at IPS.
"Baltimore in Transition: How Do We Move From Decline to Revival" was the result of a five-day study conference, held here in June, during which the fellows toured Baltimore and received briefings from the city's experts and advocates.
"The fellows are an independent group of scholars without a political agenda. They came to the conference from 24 countries to focus on Baltimore's challenges and opportunities," said IPS director Sandra Newman. "When we began editing their work-group reports, we were struck by the consistency of their recommendations with the initiatives adopted by Mayor O'Malley in his first year of office."
O'Malley told the conference sponsors, IPS urban policy students and staff assembled for a press conference at IPS that the report will help him as he pursues his vision for the city. "I think this report helps put things in perspective and underscores that vision. My vision is a city where city government should not try to be all things to all people, from cradle to grave, but, instead, should do a few things well, like fight crime and grime, provide opportunities for kids and create an environment that welcomes private investment."
Marsha Schachtel, the coordinator of the Urban Fellows Program, said she sees hope in the mayor's willingness to tackle tough issues. "The fellows had intensive debates reflecting the dilemmas that mayors, policy-makers and community leaders have been wrestling with for a long time," she said, noting such questions as, "Should we focus our efforts on people or places? How can tourism investments benefit our residents?"
Newman said the fellows' recommendations are aimed at "making Baltimore a lively and livable city, both in its neighborhoods and downtown, by capitalizing on its unique features." Without the constraints of politics or budget realities, she said, the fellows were able to offer fresh views.
"We'd love to go through an exercise like this," joked O'Malley, saying he was envious of such freedom. "This report provides a road map and really spurs the development of ideas. We will continue to borrow pragmatic, proven solutions wherever we find them." The mayor immediately seized upon at least one suggestion--linking neighborhood and industrial reuse planning.
The 59-page report addresses the revitalization of downtown's West Side, redevelopment of housing and neighborhoods, entertainment and leisure, and industrial reuse.
The fellows stress the importance of "street-level pedestrian experience and preservation of the unique urban environment" in planning for the revival of the West Side, the city's historic retail center. The mayor's decision in January to preserve at least 260 buildings in the old shopping district was aligned with the fellows' preservation-friendly approach, the report notes. The urban experts also suggest a focus on two types of retail--convenience, which would include a supermarket, to serve residents and workers, and clusters of arts- and entertainment-related retail that will attract visitors.
To tackle the problem of surplus housing, the report suggests tailoring strategies to distinguish different types of neighborhoods, which is the basis of the Mayor's Neighborhood Planning Program. It recommends that the city devote its scarce resources to neighborhoods that are showing early symptoms of decline, where limited resources are likely to make a difference. Efforts should build upon the neighborhoods' existing human and physical assets, it says, as advocated in the city's Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative.
To improve entertainment and leisure options, the report calls for the Inner Harbor's success to be linked to other city attractions, particularly those capitalizing on the history and uniqueness of Baltimore. It recommends greater promotion of the growing network of greenways, the Jones Falls Valley reclamation and the harbor promenade.
The full report is available online at: http://www.jhu.edu/ips