Friday, February 9, 2018

Turning a Corner

In life when someone is looking to improve themselves when they're in a bad place, they have to symbolically "turn a corner" in the process. The same can be true for a beleaguered City such as Baltimore which is currently experiencing high levels of crime, failing schools, a crumbling infrastructure, high rates of addiction, eroding tax base, fleeing businesses, and a Police Department that seems to become more and more corrupt each passing day. Saying that Baltimore needs to turn a corner is an understatement, it needs to turn many corners and it needs to happen now.

There is one aspect where Baltimore appears to be turning a corner already. That is in the form of Police Commissioner Kevin Davis's firing. Not that he's personally responsible for almost 1,000 Homicides that have occurred during his 3 year tenure but in order for the outsider (and insider for that matter) to believe that the City is taking this spike in murders seriously, a change in the top brass would have to occur and Kevin Davis's firing will hopefully show that Baltimore's turning a corner and hopefully Darryl Desousa's tenure as commissioner will produce a drop in the murder rate.

Now I'm not a law enforcement expert by any stretch of the imagination. I write this blog to promote development and redevelopment in the City and County for betterment of its Residents and to attract population growth. I did however feel I had to mention the Police Department because it has become ingrained as a symbol of all that is wrong with Baltimore. Now that that's out of the way, lets see how the City can turn a corner using my areas of expertise.

First there's Mondawmin Mall. I had recently written a post on how to redevelop that Mall as mixed use similar to Canton Crossing to bring an influx of wider Retail options to West Baltimore. The only problem with that is now the Target that anchors the Mall is closing. This is a massive blow to not only the Neighborhoods surrounding Mondawmin Mall but the City as a whole. Mondawmin Mall also became famous because it was the start of the unrest in 2015. Mondawmin is also a transit hub and on the fateful day, the Cops shut down the transit hub making it impossible for students at nearby Frederick Douglas High School to commute home. With losing its Target anchor and its fame for all the wrong reasons, it's time to explore redevelopment of Mondawmin Mall on a much grander scale. That will show that Baltimore is turning a corner by making an area that symbolized all that was wrong with the City and turning it into a showcase for renewal.

Next and perhaps the symbolic redevelopment of Baltimore to help the City turn a corner is Gilmor Homes. Gilmor Homes is a sprawling public housing development that is concentrated with crime, drugs, poor living conditions, and a corrupt Maintenance Staff. Those familiar with Gilmor Homes know that this is where Freddie Gray grew up and where he was arrested, given a "hard ride" and ultimately died as a result of the injuries obtained in Police Custody. The day of his funeral in 2015 was the first of the 2015 civil unrest. 

The death of Freddie Gray was not the first or the last time Gilmor Homes was in the news. It had been known as a hot bed for drug and criminal activity whose buildings have been crumbling before our very eyes. More recently, Gilmor Homes made the news again in which Female Residents of Gilmor Homes are suing the Housing Department because Maintenance Workers allegedly would only do work orders if those Female Residents did them "sexual favors."

According to Mayor Catherine Pugh, the most crime in Gilmor Homes is contained to six buildings of the development. She has ordered that those six and only those buildings be demolished and all current Residents of those buildings move elsewhere. That's a good start, but I don't think Baltimore can turn a corner unless the entire development is demolished. In its place, there should still be public housing for Seniors and Disabled Residents but also low cost Home Ownership Town Homes that future Residents can build themselves. The Enterprise Foundation has done similar projects throughout some of West Baltimore's worst Neighborhoods and those blocks have held up very well.

 Another part of the City whose decay was brought to national attention during the riots was Pennsylvania Avenue. Once the crown and jewel to West Baltimore's African American Community lined with Jazz Clubs and Theaters, it is now host to vacant buildings and lots and the Retail that is there is poorly maintained in decaying buildings. The unrest in 2015 brought an ongoing problem of disinvestment in the area to the national spotlight. The whole Pennsylvania Avenue corridor needs to be redeveloped in order to turn a corner and should be done while preserving the facades of the remaining buildings similar to Marketplace at Fells Point.

In addition to new Retail offerings, the redeveloped buildings should have Apartments above them. Part of redeveloping Pennsylvania Avenue should include new housing in currently vacated blocks surrounding it. I'm designating the area between Pennsylvania Avenue, Fremont Avenue, Edmondson Avenue, and Mosher St. to be rebuilt from the ground up consisting primarily of town homes for varying levels of incomes and reignite the construction trade for Residents moving in like I'm proposing for Gilmor Homes.

The final step to show Baltimore is turning a corner lies in School Construction. City Schools made the news for their failing heat during the cold temperatures last month. The best way to do that is to replace Calverton Elementary/Middle School. That was the school that had the frozen pipes and had the picture of the side of the building covered in ice. The City is owed about $66 Million in School Construction from the State due to loopholes that favor local jurisdictions. That alone can build a brand new Calverton Elementary/Middle and another Replacement School elsewhere in the City. The new Calverton Elementary/Middle will absorb the populations of James Mosher Elementary and Alexander Hamilton Elementary thereby reducing the number of Schools the City must operate as well as empty seats.

The $66 Million that is owed to the City is a mere drop in the bucket compared to maintenance/renovation/replacement of schools' needs. There is a program in place called "Schools for the Future" that is renovating and replacing schools over time and is costing between $900 Million-$1 Billion. The State may need to fork over at least that much immediately for emergency construction to help the City turn a corner.

As Baltimore tries to shake off the events of the past several years that have put the City in a negative light, the City must turn a corner. If all of these events I have suggested to happen actually do happen, the City will not be out of the woods by any means. It will however show that the City has turned a corner and it will give hope that many more corners will be turned in the distant future.