Shrinking Cities

Baltimore Trip 2010

From 9-10 April 2010 we visited the East Baltimore neighborhood in Baltimore, MD, and met with a number of dedicated, enthusiastic individuals from various sectors of community development:  Chris Shea, CEO, East Baltimore Community Development, Inc. (EBDI); Michael Mazepink, Executive Director, People's Homesteading Group; Michael Braverman, Deputy Commissioner, Baltimore City Code Enforcement; Mary Washington, Baltimore City Planning Department; James Kelly, Jr., Assistant Professor of Law, University of Baltimore Law, Community Development Clinic; Miriam Avins, Baltimore Green Space.  In addition to these individuals, we also thank Prof. Jennifer Leonard, Vice President and Director of Advocacy & Outreach, Center for Community Progress, for arranging the event and recruiting these top-notch representatives to share with us the neighborhood challenges, their organizations' activities, and their insights on community development.

We have done research briefs (many of the topics are inspired by the work of those individuals above) and blogged about various aspects of community revitalization in East Baltimore.  Our research briefs will be posted soon.

     Photos and collage by OAu-Vang

Some of us have an idea of what East Baltimore is like from TV shows and movies; that image is not one that local residents, non-profit organizations, and city officials are proud of.  Here's to give you an idea of what this part of the city was like in it's better days and what it is like now.  The latter is what community development entities and the city is dealt with.

Back in 1937, my neighborhood was exceptionally clean and green. There were a multitude of services, such as grocery stores on almost every corner to purchase healthy foods…Every neighbor was watchful, helpful, sincere; jazz clubs were everywhere; the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra played fine music three evenings a week during summer break right across the street on Dunbar’s southside sidewalk. In other words, we had a grand neighborhood…But, somehow, we allowed it to go to pot, just as most American cities today have gone to pot.
                                                                                           (Burenstine 2007)

     Front (and back) side of a stick of rowhouses intended to be renovated.
     Plywooded-doors and windows were artfully decorated to reduce the
     appearance of dilapidation.  This is part of an 88-acre, $1.8 billion revitalization
     plan for the Middle East Neighborhood (near Johns Hopkins Hospital) in
     Baltimore, MD.  Photos by OAu-Vang

    • East Baltimore was the city’s thriving working class and black community.  Slaves and free alike worked in industries that led to the city’s economic rise in the 18th and 19th centuries (State of Maryland 1998).
    • In the years after the Civil War, eastern Baltimore emerged as the center of African American politics, society, and economy.  African-American leaders and business men such as Frederick Douglass, Isaac Myers, John W. Locks, and John A. Fernandis “lived, worked, and worshipped” in this part of the city.
    • Even in the late 19th century when Western Baltimore opened up to blacks,
      many of them remained in the East (State of Maryland 1998).
    • After WWII, however, East Baltimore has suffered from disinvestment, blight, crime, loss of population, and high level of housing vacancy and abandonment.
    • In 2004, the crime rate in East Baltimore was doubled that of the city’s, and the median home price was almost half that of the city’s (EBDI 2008c: 1).
    • East Baltimore is not without assets as there are the Johns Hopkins Institutions, which are the city’s largest private employers.
    • In the community support network are churches and neighborhood organizations.  The latter include the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition, the Middle East Community Organization, and the Save Middle East Action Committee.
    • Since 2003 East Baltimore Development, Inc. (EBDI), in addition to a number of other non-profits that have been there long before that, has become an integral part of the support network in both physical and social developments.
  • Recently, East Baltimore has seen a resurgence of private, non-profit, and government investments (mostly because of the East Baltimore Revitalization Initiative).

         Corner stores are common in East Baltimore.  This one is
         located on N. Broad Street.  Photo by OAu-Vang

Here are the East Baltimore statistics:

    • East Baltimore includes zip codes 21218, 21202, 21205, and 21213.
    • The area is 4.86 square miles.
    • The population is 54,170.  There are 11,140 people per square mile in the community, compared to 8,060 per square mile in the city (Advameg, Inc. and Urban Mapping, Inc.  2010).
    • East Baltimore’s median household income in 2008 was $15,300, while the city’s figure was $40,300.
    • 38% of the community’s population live below poverty level, while it is 23% for the city.
    • Only 39% of the married couples have families with both working parents.
    • Of all households, single mothers make up 29% of the population in the community, compared to 17% in the city.
    • Compared to the city, East Baltimore has fewer residents with a high school diploma or higher (Advameg, Inc. and Urban Mapping, Inc.  2010).
    • Of the 16-64 age population, 14% of them were unemployed and 41% of them were not in the labor force (either not working or not looking for work).
  • 17%-23% of East Baltimore students lived at or below the poverty level in 2008 (TRF 2010).

         A mural, showing a part of East Baltimore's rich history, animates
         an intersection in the Greenmont neighborhood. Photo by OAu-Vang