Sunday, May 3, 2015

Sandtown and community development?

"Sandtown-Winchester is crumbling and there is little to suggest that two decades ago visionary developer James Rouse and city officials injected more than $130 million into the community in a failed effort to transform it." 

Michael S. Rosenwald and Michael A.Fletcher, "Why couldn't $130 million transform Sandtown?"  Washington Post, May 3, 2015.

The article has the contours of the story right. Housing-led community development without economic foundations and connections cannot ultimately address jobs, neighborhood development, and market-building. Important islands of development remain islands of development.  We knew that 20+ years ago at the start of the Sandtown-Winchester development. Why it went forward the way it did is an important question.

At the time, in fact, James Rouse, was already leading an effort in East Baltimore adjacent to Johns Hopkins called the Middle East Partnership.  Several years old, it was also primarily housing focused, and built or renovated hundreds of homes that were later demolished in the 2000s as part of the East Baltimore Revitalization Initiative.  East Baltimore was the home of "Du" Burns who lost the mayoralty to Kurt Schmoke, with his west-side political base. The reverse happened with new mayor, Martin O'Malley. And, contrary to O'Malley's memory, the city was involved in development designations and financing.

What surprises me in the coverage of Sandtown and Baltimore is the narrative of a blue collar, manufacturing city that has recently lost its base of jobs and businesses. This story was largely complete by the time of the start of Sandtown-Winchester in the 1990s, except for a few biggies like General Motors and the remains of Sparrows Point. Baltimore's recent history is the story of a "roused" up downtown that is insufficient. It's a long-time "tale of two cities."

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