Archive for the 'urban renewal' Category

26
Apr
11

Baltimore Mayor First. William Donald Schaefer may have been a two-term Governor, but his heart belonged to Baltimore.

The late Governor and Baltimore William Donald Schaefer heads to City Hall one last time.

There’s a reason, that the pugnacious funeral procession started Monday morning in Annapolis where William Donald Schaefer officially hit his career crest as governor from 1987 to 1995, but ended roaming through his hometown of Baltimore before landing for a day of viewing at City Hall .

Baltimore is  still  morphing into the vision that he created 40 years ago. As Baltimore’s histrionic Mayor, he  grabbed national attention for having the gall to envision a dirty rotting wharf-front as a gilded tourist attraction.  Here is where he made his mark as four-term  Mayor Willie Don.

Schaefer will be eulogized as the guy who flipped the switch for mayors stuck with dying waterfronts not just nationwide, but worldwide, to view their harbors , not as derelict land but potential vacation spots for tourist looking some of that beach vibrations in between their jaunts to the ocean. Why couldn’t people get that good ol boardwalk stroll in the city. Crazy. Preposterous. Nuts as the guy who jumped into the seal tank at the National aquarium. Oh wait that was Schaefer.

But to Baltimore he was so much more. He was an old school character, tough and goofy, a little hard-boiled, part Comic Costello. He exuded a kind of fairy tale aura that drew you in the schtick and still did even from the hearse.  Even on Monday’s procession, you were in his world.

I saw this one last time today. When I was standing in Fells Point, one of about 14 stops on his tour de Baltimore before he was laid out at City Hall. I was standing in this still yet to fully blossom Colonial seaport, home of the Baltimore clipper, 1812 privateers and  tugs vacated to make way for a waterfront hotel that has yet to appear. This was also the place that Schaefer wanted demolished in the late 60s and 70s for I-95, 695 interchange.  This was the place where Schaefer realized the strength of the neighborhood, after fierce fighting, enduring protestors dressed like American Revolutionaries,  and he realized that rather  than bull them over like Robert Moses did up in New York, he embraced Fells Point and neighbors in the city.

Senator Barbara Mikulski displays a sign for the cause that launched her career and shaped Baltimore

So there stood his chief foe, Barbara Mikulski, now a U.S. Senator flanked by neighborhood activists of days long gone. She told me how during the long battle, a low point came after she, then councilwoman, lost a bill to save the neighborhood and other waterfront stalwarts like Federal Hill across the Harbor, which now stands as  Baltimore’s more humble version of Boston’s Beacon Hill.. But rather than bask in his victory, Schaefer noticed something big was brewing in the neighborhoods.  He called Mikulski and others in for a sit down and fate did a slow change.   And when the motorcade finally ambled up the Fells Point cobblestones and came to rest in front of Jimmy’s Diner, a one time politico hotspot, the cluster of a crowd cheered. About 50 strong went ecstatic — a strange reaction at a funeral procession. But it was as if  the mayor was gonna step from the black shine of the limo , his  eggplant head  never  find balance on his neck, always in motion, looking for an angle, contorting his face, rolling his eyes,  yes even clown-like. His act was infectious when at his prowess and at times sadly ill-timed when he got older.  Still he was pure Baltimore, a tugboat of a man, tenacity done different. So when Old Schaefer failed to step out the limo, they cheered for his aid, as if  it was a homecoming. The strangeness stretched on as a classic Schaefer event, which of course it was, hitting spots like Faidley’s at Lexington Market and was it an accident that limo paused in front of Attman’s Deli on Lombard Street as if he was going shoot the you know what in the KibitzRoom.

Schaefer's entourage heads down what was once the heart of Jewish Baltimore.

Working the crowd, today’s pols should be as masterful.

I remember when I had a similar  private audience with the king. It was behind old Memorial Stadium, three-quarters demolished. I was doing my first documentary, about Baltimore’s emotional hold  on the stadium, which he argued unsuccessfully to save. (Why I’m not exactly sure) On his  suggestion, he pulled up  and jumped out of the Limo and laid down the reasoning, how the demolition of the stadium was a failure of imagination. He did this right in the middle of the street and just nailed it with no press hands, no guards. Just him in his suit and the limo. Then he jumped back in and jetted.Whether you agreed with his politics. (He didn’t make too many friends when he bailed on Jimmy Carter for Reagan back in 1980), you had to admire his mastery of the craft.  Of course the major flaw with Schaefer’s plan was you can’t replace an economy w th tourist glitz even if you crown it with jewel of a baseball stadium.  A major salvo against Schaefer was his avoidance or glossing over some the major urban issues, the crushing repercussion urban renewal, like of jobs in the city . Baltimore’s African American community lost the very historic assets  that now would help turn around neighborhoods like Pennsylvania Avenue’s one time famous jazz district.

Schaefer’s passing isn’t an end of an era. That era was long gone. You could see it  in the ragtag crowds around  town. There were clusters of people, A few hundred here, 90 there. But the thousands were absent.

That may because many of  the Baltimore contingent are dead or have left the city a while back, although I’m betting his funeral on Wednesday will be a major draw.    Of course the major flaw with Schaefer’s plan was you can’t replace an economy with tourist glitz even if you crown it with a jewel of a baseball stadium.  A major salvo against Schaefer was his avoidance or glossing over some the major urban issues, the crushing repercussion of  urban renewal, the loss of good paying  jobs in the city . Baltimore’s African American  community lost the very historic assets  that now would help turn around neighborhoods like Pennsylvania Avenue’s one time famous jazz district.

Despite the shortcomings, Schaefer had heart, an unabashed radiance woefully  missing in these wound-too tight times. Too much risk to let your personality shine, too many people with video on their phones. Schaefer himself as an 80-year-old Comptroller was taken down by gaffes that came off sexist, out mode and crass. Still we could use a guy who would bother to work the crowd. A lot is being made about Schaefer’s jump in the pool at the National Aquarium. But that was one of hundreds of so-called stunts. During some research at the News American archives now stored at University of Maryland, I came upon boxes upon boxes of Schaefer immersing himself in  tiny neighborhood shing-dings.  . There’s the Mayor with a lemon stick. There he is in leprechaun hat.  If Baltimore was the city of neighborhoods, he was the ring master
Where is that kind of politicking today? Don’t tell me,  time is better spent on strategic placement like Obama visiting Facebook’s headquarters.Compare the luke warm to snarky coverage he got  to the New York Times front page  photo of Obama running up the steps of the Lincoln Memorial to surprise tourists, after he managed to strike a deal to avoid a government shutdown.

We need to get back to the human level. That’s why Schaefer even though after beating back Mikulski’s bill was able to see the human potential that she represented and he eventually came around to seeing Fells Point and Federal Hill as Baltimore assets. That insight shaped what Baltimore is today. We could have easily been in Newark’s position even if we live with in a two tier society that David Simon’s Wire so deftly depicts.  Schaefer’s  was a vision of classic slow cooking. It took two developer’s renaissance after Fells Point and Federal Hill was saved in 1970s for other neighborhoods to emerge nearly 30 years later as go-to waterfront spots like Canton, Locus Point. That’s why on a Monday afternoon, people in Fells Point cheered when the hearse slowed to a standstill.

The Mayor's hearse stops by Fells Point, Baltimore

They wanted so badly for someone to pop out once again with that kind of audacious, infectious belief in  Baltimore.

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13
Jan
09

Eastside Residents Face Displacement, Live among Demolition and Unfulfilled Promises

Biotech Developers Hampered by Economy

“Any  Construction that is happening right now is an accomplishment,” Andy Frank, Baltimore’s Deputy Mayor

Donald Grisham pleads for the powerful Biotech Developers to keep their word to residents facing condemnation

Donald Grisham pleads for the Biotech Developers to keep their word to residents facing condemnation

 

 

 

The Chairman of the East Baltimore Biotech Development Corporation, played the moment well. After absorbing more than an hour of scathing annotates from residents facing forcible removal from their neighborhoods to make way for a new utopian bio-tech village, Joseph Haskins stood up.

This moment has been two year in the making for these residents who bothered to organize themselves into an activist group that lobbies for rights and benefits from the developers of this $1.8 Billion biotech. While they have met with EBDI officials, they have never made their case before the board, composed of city officials ranging from the Deputy Mayor to the Director of Housing. 

EBDI, a quasi-non profit, is creating blocks of shiny new homes, cafes stores and big biotech buildings with nice jobs in what is now a bulldozed neighborhood that served as the bleak set for The Wire. Remember Hampsterdam — That was East Baltimore, some of which has been slated or is already demolished and all at the

at the footsteps of Johns Hopkins Hospital

On this Monday night, people had relayed tales of  abuse they received from otherwise esteemed organization, ranging from patronizing dismissals to unsafe demolition practices.

 

“EBDI has not done anything for this community, I don’t care what it looks like, they haven’t done anything,” said one woman, who said she had her day care service shut down because of demolition around her. The biotech lab is not going to benefit us. Be real. It’s not going to benefit us. I’ve said time and time again  50 people in this community will not get a job in that lab.”

Despite the acrimony the room went quiet when Haskins faced the crowd much a way as a prodigal son faces his congregation.

Haskins, the president of Harbor Bank, an organization started in response to racist treatment from banking world, spoke with humility and disdain, but asked to delay major questions being put to him.  Instead he asked for a follow up meeting so he can investigate what he heard that night.

“I’m insulted,” he said. “I’m embarrassed and    hurt by the comments I heard. It was never the intension to make this community a victim.” The whole thing was tactics. Residents wondered whether Haskins was actually surprised by tales of   ineptitude by EBDI and its director, Jack Shannon.

Maybe Haskins was just delaying making commitments in the same fashion that EBDI has employed for years as residents live limbo as resident John Hammonds put it, in condemned homes wondering what’s to become of them.

Meanwhile they watch new streets being paved, street signs being install even their cars mistakenly towed. And shining new building come up that would fit in perfectly with Bethesda, some suburban PUD, but still looks odd popping up in the middle of the old brick.

But there were also tactics being played by on the residents, who as the group Save Middle East Action Coalition, had honed questions about why the project had found money even in this sickly economy to build senior housing, work force housing, two biotech buildings, but somehow haven’t been able to find funding for residents looking to stay in a promising community that potentially could give this teetering city an economic shove into a whole new vibrancy.

 

True Baltimore’s waterfront bristled with development – in fact a mini city arouses out of parking lots – now known as Inner Harbor East. But all these growth hinged on real estate, condo sales, grocery stores, hostels, potential jobs yes, but not an industry that can carry a city.

But the biotech community planned on 80 acres north of Johns Hopkins is seen as “game changer” — High-end jobs working on projects that if successful could transform medicine and the world. After all who could questions the location, — next to Johns Hopkins Medical Center, the 2nd highest recipient of federal research funding, which oddly had no nearby facilities where professors could take their hot ideas and incubate them for the market place.

The only thing that stood in their way were the residents and renters who slugged it out for decades in a drug invested rowhouse blocks known as Zombie Land.

The thinking was that anything was better-battered blocks of abandonment. Even without the murder and drugs, just drive through the main arteries is to view a stunning display of dilapidation. It’s not just the boarded up houses that fly by like picket fences. But it’s the stores, which now also have the plywood over the windows. It’s the patchwork of pastel painted brick with rotting ornate porches standing slanted on a hill, standing conjuring questions about its heyday. They seem so stark that it hold a kinds of deteriorating beauty – the kind of thing that attracts good photographers who put these works in galleries — an elitist point, but still powerful.

So city planners must have been surprised when they saw maybe twenty people walking a tenuous picket line, asking for “a house for a house,” back in 2002. Indeed, despite the brutal crime, there were residents living there, homeowners, who have told me numerous times, that yes there are hoodlums around, but they knew them

Many loved that fact they were so central located to all points downtown Baltimore and have their network of friends. Being relocated was essentially an exile.

Suddenly networks of childcare, neighbors looking after kids, rides to the store, trusting eyes watching their house, local knowledge of the neighborhood would vanish as they tried to figure out a new life.

For the next eight years, there became an intense haggling process. In stepped The Annie E. Casey Foundation, which became board members, and helped sweetened the relocation package adding counseling for two years after the move as well as millions to ensure that residents find decent replacement housing in what surely would be more expensive neighborhoods.

Although Casey has a policy of fighting gentrification, looking for organizations nationwide that help empower locals in distressed neighborhoods, The Foundation’s President Doug Nelson saw an opportunity of being a player within a massive development.

As he put it, “harness the economic engine.”

That is instead of only helping an organization try to fight the environs, Casey could help guide the change, and most importantly ensure that the residents would benefit.

 

Already more than 800 families have been moved out by 2005 with much wrangling over benefits from residential group known as SMEAC. Save Middle East Action Coalition, is a name that harkens back to when residents first organization to actually save the area. But this moved happen when Real Estate was booming and it just seemed as easy as plugging in numbers and the developers will line. Bio Technology was not seen as a business venture, but some kind of civic project, the way people build hospitals. But much has changed for the folks in phase II. Real Estate is tough to sell around the Harbor and developers can’t even think of building affordable housing for a biotech park that still hasn’t started bustling with jobs.

According to an Article in the Baltimore Business Journal, the developers Forest City Science + Technology Group, out of Cleveland won’t move on the second of six biotech buildings until they secure tenants first and that could take two years.

And yet the residents not only watch as other construction projects move ahead with no news on replacement housing, but they live amongst debris, rumbling equipment and at the very least isolated as blocks around them have been surreally clear cut with bulldozers. In their wake are massive patches of grass under glowing under security lights.

 

“Many of these people who left their homes and you supplemented their housing for 47 months or whatever, they will become homeless. This bothers me, because I think of myself as being retired as one step from being homeless as I see all these people, making all this money loosing their homes,” said Joseph Gladden, a resident of East Baltimore for 67 years.

After the meeting, Deputy Mayor Andy Frank, who sits on the board, said, “I think the time of talk has ended.”

He said the trouble is EBDI’s capabilities have been hamstrung by an economy where, “any construction that is happening right now is an accomplishment.”

Still EBDI needs to be clear with the residents what actually can be delivered.

The problem is the residents have heard this talk before.