Linneal Henderson sees need for Baltimore and counties to cooperate


December 22, 1991|By Tim Warren

On the bookshelves in his office, Lenneal Henderson has the usual volumes that a Distinguished Professor of Government at the University of Baltimore would need: books on public policy and government, urban problems, and the driest government documents and publications possible. But in between such books as "The Taxpayers' Guide to Effective Tax Revolt" are a couple that stand out.

Lying on their sides are two well-thumbed paperbacks, "The Pocket Aquinas" and "The Pocket Aristotle." Underneath them are recent autobiographical works by Shirley MacLaine, the actress, world traveler and free-thinker, more likely to write about out-of-body experiences than urban policy.

This is not what one might expect from a man who co-authored the recent -- and controversial -- urban study, "Baltimore and Beyond," and gives lectures and delivers papers around the world on the most serious of topics. For instance, in June he delivered a paper on Stockholm that he describes as being "on the socioeconomic dynamics of household energy consumption and expenditure."

When the incongruity is pointed out to Dr. Henderson, he just beams.

"I suffer from chronic dilettantism," he acknowledges. "I'm always looking for the connecting point, and I'm always looking at new things, and old things in a new way.

"I have a 20- to 25-minute drive to my work from Ellicott City, and I'll slip in a tape by Joseph Campbell on myths or one by [paleontologist] Stephen Jay Gould, who's up at Harvard and is just fantastic. I don't pretend to understand it all, but I'll just listen to it until something clicks."

If it appears that Lenneal Joseph Henderson, 46, is no conventional academic, he isn't. He's a product of housing projects in New Orleans and San Francisco who has gone on to teach full- or part-time at 21 colleges or universities. He was a Ford Foundation Fellow, a Rockefeller Research Fellow and Kellogg National Fellow, and since 1989 has been a senior fellow in the University of Baltimore's William Donald Schaefer Center for Public Policy.

He first went overseas in 1965 after graduating from high school, an inner-city kid who spent the summer in Europe on an exchange program. He estimates his academic and consulting activities have taken him to Canada, most countries in Europe, Russia, China, Japan, India, Israel, Egypt, Somalia, Brazil, Tanzania, Nigeria, South Africa, Peru, Argentina and several countries in the Caribbean.

He's had a longtime interest in the environment; most recently, he was named to the board of trustees of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation. But when he gave a talk this year to an environmental group, his appearance startled one of the organizers, who did not know Dr. Henderson is black. "But he quickly recovered," Dr. Henderson relates with relish. "He said, 'I didn't know you were . . . so tall.' " (He is 6 feet, 3 inches).

A forceful and articulate speaker who possesses a ready wit, his interests seem unlimited, as does his energy. "An eight-hour working day is a short one for me," Dr. Henderson says. "Fifteen or 16 hours are more like it."

"I don't know how he does it, between the travel, consulting and teaching," says Ronald Walters, chairman of the Political Science Department at Howard University, where Dr. Henderson taught from 1975 to 1979. "He does have organization down to a science, but he just has an uncommon ability to do all those things and to do them well. He's just an outstanding individual."

Still, the study of cities has remained at the center of Lenneal Henderson's life. He's lived in many of them around the country, and although he mourns their decline, he still believes in them.

He says that when he remarried in 1989, he moved into the Ellicott City home owned by his new wife, Joyce, but still wanted his younger son, Lenneal "Joey" Henderson III, to attend Baltimore City schools. So this year, Joey's parents are taking turns driving the 5-year-old to kindergarten at Pimlico Elementary School in Northwest Baltimore. "There are many types of education out there, and not just in the schools," Dr. Henderson says. "I want my son to go to school with all kinds of children."

He was one of four authors of the report "Baltimore and Beyond," which pictured the city's health in grim terms ("without real help, Baltimore is in danger of becoming America's next Detroit or Newark, N.J.") and offered such solutions as greater cooperation between Baltimore and the surrounding counties, and increased civic cooperation in neighborhoods.

"I picked Lenneal to work on the report because he has a keen mind, he has studied cities across America and abroad, and he knows Baltimore just enough to be well acquainted with it but not so well as to be entrenched with a set way of looking at things," said Neil R. Peirce, a writer on urban affairs who directed the work on "Baltimore and Beyond." "He had a perspective and understanding that would help bring everything into focus."

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