Southeast Baltimore at a crossroads

December 01, 1993

The city's southeast neighborhoods represent quintessential Baltimore: white marble steps, painted window screens and an ethnic mix with flavors ranging from kielbasa and pasta to moussaka, salsa and spare ribs.

The varied community and interest groups of this area have now concluded years of planning and released the Southeast Community Plan. This detailed and ambitious 74-page document focuses on the area's problems and prospects.

"Southeast Baltimore is at a crossroads," the plan declares. "Over the past 20 years, southeast Baltimore neighborhoods have experienced changes in population, business and commercial areas, and houses. While many of these changes have had a positive impact on life in southeast Baltimore, there are many longer-term trends that threaten the continued vitality of southeast Baltimore's neighborhoods."

To combat further job losses and to improve housing and commercial opportunities, the plan advances no fewer than 23 "priority" recommendations plus a number of less urgent measures. They range from the creation of a new industrial park to projects that would assist small business and community development. One of the items on this "priority" agenda is the expansion of literacy programs; others include the creation of a teen center and increasing the number of licensed day-care services for infants and children.

Roughly bounded by the Fayette Street and Pulaski Highway on the north, the Fallsway on the west, the harbor on the south and the city line on the east, the area covered by the plan contains some of the oldest residential and industrial areas in Baltimore. Canton's recent waterfront developments, in contrast, are among the city's newest. Ethnically, the area is an American mosaic. The age structure of its residents also is varied.

Perhaps this wide range of constituencies and problems helps to explain the variety of recommendations. However, our advice to the southeast communities is to trim them down to the two or three most urgent priorities. Start with these, focus on them tightly, produce results and a sense of achievement in the communities. Then move on to other issues. Otherwise the plan may falter because resources are initially spread too thin.

To implement its blueprint, the sponsoring community and business groups envision a 40- to 50-member planning council that will meet quarterly and select a coordinating committee that meets monthly. They would keep an eagle's eye on city plans and budgets affecting the area.

We welcome this systematic approach. It bodes well for the southeast.

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