Key to rebuilding city: Think small

May 12, 1994|By JoAnna Daemmrich | JoAnna Daemmrich,Sun Staff Writer

To rebuild a largely impoverished, post-industrial city at the end of the 20th century, start with the idea of a village.

Returning to the traditional, closely linked structure of a small town is the central concept in 112 initiatives developed by local committees working to obtain for Baltimore a coveted designation as a federal empowerment zone.

More than 400 community activists, business leaders and government officials have spent the past two months coming up with proposals to win the designation that could bring as much as $100 million in new federal grants. The first ideas were presented last night before Baltimore's 50-member empowerment zone advisory council.

"A theme that came out of almost all the committees is that society has become so depersonalized," said Larisa Salamacha, chief of staff for the application. "The focus is on making things smaller and more reachable, more on a human scale, more accessible to the neighborhoods."

The decaying swaths of East, West and South Baltimore neighborhoods beyond the Inner Harbor would be divided into a dozen villages. Each would have a community organizer, health care services, public safety and education programs.

One idea is to train a community organizer for each village, create a "welcome station" manned by volunteers and appoint block captains.

Another is to boost homeownership by encouraging city businesses and institutions such as Johns Hopkins Hospital to offer funds for housing programs in their neighborhoods.

A third is to set up a recycling plant in the Fairfield section and hire nearby residents.

U.S. Housing Secretary Henry G. Cisneros, who will choose nine places for empowerment zones this fall, toured some of Baltimore's proposed neighborhoods last month.

Mr. Cisneros offered no promises but plenty of encouragement after his visit April 7. However, he conceded that Baltimore faces an uphill fight because it doesn't meet the specifications for five of the zones. Three must go to rural areas, one to a city with a population under 500,000 and another to a city that borders on two states. The nation's biggest cities, New York, Los Angeles and Chicago, are believed to be leading candidates for three of the four remaining zones. However, Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke has been upbeat about landing the final spot.

Over the next month, the 112 initiatives to transform the neighborhoods will be narrowed down and organized into a plan to be submitted to the federal government.

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