Forum aims to strengthen communities

Neighborhood Congress hopes for full house tonight

June 28, 1999|By Jamie Stiehm | Jamie Stiehm,SUN STAFF

A landmark citywide Neighborhood Congress Convention, dedicated to making Baltimore a place of stronger and unified communities, convenes tonight at City College.

As many as 800 city residents are expected at the forum from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. at 3320 The Alameda. It is the result of a drive by the Citizens Planning and Housing Association (CPHA) and several other groups whose leaders say they are fed up with fighting for city services.

Youth and education, crime and drugs, housing and open space, and sanitation are on the agenda. Participants will be asked to vote on suggested solutions.

Then the difficult work begins: getting the city to respond and making the solutions stick.

"We can have all the bright ideas in the world, but if we don't have systems to make it happen, nothing works," said Odette Ramos, neighborhood organizer of Greater Homewood Community Corp. in North Baltimore.

Most important, organizers say, is developing a unified front to deal with city agencies -- what they call "a new way of working together" with the city -- and with churches, businesses and universities.

"The congress is about a new way of doing business with the city. Neighborhood organizations need stronger partnerships," said Lisa Smith of CPHA. "It's not about politics, or who's going to be mayor." Mayoral contenders are expected to attend the forum, but they will not be allowed to campaign or speak, Smith said.

One longtime community activist said she was encouraged by the commitment she has observed.

"The main thing for me is that we're in this for the long haul," said Bev Thomas of Park Heights. "I'm tired of going to tables and listening to the laundry list of the same thing over and over."

As a forerunner to the congress, organizers held three "solutions forums" this month at different sites to generate ideas. About 300 people attended, they said.

"It made the playing field bigger and gave us pages and pages of solutions," Smith said.

Tonight's gathering, they said, will fill the hall. "I'm hoping for standing-room only," Ramos said. "That sends a powerful message."

Pub Date: 6/28/99

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