Work together to help Baltimore

March 30, 2001|By Lawrence C. Cager Jr.

AS BUSINESS, government and the philanthropic and nonprofit communities work with residents toward rebuilding Baltimore, we must face the reality that the Baltimore of the future will be a smaller and more diverse city.

In order to succeed, our public and private sectors must make concerted efforts to act more thoughtfully and more collectively to address neighborhood renewal.

Mayor Martin O'Malley and Police Commissioner Edward T. Norris are leading a charge against the criminal element undermining our city, and that is an important start. But it will take that same persistent, focused pursuit to address severe problems in Baltimore's public schools, drug treatment programs and economic opportunity.

Community development corporations (CDCs) are uniquely poised to play the critical role of catalyst in bringing these necessary changes to the community level.

For years, CDCs and other grass-roots organizations labored under an ineffective system that encouraged competition instead of cooperation. Each organization saw its community as the "center of the universe" and limited its work to 10 or 12 square blocks.

CDCs were encouraged to focus solely on housing development, leaving city agencies to address in varying degrees substance abuse, employment and community safety. There was no foresight to provide financial and political support to build strong, capable organizations that could affect broader revitalization issues.

Fortunately, that's changing.

Organizations like Druid Heights CDC, Tri-Churches Housing and Govans Economic Management Senate are responding with comprehensive community development that addresses efforts on housing, community safety, employment and economic opportunity.

Such organizations are removing their blinders and working with neighbors to address common problems while capturing shared opportunities. Local government and charitable organizations are appreciating the value of a broader, collaborative approach to community development.

Through the support of local and national funding partners, the Enterprise Foundation is working with CDCs to lead change at the neighborhood level.

The impact of this work is visible in communities such as Sandtown-Winchester, where property values are increasing after years of community development investment, or Cherry Hill, where new homes are being developed along with increased opportunities for business and job development.

In Druid Heights, citizens are working with police to deter crime through a "Peace Patrol."

The Maryland Re-entry Partnership Initiative will be piloted in three neighborhoods this spring. It will create a national model for former prisoners' re-entry into a community by providing housing opportunities, employment training and employment placement and substance abuse counseling.

Baltimore's once-nascent community development system is emerging and needs continued support.

The mayor's Healthy Neighborhoods Initiative is an example of this renewed energy. The government and the banking and philanthropic communities are working with residents to prevent decline in some of the city's stronger communities such as Belair-Edison, Mount Vernon and Gwynn Oaks. Organizations are encouraged to work together for a larger goal of a neighborhood's total improvement, instead of competing against each other for grants on isolated projects.

But constant vision and leadership from the city and from donors -- in cooperation with the residents and nonprofit organizations on the ground -- are still needed to address issues such as public education, substance abuse and economic opportunity if we are to create healthy neighborhoods. Only then will Baltimore move forward.

Lawrence C. Cager Jr. is the Baltimore director of the Enterprise Foundation.

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