Let's have fun for a change

Neighborhoods: Too much focus on solving the same problems may have killed the joy of urban living.

November 29, 2001

BALTIMOREANS should have more fun.

Fulfilling that mantra is the call of David Boehlke, who is trying to shore up the city's "in-between" neighborhoods.

The urban recovery expert thinks many community associations have lost their edge because residents are sick and tired of always tackling the same seemingly intractable problems - drugs, schools and housing deterioration.

"We cannot problem-solve our way into health," he says. Instead, he urges that communities focus more on self-help projects that make a positive statement and on having parties to restore their frayed social fabric.

This is some of the thinking behind the "healthy neighborhood" strategy Mr. Boehlke developed in Battle Creek, Mich. For the past year, the same approach has been tested in Reservoir Hill, Patterson Park, the Garrison Boulevard and Gwynns Falls Parkway vicinity, Belair-Edison, the Coppin State College area and the Midtown neighborhood along Calvert Street.

The Morris Goldseker Foundation has now released a 16-page booklet that contains Mr. Boehlke's thoughts for other neighborhoods to emulate. His basic advice is for a community to make a frank self-assessment, coalesce around an initial self-help project that doesn't have to be elaborate or expensive, get to know neighbors again and produce fresh leadership.

Do these simple steps work?

Sure they do.

In fact, the whole exercise recalls the late 1960s, when the Citizens Planning and Housing Association did the serious work and its Livelier Baltimore Committee published an annual guide to how to get the most out of city living.

Those Bawlamer guides sold like hotcakes.

People had fun, got involved and enthusiastic again. For about a decade, much of Baltimore's young community leadership emerged from that project.

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