Question of the Month February's question asked readers...

SATURDAY MAILBOX

February 23, 2002

Question of the Month

February's question asked readers to comment on what Baltimore should do with the city's thousands of vacant properties.

Demolish the city's decaying dwellings

Many abandoned blocks of old Baltimore rowhouses are unfit for human habitation.

It is time for us to make use of the lands in a smart way. Let us create new parks and woodlands in these areas.

Certain large blocks of land should be designated as environmental restoration target zones.

Baltimore should pass a law banning future development of these zones for several generations.

All infrastructure - such as pipes, poles, streets and utilities - should be removed, and woods should be planted so the areas come to resemble the way they were before they were developed.

Let's allow nature to reclaim the land for a long, long time.

Restoration of green landscape is beneficial to all life in the immediate area, and adds to the future value of the land - once it becomes reforested and full of wild life.

Environmental investment is like money in the bank, earning high interest.

The restoration of abused and neglected land is a way to create many moderate-wage, outdoor jobs and give our city a good, long-range outlook.

Bob deSocio, Towson

The city should give abandoned properties that blight many neighborhoods to the Department of Public Works and the Department of Recreation and Parks to create much-needed green spaces throughout Baltimore.

With a lot of grass and some trees, we could fight air pollution, provide storm-water management and beautify blocks that are often barren of both grass and trees.

Joe Stewart, Baltimore

I think the houses should be torn down and flower and vegetable gardens planted in their place.

This would help beautify the city and feed those in need.

Phil Oliver, Glen Burnie

In recent years, I have written letters to The Sun, the mayor, City Council members and city housing and fire department officials, strongly urging the immediate demolition of the city's 60,000 "fires waiting to happen."

My desperate plea continues.

Harry E. Bennett Jr., Baltimore

What else can we do but tear them [vacant houses] down and make lots out of them?

Most of the abandoned houses are more than 100 years old, and they are beyond repair. Left standing, they are houses for drug users to hide their drugs, fire hazards for the homeless to use in the cold and rat-infested landfills in the black community.

Above all, they are crime hazards, because you never know in this city when someone will be grabbed into one of them and raped, robbed or killed.

The city looks bad both ways - either with too many abandoned houses standing or with too many lots if they are torn down.

But until federal funding comes to Baltimore to build decent housing in the future, it would be safer to see lots ready for construction. And lots are also easier for the police to patrol.

Karl Crosby Baltimore

Rebuild vacant homes

The only thing more shameful and tragic than the decades-long neglect of Baltimore's once-beloved rowhouse neighborhoods is the prospect of demolishing them.

And replacing them with sterile subdivisions and shopping centers would compound this tragedy.

These neighborhoods represent an enormously important part of Baltimore's rich history and heritage and, despite their seemingly hopeless condition, they have enormous potential to become healthy and vibrant once again.

Suggestions that such neighborhoods are obsolete are simply untrue. Just look at the prices people pay to live in neighborhoods such as Canton and Federal Hill.

Proximity to the waterfront is not the only reason people want to be in those places. Their greatest assets are their unique architecture, their historic character and the walkable, mixed-use nature of their dense urban fabric.

Those are the very things that make city neighborhoods appealing to potential city dwellers.

In recent years, viable strategies have emerged for revitalizing Baltimore's neglected rowhouse neighborhoods. They focus on preservation, limited demolition and design excellence of in-fill development - not wholesale demolition.

Now we need the vision and political will to implement them - before it's too late.

Stuart Sirota, Baltimore

What should be done is to take the idle youth of the city, presently engaged in the only form of capitalism left to them, the drug trade, and put them to rehabilitating these [vacant] houses.

They could work under the tutelage of retired carpenters, electricians and plumbers, who I'm sure would enjoy putting their talents to good use rather than playing checkers at the union hall.

Harry Goldman Jr., Baltimore

Let's transform the abandoned real estate into satellite police stations. This would put the police where they are needed - in the center of the communities that would benefit most from their presence.

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