Halting the "outward migration" from Baltimore to the suburbs, clearing some of the 14,000 abandoned dwellings that dot inner-city streets and providing "treatment on demand" for thousands of drug addicts emerged last night as priorities for the city at a Citizens Planning and Housing Association rally.
About 1,000 city and regional activists attended the two-hour event at the Baltimore Convention Center to hear officials talk about issues from transportation to controlling sprawl.
Mayor Martin O'Malley was scheduled to speak but did not attend, a day after saying he would not run for governor.
"It's great to have that sense of certainty," Terri L. Turner, the association's executive director, said of O'Malley's decision. And 3rd District City Councilman Kenneth N. Harris Sr. said it will create more momentum for "zoning in on the job he was elected to do."
The association, a grass-roots coalition based in Baltimore, recently increased its efforts and representation in the five metropolitan-area counties and bused in participants from Carroll County for the rally.
The key to reversing Baltimore's population decline --from 736,014 in 1990 to 651,154 in 2000, according to census figures -- is making the city's neighborhoods more livable by providing shuttle bus services and local planning funds, Turner said.
The association's director of housing, Amy Menzer, said, "It would be great to hear sometime soon more concretely how residents can be involved" in an ambitious goal set by O'Malley in January; he wants the city to acquire 5,000 of the 14,000 abandoned or condemned buildings.
William Miller, executive director of the Greater Homewood Community Corp., which represents a large cluster of North Baltimore neighborhoods, said Baltimore, like Philadelphia, has to deal with vast tracts of urban wasteland. "Areas of the city have to be cleared and we need to package land" for new investment and development, he said.