Challenging poverty

August 18, 2002

NEW U.S. CENSUS figures contain an alarming warning: The once-stable African-American middle-class neighborhoods of West and East Baltimore have largely emptied out. If they are not redeveloped and repopulated, the decay that ravages these areas could destabilize adjoining neighborhoods.

Over the past decade, West Baltimore's Druid Heights, Upton, Harlem Park and Sandtown-Winchester continued rapid decline, losing 23 percent of their population. Such East Baltimore core neighborhoods as Oliver, Broadway East, Berea, Gay Street and Middle East lost more than 26 percent.

Those west- and east-side neighborhoods, which are still home to 11,000 people, are Baltimore's poorest. More than 40 percent of families are headed by a woman with no husband but with children under 18. Those also are the only city areas where median household incomes actually fell - and substantially so - during the 1990s. Incomes are now roughly 40 percent below the citywide median of $30,078.

FOR THE RECORD - An Aug. 18 editorial should have said Baltimore City Council hearings on an East Baltimore biotech park have been rescheduled because of insufficient public notice.

Those numbers underscore the urgency for city officials to implement redevelopment plans.

Progress is being made on the west side. An $8.6 million apartment building for senior citizens is nearing completion at Fulton and Edmondson avenues. It is to be followed by Bank of America's ambitious plan to build 160 single-family homes in Harlem Park. And Heritage Crossing, a $63 million housing complex, is rising along Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard.

The picture gets murkier on the east side. Years of redevelopment efforts north of the Johns Hopkins medical campus have produced disappointingly little.

Earlier this year, hopes were rekindled after plans were announced for an $800 million biotech park. But a scheduled City Council hearing had to be rescheduled recently because an advertising mixup failed to give the public sufficient notice.

After it returns from its summer break, the council should pass the enabling bills quickly. They are just the first step in a complicated development process.

The biotech park is East Baltimore's best hope to combat deterioration. Dallying will ensure that it doesn't get done - and that trends like those found in the 2000 Census continue for years to come.

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