N.Y. plan could be bigger, broader in Baltimore

Local version would aid all ages, area leaders say

June 15, 2008|By Julie Bykowicz | Julie Bykowicz,Sun reporter

When they visited Harlem last year, like delegations from dozens of cities and towns all over the country, the people from Baltimore liked what they saw.

But they believe that what's happening in their city could be even better. As its name suggests, the Harlem Children's Zone zeros in on kids, aiming to provide them with everything they need from birth to college, from health care to education to after-school activities.

The East Baltimore Redevelopment Project, its leaders say, would reach out to a broader section of people, including adults without children and seniors who live around the $1.8 billion rebuilding effort near the Johns Hopkins Hospital.

The projects of the two cities are similar in that each is defined by a geographic area and has a grand scope instead of a narrow focus. Eastside leaders say the lesson they took away from Harlem was that many agencies - education, child protective services, social services - can be harnessed for a single goal.

"One of the things I loved," says Robert Blum, who is involved in the Eastside redevelopment and visited Harlem, "is that the workers from the many agencies referred to themselves as 'Harlem Children's Zone employees.' That singular vision is extremely powerful."

Blum and others say that Baltimore and Harlem differ in ways that make it impractical to precisely replicate Geoffrey Canada's Harlem project.

Few places in America have experienced the kind of abandonment and disinvestment of East Baltimore, Blum says, meaning that social reform efforts here are starting from ground zero.

"We could not put human infrastructure into place as quickly because we had almost no physical infrastructure," says Jack Shannon, president of East Baltimore Development Inc., the corporation formed to shepherd the redevelopment effort.

The project, which won't be complete until 2015, covers 88 acres and will include about 2,200 new and rehabilitated homes and 150,000 square feet of new commercial space.

Shannon, who also toured the Harlem Children's Zone, says that once the foundation is in place in East Baltimore, he and others can work to build a tight network of social services, similar to what Canada has developed.

As in Harlem, Eastside organizers aim to have a charter school or something similar for area children. They'd like to develop young childhood programs like the ones in Harlem and hope to build a Family Resource Center that would serve as a social services hub for the neighborhood.

Unlike Canada's Harlem project, no single person is at the helm of East Baltimore's redevelopment. Instead, a committee of professionals and academics oversee the services. Blum says this could work to Baltimore's advantage since many leaders are invested in the process.

julie.bykowicz@baltsun.com

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