Hopkins project good for East Baltimore

Neighborhood is improved, displaced residents well-compensated

May 11, 2010|By Dolapo Ojo-Uyi

Recently, I listened as a friend and fellow Johns Hopkins student denounced the university for its "social injustice" in forcing low-income black families to relocate to make room for the expansion of the Hopkins medical campus in East Baltimore.

She discussed the long and sometimes turbulent relationship that Hopkins has had with the East Baltimore community. Certainly, the experiment conducted via the Kennedy Krieger Institute (an affiliate of Johns Hopkins) on lead paint levels in children failed to garner trust. That experiment, conducted in the early 1990s, is just one example of controversial decisions that Hopkins has made while claiming to work toward improving the community.

The researchers in that instance claimed that the experiment tested how well different levels of repair in Baltimore housing actually reduced lead in the blood of inner city children. However, many — including the Maryland Court of Appeals — felt that Hopkins took advantage of the community by exposing healthy children to lead. This judgment expanded the issue beyond the proponents of informed consent and into the murky waters of racism and social inequality.

Now, in the midst of another controversial move, Johns Hopkins must adequately justify its expansion plans in order to avoid accusations of the same type.

Though Hopkins has not always been forthcoming with details regarding its expansion into the Middle East neighborhood, I cannot help but recognize the overwhelming benefits of this expansion. The expansion will turn a largely underpopulated and crime-ridden area into a productive and lucrative science research community. Unlike my friend, I feel that such a transition is inherently positive because it turns the area into a more sustainable built environment.

As is, the homes in the project area in East Baltimore has a very low occupancy rate. This means that someone walking down the street will take in a view that consists of dilapidated and boarded-up houses. What value comes from that?

Advocacy groups such as the Save Middle East Action Committee try to argue that Hopkins will trample on a historic area of Baltimore with its redevelopment plan. However, I see no historical value in boarded up houses. I simply see decay.

The expansion of the medical campus at the very least will rejuvenate the area by creating a mix of office buildings, lab facilities and mixed-income housing. This combination of buildings will increase the population density of the area and produce a more vibrant atmosphere. With more people present in the area, there may be an opportunity for community interaction and growth. Strong community ties can help reduce crime and drug prevalence in neighborhoods. Local citizens should not feel resentment over development that will make the neighborhood a safer place.

Furthermore, those displaced by the expansion received a little more than $150,000 if they were homeowners. The value of townhouses and other attached units, which account for a large percentage of all housing in the neighborhood, is about $35,620. These residents received almost four times the value of their homes and consequently should be able to afford an attached home elsewhere in Baltimore, where they could live among other people and not rotted wood.

Dolapo Ojo-Uyi is a junior at the Johns Hopkins University. Her e-mail is dojouyi1@jhu.edu.

Editor's note: Early versions of this article gave incorrect information about the amount of land in East Baltimore that will be acquired by the Kennedy Krieger Institute. Kennedy Krieger has no current plans to acquire additional property there. The Baltimore Sun regrets the error.

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