Beyond 'Miracle on 34th Street'

(Jerry Jackson/Baltimore…)
May 19, 2010|By Laura Bartos

This essay is selected from the work of Johns Hopkins University freshmen in the course "B'more Innovative: Studying Change Through Charm City." The course explored how ideas and innovations spread through society using case studies associated with Baltimore (e.g., Johns Hopkins Medicine, Project Love — Baltimore, The Afro Newspapers, B&O Railroad). The final assignment required students to propose an innovative project and describe how they would spread or "diffuse" it. These essays summarize key concepts from several proposals. Additional essays are at The student authors invite you to read and comment on their proposals. Michael Reese, the course instructor, is the associate director of the Johns Hopkins Center for Educational Resources and a doctoral student in sociology.

Hampden's "Miracle on 34th Street" is a wonderful example of a community coming together for a common purpose. Why couldn't it be replicated throughout Baltimore — and even beyond?

A citywide Holiday Light Project could collect holiday lights and identify sponsors to install the lights in various neighborhoods across Baltimore. This project would aim to promote interest in Baltimore, including disadvantaged neighborhoods typically avoided by tourists and commuters. It would also link together Baltimore neighborhoods — hopefully encouraging citizens to participate in other community-building projects.

In late summer and through fall, citizens, universities, businesses and organizations throughout the city would collect used or new (functioning) holiday lights and decorations. Each group collecting lights would sponsor a neighborhood, helping to recruit homes and organizations willing to display the lights there. Each group would raise money to buy additional lights, decorations, and food and drinks for the decorating weekend.

Each group would bring the donations to community centers in the neighborhoods they sponsor. Initially, the neighborhoods would be ones that would have the resources to easily participate in the project. Fliers would be posted in these neighborhoods. During a weekend in early December, the installation would take place. The community would come together and set up lights and decorations with the help of the sponsoring groups. The decorations would stay up until early to late January.

The Holiday Light Project has the potential to do more than temporarily beautify a neighborhood. It could bring together communities in Baltimore in a positive way. Community members would connect, make new friends, network and build social capital in the community. The groups sponsoring neighborhoods would also feel more connected with Baltimore and its citizens, especially in areas they may never have visited. The project could also help uplift troubled communities in Baltimore, injecting a spirit of beauty and fun.

The most important aspect of this project is its potential to help the Baltimore economy and neighborhood businesses. With proper publicity, more tourists and local residents would visit the communities involved in the project, boosting their attractiveness and their economies. Disadvantaged communities could use their participation in the project to raise awareness about the struggles, but also positive features, of their neighborhoods. The lights would also help Baltimore's overall image, giving people an incentive to visit the city in winter.

One challenge facing this project is that it would require a lot of electricity to power the lights every night for a month. Sponsors could raise funds to help offset homeowners' electric bills. Another challenge might be getting people to participate, especially in lower-income communities. Hopefully, as neighborhoods witness the positive effects of this program in other areas, they will be happy to join.

A main problem with decorating lower-income communities is the abundance of vacant houses and blocks. When decorating these communities, the members will have to decorate the blocks with the highest concentration of businesses and populated homes with power available. As the project gains momentum and more visitors come to the area, perhaps some vacant homes will even be purchased and renovated.

With hard work and a little luck, this project could spread not only throughout Baltimore but across the country. With a diffusion plan focused on the media's involvement in the project, other cities could grasp the project's success in Baltimore and could then adopt it in their own neighborhoods.

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