EBDI project leaves local residents out

Clearing up some myths about east side development

November 30, 2010|By Donald Gresham and Leon Purnell

Many articles published about East Baltimore Development Inc. leave out important information that questions the success of the project, and this was true of a recent op-ed by Chris Shea and Doug Nelson. As members of groups representing community residents, leaders and concerned citizens of East Baltimore, we fear that such exclusions contribute to spreading certain myths about EBDI, which compound the misinformation and miscommunication that have long marked this project.

Myth No. 1: This is a biotech project. EBDI began as a public-private partnership to develop a "mixed-income" community anchored by a biotechnology park that was to provide jobs for East Baltimore residents. Aside from the Rangos Building that opened in 2008, biotech development has completely stalled. We understand this happened in the midst of a national economic crisis. But since before the crisis, the project has been reshaped to resemble a real estate venture that excludes neighborhood residents from both the planning and the potential benefits. For example, the newest construction project is a housing tower intended for 570 students at the Hopkins medical campus. How does this kind of development contribute to either biotech jobs or affordable housing for East Baltimore residents?

Myth No. 2: EBDI's new housing developments house many original residents. Messrs. Shea and Nelson state that more than 300 residents currently live in the new housing in the project area. But EBDI's Nov. 17 report to residents indicates that of those 300 current residents, only 32 are original residents (44 more are expected to return).

Myth No. 3: EBDI has created a fantastic new school for the neighborhood. We do not doubt that the East Baltimore Community School provides high-quality education. But of its 200 students, it is our understanding that only a handful currently live in East Baltimore or are from the original community.

Myth No. 4: More than 2,700 people from the greater East Baltimore area have been placed in jobs. Despite what Messrs. Shea and Nelson say, EBDI's same Nov. 17 report states that only 748 of the 2,700 job placements have gone to East Baltimore residents. Moreover, these jobs are not the "ladder to success" positions in the biotech industry EBDI and its backers promised. They are largely in construction, which is known for its short-term working contracts and low benefits.

Myth No. 5: The vast majority of residents are satisfied with how the project has unfolded. This claim is based on surveys conducted by Abt Associates, which was paid by EBDI and the Annie E. Casey Foundation. The quality of this survey data has been questioned by other researchers; we feel that it doesn't reflect the complexity of our relocation experiences.

Myth No. 6: The commitment to a revitalized East Baltimore and its people remains clear and unwavering. This last claim is particularly troubling. While proclaiming commitment to East Baltimore's people, Messrs. Shea and Nelson included no voices from the community and glossed over significant, ongoing disagreements with residents. For example, at every EBDI meeting, we are told that EBDI wants relocated residents to return. But to what should we return? Our community is no longer there; housing costs are too expensive; and a new community benefits district threatens to create a new neighborhood authority that will not include our voices.

Listening to the voice of the community, which included the residents of the Save Middle East Action Committee, community leaders, and other supportive individuals, is something that EBDI has done in the past and should continue to do. We strongly feel that the community's voice needs to be heard, and community participation must continue if an inclusive "New East Side" is to be more than a myth.

Donald Gresham was president of Save Middle East Action Committee, which is being reconstituted. His e-mail is donaldgresham29@yahoo.com. Leon Purnell is president of the board of Enviromental Justice Partnership. His e-mail is lpurnell2003@yahoo.com.

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