City Council replacement should keep families in focus [Commentary]

The Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance offers a checklist of characteristics for the city's next council member

September 22, 2014|By Allison Pendell Jones

Big changes are afoot in city and state government, changes that could affect Baltimore's families for a long time to come. Parents who want strong schools, safe streets, green spaces and walkable neighborhoods need to step up and make their voices heard so we don't lose momentum in the effort to make Baltimore a more family-friendly city.

On Tuesday, a committee selected by Council President Bernard C. "Jack" Young will interview candidates for the City Council seat vacated by Bill Cole, who recently resigned to lead the Baltimore Development Corporation. And on Nov. 4th, voters will choose candidates to represent the city in Annapolis.

What should Mr. Young's committee and local voters look for in the candidates vying for these positions? As an organization working hard to attract and retain families living downtown, the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance has some suggestions:

•A champion of public education. Families choose to live downtown because our neighborhoods are friendly, diverse places full of entertainment and enrichment. When families choose to leave downtown, it's often because our urban schools don't achieve the same results (or have the same support) as schools in surrounding counties. At the city and state level, we need representatives who will fight to make sure the schools in our neighborhoods get as much funding and attention as the deserve. This is an exciting time for Baltimore City schools as the system begins building and rebuilding facilities long overdue for replacement. At the same time, there are those who would take away other funding streams because we have construction funding. We need our representatives to make sure that doesn't happen.

•A stickler for public safety. Most parents raising kids downtown are willing to put up with urban annoyances like litter and panhandling, but we draw the line at anything that puts our children at risk. Yes, there are neighborhoods in the city that are far more dangerous than those clustered around downtown, and our children are no more important than the kids who live there. Still, we can't agree with the suggestion that a certain level of violent crime is acceptable. We need representatives who will work to make sure that public safety is a priority across the city, so all families feel safe in their neighborhoods.

•A park and playground promoter. Families who choose downtown over a lawn in the suburbs still deserve a place for their children to play. Safe, attractive parks and playgrounds are an essential part of city living, and Baltimore's are getting better and better. (During Mr. Cole's tenure, both Pierce's Park and West Shore Park were delivered to grateful families.) Going forward, we need representatives who understand that our parks are our backyards and who are willing to fight for an urban landscape that's more green and less gray.

•A reluctant driver. Living downtown means walking to school or a neighborhood restaurant and taking a bike or bus to work. Baltimore has made great strides in the past decade toward being more friendly to pedestrians, bicyclists and transit riders, but it still has a long way to go. Those who drive all the time often forget about the world outside their two-ton metal boxes. Downtown families need representatives who know what it's like to get cut off in a crosswalk, or to wait 40 minutes for the next bus. If they do, we can count on them to prioritize transit funding, improve pedestrian safety and support services like Zipcar and Uber that let many families live with one car, or no car at all.

The Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance believes that families bring stability and growth to neighborhoods and strong neighborhoods make for a healthy city. We work to connect downtown families to one another, and to the resources they need to raise children in the city. We also advocate for family-friendly programs and policies, both at the city and state level.

But DBFA cannot do it alone. If we're going to attract 10,000 more families to the city (and keep the thousands more who are already here), we need City Council members and state delegates and senators who understand the needs of families and are willing to address them. Only together can we create strong schools, safe streets, green spaces and walkable neighborhoods throughout downtown.

Allison Pendell Jones is board chair of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance (www.dbfam.org). Her email is apendelljones@gmail.com.


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