Social urbanism and Baltimore
(The last section of the previous piece offers "social urbanism" as a framework for equity planning.)
I mentioned in a piece earlier in the year how reading the cover piece in the New York Times Magazine on Baltimore, "The Tragedy of Baltimore," made me realize that I was "all wrong" in my veneration of "broken windows" theory over "collective efficacy theory," that the reality is that they are complementary.
Anyway, earlier in the week, Washington Post columnist Theresa Vargas had a piece ("As homicides climbed, Baltimore’s mayor asked, ‘How can you fault leadership?’ Here are the questions he should have been asking") on the persistence of murder in Baltimore. From the article:
... “I’m not committing the murders and that’s what people need to understand,” you said at that news conference. “How can you fault leadership? This has been five years of 300-plus murders. I don’t see it as a lack of leadership.”I was thinking about the column in terms of "what can be done, what would I do?" were I in the position to do so.
To your credit, after the criticism started rolling in, you issued another statement that read, “While no leaders in our city are personally responsible for these crimes, ALL of us have a role to play in stopping them.”
That latter statement, though, is not what people are going to remember when it comes time to vote for Baltimore’s mayor in 2020, unless your actions give them a reason to point back to it. What they will remember is a leader who deflected blame when he should have been asking, “How can we do better? Where can we best invest our time and funding? How can we ALL work toward turning around a troubling trend that started in 2015?”
The reality is that I don't know, exactly.
Yes, invest in the community.
Yes, address the widespread prevalence of guns.
Deal somehow with recidivism.
Reconnect citizens to the maintenance of public order.
I think the best possible approach is doing what they did in Medellin.
Medellin was the center of Colombia's infamous drug cartels, the hub of the world's trade in cocaine. It was awash in money and violence, with more than 6,000 murders at the peak in 1991 -- today's murder rate is still too high (almost 700 last year after dipping below 500 a few years before), but is almost 90% less than the peak.
But addressing the crime cartels, alongside a program of public investment including in libraries, parks, arts centers and other civic facilities, and especially mobility--a subway, aerial gondala system, bike sharing, etc.--to better connect people who had limited access to the city because of topography, has transformed the city ("From murder capital to model city: is Medellín's miracle show or substance?," Guardian). From the article:
Arley Palomino, 18, says he remembers when just walking to school was an act of bravery. Firefights between gangs could break out at any time. "We were isolated here. The police wouldn't even dare come," he says, lounging under a leafy tree next to the España Library with a small group of secondary school students, lulled by the steady hum of cable cars and the heat of the day.(Interestingly, much of this has been funded by the city's ownership of the local electricity company.)
Since the MetroCable system was built in 2004 and the library in 2007, things have changed, Palomino says. The gangs are still around but the random violence is gone, he says. There is a constant police presence and residents feel proud of their neighbourhood.
"It is in areas that are most abandoned that there is more violence," says Palomino, who plans to study semiotics at the University of Antioquia. "Today we are no longer abandoned here." He sweeps his arm toward the España Library.
It featured Kim Klacik, a Republican advocate in Baltimore whose videos on "trash and rats" were used by President Trump to denigrate Baltimore ("Trump calls Baltimore 'disgusting, rat and rodent infested mess'," CNBC) and then Member of Congress Elijah Cummings. It only seems to be on the website as a podcast, but I saw it on video. I thought she said some reasonable things.
The thing that always drives me crazy about Trump is how he denigrates, and fails to realize that when places have problems the correct response of enlightened leaders is to figure out what is needed to make things better and to respond.
He makes the same mistake that Theresa Vargas called out on Mayor Young.
In the wake of Cummings' death, Klacik is running for the now open Congressional seat ("Republican strategist Kim Klacik running for Cummings' seat," WBAL-TV)
I don't see how she can last in the Republican Party, because they don't seem to evince much interest in investing in people of color, especially in cities ("Trump called Baltimore ‘rat and rodent infested’ 4 months after he tried ending the funding for its rodent control," Baltimore Sun). But when it comes down to it, the response needs to be making investments and the right investments in communities.
-- "Elijah Cummings, President Trump and Revisiting "The Urban Agenda"," August 2019
And that it is almost impossible for cities to get renewed investment and attention from the federal government in a political environment that needs to be able to demonize cities and people of color to get votes.
Righting disorder is a process that never ends. Medellin isn't perfect. The city still is wracked by violence ("Medellin's efforts against crime prove fleeting," Washington Post), but I think the point is that there is never a "state of rest." And in any case, going from 6,391 murders to less than 500 (at one point) is a significant accomplishment.
But it must be recognized that this is an ongoing process, because the forces of disorder are always present, and only by continued investments in public safety, education, and civic assets can the chaos be countered.
Labels: change-innovation-transformation, civic assets, crime, equity planning, public realm framework, public safety, social urbanism, Transformational Projects Action Planning, urban design/placemaking