Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Wednesday, November 20, 2019

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.”

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?”
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.

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.

Social urbanism.
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.

Infrastructure improvements have helped augment the quality of life in Medellin. Cable cars connect the poorest neighborhoods, perched high on steep mountains, to the rest of the city. Paul Smith/For The Washington Post).

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.

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.
(Interestingly, much of this has been funded by the city's ownership of the local electricity company.)

Baltimore.  I had PBS on over the weekend, and I caught an episode of "To the Contrary," which focuses on "women's perspectives".

WJZ-TV image.

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

What people like Klacik sometimes don't get is public officials are too often overwhelmed not just with so many things that need to be done, but with the fact that because of limited resources, not everything will get done, and it's made harder by people doing things (e.g. dumping trash) that make it even harder. (If litter is a problem, cities have to expend resources to deal with it. If people don't litter, then such monies can be spent elsewhere.)

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.

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At 1:14 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Baltimore aims to create a comprehensive plan for violence reduction

At 9:53 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

I hear what you are saying about Bogota but the situation is very different.

Columbia was practically in a cvil war with drug cartels and guerillas. And gridlock is civil society going back to the 60s (and even earlier). I have no idea how many people died in that but well over 100,000.

And the deaths is medellin were very much part of that. Not "code of the streets" shooting like we get in the urban US.

You want a crime reduction? You need a very large crackdown on the scale of what Guiliani did in NYC, and it isn't pretty.

The answer is whether that is going to work after 10+ years after the low hanging fruit is gone, and I'm not sure. Then the measure you talk about might work.

I'm wondering if you are black/poor in DC right now, 2018, whether the murder rate is higher than 1992. Given population displamcent, what pct of the city was poor in 1992 vs 2018?

At 10:02 AM, Anonymous charlie said...

very off topic:

But going back to austerity debate.

Also Rahm Emmanuel and his "Metropolitan Majority" on elections.

A godo test to see how serious that majority will be.

At 10:35 AM, Blogger Mari said...

"Enlightened leaders" there is no such thing. There are human beings who have their moments of enlightenment, susceptible to small and large corruptions and sins. Too much is dependent on non-existent platoons of these enlightened and super humans, elected and unelected, to work in government. When was is needed is a greater enlightened/ competent citizenry from which leadership comes from and which can hold the leadership accountable.

I see your lack of understanding of Black Republicans. Yes, the GOP is racially tone-deaf, and I write from experience as a decades long member and as an African American woman. However, other goals and interests override those occasional moments of deafness. Ms. Klacik has an uphill battle in a 1 party city. Black Dems have the problem of ignoring issues inside the community and will blame black death, poor education, and poverty on whites who have abandoned the city.
Baltimore has been losing it's population for years. And it really hasn't been attracting a lot of new blood/talent. You can't help but to notice the heroin addicted looking homeless when driving in on 295 or the abandoned vacant shells of former homes when riding in on the MARC or Amtrak. There is not enough dazzling beauty in the city to distract from it's 300+ murders, rats, poverty, and oh yes, government corruption.

At 4:11 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

explicate on the "other goals and interests" ... if you will.

FWIW, Ms. Klacik seemed on point to me, nothing like a Ben Carson or Herman Cain (even Michael Steele).

This reminds me that I meant to reference the Mick Cornett (ex. GOP mayor of Oklahoma City, but white) book.

I think the problem with Baltimore is just not quite enough legacy corporations at the core, and the continued acceleration of Howard, Anne Arundel and Baltimore County (which has its own problems concerning lots of now empty industrial property) + even Carroll and Harford Counties.

I did a piece a bit ago that looked at the population growth over the past 50 or so years and it's been ok, but Baltimore City leaked more population.

It's the same for Cleveland and Detroit. Vis a vis the counties there has been a lot of population shifting over the past decades, but not a lot of growth. By contrast, the Washington metro grew and in that context a rising tide lifts all boats, even DC's boat...

It's not unlike the dynamic between Tacoma and Seattle vis a vis DC. If it were a little closer, more people would be willing to live there and commute to DC.

At 4:17 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

charlie -- yes, absolutely the hypercrime had to do with the cartels. We were watching a Nat. Geog. show about the border and they showed a drug bust. So much of the destabilization in Mexico and South America is driven by the US's consumption of drugs, and we evince very little responsiblity for it. (It's a corollary of the "resource curse.")

But they were addressing the murder rate in Medellin through the "social urbanism" program even when the drug problem/cartels/FARC were still key factors.

But yes, the issues in Colombia, favelas in Brazil, El Salvador, etc. aren't quite the same, and maybe we aren't at the right phase. But I think there is still a lot to learn from them.

I do think there needs to be a massive "pacification" program and by that I mean "engagement" not massive overpolicing. Like the "civil action" programs in Peru in the 1970s etc. But yes there were big political and militarization issues involved with that.

But like with the cheapening of society via Fox News, social media, all the reality television on Bravo, etc., I don't know if we can put the genie back in the bottle.

At 4:21 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

With Warren, two things:

1. Yes, we need to tax the rich more, end the "carried interest" benefit, increase corporate taxes again, increase the estate tax, but I don't know the sweet spot. A 100% tax is confiscatory.

2. Similarly, when she just released her 4 year plan for M4A, I could only think about how so many of the states f*ed up their rollout of Obamacare exchanges.

My first thought back then was that instead of letting 1000 flowers bloom by each state, they should have piloted the program in a couple states, and rolled it out in phases.

Similarly, rather than build in all the opposition from people who like their insurance, just offer M4A to everybody and let people choose it if they want, if they already have other insurance.

Not to mention piloting it instead of the likely disasters from multiple states screwing it up, all working on hyper deadlines for implementation.

At 5:29 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

FT article interesting. Would take generations to get people to buy more, to change their mindset and attitudes.

But wrt the government, too bad they don't acknowledge the Keynesian impact of the Marshall Plan.

OTOH (and not unrelated to Baltimore) they spent billions and billions on the east, post-unification and what did that get them...

At 5:33 PM, Blogger Richard Layman said...

Discusses Dallas and Baltimore, W 2017


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