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REVITALIZING BALTIMORE: AN ASSESSMENT OF FIVE TOUTED URBAN REVITALIZATION STRATEGIES

Executive Summary

The goals of this report are to review the best available evidence from research and practice on five touted strategies for revitalizing distressed cities and to assess their applicability to the City of Baltimore. Urban experts identify and attempt to empirically test four leading theories of urban decline: decentralization, the migration of middle- and upper-income households and businesses from cities to suburbs; concentration of poverty, the disproportionately large number of poor households in the inner-cities; structural shifts in the economy, the shifting from a manufacturing economy to one that is now technology based; and racial discrimination and segregation. Our review of the empirical evidence leads us to conclude that none of the four theories can fully explain urban decline on its own. Therefore, we propose an alternative conceptualization of urban decline, which acknowledges that these theories act in concert and are mutually reinforcing. As a result, we argue that urban revitalization policies should address all four theories. In addition, the causal factors emphasized in each theory do not necessarily contribute equally to urban decline in every city; the relative contribution of each will be determined by the specific circumstances of each city. The range of causes is consistent with a range of revitalization strategies, including those that are neighborhood-based and regionwide approaches. Manifestations of neighborhood decline include both physical and social deficiencies. These include crime, poverty, poor educational systems, and joblessness.

The application of any urban revitalization strategy in Baltimore depends, in part, on the demographic, labor market, physical infrastructure and crime characteristics of the city. Additionally, Baltimore is comprised of over 300 unique neighborhoods, each with its own set of strengths, weaknesses, and intangible characteristics. Any citywide revitalization strategy should take these neighborhood differences into account. A third determinant of success in any revitalization strategy is the size and scope of the city's financial resources that the city can apply to whatever revitalization measure it decides to pursue.

Across a broad range of indicators, Baltimore ranks low. Its housing stock is depressed, unemployment is high and population is declining. Some neighborhoods, however, show signs of health, others, while teetering, appear to be salvageable, and there are significant neighborhood-building initiatives underway in a number of neighborhoods. Although Baltimore has generally been successful in obtaining state and federal funds for its revitalization efforts, it is not in a position to match these funds from its own discretionary resources. The projected growth of expenditures so far outstrip the projected growth in revenues that the city's own forecasts show budget deficits of $26.8 million in FY2000, $51.7 million in FY2001, and $68.5 million in FY2002. A slight easing of fiscal pressure in the last several years has been the result of a booming stock market, which has swelled receipts from income taxes on non-wage income, and improved pension fund earnings to the point where General Funds budgeted for fire and police pension contributions were freed up for other uses. Continued efforts to streamline and downsize city government have allowed the city to balance its budget, but provide no slack for new initiatives.

Comprehensive Community Initiatives (CCIs) attempt to address persistent problems of poverty concentrated in the nation's neighborhoods by implementing strategies that address social, economic and physical factors holistically. Problems facing these neighborhoods are multidimensional, thus CCIs attempt a multidimensional approach to solving such problems. These initiatives concentrate resources in a specific community, encourage neighborhood empowerment, and attempt to facilitate collaboration among residents, community organizations and city agencies to create solutions that address all aspects of neighborhood decay. Such a concept is difficult to implement. Collaboration among participants has proven arduous and many CCIs are unable to move beyond the planning and empowerment process to achieve tangible, sustainable change. Despite these challenges, CCIs have affected change in some neighborhoods. Key factors in achieving such change include building on existing resources, having a strong leader and working through a strong lead organization. However, because each neighborhood initiative is distinct, evaluation is problematic and it is often not possible to compare results in one neighborhood with those in another.

Michael Porter's "prescription" for urban revitalization is based on his theory of economic competitiveness for inner-cities. By capitalizing on a city's location, regional economy, local market, and human resources, Porter believes businesses will be able to thrive. The presence of successful businesses in blighted neighborhoods will, in turn, enable the surrounding communities to improve through more job opportunities and purchasing power. Porter's theory has been criticized as being old ideas packaged as a new urban revitalization movement. In addition, examples cited as successful demonstrations of the Porter model often contain features that are inconsistent with Porter's views. Location, high purchasing power, potential for regional clustering, and an affordable labor pool make Baltimore's inner-city a candidate for Porter's model. Ironically, many of Baltimore's greatest attributes are also its biggest detriments, and may have already proven to be great disincentives for businesses. Therefore, preliminary strategies to combat problems such as poor quality of life, poor infrastructure, and low educational attainment will need to be addressed before the Porter model can be a success in Baltimore City.

The triage approach to neighborhood revitalization is based on the premise that when resources are limited, attempts should be made to target neighborhoods with the best chance for success. Unlike most other neighborhood revitalization approaches, the triage approach does not prescribe any particular action for cities or neighborhoods. Instead, the triage approach shifts the focus to identifying which neighborhoods can be revitalized, and to defining a set of indicators that can be used to judge a neighborhood's potential for revitalization. The process of identifying and defining these neighborhoods, however, is still in its infancy, being more of a theoretically appealing concept than one that has been applied and documented. Further, the selection of indicators is highly subjective, and the selection of some neighborhoods over others is a politically sensitive issue. Thus, it is not surprising that virtually all of the current attention to neighborhood triage has been supported by private foundations, primarily the St. Paul Foundation in Minnesota and the Pew Charitable Trusts in Philadelphia. But even these foundations often discuss triage in veiled terms.

If a triage model is to be pursued, it will be necessary to devise a set of indicators that can effectively select neighborhoods for revitalization efforts. The only explicit indicators reported in the literature are based on the early work on of "zones of emergence" introduced by Kennedy and Woods and extended by Nathan and Sviridoff. These authors suggest three key indicators for salvageable neighborhoods: high levels of foreign immigration; a minority middle class; and effective CDCs. However, the applicability of these indicators to Baltimore is questionable, and efforts to identify appropriate indicators are hampered by lack of data at the neighborhood level.

To provide a preliminary and admittedly crude test of the triage approach in Baltimore, this study categorizes neighborhoods by indicators such as house value, vacancy rates, employment rates, median income, changes in population, educational levels, and the existence of CDCs. These indicators are then examined in a sample of nine diverse neighborhoods representing varying levels of stability but containing at least one indicator demonstrating potential for salvageability. The nine neighborhoods examined are: Belair-Edison, Cherry Hill, Coldstream-Homestead-Montebello, Druid Heights, Irvington, Reservoir Hill, Upper Fells Point, Washington Village, and Waverly.

When President Clinton visited the South Bronx in 1997, he proclaimed it a "miracle" of urban revitalization and renewal. The "South Bronx Miracle," however, is difficult to define. There is no single South Bronx model, and the "miracle" refers to a set of initiatives implemented over a 30-year period. The greatest success was achieved in the development of housing concentrated in select areas. Improvements in the crime rate and industrial development are also noteworthy, though less prevalent. But revitalization was unable to infiltrate some of the most critical and well-embedded social policy problems facing all declining urban areas. The problems of unemployment, education, and income mix persist in the South Bronx. There are two key lessons for Baltimore in the 30-year South Bronx revitalization efforts. First, a strong lead organization that coordinates community groups and city officials and that moves the process along appears to be vital. Second, the South Bronx illustrates what may be accomplished when the focus is directed to a single policy goal which, in the South Bronx case, was housing development. This approach contrasts sharply with the comprehensive approach that has been increasingly adopted over the last decade (see chapter 3).

Regionalism involves cooperation among cities, suburbs, and the surrounding region. Many forms of regional cooperation currently exist, the most publicized successes being in Montgomery County, Maryland, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minnesota, and Portland, Oregon. The replicability of these forms of regional cooperation in Baltimore is somewhat limited by barriers such as high concentration of poverty and racial minorities, as well as the city's degree of fiscal stress. Local, federal, and state coalition-building can encourage regional cooperation. The Portland and Minneapolis-St. Paul examples show that necessary components for regional cooperation to occur in Baltimore include time, coalition building, and a strong visionary leader.

This study provides two types of lessons for Baltimore: those that are intuitive and expected, and those that fly in the face of the popular wisdom that has developed about how best to reclaim distressed cities and neighborhoods. Among the conventional views confirmed are the importance of a strong leader and strong lead organization, the long gestation period and hefty price tag of efforts to reclaim distressed areas and the need for strong public relations. But contrary to popular notions of urban revitalization, the successful strategies reviewed here did not rely on a bottom-up approach and housing was a linchpin in a number of the touted successes. In addition Baltimore currently applies a form of triage in its allocation of resources to neighborhoods. This study argues for a more systematic and fair approach to neighborhood triage.