Monday, April 28, 2008

What city is the Economist writing about?

I was excited to see a recent article from The Economist (h/t) on Baltimore. In much of its analysis, The Economist provides a deep look at political, social, and economic forces which shape global society and newsworthy happenings. However, this article makes it seem like Baltimore is enjoying the "New Day" that The Wire joked was coming soon. For readers of Baltimore Crime, the cities streets don't look a whole lot safer (although the 28% Murder reduction is a serious success). While statistics may paint a rosier picture, they didn't dry a Baltimore Circuit Court Judge's tears:
Something is wrong... But one of my favorite movie lines is where Jack Nicholson says, "You can't handle the truth." And I just think in many ways, we are ignoring the truth that's as plain as the noses on our faces.

And so what this case represents to me was -- and I don't doubt that Nakita is an intelligent young woman -- but what it points out to me is the crying need for early intervention. I reviewed the psychological report. I reviewed the court file. I reviewed the report in her prior case. This young and gifted young lady has needed help for a long time and not gotten it.
For a Judge who has seen it all, a case of Middle Schoolers beating a fellow busrider really got to him. While many might think its ludicrous that David Simon chose middle schoolers as the age where kids might turn bad, here's a case where elementary school was the critical age. You can read more about the case from Jean Marbella.

So while the article is correct that Baltimore has improved its policing efforts, clearly many steps need to still happen. It also misrepresents The Wire as presenting a solely negative Baltimore. As anyone who watched the finale knows, Simon loves focusing on Baltimore's beautiful spaces. From the Inner Harbor to the Cylburn Arboretum, plenty of beauty can be found among the "distressed" areas.

Finally, the quote by Sheila Dixon, current mayor of Baltimore sounds ridiculous:

Ms Dixon, the mayor of Baltimore, dismisses this idea. She pins her hopes on development. The ghetto is shrinking. The city's largest private employer, the Johns Hopkins hospital and university, is expanding into the eastern district, bulldozing derelict blocks to build nice homes for biomedical researchers. It will be an economic engine for the area, Ms Dixon says.

As Robert O. Self and Tom Sugrue have written about in their studies of post-WWII deindustrialization (American Babylon and The Origins of the Urban Crisis, respectively), urban poverty cannot be solved by moving it around. The underlying factors behind the poverty- lack of jobs, de-funding of education, de-funding city services are partially a result of the movement of capital to the suburbs, the decline of heavy industrial jobs, and the rise of the service sector. Ultimately, it is not bulldozing and urban "renewal" which improves neighborhood conditions, but an investment in that communities existing structures. Whether this means FHA style loans to improve dwellings (not just for purchasing new homes in the suburbs), investing in quality education, or financing improvements to infrastructure that bring outside investment, simply bulldozing troubled areas and throwing up middle class housing for bio-tech workers will not decrease overall poverty.

I will admit that this is a step in the positive direction for increasing the City's tax base. Between JH increased revenue and middle class researchers moving into the city proper (particularly areas where many abandoned buildings once stood), the City promises to make a pretty penny. Assuming that some of the increased taxes go towards helping the poor who were just forced out of their homes, this could have a net positive effect. But to say "the ghetto is shrinking" does not communicate what is really going on here.

1 comment:

virgotex said...

This is from today's Miami Herald:

Battle brews over crime-fighting cash

Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD)seems to know a little something about "doing more with less:"

Mikulski called Bush's policies ''outrageous'' and called Nussle's testimony ``snarky, scolding, dismissive.''

''We have funded the surge of Baghdad, but we have not funded the surge of violent crime in Baltimore, Biloxi or other places,'' the senator said.