Baltimore Has Embraced Demolition but Doesn’t Want to Shrink

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In an article in yesterday’s New York Times, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake was quoted as saying, “I’m trying to grow the city, not get smaller.”

That comes as no surprise. By now we’re all familiar with Rawlings-Blake’s goal of attracting 10,000 new families to the city by 2023. But what’s interesting is Baltimore’s commitment to expansion given its simultaneous embrace of razing vacants to the ground. How attractive is a city that is tearing down building after empty building?

The trick is to turn demolition into a bold step forward, rather than a retreat. To that end, Baltimore has been offering many of the vacant lots to urban farming operations, like Boone Street Farm in Midway, which cultivates an eighth-acre site and sells the produce to local eateries and at farmers markets.

While Baltimore has recently seen some hopeful signs of a population rebound, the New York Times offers up the city of Youngstown, Ohio, as an example of how difficult the demolition approach can be. The city’s population shrunk over the decades from 170,000 to 66,000. While they’ve taken “a pioneering approach” to their long-term population drop — they’ve committed to a new target population of 80,000 and have been razing 10 vacants every week — they continue to lose residents at a rate of 1,000 every year. By the time they’ve completed their planned demolitions, will they be forced to reassess and set their lights even lower?

Despite blight in Baltimore feeling like a given by this point — even essential to the character of the city — recent development projects, the announcement of Amazon’s upcoming Baltimore warehouse, and newly (re)opened restaurants and theaters, have brought with them a certain air of optimism.

Or is that just me?

 



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