Baltimore’s Optimism Problem

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“America’s cities are the economic engines of the country and a driving source of optimism,” proclaims the Future Metropolis Index, a recent study that looked at American cities’ potential for future growth thanks to smart urban planning and sustainable development. But, of course, not all cities are created equally when it comes to optimism.

The study’s researchers looked at five characteristics — innovation, sustainability, vibrancy/creativity, efficiency, and livability/optimism. Unsurprisingly, San Francisco came out on top. (Clearly they didn’t adjust for affordability…) Tied for second were Seattle and DC. Baltimore ranked 20th out of the 36 cities, just a little bit less futuristic than Chicago but more than Dallas. (Last place, as always, goes to poor Detroit.)

The sad news is, Baltimore isn’t much better than Detroit, at least when it comes to what the study calls “livability and optimism.” Out of a possible 100 points, Detroit got 0. El Paso, Texas got 85. And Baltimore got 12. That’s the second-lowest in the entire country. This is mostly because of the metrics the study used — rates of unemployment, violent crime, and property crime — aren’t our city’s strong point. Still, it’s hard not to look at the other numbers and wonder if there’s a way we could do things better. After all, despite the good news around town, certain neighborhoods in Baltimore are scary places to grow up in. Our scores in the innovation and efficiency categories were quite high; if all our other numbers had measured up to these levels, we would be a top-ten city. But we don’t get to pick and choose which neighborhoods are “count” — for better or worse, we’re all in this together.

This jibes with the study’s findings that Americans are more likely to be optimistic about job prospects and economic growth than a decline in violent crime. Basically, things will get better for some of us… and more violent for everyone else. But as the numbers indicate, Baltimore can’t just focus on bolstering our higher-ed sectors and adding more free wifi spots if we hope to truly be a city of the future. Doing so will mean taking a hard look at where our city stands today — even the hard-to-look-at parts. And making plans to bring all of Baltimore into the future — not just the shiny, happy neighborhoods.



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