If you’re an optimist, you might see it this way: the Johns Hopkins-spearheaded Homewood Community Partners Initiative (HCPI) will leverage the university’s power to transform the neighborhoods surrounding the school (officially designated as Abell, Barclay, Charles North, Charles Village, Greenmount West, Harwood, Oakenshawe, Old Goucher, Remington, Wyman Park, and parts of Waverly) with safer streets, more restaurants, better schools, and fewer boarded up houses. And if you’re a pessimist, this is Hopkins’ bold plan to extend its domain over increasingly large swaths of Baltimore.
The university’s Homewood campus exists in what students refer to as the “Hopkins bubble,” a small radius of college-centric businesses and residential buildings (Chipotle, et al.). But, as development consultant Joe McNeely puts it, “Mixed in with the good, there are pockets of public safety concerns and areas where people feel a little bit threatened. The farther away from campus that people get, the more uncomfortable they are with their surroundings.”
The HCPI is an ambitious plan to make people (read: Hopkins students, faculty, and staff) feel more comfortable in more areas around the campus. The school sees redevelopment as the key to its three major goals: creating a “vibrant urban center,” making the neighborhoods more livable, and finding (or creating) stakeholders who share an interest in transforming the area. The HCPI’s report recommends projects including a bike boulevard, a Charles Street trolley, an expanded Live Near Your Work program, and increased partnerships between local schools (namely Margarent Brent Elementary/Middle and the Barclay School). The plan will require about $60 million, which will include funds from the university, the city, the state, and foundations.
“Don’t live below 27th Street,” a grad school classmate told me when I first moved to Baltimore. “I don’t think we’re allowed to go to Greenmount Avenue,” one of my students told me, after I recommended a trip to the Book Thing. (Being counter-suggestible, I lived on 25th Street and walked over to Greenmount all the time.) Bursting the Johns Hopkins bubble is undeniably a good thing for the school’s students, and it’s hard to argue against neighborhood improvements. But I would be sad to see Waverly’s lake trout spots and wig shops replaced with high end fast food and student-friendly shops. There’s a big difference, after all, between bursting a bubble and just making that bubble bigger. And so I can’t help but wonder whether the Hopkinization of the vibrant (and, yes, occasionally dangerous or dirty) neighborhoods surrounding the schools will be an unequivocal good thing. What do you think?
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