By Elizabeth Kane, a student at The Park School of Baltimore.
Walking past the site of the now-demolished Madison Park North apartments on Easter weekend, I stopped to notice a sign with a drawing of the new buildings going up in the neighborhood. It reads, “Working Together to Realize a New Vision for Madison Park North,” but, with a marker, someone had altered the sign to say, “Working Together to Realize a New Vision for White People.”
As my dad read the altered title aloud, a young woman stopped nearby. “Yes, exactly,” she said. She told me community members have not been involved in the process of revitalizing the area, and she believed the developers are simply building from the ground up. No one in the neighborhood will be able to afford the new homes, she said.
To the left of the sign, another board brands the development as part of Project C.O.R.E, the $700 million joint effort between the state and city focused on revitalizing old or vacant Baltimore properties. According to the Department of Housing and Community Development, the project aims to support community growth in Baltimore City, eliminate as many whole blocks of blight as possible and encourage investment in those demolished communities through attractive financing options and other incentives. Madison Park North is the newest victim of this effort.
Natalie Sherman reported for the Baltimore Sun that the $100 million project is slated to be a mixed-use development: 300 to 500 new apartments, office spaces and, under consideration by developers, a “30,000-square-foot community health care facility.” From the looks of the sketch displayed in front of the sky-high crane and mounds of dirt, the Madison Park North development will be grand.
The Midtown Community Benefits District describes the project in positive terms: “With huge affordable historic homes adjacent to once-fashionable Eutaw Place, and just a short walk from the busy State Center Office Complex with its access to subway, light rail, and MTA buses, Madison Park is poised to become one of the most desirable neighborhoods on the West side of Baltimore.”
With this new project underway, Madison Park North’s “affordable historic homes” will be consumed by massive gentrification. The community has the potential to turn into “the most desirable neighborhood,” but for whom, and at what cost?
Though public and private developers pay millions of dollars for projects like Madison Park North, neighborhood residents inherit their own costs. History shows gentrification can uproot residents from communities where their families have lived for generations. The developers behind the East Baltimore Development Inc. renewal project led a $1.8 billion effort to revitalize East Baltimore’s Middle East neighborhood. In the process, they directed the relocations of at least 584 families.
The question of displacement surrounds the Madison Park North revitalization plan. In Next City’s article, “The Great ‘Innovation’ Rebrand of West Baltimore,” Richard May – chairman of Innovation Village Baltimore – said, “there is no guarantee that new development will benefit longtime residents, many of whom are not eager for the higher rents and cultural shifts that it will bring.”
Another skeptic named Ray Kelly, an organizer for the No Boundaries Coalition, which works to foster safer streets in West Baltimore, was quoted as saying, “We are definitely in support of opportunity and job creation in our community. But what we see is attempted gentrification.”
As Shirley Franklin and David Edwards of Purpose Built Communities and IBM Corporation, respectively, wrote in 2012, “If the problem of concentrated poverty is to be effectively addressed, government—local, state and federal—needs to develop approaches that are geographic, holistic, and specific to the unique set of assets and deficits that exist within neighborhoods.”
Many, including myself, are concerned about the future of Madison Park North, and whether its “assets and deficits” are being taken into account amid the community’s planned redevelopment.
As my conversation with the young woman in front of the demolition area was ending, she offered a few final poignant words: “We are not good enough to live here anymore; we are going to have to move away.” If my own knowledge of the area and the words white people inscribed on the sign weren’t telling enough for me to know the neighborhood could soon be facing gentrification and deculturalization, her words ended any lingering doubt.
Effective community development will not happen in Baltimore unless decision-makers work with residents to preserve the cultures of changing communities. Only by doing this can these projects better those neighborhoods as a whole.
Elizabeth Kane is a junior at The Park School of Baltimore.