On Saturday, February 21at 9 a.m., about 200 people turned out at the University of Baltimore to take part in the PlanBaltimore! process.
Charles Graves III, head of the city's urban planning department, gave an overview of the city's master comprehensive plan, which is being created with input from citizens. It focuses on six areas: Housing, Community Economic Development, Public Facilities, Environment, Transportation and Urban Design.
Participants then attended break-out sessions on one of the six areas. About 20 of them, for example, chose the Community Economic Development discussion. They received an outline of what had been accomplished in this area during previous PlanBaltimore! sessions.
Subgroups then focused on sub-headings of the outline, making additions and re-wording, deleting and otherwise re-prioritizing some of the ideas. Often the ideas already expressed were considered impressive by the participants, as the PlanBaltimore process continues this kind of refinement and definition of goals for the city.
Some focused on attracting global businesses, others on education and job training, community/business relations, and regional economic cooperation. The jobs group considered how the city could attract and create jobs with a "living wage," especially for those living in economically disadvantaged areas. Schemes such as creating cottage industries and micro-credit development banks were discussed.
Throughout the process, urban planners from the city circulated among the participants to help shape the dialogue and field questions.
This "bottom-up" approach to urban planning, involving citizens interested in the future of their city, offers participants a sense of empowerment. They have a say in the development and growth of urban spaces.
Yet this sense of empowerment was tempered by participants' fear that they would not be heard, and that the whole process could end up being just one more "feel-good" exercise.
A principal reason for this reservation was an undercurrent of dissatisfaction with the Wyndham Hotel fiasco, in which local officials gave a green light to build what many view as a poorly planned eyesore to be built near Little Italy and Fell's Point, despite overwhelming public opposition for the project as it is currently designed.
The next PlanBaltimore! session will be held from 9 a.m. to noon on Saturday, March 28 at the Pleasant View Gardens Community Center, 201 North Aisquith Street.
More PlanBaltimore! meetings are scheduled. Call Gloria Griffin at 410-396-8351 for information or visit the PlanBaltimore! website at http://www.ci. baltimore.md.us. [Note: Their web page has 500K of graphics, therefore if you use a phone modem consider temporarily turning off your browser's graphics. We sent them a note about it months ago...]