THE CITY may be forced to hold public hearings about the new location of the Northern District Police Station. The Greater Homewood Community Corporation has a commitment for funds for a community organizer for the next 10 years. Eight task forces have been charged with the responsibility of creating and evaluating strategies to move much of North Baltimore toward healthy urban living for the 21st century.
All this came out of a productive Greater Homewood Renaissance meeting on Saturday, June 21.
Close to 100 residents of the Greater Homewood area (from the city line on the north to Penn Station on the south, and from Woodberry and I-83 on the west and Ednor Gardens-Lakeside and York Road on the east) met at the Church of the Redeemer on North Charles Street to form a common vision for their communities and develop strategies to bring about that vision.
Barbara Bonnell, steering committee member and resident, opened the meeting with a quote from Jim Rouse, the late planner of the city of Columbia. In discussing "a way of thinking" about development, Rouse said, "it is fundamentally focused on people as the purpose of all planning and development."
The meeting was a benchmark for the Greater Homewood Renaissance, which began over two years ago with a study commissioned by The Johns Hopkins University, Union Memorial Hospital, and the Greater Homewood Community Corporation. That study, which articulated needs and strengths of the area, was followed by the formation of working groups to address five identified areas of action: developing public education, attracting and retaining residents, integrating health care resources, revitalizing businesses, and serving families and children.
Several projects have since been implemented, but the energy unleashed by these initial projects suggested that the Renaissance could act as a catalyst for an even larger process. Small community meetings were held this spring throughout the Greater Homewood area to encourage residents to vocalize their hopes and concerns about where they live. Over 250 people participated.
Major themes from the meetings are reflected in these quotes from participants: "Convenience. We are 20 minutes from anywhere you might want to go"; "Beauty-our parks and open spaces are just fantastic"; "I live here because of the diversity-diverse people, lifestyles, income groups, housing-you can find it all"; and "We want to have public schools that are the envy of the nation."
During the early session of the meeting, residents raised concerns about the new location of the Northern District Police Station. Several people insisted the deal must not be finalized until the City holds public meetings on the issue. The Greater Homewood Community Corporation has formed an ad hoc committee to address this issue, and a petition is being circulated.
According to Joe McNeely, a facilitator of the meeting and president of the Development Training Institute, "The Renaissance will not result in a block-by-block plan. Instead, it aims to identify and implement 10 to 21 area-wide, multi-year projects that address issues and move us closer to our vision. Working together, our 35 neighborhoods and over 75,000 residents can have a powerful influence on our communities."
Issues selected for study are safety and crime, health, youth, recreation and culture, housing, community organizing, economic development and jobs, and schools.
An anonymous donor has already provided funds for a community organizer for the area for the next 10 years. (Other significant financial support for the Renaissance continues to come fromt the Morris Goldseker Foundation of Maryland.)
Task forces will be meeting through the summer, and will make interim reports on September 13. In October, using the recommendations of the task forces, initiatives will be prioritized, and implementation will begin.
The commitment of Greater Homewood residents may be only one of the features favoring a renaissance in North Baltimore. Its many small businesses and strong institutions all have a stake in the success of the Renaissance effort.
The Greater Homewood effort is part of a national resurgence of interest in community involvement and citizen empowerment in rebuilding urban communities. Dwindling federal dollars have forced community associations and institutions into a more prominent role in community development.
The latest interest in citizen involvement can be seen in programs as diverse as community policing and empowerment zones. The Greater Homewood Renaissance embodies much of the potential of these citizen-based efforts.
Barbara Bonnell referred to this potential in her closing remarks at the meeting with a word of caution from the cartoon character Charlie Brown: "There is no heavier burden than a great potential."
Paige Hull works for Greater Homewood Renaissance. She provided this article at the Chronicle's request. For information, call 410/516-4163.