by Alice Cherbonnier
THERE'S AN OLD SAYING: "Where there is no vision, the people will perish."
If the Greater Homewood Community Corporation (GHCC) has anything to say about it, the north central neighborhoods of Baltimore City will be alive and flourishing long into the future.
The Greater Homewood Renaissance, an outgrowth of the GHCC, conducted a dozen "Visioning Meetings" during the last two weeks of May, to which residents and business owners in GHCC's 35 communities were invited. The sessions were designed to elicit from participants what they liked most about their communities, and what they saw as the most pressing problems to solve.
Organizers expect the information gained from the meetings will be used to maximize existing resources and prevent duplication of efforts. Further, it will enable GHCC, now in its 25th year, to plan for the future more effectively by revealing new strategies to deal with persistent problems.
The results of the meetings will be summarized and reported at an area-wide meeting on Saturday, June 21 at the Church of the Redeemer, 5603 North Charles Street. Refreshments will be served at 8:30 a.m., followed by the meeting from 9 a.m.-1 p.m.
Concerns to be addressed at the 12 visioning meetings centered around housing, business development, health, education, and attracting and retaining residents.
The last session, held at the Hampden Family Center on May 29, attracted about 35 people. They echoed similar themes heard at other meetings: they appreciate the area's parks and green spaces, interesting architecture, friendliness, cultural diversity, affordable housing, opportunity for small business development, and convenience to stores, libraries, transportation, and to work and cultural activities downtown. The ability to walk to shopping, schools, and nearby neighborhoods was much appreciated.
Sometimes feelings were emotionally expressed. It was clear that those motivated to attend the visioning meeting were committed to city living.
Participants were also aware of problems; most frequently cited was the perception of crime, which they felt was worse than the actual risk of crime. Drugs and prostitution were mentioned as the primary offenses occurring.
Police response time was seen as inadequate by some, and concern was expressed that police responsiveness would worsen if the Northern District police station relocated outside the community; the police department is considering a site on Cold Spring Lane, west of the Jones Falls Expressway. A preferred alternative being suggested by community activists is the now-vacant F&M building in Remington. Meanwhile, the Hampden Community Council has established a re-use committee to suggest ways to re-develop the existing police station on Keswick Road.
A strong case was made for "taking back the streets," refusing to look the other way when someone behaves in an anti-social manner. Participants were pleased with community policing initiatives such as officers walking their beats and police bicycle patrols. These efforts are being complemented by community-run Block Watch and "Blockwalkers" programs.
The need for greater community input in the Baltimore City Public Schools was stressed. One participant pointed out that there is a lack of connection between nearby Johns Hopkins students and the community; the students, it was felt, could be a valuable resource for tutoring, and could benefit from getting to know their neighbors.
Cross-pollination among city communities was felt to be an important way to develop mutual strength, such as in working together on marketing and anti-crime efforts.
After the June 21 meeting, there will be monthly follow-up meetings in the fall as participants, working in small groups, develop recommendations and formulate plans.
The "Greater Homewood Renaissance," as the GHCC's visioning effort is being called, has garnered support and endorsement from a long list of community and institutional groups. The Goldseker Foundation provided a grant for staff support and consulting, while The Johns Hopkins University has provided an in-kind contribution of staff support. Janet Sanfilippo is coordinator of the Renaissance effort; Sandy Sparks is executive director of the GHCC.
For more information and for a schedule of upcoming meetings, call 516-8495 or 889-7927.