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“The best way to predict the future is to create it.” — Peter Drucker
Three years ago, I decided to take up black and white photography. As a product of schools that made perennial budget cuts in arts programming, I had no artistic experience and regarded all art forms as scary territories to be avoided. Like many new photography students, I secretly imagined that my work would be more impressive if only I could photograph far away places like African villages or the mountains in Tibet. My teacher, however, seemed to read my dreamy thoughts. He told my class to take pictures of our own world. “Going somewhere else to get a photograph is not necessary,” he wisely told us. I took his advice and did what just about every other beginning photography student does: I walked around the one place on earth I cherish with the obsession of a first love: Baltimore City. After years of community activism in Baltimore neighborhoods, I was ready to experience Baltimore through the cameraʼs eye. Not every scene was beautiful. But somehow, through the translation of the camera, every scene became filled with possibilities. And that was a beauty in itself for me. I discovered that my teacherʼs assignment to focus my lens locally humbled my photographic experience. I began to wonder how a city of 650,000 people allows its schools to under-perform, housing stock to deteriorate, streambeds to fill with waste, and open space to remain unclaimed for recreation. Baltimore is a city filled with talented people. I wondered whether we are we doing enough. Was I doing my share? I wondered where the breakdown between untapped human potential and the condition of our city occurs? And at what point do we stop making excuses and start making changes? At the same time, I realized that there are many encouraging signs. Baltimore City public schools have progressively been getting better, many neighborhoods are experiencing healthy appreciation in home values, park reclamation efforts are underway creating new opportunities for community gatherings, and new small businesses have been opening up at a rapid clip in almost every neighborhood. The list of great organizations and great people doing great things continues to expand. But there is more to be done, and we now dedicate Urbanite to that end. Urbanite is a magazine that will focus unabashedly on Baltimore City and its many possibilities. It is a magazine that will be for people who love Baltimore and donʼt shirk from her demanding side, joining in conversation and work to confront our challenges honestly. And Urbanite is a magazine that will be produced entirely by Baltimoreans committed to improving city life. At Urbanite, you will see advertisements from the businesses that support your neighborhoodʼs economy and you will be able to enjoy the talents of local contributors. You will read stories that may inspire you, occasionally infuriate you, and, hopefully, will urge you to act. Enjoy. TWD
Publisher and Editor Tracy Ward Durkin Editorial Assistance Mandy Bynum Debi Rager Kelly Parisi Art Direction Alex Castro Art Manager Ann Wiker Circulation Manager Billy Tom Hogg Administrative Assistant Bellee Gossett Founder Laurel Harris Durenberger
Urbanite Issue 1, January/February 2004 Contact Information: P.O. Box 50158, Baltimore, MD, 21211 410-243-2050 www.urbanitebaltimore.com firstname.lastname@example.org email@example.com Reproduction in whole or in part without written permission by Urbanite is prohibited. Copyright © 2004, by Urbanite, LLC. All rights reserved.
about our contributors
Julie E. Gabrielli, AIA When Urbanite needed someone to give a local context to the reprint of an article on the success of Brazil’s stellar city, Curitiba, we contacted Julie. Happily, she had been composing such a piece “in her head” for about five years. For the past decade, Julie, a Principal at TerraLogos eco architecture, P.C., has been incorporating the principles of sustainable design in her work. Julie also teaches ecological design at the University of Maryland School of Architecture.
mondo balto 6 urbtoon: Tom Chalkley whom rush hour tolls 7 for Kelly Parisi chattanooga venture 8 inspiration: Leslie Miller
Tom Chalkley It was easy to decide that Tom Chalkley should be a part of the new Urbanite—if we could get him. Lucky for us, we did. Tom moved to Baltimore in 1979 as a refugee from the Washington area. He has been a freelance illustrator since 1976 and has worked as an activist on various economic and environmental projects over the past twenty years. His work has been published in the Baltimore City Paper since 1979. Other credits include The New Yorker, Chicago Reader, Carolina Independent, Orlando Weekly, Baltimore Magazine, Jewish Times (various cities), Rhino (comics quarterly) and other publications too numerous and obscure to mention. He lives in northeast Baltimore with his wife and two daughters.
Kelly Parisi We suspect that you will be hearing a lot more from Kelly in the future—and not just in Urbanite. You’ll love her candid sense of humor as she explores the sometimes enchanting and often times frustrating side of being an urban dweller. A Canton resident, Kelly Parisi holds a B.F.A. in drawing and an M.F.A. in writing. A writer of fiction and non-fiction, she is currently at work on her first novel, a black comedy about a community of renegade nuns. As a counterpoint, she is also writing a travel/ medicine guide geared to explorers aged forty and up who are interested in exotic, international wilderness experiences.
Harold E. McCray Wow! Did we feel lucky when Harold McCray showed up to help us with our photography. Talented, professional, and fun, Harold is one of Baltimore’s great resources. His images have been shown widely in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. and have been published in a number of national publications. Harold loves to photograph ordinary things, especially those found in inner cities. “Often the discovery of image happens when you let go, allowing the image to reveal itself to you”, he says. We are thrilled to be revealing his work to you. Look for more from Harold in the future.
9 neighborhoods: keeping up with Jonestown Leslie Miller
introducing Curitiba Julie E. Gabrielli
the best city in the world Donella Meadows
eye candy: museu oscar neimeyer from Condé Nast Traveler
ACORN people’s platform preamble where there is action, there’s ACORN Mandy Bynum and Tracy Durkin
18 visionaries Melody Simmons café: 19 urbanite what is your vision for Baltimore Judith Chayes Neiman
Helen Sampson Helen says that she lives and works as a graphic artist and photographer in Washington, D.C. We don’t believe her. It is not only her vast collection of photographs of Baltimore City that impresses us. It is the fact that she photographs places that are so far off the beaten path that even the hardiest Baltimorean might be challenged to recognize them. Helen says that she loves to photograph the urban core, in particular, those places that are in pre-renovation stages. She says that she is not opposed to restoration, but she does feel that in this state the buildings achieve “a nobility that is lost once they are restored”. “There has been a loss of appreciation for the inner city just as it is,” she says. Helen has shown her artwork in Baltimore and Washington D.C.
experience: 20 authentic irish shrine/irish tour Tom Ward
Nick Toll 21 encounter: Kelly Parisi light 22 MICA Harold E. McCray Cover photograph: Helen Sampson
vi-sion, n. Something seen in a dream; the power of imagination; direct mystical
awareness of the
supernatural; a lovely or charming
— Merriam-Webster Dictionary But the bravest are surely those who have the clearest vision of what is before them, glory and danger alike, and yet notwithstanding go out to meet it. —Thucydides (c. 460-400 B.C.) My Oberon! what visions I have seen! Methought I was enamor’d of an ass. — Shakespeare, A Midsummer Nights Dream Some men see things as they are And say why I dream things that never were And say why not — G.B. Shaw I think the reverence for uncertainty is the difference between a creative visionary and a fanatic. A fanatic looks for something that will stamp out the uncertainty. The creative person acknowledges the uncertainty. — Peter Senge Vision is the ability to imagine something others can’t see. — Martin O’Malley, Mayor of Baltimore Creating a vision for the future of Baltimore is a lifeenhancing exercise…it should be a process that creates a new way of living in an historical city… something new and unexpected…something that has the mark of originality. — Kevin Skyat, architect An appreciative inquiry: a process to seek out the best of “what is” to help ignite the collective imagination of “what might be”. — David L. Copperrider social potential movement activist Our task is to look at the world and see it whole. — E. F. Schumacher Who are the visionaries? We all are. Intellectually we predict or expect what will happen and logically we connect the past to the present and the present to the future. — Key Han, engineer and inventor The visionary disciplines himself to see the world always as if he had only just seen if for the first time. — Colin Wilson Where there is no vision, the people perish. — Proverbs 29:18, King James Bible I have a dream…* — Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. *Read Dr. King’s speech in its entirety in I Have a Dream: Writing’s and Speeches That Changed the World, James Melvin Washington, editor.
For Whom Rush Hour Tolls by Kelly Parisi
ne of the great benefits of working from home, aside from eating lunch with your dog, is that you donʼt have to drive to an office. You wake up at work, spend your whole day at work, and later, in your nightgown, youʼre still at work. For a hermetic obsessive such as myself, this amounts to having died and gone to heaven. Recently, however, two twists of fate conspired against me, and once again I found myself slogging down Boston Street, entrenched in two lanes of swerving, cursing, honking, cubicle-bound, four-wheeled mobile phone booths. Let me make this perfectly clear: I tried to be a sport about it; I even bought one of those insulated adult baby cups, filled it with hot coffee, and just like your supposed to, suckled it all the way to my destination without spilling a drop. Some consolation. Fortunately, my rush hour re-immersion was brief, six weeks to be exact, just enough time for the bone to heal—but there I go, jumping ahead. Suppose I start from the beginning. It was a dark and windy night (really, it was), and a no-nonsense hurricane named Isabel blew into town. What she didnʼt clobber with her winds she drowned with her waters. Later that weekend, our silver Honda Insight found itself amid doomed company. Paraded with the rest of the condemned, a train of tow trucks took them all to some shadowy car gallows on the outskirts of town. “We can make do with one car, lots of people do,” announced my ever-optimistic beau, Alex. “Like who?” I asked. No answer, but no matter; I admired his resiliency. The truth is, anything I need during the day I can procure on foot—food, wine, life-vests— Cantonʼs got it all. Alex had lost his car, and my car had become our car. After a bit of adjusting we grew comfortable with feeling independently dependent, and then, fate fiddled with the equation. The second blow came in the middle of our seventh night as a one-car couple. At about 3 a.m., I jostled Alexʼs shoulder. “Did you hear that?” Clunk, clunk—there it was again, echoing from the nether region downstairs. Charged by pure instinct, Alex bolted up and flew down the stairs. Seconds later, I heard a thud. At the base of the stairs, I found him lying on the hard wood floor, oddly illuminated by a beam of moonlight. “I heard a crack in my foot,” he groaned. The clunk, clunk turned out to be the new ice-maker replenishing its supply of crescent-shaped cubes, and the next day, a visit to the E.R. confirmed a fractured metatarsal. Thus, Alex began his eight-week affair with a steel and Velcro boot, and I started my job as rush hour chauffeur. As driving routes go, my new gig wasnʼt bad—Boston Street to Clinton Street and through the 95 Tunnel to Tide Point—twenty minutes max. The only salvage from the waterlogged Honda hybrid had been the electromagnetic E-ZPass—the beige box you Velcro to your windshield that allows you cash-less passage through the tunnels and toll bridges. But I didnʼt have any Velcro, so each time I approached the tollbooth, I waved the box at the light until it turned green. Be advised, it takes a certain amount of finesse to wave the little box just so, and more often than not, I resorted to a flailing motion trying to get that damned light to go green. Four times a day, mind you. I had been a cash kind of girl; you know the type, fiddling in her purse for ones while furtively glancing at the toll takerʼs extended blue, latex-gloved hand. Now, how I yearned for those tactile, preelectric payment days. The truth is, the tunnel part of the trip was turning me surly. One afternoon, approaching my third tollbooth of the day, I realized what had been bothering me. The E-ZPass box had robbed me of that fleeting moment of human communion with the toll taker, and go figure . . . I missed it! Driving can be such an insular occupation. In that way, professional drivers are a lot like writers, a strange breed indeed. I asked myself: when was the last time you even looked at the toll taker? When was the last time you noticed whether the toll taker was male, female, young, or a lifer? Happy, forlorn, ugly, beautiful, barehanded or blue-gloved? When was the last time you wondered what had led that particular toll taker to choosing that job over another? Was it because he/she wanted to work outdoors? In that case, was toll-taking an indoor job or an outdoor job, or was it an indoor job set outdoors? Clearly, the combination of full-time writing and part-time chauffeuring was taking its toll; I had forgotten the basic civilities. That afternoon, I approached the toll booth brandishing the E-ZPass box as usual, but this time, mustering all my coordination skills, I managed to rotate my head forty-five degrees to the left, and hello, there she was, a middle-aged, red-haired toll taker, with a grimy face and close-set peacock blue eyes. “Have a nice evening, hon,” she chirped. “You too,” I replied. That was it, the extent of the exchange. There was no practical call for it—no cash, no change, no directions—just a greeting, and a completely optional one at that. Alex got his cast off last week. The bone healed nicely and heʼs driving himself to work. Given our situation, we have found that one car really does suffice. Sometimes I need my old four-wheeled friend, and then I return to cabbing Alex through the tunnel and over to Tide Point. And each time, approaching the tollbooth, I still wonder: Will I get a hello, or a smile, or will I be totally ignored? Grumpy or chipper? Skinny or fat? Gee, I canʼt wait to find out.
Inspiration: Chattanooga Venture Prior to the 1980s, pollution wasn’t the only black cloud over Chattanooga,
The most notable change involves the riverfront. Chattanooga Venture’s organizers
Tennessee. Problems of inferior schools, racial tension, and joblessness hung
projected the necessary public and private investment to the tune of $750 million dollars.
overhead, too. It seemed as if some “mysterious, nefarious group controlled
Citizens thought that figure was “astounding and beyond reach,” said Littlefield. When
everything,” said City Councilman Ron Littlefield.
all was said and done, “it was closer to $1 billion.” Almost 20 years later, community
In 1984, an initiative called the Chattanooga Venture gave the people power and
meetings still take place, and the people of Chattanooga are still in power. With that kind
made them responsible for their own quality of life. Through Visions 2000, a series
of success, it’s easy to see why Littlefield is on his way to Atlanta, Georgia, to
of structured, community-wide meetings took place in several city locations and
speak at a national conference on transforming communities.
focused on one key issue at each meeting (people, places, work, play, government, and future alternatives). At those gatherings, citizens brainstormed plans for solving the city’s most serious problems by the year 2000. The groups addressed air and water pollution, transportation, jobs, and tourism. As a result, a City Council was established, as well as a recycling program, a zero-emissions industrial park, electric buses, and an aquarium, among other things.
gh an , throu a g o o ated ttan s, cre of Cha s s y t e i c C s The lic pro s of it e pub 9 acre 2 1 r intens o This an f ter pl front . r s e a t m a w a e iver n of th ssee R por tio a s Te n n e t e c be n epi atic d at has h m t e e h c c s spa trail open g the f n i o z i s l e r ria 83 ac 8 and memo in 183 ted to n a a c g i e d de f the ich b tion o a rs, wh c a o e l t e f o a. the r lahom ed in in Oak result n o i t a kee N Chero
Read more: The Chattanooga Institute: www.csc2.org
NEIGHBORHOODS Keeping up with Jonestown Father Dick Lawrence plans to live in the new
by Leslie Miller
Picture a Roman Catholic priest in full regalia—cross waving, incense wafting, holy water dripping—chained to a park bench in a Baltimore neighborhood. The mere thought of it has been enough to drive bureaucrats to meet deadlines. That neighborhood is historic Jonestown, and the priest is Father Dick Lawrence of St. Vincent de Paul, president of the Jonestown Planning Council. Father Lawrence, along with a few dedicated merchants and residents, has uplifted a downtrodden community. In the beginning, Jonestown was a haven for the wealthy, a reprieve from the noise of waterfront industry. As Baltimore grew and welcomed Irish, Italian, and Jewish immigrants, residents of the third oldest neighborhood fled. The arrival of new poor drove the more well-to-do to better neighborhoods, leaving a mostly poor black population surrounded by monuments to better times: The Carroll Mansion, Lloyd Street and B’Nai Israel Synagogues, the Shot Tower, and St. Vincent de Paul. Led by Father Lawrence, the Planning Council’s first act was construction of the Jonestown Daycare Center. With childcare assured, the Council believed, parents could get jobs. If not for the image of a priest in chains, however, the center might not have become a reality. The Sunday groundbreaking deadline, was fast approaching, and the Council feared having to forfeit the unused money. The Council secretary fabricated a rumor: Father Lawrence, she told a neighborhood liaison, has threatened to leave mass in full regalia and chain himself to a bench if construction has not begun! On the heels of the daycare center in the late 1970s came the shopsteading plan and the Urban Renewal Ordinance. Neighborhood revitalization would now begin, with the rehabbed buildings attracting quality businesses like realtors, architects, and a fine bakery. In 1989, revitalization underway, the city broke ground on Baltimore Street for the new subway. Plans for stops did not include the east side of President Street, and outraged residents and business owners protested. A new, yet familiar, rumor circulated, this time featuring Father Lawrence chained to a bulldozer. The Shot Tower Station is more evidence that a shackled priest is bad public relations. Eliminating housing projects, however, is good P.R. At one time, says Father Lawrence, nine of Baltimore’s 17 high-rise project buildings were in Jonestown. First to go was Lafayette Courts, imploded in 1995 and replaced with Pleasant View
once he retires. He wouldn’t dream of living anywhere but the neighborhood he helped to revitalize.
Gardens townhomes. Pleasant View, a Hope VI project, is a multiple-use development offering the privileges of home ownership to low- and middle-income residents. The community has playgrounds, boys’ and girls’ clubs, meeting places, and a nearby medical center. Pleasant View Gardens is clean and attractive; its residents proud. Flaghouse Courts were destroyed in February 2001, making room for another Hope VI project. Homes here will range from $160,000-$240,000 and are modeled after successful mixed-income developments in other cities. Right now, it’s just infrastructure, but “according to the literature,” says Father Lawrence, “it opened last year.” A highlight of 2003 has to be the neighborhood’s designation as a Baltimore City historic district. As part of the application process, Richard C. Schaefer, an architect with a Baltimore Street shopstead building since 1982, sought out, notified, and petitioned every property owner. Schaefer drew maps, wrote background information, and won Jonestown’s designation, despite resistance from some in the Department of Housing and Community Development, who told Schaefer this was “not in the best interest of development.” Finally—with the help and support of CHAP (Commission for Historical and Architectural Preservation)—Jonestown won, though Flaghouse is excluded. Among other benefits, designation as an historic district offers a 20 percent tax credit for renovations meeting guidelines. About Flaghouse, Father Lawrence believes that the developers are far enough along that vertical construction will begin soon. And if it doesn’t? Picture a Roman Catholic priest.… editor’s note: A recent drive by the Flaghouse site confirmed that houses are under constuction. Be sure to check it out (800 block of East Lombard Street)
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Introducing Curitiba, Brazil by Julie E. Gabrielli, AIA
When Mayor Martin O’Malley asks us to “be-
process, and to seek workable solutions. Direct
lieve,” what are we being asked to believe? What
participation allows everyone to play a signifi-
is the vision? We won’t get anywhere without a
cant part in improving the city, whether through
common understanding of where our city is
a tree-planting program or recycling.
going. The kind of community we envision de-
This kind of change is not driven or even
pends entirely upon the questions we ask, and
fueled by money. Curitiba accomplishes the
we need to broaden our focus from fixing what’s
seemingly impossible with a lot of hard work
broken. If we treat this city as a design problem,
and with the self-confidence to insist on sim-
as a system of interrelated parts, and look for
plicity over complexity. Their wildly successful
connections, we will surely find them.
bus system actually cost far less than rail and
We could start with transportation, but not
was designed using the best characteristics of
by asking, “Will raising fares help recoup enough
revenue to meet the State’s 50 percent fare box
These success stories show a bias towards
recovery requirement?” How much more inspir-
action, rather than waiting for all the studies and
ing and fun it would be to work on this problem:
answers. Curitiba’s mayor believes that local
“Let’s integrate land-use and transportation
governments can and must move this nimbly. In
planning to create demand for public transport
an age of cell phones and instant messaging, it
by making it faster, cheaper, more convenient
is not unreasonable to expect such responsive-
and more reliable than the private car.” Or, in the
ness from our city’s administration.
area of storm and waste water treatment, today
Is Baltimore up to the challenge? Our his-
we ask, “How can we pay for the necessary repairs to our aging
tory is rich with examples of people working together for a com-
sewage conveyance and treatment infrastructure?” To rethink the
mon vision. Think of the fight to save Fells Point from the highway
entire notion: “Let’s design neighborhood-based storm water
engineers or the great success of the dollar house program to
and/or waste water treatment, modeled on natural systems like
re-energize dying neighborhoods.
forests and wetlands, that can become amenities like parks and bike trails.”
Many great organizations are already in place – the Neighborhood Design Center, Citizens Planning and Housing Association,
Buckminster Fuller once said, “You never change things by
Parks & People, American Institute of Architects Baltimore Urban
fighting the existing reality. To change something, build a new
Design Committee; Baltimore Development Corporation, various
reality that makes the existing reality obsolete.” This is what has
community development corporations and neighborhood asso-
happened in Curitiba, Brazil, over the past 30 years. Its secret has
ciations, the Mayor’s Office of Neighborhoods. All we need now
been to treat all citizens, not as a burden, but as the city’s most
is a common vision and effective connections between all these
valuable organizations. Our local foundations would surely con-
Curitiba’s Mayor Lerner and many of his colleagues are ar-
tribute funding to create a Baltimore version of Curitiba’s IPPUC.
chitects. They are not only accustomed to seeing possibilities
Let’s not be dissuaded by “experts” who say this is an unrealistic
and solving problems, they can also draw connections between
dream. When environmental businessman Paul Hawken was
seemingly isolated urban ills. Their creative, coherent, highly inte-
criticized for being a dreamer, he responded, “Our children are
grated design approach turns public transport and housing, trash
begging us to start dreaming.”
and food, and jobs and education into interrelated generators of new resources and social cohesion. Three lessons of Curitiba are worth noting. One, a widely shared public vision was in place just as the mayor first took office. Two, much of the work over the years was brainstormed, organized, and implemented through Curitiba’s Independent Research and Urban Planning Institute (IPPUC). Three, there is the genuine intention to hear all voices, to have an open and honest
Read more: Books: Bill McKibben, Hope, Human and Wild: True Stories of Living Lightly on the Earth, Little Brown and Company, 1995. Hawken, Lovins, and Lovins, Natural Capitalism, Rocky Mountain Institute, On the web: www.ourplanet.com/imgversn/121/tanig.html www.newhorizons.org/trans/international/pierce.htm
Orphaned or abandoned street children are a problem all over Brazil. Lerner got each industry, shop, and institution to “adopt” a few children, providing them with a meal a day and a small wage in exchange for doing simple maintenance, gardening, or office chores. Brazil forbids child labor, but Lerner says, “By law, a child mustn’t work, but society looks the other way when he goes hungry or homeless or works for a drug trafficker.” Public transport in Curitiba is so convenient that 70 percent of commuters and shoppers use it. Concentric circles of local bus lines connect to five radial lines that go outward from the center of the city.
The Best City In The World?
making a solid case for better urban planning by Donella Meadows This article was originally published in the Fall 1994 issue of In Context: A Quarterly of Humane Sustainable Culture. The article is reprinted with permission. Although “In Context” has ceased publication, a library of issues can be found online at www.context.org.
On the radial lines, triple-compartment buses in their own traffic lanes carry 300 passengers each. They go as fast as subway cars, but at oneeightieth the construction cost. The buses stop at plexiglass tube stations designed by Lerner. Passengers pay their fares, enter through one end of the tube, and exit from the other end. This system eliminates paying on board, and allows faster loading and unloading, less idling and air pollution, and a sheltered
Residents of Curitiba, Brazil, think they live in the best city in the world, and a lot of outsiders agree. Curitiba has 17 new parks, 90 miles of bike paths,
place for waiting. Bus fares are low (20 to 40 cents per ride with unlimited transfers),
trees everywhere, and traffic and garbage systems that officials from other
but the system pays for itself. Private companies own and operate the
cities come to study. Curitiba’s mayor for 12 years, Jaime Lerner, has a 92
buses and keep part of each fare. The city gets the rest to pay for roads,
percent approval rating.
terminals, and to buy old buses, which are refurbished as classrooms,
There is nothing special about Curitiba’s history, location, or population. Like all Latin American cities, the city has grown enormously - from
daycare centers, and clinics. Curitiba’s citizens separate their trash into just two categories,
150,000 people in the 1950s to 1.6 million now. It has its share of squatter
organic and inorganic, which are picked up by two kinds of trucks.
settlements, in which less than half the people are literate. Curitiba’s secret,
Poor families in squatter settlements unreachable by trucks bring their
insofar as it has one, seems to be a simple willingness of the people at the
trash bags to neighborhood centers, where they exchange them for bus
top to get their kicks from solving problems.
tickets, or for eggs, milk, oranges, and potatoes bought from outlying
Those people at the top started with a group of young architects in the 1960s who were not impressed by the urban fashion of borrowing money
farmers. The trash goes to a plant, itself built of recycled materials, that
for big highways, massive buildings, and shopping malls. They were thinking
employs 100 people to separate bottles from cans from plastic. The
about the environment and about human needs. They approached Curitiba’s
workers are handicapped people, recent immigrants, and alcoholics.
mayor, pointed to the rapid growth of the city, and made a case for better
Recovered materials are sold to local industries. Styrofoam is shredded
to stuff blankets for the poor. The recycling program costs no more than
The mayor sponsored a contest for a Curitiba master plan. He circulated
the old landfill, but the city is cleaner, there are more jobs, farmers are
the best entries, debated them with the citizens, and then turned the
supported, and the poor get food and transportation. Curitiba recycles
people’s comments over to the upstart architects, asking them to develop
two-thirds of its garbage, one of the highest rates of any city, North or
and implement a final plan.
Jaime Lerner was one of the architects. In 1971 he was appointed mayor
Builders in Curitiba get a tax break if their projects include green
by the then-military government of Brazil. He has since served two more
areas. The city has a hotline to report industrial polluters. In spite
four-year terms (non-consecutive as required by Brazilian law) — one of
of strict environmental laws, Curitiba contains 341 major industries,
them appointed, the other elected.
including Fiat, Pepsi, and Volvo. Hitochi Nakamura, Curitiba’s
Given Brazil’s economic situation, Lerner had to think small, cheap and participatory, which was how he was thinking anyway. He provided 1.5 million tree seedlings to neighborhoods for them to
environment secretary says environmental laws are not slowing industrial development. Lerner says, “The dream of a better city is always in the heads of its
plant and care for. “There is little in the architecture of a city that is more
residents. Our city isn’t a paradise. It has most of the problems of other
beautifully designed than a tree,” says Lerner.
cities. But when we provide good buses and schools and health clinics,
Lerner prefers rehabilitating built-up areas to spreading the city outward.
everybody feels respected. The strategic vision . . . leads us to put the
He converted a former warehouse into a theater and an abandoned glue
first priorities on the child and the environment. For there is no deeper
factory into a community center. He met resistance from shopkeepers when
feeling of solidarity than that of dealing with the citizen of tomorrow, the
he proposed turning the downtown shopping district into a pedestrian zone,
child, and the environment in which that child is going to live.”
so he suggested a 30-day trial. The zone was so popular that shopkeepers on other streets asked to be included. Now one pedestrian street, the Rua das Flores, is lined with gardens tended by street children.
Donella Meadows co-authored Limits to Growth and Beyond the Limits and was an adjunct professor of environmental studies at Dartmouth College. She is deceased.
“The most important Rarely does a major building by a leading architect debut unnoticed but here’s one that has snuck in under the radar: the Museu Oscar Niemeyer. It is the latest project from the Brazilian master, a redevelopment of a complex that he built for the state of Paraná in its capital, Curitiba, in 1974. Showcasing national culture in its exhibition spaces and assembly halls— including an eye-shaped auditorium that’s signature Niemeyer—the museum opened last November but has been little promoted by the state. It’s a pity, too, since Curitiba is a city to watch: Its urban planning and environment programs are widely admired, and the museum only adds to its reputation. An hour’s flight from São Paulo, the country’s new modernist treasure may become its day-trip du jour. Visit now, before the world press and design pilgrims catch on (55-41-350-4400; www.mon.org.br).
Originally published in Condé Nast Traveler. Reprinted with permission. © 2003 Condé Nast Publications Inc. All Rights Reserved.
thing in architecture is to shock” — Oscar Niemeyer
Visionary work: Niemeyerʼs Museu Oscar is one more reason Curitiba, Brazil, is worth a look.
ACORN People’s Platform Preamble
We stand for a People’s Platform, as old as our country, and as young as our dreams. We come before our nation, not to petition with hat in hand, but to rise as one people and demand. We have waited and watched. We have hoped and helped. We have sweated and suffered. We have often believed. We have frequently followed. But we have nothing to show for the work of our hand, the tax of our labor. Our patience has been abused; our experience misused. Our silence has been seen as support. Our struggle has been ignored. Enough is enough. We will wait no longer for the crumbs at America’s door. We will not be meek, but mighty. We will not starve on past promises, but feast on future dreams. We are an uncommon people. We are the majority, forged from all minorities. We are the masses of many, not the forces of few. We will continue our fight until the American way is just one way, until we have shared the wealth, until we have won our freedom. This is not a simple vision, but a detailed plan. Our plan is to build an American reality from the American rhetoric, to deliver a piece of the present and the fruits of the future to every man, to every woman, to every family. We demand our birthright: the chance to be rich, the right to be free. Our riches shall be the blooming of our communities, the bounty of a sure livelihood, the beauty of homes for our families with sickness driven from the door, the benefit of our taxes rather than their burden, and the best of our energy, land, and natural resources for all people. Our freedom is the force of democracy, not the farce of federal fat and personal profit. In our freedom, only the people shall rule. Corporations shall have their role; producing jobs, providing products, paying taxes. No more, no less. They shall obey our wishes, respond to our needs, serve our communities. Our country shall be the citizens’ wealth and our wealth shall build our country. Government shall have its role: public servant to our good, fast follower to our sure steps. No more, no less. Our government shall shout with the public voice and no longer to a private whisper. In our government, the common concerns shall be the collective cause. We represent a people’s platform, not a politician’s promise. We demand the changes outlined in our platform and plan. We will work to win. We will have our birthright. We will live in richness and freedom. We will live in one country as one people.
Where there’s action, there’s
ACORN by Mandy Bynum and Tracy Durkin ACORN, the Association of Community Organizations for Reform Now, is a national grassroots organization dedicated to empowering the poor. With offices in fifty-one cities, and over 150,000 members, it is the largest membership organization of itʼs kind. Over their thirty-year history, ACORN has earned a reputation for taking serious, effective, and threatening action. In the conservative think tank publication, City Journal, Sol Stern accused them of having a “radical” agenda that poses a “serious threat to the urban future.” To ACORNʼs delight, Stern may be right: Using a wide range of grass roots tactics, including picketing, lawsuits, and political action, the organization has reformed policy at all levels of government. In 1999, ACORN opened its Baltimore City office and has been commanding attention ever since. Tackling issues from sanitation, to schools, to public libraries, their membership base has swelled to over 2,200. One of the organizationʼs fundamental tenets is that more members mean more power. Last February 2002, in a show of strength, the group demonstrated some of that power when they blocked traffic on Harford Road in an attempt to gain assistance from the city on the communityʼs long-standing sanitation problem. The Baltimore Independent reported that ACORN organizers, members, and residents were accused of inciting a riot. Not everyone was favorably impressed. Baltimore City Police threatened the organizers with arrest, and the Baltimore Sun reported City Council representative, Lisa Joi Stancil, as saying, “There are boundaries, and they donʼt seem to have a problem crossing them.” ACORN has confronted a number of other issues including highlighting a correlation between poor students and uncertified teachers in schools (study performed for ACORN by National Center for Schools and Communities at Fordham University), and predatory lending practices. In January 2002, the City Paper reported that ACORN deployed a number of tactics including the staging of protests at corporate offices, as well as having dozens of its members testify at City Council, and Board of Estimates hearings, when the city “offered to build CitiFinancial a $3 million parking garage and give it $1 million to keep it from leaving town”. ACORN contended that CitiFinancialʼs discriminatory practices resulted in a disproportionate number of high interest rate loans to African American borrowers in Baltimore City. (While the city supported the garage, ACORN met separately to resolve differences with CitiFinancial). To date, ACORNʼs highest profile case has been the role they played in the passage of the controversial Question P, which resulted in the elimination of four city council seats, and the creation of single-member districts. After a complicated campaign involving over 10,000 signatures to place the question on the November 2002 ballot, and a court battle to fight off a competing plan proposed by the City Council (that was ultimately found illegal), the new City Council will assume their positions in 2004. At Urbanite, we believe the remaking of the City Council of Baltimore City goes to the heart of democracy. So in October, we invited ACORN staff and members to describe their vision of Baltimore—as it is now, and what they imagine for its future.
The People’s Platform was conceived at ACORN ‘s 1978 Memphis Convention and ratified at the 1979 St. Louis Convention. In 1990, in celebration of ACORN ‘s twentieth anniversary, ACORN members around the country met in order to revise and update the platform. The resulting document was approved by the Executive Committee of the Association board and ratified by acclamation at the 1990 Chicago Convention. To read the full ACORN People’s Platform, visit the ACORN website at www.acorn.org.
Willie Ray, Maryland Chair Mitch Klein, Head Organizer, Maryland Sultan Shakir, Lead Organizer, Baltimore Unell Dawson, member Sonja Merchant Jones, Maryland Co-Chair Amanda Stewart, member Louise Stewart, member
Urbanite: How did you meet Mitch? Willie: When I first started in ACORN back in 1999, Mitch was organizing the community. He came to my house and asked what changes I would like to see in my neighborhood. I explained that we were having trouble getting rid of the trash and debris. Urbanite: So Mitch, where did you come from? Mitch: Well, I’ve been a long time organizer for ACORN. Before Baltimore, I spent six years in Arkansas, which was where the first ACORN office started. Urbanite: How do you decide where to go? Mitch: I don’t; someone decides for me. For example, tomorrow, Mr. Willie is going to our national board meeting. Each ACORN state has two representatives on the national board, and they make a list of priorities. We’re opening twenty new cities this year. They have a list. The investment for us is even less about money than it is about where we send committed staff to expand the organization. Baltimore is a top-twenty city, so it’s a natural for ACORN. Baltimore has a lot of issues that need to be dealt with. The interesting thing with Baltimore is that it has a lack of civic activism, and has a disconnect between a lot of the communities. The goal of this organization has always been to unite the majority of the people in the city to bring about reform. Urbanite: I’m interested in how the ball gets rolling. How do you decide what actions you’ll take? Mitch: I don’t think people should delude themselves. People are not going to do things that they really don’t want to. You can be a great organizer with a great idea, but if no one agrees with it, then they’re not going to do it. You try to have some strategy. You look at where your opportunities are, and you look at where your competition is. When I looked at Baltimore in 1999, I looked at this whole group of neighborhoods that were outside the empowerment zone that hadn’t gotten any federal money in twenty years. Rather than competing with all the groups in Sandtown, we headed over to Park Heights and Walbrook. It was interesting because folks there had felt so neglected by the city. That allowed us to get in there and build a base. And one thing, when you’re an organizer, very often you’re doing things that don’t pan out—where you lose. I think that what’s been so significant about the last five years of building ACORN in Maryland is that we’ve lost a lot, but we’ve won a few big things too. With every loss, we’re gaining more members, and the more members, the more power.
Mitch: From my perspective, when you’re starting an organization, you’re trying to maximize the amount of wins you can have, and the number of members you can get. What it really comes down to is that it’s hard work to organize people. You have to keep them involved constantly. You have to have systems for checking in with them. You’ve got to have what people consider to be accountable leadership, or else people won’t stay involved. Mr. Willie says that most community groups never get beyond a certain place because it takes a lot of patience to listen to people’s problems, and then figure out how to build something around their issues. Sultan: But at the same time in the community’s interest. Urbanite: How does one become a member? Willie: We go throughout the city asking people to join ACORN, you know, door knocking, talking to people. We ask them, “What things do you want to change in your neighborhood?” I was in my neighborhood on Monday talking to different people, and a lot of them loved the idea. And some people have begun to fix up their streets and yards. Some of them are glad to join because it’s a voice. See, ACORN is a voice. When you get a group of people together, and you’ve got enough voices, somebody’s going to hear you. Unell: I’ve been a member of ACORN since the 90s, after two ACORN members came to my home. I was intrigued by how Mitch tried to help people, especially with this predatory lending. Many people have lost their homes, and Mitch puts up a fight to see that justice is done. As members, we work together. We participate. Mitch: Talk about the libraries.
Unell: Oh! The libraries! I’m telling you. The only library that we had was right there in Park Heights and Garrison. We had a school there, and the Mayor had that closed down. The library’s closed too. Now, there’s no library in that area. Urbanite: And what’s your response to the loss of that library? What are you doing now? Unell: We’re fighting, but still—nothing. Now there’s a Head Start, where the library was. Mitch: The library issue is interesting because it’s a great example of what Unell said about unaccountable leadership at the helm of the library system in this town. All you have to do is walk into the average branch and see that hardly any books are on the shelves. The library board is eighty-six percent white, and it’s been selfappointing since 1882. The NAACP actually had to sue in the 50s to get black librarians the right to work in the library. And, when they closed the libraries, the people who live in the county were governing the board. Willie: What do those people care? They’ve got their libraries. Unell: That’s right. Most of them in the counties, they have their libraries. And yet, in our Park Heights neighborhood, there’s nothing for the children. They get their books at school. But what about when they come home? Louise: In the county, they have libraries on wheels that come to the door.
Urbanite: Mitch, you mentioned that you’re working on a number of things because when you’re in organizing you’re often losing. That’s what happens to a lot of community organizations. They go after one thing and when they fail, they evaporate or disintegrate. How do you manage this?
Urbanite: We’re interested in hearing your vision for Baltimore. What are we working toward here? Willie: We’re working toward change in Baltimore. We’re going through a lot of things. We don’t want our children, and our grandchildren, to have to grow up dealing with the same problems. That’s why we work so hard to try to change things. If we don’t do it now, it’ll never get done. Unell: We’ve won some battles, and we’ve lost some battles, but our hope is that change will come. We know that we cannot rely on the council people, or the ones in government. They’re not coming into the neighborhood to help the people. Yet, we are the citizens who put those people in power, and they don’t come back and try to help us clean up anything. We just want to see justice for every citizen. Just as every other race can get low-rate loans, we want the same. Most black people are paying high interest rates, which is not fair. Mitch: I think the big message here is that because it was so unaccountable to the average citizen to have a policy like that, the library issue ended up being central to the question P campaign. Unell: I think we should fight for something like that. Mitch: In reality, this library thing was at the beginning of Question P. The City Council refused to stand up for something that everybody in town thought was insane, which was closing five branches of the Pratt Library in low-income neighborhoods, and in the same year spending the same amount of money to build an expansion of the Roland Park Library. There were a lot of actions and protests, and we’re still in court suing the library system. Urbanite: You and ACORN? Mitch: ACORN has been suing the library system for over two and one half years. They have been using our public money, people’s donations, and the library, to hire a fancy law firm to fight us, Piper Marbury, I think, but we’d better check that. And they tried to say that the citizens of Baltimore who were part of the suit didn’t have standing in the suit. You know, they tried every procedural thing to have it thrown out. Unell: What amazed me was that even the black people on the board agreed to closing down the library. Come on! They’re well educated. How could you, as a black person, stand to see the library closed while knowing what education means to our children?
Urbanite: You turn to lawsuits, and certain tactics at certain times. How do you arrive at those decisions? What steps do you go through? Mitch: It’s a two-parallel process. Organizing is always preferable to suing. It’s cheaper, and works better. To me, lawsuits are the last resort to keeping a campaign alive. This library lawsuit has forced us to go down to Annapolis every year to try to change it. Every time they hold a hearing about anything involving the library, we invade it. Willie: A lot of amazing things can be done. If you want something, you’re gonna have to fight for it, you can’t stand by hoping things will work out on their own. You have to be forceful because you know you’ve been treated unfairly, so we do what we have to do. Mitch: I think certain tactics are more appropriate than others depending on whom you’re fighting, and what the fight is about. Urbanite: How do you make those decisions? Mitch: That’s why you have accountable leadership in neighborhood groups. There are a lot of arguments about whether or not to do actions. Usually, the way we sort this stuff out is to think about a winning strategy. We just finished a campaign against a company we took on. The result was a sweeping change in the whole way they do business. There was a huge strategy around legislation, action, and lawsuits. Our success was in combining them.
Louise: As far as being a visionary, what I love about ACORN, is their call for justice and equality. That’s exactly what we’re looking for in Baltimore City, a change, and not just for blacks, but for everyone. That’s what ACORN is about, for everyone, helping everyone to be treated fair. Mitch: It’s almost a tale of two cities here. We have one city where home prices are going up and people have their kids in schools that perform, mostly private schools, and those people have transportation to work because they are able to afford a car. And then there’s a whole other city that has high unemployment, schools that suck, and low-wage, low-benefit, or no-benefit, jobs. I think the real vision for ACORN is not to say that those folks with the nice services shouldn’t have them; it’s to say that everybody needs to have the same opportunities and chances for their families. The biggest challenge for Baltimore that you’re going to see ACORN address, that we haven’t addressed before, will be the housing market in the coming years. As an organizer, I believe that when you pursue fair housing you generally get down to the root of almost every problem in Baltimore. Essentially, if realtors weren’t telling young African American families to go live on one side of the tracks, and young white families to go live on other, and were instead promoting integrated neighborhoods, we would have a different way of operating in the city. The current system allows people to segregate not only housing, but services too. The institutional discrimination of the housing market is choking the life out of the city. If people don’t care about a certain set of schools, it’s impossible for the city to ever turn around on jobs, because no one’s ready to have a good job. Sonja: My vision for Baltimore is one where people are treated fairly, you know, as fairly as they can possibly be treated, where there are no haves or have-nots.
Sultan: My vision of Baltimore is to change the economic focus in the city. In other cities, where they are revitalizing themselves, they are focused on neighborhoods, and the working class of the city. In Baltimore, there are huge development plans for the Charles Street corridor and downtown. However, if you look at what development plans there are for the neighborhoods, there aren’t many, other than the little things like the drug stores coming in. There are no major businesses arriving that are going to employ a good number of neighborhood people. Urbanite: Someone is reading this conversation, and they are saying: Yes, these are the problems in my community too. What suggestions would offer people who want to become actively involved in this process? Unell: Some people are scared of coming out, to fight, to stand up. Urbanite: What would you tell that person who’s scared? Unell: Not to be afraid, because if you don’t fight for your rights, you will never have anything. Somebody has to have the nerve to stand up and fight. Louise: I will add that if you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything. Unell: That’s right. Also, we have services. We’re reaching out to the community by educating them. For instance, some people don’t know how to buy a house. When people come in, we say: We’ll help you. We’ll educate you on how to go about it so you won’t get entrapped into this predatory lending. Later, if they want to, they will go out and tell someone else, and that way you can bring in another person—as they say, word of mouth is easier. Urbanite: What else? Willie: Housing would really bring the city together. You know, the people live in different areas, like blacks live on one side of the street, whites on the other side, and Latinos behind them. We need to come together where all of us can live together, put our heads together, put our ideas together, and make it a better city. Because, by being separated like this, you’re not going to get anywhere. Urbanite: How do you get somebody to live in a place where they don’t see other people like they are? Mitch: Give them a good deal on a house. Willie: Give them a good deal on a house, and give them a job. Jobs and houses are a big part of a person’s life. If people can get that together, we would have a better city. Instead of separating people, we need to bring them together.
Mitch: People do somewhat self-segregate in certain situations, but that is a learned behavior. Urbanite: How do you unlearn it? Mitch: Unfortunately, not everyone unlearns at the same pace. Sometimes, people have to be forced to unlearn. Like the banking and real estate markets in this town, they’re going have to be forced. Folks in these trade associations who have resisted reform, they will have to unlearn. Same thing with the library. Enron is a great example. If you’re too greedy, it does eventually come back to you. Another solution is that we need to innovate new ways of doing things. I’ll give you an example: Look at the lead poisoning situation. We actually trained a crew of members to become state certified lead testers, a two-day test. It cost us a couple hundred dollars per person. And then we tested several hundred houses. When the state wouldn’t crack down on the houses, we hired a lawyer and began our own enforcement. As a result, now
other landlords hire us as a testing service because we’ve undercut the professional lead tester. So, we’re using the money we’re raising from landlords to buy tests for renters. I think this is an important lesson because the next level is the remediation of lead. It has to be done properly, so like the crews of certain landlords, we’re not using certified folks. We’d like to see how many businesses we can start that are centered on doing remediation properly, because we train people. Urbanite: Is that happening? Mitch: Yes. We just did nine houses in Park Heights. HUD is investing in it now. Between New Orleans and Baltimore, we just got a million dollar grant for ACORN Associates for this lead poisoning idea, and that just happened last week. But it took several years of work to get people to believe this was an interesting idea. When you combine it with organizing, when you take a problem, and try to figure out what would be an interesting set of job skills that you could train to address the problem, then you could actually have a slice of that industry. Those are the kind of innovations that Baltimore needs if things are going to work here. This system of people coming to patch your house for lead is ridiculous when actually there are laws against it. But if no one’s going to bother to use that system, and no one’s going to bother to enforce it, then you have to think about trying to develop this resource. It’s taken us three years to develop them. When we started, we didn’t have any grant money for it at all; we paid out of member’s dues. This year, I’m looking forward to it, because we’re going to have a huge expansion. Urbanite: That’s a very hopeful note to end on.
Photographs of Baltimore City neighborhoods, Helen Sampson ACORN photographs, Jerold E. McCray
visionaries by Melody Simmons
James Rouse Nominated by Walter Sondheim Jr., senior adviser to the Greater Baltimore Committee, former president of the Baltimore City School Board, and living legend.
It’s a vague word that can describe a dreamer or a doer. Even Webster’s gives it a nebulous, slightly negative, label: “One who sees visions. One whose ideas or projects are impractical.” This old town has seen its share of visionaries, dating as far back as 1601 when Englishman John Smith, of Pocahontas fame, strode forth along the harbor’s shore on a land scouting mission. Roll forward to 1729, when Baltimore was officially founded as a tobacco harbor, and the steady stream of visionaries that have helped to mold this eclectic, handsome, bustling and solid city begins to evolve. Many of Baltimore’s visionaries have familiar names, and many do not. Some, such as developer James Rouse, have contributed bricks and mortar, while others, like Bea Gaddy, have left an indelible signature on the lives of the city’s poor. Who are some of the other visionaries of Baltimore? Urbanite asked some of the area’s well-known citizens to reflect and nominate. Here are their candidates:
The Creative Alliance, Margaret Footner and Megan Hamilton Nominated by Ed Rutkowski, Director, Patterson Park Community. “The people at the Creative Alliance, Margaret Footner, the executive director, and Megan Hamilton, the program director. Their goal is to create this incredible arts community on the east side and they’ve built this thing from nothing to this thriving creative organization in the old Patterson Theatre on Eastern Avenue. I also think that Mayor O’Malley is a visionary. If you think about where the city was when he took office, you know. He started the “Believe” campaign. He’s taken on something big with the Hopkins Biotech park. His approach is that you could create something a lot better if you didn’t just do things the same old tired way.”
“Jim Rouse would go as a number one choice as a visionary. He vetted out the possibilities of the future for a part of downtown and campaigned for them and he did it in a very effective way. You can see his vision in Columbia and see it in some of the things in Baltimore like the Sandtown-Winchester community, Charles Center, and the Inner Harbor. Jim’s influence in the Inner Harbor was less pronounced because he was so busy building Columbia, but it’s there. As for other places, the Fanueil Hall and Quincy Market in Boston are other parts of his vision. They’re successful – like HarborPlace – because these are locations that provide a meeting place for people and a focus on downtown activity.”
Dr. Stanley F. Battle, president, Coppin State College Congressman Elijah Cummings Nominated by Dr. Geraldine Roberts Waters, chair of adult and general education, Coppin State College. “A visionary is a person who sees the big picture of what needs to happen in society to make this world a better place and to embrace the whole concept that everybody should have an opportunity to contribute. Our new president, Dr. Stanley F. Battle, is a visionary because of his concept of creating an urban corridor. That would embrace the notion that intensive nurturing of at risk youth will render them exceedingly motivated to learn and, ultimately, lead them to become contributing members of society. I also think that Congressman Elijah Cummings is a visionary. He’s vigilant and seizes every opportunity to promote legislation and policy that will enhance the disenfranchised. It’s the legacy of empowerment.”
Mayor Tom D’Alessandro Walter Sondheim Jr. James Rouse Nominated by William Donald Schaefer, Maryland comptroller and former governor and mayor of Baltimore. “Mayor Tommy D’Alessandro comes to mind as a visionary. And then there’s two other major ones: Walter Sondheim and Jim Rouse. Rouse was a visionary beyond belief. He could look
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into the future and was a nice man who cared about people, everyone. There were also a whole lot of people in the 1960s and 70s who were in the downtown business community who had a lot of input. It was a great era for Baltimore when we had some top leaders. The business community saw that the inner city was going down the tubes and came up with an elaborate design for Charles Center. Mayor D’Alessandro encouraged them and buildings were torn down. Looking back, it was a bold step.” Such momentum continued into the administration of the next mayor: William Donald Schaefer – who served four consecutive terms from 1971 to 1987. He recalled the time: “Baltimore was a city with a great inferiority complex. If it weren’t for all the revitalization downtown, Baltimore would have been down the tubes and would have nothing at all. The most difficult thing was to get people to get excited for the future and what it could hold. When they started to believe it themselves, they supported it.”
More candidates: William Donald Schaefer Nominated by Michael Gibbons, executive director, Babe Ruth Museum. “My number one choice is William Donald Schaefer. He really is the one individual who looked to HarborPlace or to that area downtown to develop. It was through his tutelage and guidance that Baltimore was able to turn the corner. He had the ability to take ideas and market them to this community and also to the nation.” Peter Culman Nominated by Tom Hall, director, Baltimore Choral Arts Society. “Peter Culman, the former managing director of Center Stage was a visionary. He articulated the role of the arts in Baltimore perhaps better than anyone I ever heard. He built Center Stage from nothing, but he always did it with a premise that it fit into the community and the fabric and life of the region. At the time, that was a very unique and unprecedented view. The arts tended to be very insular and rarefied in Baltimore. He was one of the first people who taught me when I came here 22 years ago that people understand the relevance and opportunity that people had in the arts and that impact it can have on people’s lives. He used to say that if you go to the theater, even once every 10 years, that you’ll have an experience that will make your life better. Today, I think Center Stage has greatly expanded its scope of activity to include not just theatrical production but tremendous outreach, education and training. It has also served as a model for the symphony.”
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What is your vision for Baltimore? By Judith Chayes Neiman
And you thought Urbanite was only a magazine. Well think again. We are also definitely online. Our cyberspace dialogue truly reflects your point of view. Urbanite Café, which you enter through our website www.urbanitebaltimore.com, is an ongoing gathering place for constructive conversation and creative thinking. We will ask questions and invite you to suggest the answers. We hope to generate new ideas for addressing our collective concerns, and to take a fresh look at the urban experience. Urbanite Café is easy to navigate. Create your own topic, or enter into dialogue with an existing one. You can enter your real name, make up a name, or sign on as a guest. The first Urbanite Café debuted in November. The question was: What is your vision for Baltimore? Here are a few of our favorite responses: How to Eliminate Litter What Baltimore needs is a bottle law. I am from Massachusetts where they have the bottle law. When you buy a soda you are charged $.05, then the consumer can recycle the bottle/can, or return it to the store to get their $.05 cents back. So, whenever there is a can/bottle on the side of the road, someone is always there to pick it up and earn $.05— not a lot of money to some, but if you get enough together, it adds up and keeps MASS clean. However, here in Baltimore, I have never seen so much trash floating around the streets. I have also never seen so many people just drop their garbage as they walk along the street. Itʼs sickening. Maybe it should start in the public schools, where kids are taught right and wrong, to love the city they live in, and not trash it. — Joe C Manufacturing Jobs I feel the city needs more working class manufacturing jobs. Until recently, Baltimore was always known for shipping and shipbuilding. I think if we can somehow renew those industries, Baltimore will improve vastly. The city is mostly broken up into rich and poor now with not much of a working/middle class. Having those industries back will give the poor good jobs to pull themselves up by their bootstraps. This would also greatly increase Baltimore’s tax base. I think something along those lines is as important as lowering crime and improving schools. — Prstysley Benefits for City Residents I would give city residents a few special privileges. First, we would have free admission to our museums, especially since the museums belong to us, and our tax dollars support them. Second, we would have a tag on our cars that would allow us to park at meters for free. Third, we would not have to pay fines for over-due books at the public library. Little things like this wouldn’t make much of a dent in the city budget, but would greatly improve our quality of life and go a little way towards making up for the inflated car insurance rates we must pay. — Jane Shipley I like these ideas. Many retail operations have cards that give frequent shoppers discounts and/or one free for ever x number purchased, so why not apply that same marketing thinking to Baltimore City residents? — SR Great Concept: Let’s make it Happen I am now president of the Federal Hill Neighborhood Association and am full speed ahead on enhancing the historic and urban lifestyle of my fellow neighbors. My vision for Federal Hill is as follows: To Preserve: Those dedicated residents who have come before us over the years, believed that what ever Federal Hill was to become it would be based on the preservation of its history. This principle should be as solid as the bedrock beneath us because with out it Federal Hill will become an imbalanced blend of contemporary commercial gentrification. To Progress: While there are many uniquely Federal Hill
businesses that have helped to improve the marketable brand of our neighborhood we are lacking the premium boutique retail shops that our demographics support. We need to have a close alliance with the Historic Federal Hill Main Street organization and a volunteer to support the good work they are doing for the community. To Promote: Most of all I see my self as an evangelist and I would challenge ALL of my neighbors join me in telling people why our part of the world is the best place to live, work and play. The empowerment and confidence to witness our lifestyle will only transpire when we are assured that our first two objectives are being tended to. — Keith of Federal Hill Vision Leaders The vision for Baltimore needs to be established by a concert of elected officials, community leaders, business leaders and the grassroots. We need a quality Master Plan for Baltimore. Some of Baltimore’s neighborhoods are dying for lack of a Master Plan for the city. We continue to try to grow through piece meal development and half baked schemes. The recent announcement of the city’s offering of 16 vacant houses in Reservoir Hill is a great example of going 1/4 of the way towards supporting community development. What will happen with Madison North? Where will the retail shops go? What are the standards and controls for the future development? Why are we requiring additional subsidized housing in a community that already has its fair share of subsidized housing? Why isn’t the city offering financing packages with the properties? Without the Master Plan, we may do more harm than good. — Michael Does Baltimore Have a Well-Articulated Vision? Clearly, Baltimore does not have a vision for herself. The city is lacking in what I would like to call, an “enlightened consciousness of progressive thought and action”. Baltimore is not thought of as a city that “embraces” change or adapts to change very well. The “provincialism” and “small mindedness” that folks label Baltimore with, has nothing to do with the city’s physical layout itself, but lies at the feet of its residents (native or transplants). In an article in the City Paper early this year, Mayor Martin O’Malley, explained that the Believe campaign was launched to battle, “the essence of failure” residents in the city have about themselves. This “essence of failure” he speaks of is what’s holding the city back from becoming a “metropolitan giant.” — Rhulah The late, Jim Rouse, and the still kicking, Willy Don Schaefer, have referred to Baltimore as a City of Villages; in fact, the city grew up from over 20 villages. Our vision—well, a network, sort of a crazy quilt of villages. We also have a large number of universities and institutions of higher learning. . . . John Water fame. . . . — Hampden Hon # 1
I work part-time with the Baltimore Regional Partnership (grad student the rest of the time). We are a coalition of civic and environmental groups fighting to transit equity, smart growth, and rural preservation. Our major project now is trying to get into gear the MTA Baltimore Rail Plan that the City Paper labeled as “transportation porn.” They also said it was a hopeless dream. This isn’t true. The plan is there, and it’s mouthwatering to think about. It CAN happen, but only if Baltimoreans DEMAND it. http://www.baltimoreregiontransitplan.com/pages/railarchive/ projectarch/planprop.htm We are at a crucial point right now for the plan. Because we have a GOP governor now, along with a transit-hating transportation director, the Ehrlich administration’s priority is building an intercounty highway connector (ICC) in the DC/ Maryland suburbs. Transit folks will be arguing for a purple line addition to the DC Metro while we in Baltimore want the rail plan. — Ihlin A Safer, More Natural Place My vision would include supporting the city in such a way by planting native trees (which the city is already quite good at), increasing the planting of native species within gardens, protecting the parks, and letting some of those spaces return to woodland. It would include city and safety lights that spread their beam facing down so as not to block the nighttime sky. My vision would include caution around increased concretization. It would include lanes for bicyclists so that the use of automobiles could be decreased (it’s scary riding a bicycle here!). And even an increase in public transportation—for example, why do no buses go to the Soccer Dome? Even people without cars want to play soccer. I would like to see wildlife welcomed. A stronger ecosystem will help clear our air, the water before it pours down the drains, give us more song, and enhance our connection with the wider world. — Anne Outwater
Next Month’s Urbanite Café Conversation: What role do the arts play in building a better Baltimore? Log on to www.urbanitebaltimore.com and select the café to join in the discussion.
Transportation I am very interested in how we might make Baltimore a more walkable community. This does not mean that Baltimore has to be walkable. It means that public transportation, etc. makes it easier for folks to get around without a car. Maybe we could look at other walkable communities (perhaps those of comparable size and means) as models for our transportation future. An interesting link to more information about walkable communities is: http://www.walkable.org/ — Susan Baltimore Rail Plan It is my belief that without a high quality transit system, Baltimore will never be the great city it can be. Thirty years ago, Boston, NYC, and Washington DC chose rail. We gave up after two dinky lines (Owing Mills, Hopkins medical center). Meanwhile, other cities such as San Diego, Salt Lake City, and Dallas are all moving forward with light rail.
We love Baltimore. If you are anything like us, Baltimore never ceases to amaze with its numerous nooks and corners. Each month we will suggest a different location for you to visit. Let us know how it goes! If you have a favorite “authentic experience” of your own, contact us with your suggestion. An “authentic experience” can be anything that is uniquely Baltimore and off the beaten path. It may be your favorite picnicking spot, a restaurant not to be missed, or a great biking trail. We can be contacted via email at email@example.com.
The 900 block of Lemmon Street, showing the Irish Shrine (left).
The Irish Shrine: A monument to the working Irish Immigrant Tom Ward Across the street from the B&O Railroad Museum on Lemmon Street (an alley street), is one of Baltimore’s least known museums celebrating the Irish immigrant experience in Baltimore during the Great Famine of 1845. The Irish Shrine recreates how a working Irish immigrant family, the Feeleys and their six children, lived after coming to this country to work for the B&O Railroad. The house, impossibly small by today’s standards, has been restored to its original condition. A glass wall covers the rear of the house so visitors can view the interior of the house from the outside. Two events occurred in the early 1800s that resulted in a huge wave of Irish presence in southwest Baltimore. The first was the construction of the B&O railroad, one of the world’s greatest engineering feats, developing new ways to build a railroad with moderate grades through the rugged mountains of West Virginia. The second was the potato famine in Ireland from 1845 to 1853. A potato blight caused starvation and disease and led to over a million deaths and a million immigrants to leave their home country and hearths for foreign lands, the majority coming to the United States. Volunteers run the museum, which is located at 918 Lemmon Street and open most Saturdays from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Docents familiar with the history of the home welcome visitors and give a free tour of the Irish experience. The History of Southwest Irish Tour (by appointment, free) If you want a little more of the Irish experience, you can sign up for a tour called “The History of the Southwest Irish” given by tour guide Tom Ward. Begin your tour at the B&O Railroad (outside) and walk to the Irish Shrine one-half block away. After viewing the Irish Shrine museum, walk up the block to the Irish-built St. Peter The Apostle Church (1843) with its interesting inner courtyard garden. Next, stroll to one of America’s still operating markets, the Hollins Market (1836). Your last stop is a visit at Pat Rowley’s Irish Pub (1862) for lunch on your own. For those interested in visiting St. Peter’s Cemetery (1857), an early Irish cemetery where tombstones reflect the counties and villages of the deceased, carpooling can be arranged. Tours start at 10:30 a.m. in front of the B&O gates and last about one-and-a-half hours for the first part and about oneand-a-half hours for the trip to the cemetery. The tours are free, but you must call and make a reservation to prevent overcrowding. Please call 410-669-8154 to reserve space. The next scheduled tours are Saturday, March 27, and Saturday, May 1, 2004.
Museum interior All photographs provided by Alan Gilbert
ENCOUNTER: T O L L
N I C K
B y Ke l ly P a r i s i
uick, tally up the twenty-year old guys you know who don’t own a cell phone. If you’re stuck at zero, then include twenty-year old guys who don’t play video games and never have. Add: guys who despise cars, television, magazines, movies on DVD, and long hot showers. Still having trouble getting to the other side of zero? Don’t despair; I’ve found one for you. Meet Nick Toll. FEDERAL HILL PARK , Aug. 6—Tall, lean,
and dripping wet, the artist veered his bike to an abrupt stop, jumped off, and collapsed next to me on a green bench overlooking the midday harbor haze. He wore blue corduroy shorts, a red plaid, short sleeve shirt, carmine rectangular glasses, and silver loop earrings. A little hammer dangled from a thin silver chain around his neck. Pushing his hands through coarsely chopped black hair, Mr. Toll suggested we find a spot under a shady tree. A few minutes later, a few degrees cooler, he sat on the ground cross-legged, using a tree trunk as a chair back. Originally from New Mexico, the painter, looking urbane and angular, proceeded to ruminate and postulate on a few of his favorite topics. “Cell phones interrupt the flow of destiny. One ring can take you out of the place you were, and deposit you in a different place that you might not have wanted to go,” said Mr. Toll, raising his dark eyebrows. An intrepid traveler, email is his preferred communication method. But even with computers, he remains decidedly low-tech and unattached. Shunning the machine as a toy or personal entertainment center, he said, “I have no time in my life for video games.” As for watching fi lms, the artist shakes his head “Movies were not meant for computer screens. If you want to watch a movie, go to the movie theater, and then it’s beautiful.” Short showers, driving a car only when necessary, and maintaining a semivegetarian diet, are examples of honoring what he calls “the enormous, unexplainable, natural force that gives us our life.” “Look around,” he said, sweeping his arm across the harbor. “Water everywhere. How many cities have this? It’s an amazing energy. We take drinking water for granted when it’s such a privilege. I hate toilets. I mean, the fact that we defecate in our own drinking water . . ..”
“Cars,” he added, building on the digression, “are another abused necessity. Look at Iraq; we fight wars for the privilege of being able to abuse this privilege.” “We have to be aware that everything we do has an effect on something and someone else. It’s not easy, but we have to make an effort to support people who are themselves making an effort to make things better.” Still, he admits the connection can be hard to maintain. “Being in a city,” Mr. Toll said, “means you’ve agreed to partake in an anthropological study.” “Three things fuel this culture: coffee, sugar, and chocolate.” With an ironic grin, he added, “I love them all. But do I spend fourteen dollars a day at Starbucks? No!” Combing through the weedy grass with his paint stained fingertips, Mr. Toll discovered a silver wedding band studded with clear glass stones. “Is it worth anything,” he asked with guileless enthusiasm. I shook my head. “Good!” he cried, “Then its mine.” He slipped the band on his left ring finger and chuckled at the perfect fit. While he understands his generation’s desire for constant media stimulus, Mr. Toll said, when he is not painting (an act he refers to as “channeling the big bang that still resonates in everything that is”), he spends his evenings reading books, or cooking. A year working on a farm in northern Italy taught him “the way you attain your life.” “I fed cows and made fifteen different kinds of cheese, from cheese you eat three hours old to cheese you eat when it’s three years old.” The happy image had evoked memories of home. Stretching his arms overhead, he closed his eyes and smiled. “My parents were extremely benevolent, he said. “They raised me happy and healthy, gave me lots of materials, and things to do, and then, let me figure it out on my own.” His kinetic energy wants to make things happen. With the recent success of his first one-man show behind him, Mr. Toll is off to another continent (he is debating several), to “sink his teeth in and learn from the world.” He plans to keep travel diaries, a practice he described as “the instinctual necessity to inscribe that which you find here.” He looks forward to shifting from “production mode” to “absorb mode,” trusting his judgment on what to do next. But for now, the immediate next, was an appointment in Federal Hill with his art manager. He picked up his silver bike, threw his leg over, leaned forward, and then, just before he rolled off, he paused and cocked his head. In a fine Nick Toll moment that neatly packaged his philosophy, he said, “In this life, it’s not difficult to arrive at a joyful moment.”
artist photograph, Jefferson Steele Details of Toll paintings, courtesy Castro/Arts
MICA LIGHT What could they build on such an oddly shaped piece of property that towers above Howard Street? Over months I watched the construction equipment and the building material grow as the building began to take shape. Initially, I thought the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) was preparing a sculpture for Artscape, but during one of my frequent bike rides in the area, I realized its sheer size indicated something different. The building continued to intrigue me and once the glass was in place it began to interest me photographically. Different times during the day I would pass this building, which I soon learned to be the Brown Center, and I would shoot a few frames of its polygonal shape which made it seem more sculptural. When I first saw the Brown Center flooded with lights from within, the structure as a building ceased and the sculpture appeared as a luminous phenomenon. It is a celebration of light, so to speak. The movement of people interacting with light inside the Brown Center and the translucent quality of its skin gives an effect of a jewel. Many images later, I still find the Brown Center sculpture a grand concept that is “eye candy” for a photographer. — Harold E. McCray
Photographs © Harold E. McCray
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Published on Jan 1, 2004