Baltimore Wants to Kick Us Out By Ron Kipling Williams

I live in East Baltimore, two miles away from work. I rely on public transportation to get there. This
morning I waited 25 minutes during morning rush hour to take a 20-minute bus ride downtown. It takes
another 15 minutes to wait and then board another bus to arrive at my destination. So it took me one hour
to travel two miles.

This is not unusual. On too many occasions to count, buses either are delayed, too full to board, or simply
do not show up at all. Citizens have complained by phone, in hearings, and online to no avail. This poor
service is chalked up to the reality of living in the wrong neighborhood. The message is loud and clear.
Move to a better neighborhood, get a car, or get out of the city.

On the transfer bus there was a lively discussion about the arrival of the Baltimore Link system. A couple
of middle aged working class men talked about how the City was removing several bus lines, under the
guise of making the system more efficient. One bus driver suggested they are moving toward
privatization. She had no idea what future lay ahead for her as a transit employee.

Many residents are wondering what their future will look like for a city in which they have lived for
generations. They have raised families, built communities, worked, and made numerous contributions to
their hometown. But as property values and crime rises simultaneously, and the change in executive and
legislative guards result in the same reheated soup, the message again is loud and clear: we don’t care
about you, and we don’t want you here.

No one expects poor and working class families to feature on the Live Baltimore website–they would
most likely be the face of a lucrative nonprofit that runs sustainability programs–nor would it be
politically feasible. But it is all too apparent that those who do not meet the socioeconomic requirements
for living in a “21 st century city” is slated to be whitewashed out of urban existence.
I feel the eye-burning disdain from the residents as I walk down power washed streets in the Downtown
Inner Harbor and Harbor East. I am a commoner who dares to trespass in their beloved urban oasis. “Oh,
God, what is he doing in our neighborhood? He doesn’t belong here.”

The “here” is the “White L”, the corridor that travels southbound from Mt. Washington, then makes a left
turn downtown and travels through Canton. It is getting more robust and expansive, seeking to develop
through urban renewal other areas of the city known as the “Black Butterfly”–the predominantly black
poor and working class neighborhoods abutting the affluent geographical letter. Johns Hopkins is a viable
partner, gobbling up land like Pac-Man, and writing checks to buy homes so they can relocate elsewhere.

To avoid the frustration of the lagging bus service, sometimes I will transport myself, my backpack and
laptop the two miles necessary to get to work. Up and down hills I observe row homes being renovated.
Halfway parked on the curb are white trucks with white men in either construction or business casual gear
on their phones, while predominantly Latino contractors are busily at work, transforming the homes into
attractive units that will advertise anywhere from $250,000-$400,000. Not even the politically failed $15
minimum wage could afford a house in that price range.

Do not let the alleged diminishing population deceive you–it is currently at 621,000–into thinking that
Baltimore is on the decline. To the contrary, with multimillion dollar projects like the Under Armour
facility, the city is moving steady toward an economic boom that will feature some of the 21 st century
businesses. Between Baltimore Development Corporation, Greater Baltimore Committee, and other

entities in partnership with city government, Baltimore is positioning itself to be the big winner.
Perhaps they will never be like a Washington, DC, New York, or San Francisco, but they will
achieve the recognition of which they have been salivating for so long, one that the late William
Donald Schaefer so envisioned.

During segregation, many black poor and working class families lived on the outskirts of the
hustle and bustle of the city. Buses into the city operated regularly only during work hours,
which meant persons had to leave once their shift was over or else they had to take a nearly
impossible long walk home. It suited Baltimore well, which at the time thrived with
manufacturing and entertainment.

With great collateral damage, it is looking for another such resurgence. Once again, the city is
pushing the “undesirables” to the margins, with absolutely no thought to the devastation to
generations of families who feel they are just as much a part of Baltimore as anyone else. It
delivers the very stark message: if you are not of the right tax bracket, you don’t belong here
anymore.

It is the big lie Baltimore continues to sell to the world, that it is a city that appreciates its rich
diversity and its charm as a city of neighborhoods. What they are really selling is a place for the
socioeconomic Talented Tenth, a place where if you are of the right means, you may plant your
mixed use commercial and residential seeds, and with financial assistance from the city, they will
grow to great abundance.

The mixed use that I see when I walk through neighborhoods are old and new homeowners, both
long term and revolving door renters, and vacant homes either owned by the city, or by property
owners who live as far away as Florida.

There are a mix of retirees, military veterans, service workers, and young people both going to
school and on the corners selling drugs. There are people who fix up homes and automobiles,
tend to their children, and others who are loud and boisterous, fight and even kill each other.

 I have walked through many of these neighborhoods, and always encountered residents that will
wave, say hello, and hold conversations with me. I have never been harassed, bullied, coerced, or
assaulted by those who do harm to themselves and each other. Even the most hardened human
being on the corner will muster a, “What’s up?”

I have walked through quiet, beautifully landscaped neighborhoods like Guilford, with all its
fresh air, spacious greenery, and immaculate homes resting on rolling hills. I have never felt
more unwelcome by the myriad of glares, cars slowing down to profile, and the lone police
cruiser in the distance eyeballing me. A nice conversation with a resident is definitely out of the
question. The obvious message: I am in the wrong neighborhood.

There is no such thing as a “wrong” neighborhood, or “wrong” people. There are simply
neighborhoods and people. We all have intrinsic value. We are all worthy of a place in our
beloved city. But it is clear in this 21 st century age of urban renewal, Baltimore only sees
monetary value. It is positioning to gentrify the charm right out of itself, and any elected official

There is no such thing as a “wrong” neighborhood, or “wrong” people. There are simply
neighborhoods and people. We all have intrinsic value. We are all worthy of a place in our
beloved city. But it is clear in this 21 st century age of urban renewal, Baltimore only sees
monetary value. It is positioning to gentrify the charm right out of itself, and any elected official
who will tell you otherwise is lying.

There is no honor in what the powers-that- be of this city are doing to the people. But as in the
line from the film Boiler Room, “Honor is in the dollar, kid.” It is about money, greed, and
keeping up with the DC, San Francisco, and New York Joneses.

The city needs to hold up a full length mirror and see what it has become, and restore itself to its
native charm. This means the kind of fundamental change that truly demonstrates a recognition
of the intrinsic value of its citizens, and a clear pathway to socioeconomic equity. Otherwise, the
ultimate message will be clear.
 

Ron Kipling Williams