Tuesday, September 29, 2015

A "Little Damascus" In Baltimore?

I'm almost afraid to say this, but I don't want anyone out there to be fooled:  Larry Hogan hates Baltimore.  Never mind this self-serving puff piece published under his name in the Baltimore Sun recently.  The Republican Governor of Maryland hates--really, really hates--the largest city in his state, at one time the sixth largest city in the nation and, even today in its pitifully shrunken state, still the 26th largest. Hates it so much, in fact, that he literally threw away Federal funds by cancelling the Red Line project, one that would have brought long-term benefits not only to the city, but to the surrounding suburbs as well.

Why?  Very simple.  Politically, for the "Guv," it was a three-fer.  It satisfied the enemies of "big government," in his party, just as his mentor Chris Christie did in cancelling a proposed new Amtrak tunnel under the Hudson (and look how well that worked out).  It freed up State funds to pay for splash new road projects in Republican-leaning areas of the state (guess "big government" isn't all that bad if it's "big" on behalf of Republican).  And, finally, it sticks a finger in the eye of Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who the "Guv" blames (not without reason) for the rioting that devastated the city in the wake of the Freddie Gray tragedy.  Sadly for Hogan, Rawlings-Blake has wisely decided not to run for re-election, meaning that the hunt will be on for a new political punching bag.

But, in the eyes of the "Guv," not to worry.  According to the aforesaid puff piece, why, he's got loads of good ideas for Baltimore.  For example, let's tear down large sections of it.  Doesn't matter whether anyone's living there or not, does it?  We can just shove them someplace else where it'll be easier to forget about them.  I can understand why that idea might appeal to Hogan's inner real-estate-developer, but it overlooks the inconvenient fact (as Dan Rodricks recently pointed out in the Sun) that much of what he considers "blight" happens to be in neighborhoods where people still live, own property, run businesses, attend churches, and generally strive to live their lives and make their neighborhoods and their city at least a little bit better.  Bulldozers aren't going to make their lives better; arguably, mass demolitions could themselves create areas that could in turn become magnets for criminal activity.

And Hogan's puff piece works hard to overlook an inconvenient truth, bulldozers have the same problem that the Red Line had for the "Guv":  they cost money, and lots of it.  But just try telling that to this Administration.  Start trying to drill down into the issue of how much money will be spent, to say nothing of where it will come from.  Why, that's dirty pool.  How dare you get into the specifics of governing, when everybody else will let us spin glittering generalities?

Hogan has no concrete plan for rebuilding Baltimore, because Hogan has no concrete intention of rebuilding Baltimore.  He just wants to spend the next four to eight years talking about rebuilding Baltimore as a side show to hide his political behind-the-scenes efforts to shift State spending from Democratic to Republican regions within Maryland.  Don't believe me?  Fine.  Take a look at the next budget proposal that comes from the "Guv," and try to use it to prove me wrong.  You won't be able to do it.  Unless, of course, you're Carly Fiorina, and you just make it up.

The sad thing about this is that there is a good idea available to help rebuild Baltimore, and it involves doing it the old fashioned way, by importing human capital.  In case Hogan hasn't noticed, Europe is experiencing a bit of a refugee crisis right now, largely driven by the exodus of people from the geopolitical disaster that used to be Syria.  Many, if not most, of those people are decent, hard working people who just want a place to live their lives.

Why can't that place be Baltimore?  Why can't we volunteer to accept the lion's share of these refugees and resettle them in a city with thousands of vacant buildings?  Why can't we believe in the potential of those people, with help from both the public and private sectors, to rebuild neighborhoods instead of senselessly bulldozing them.  Why couldn't Charm City, whose economy is now built almost exclusively on tourism, be the location of America's first "Little Damascus"?  Why can't we believe in the power of human capital to save cities?  Time and time again, that's the way our cities can be renewed.   There's no reason not to believe it can happen again.  Here.  And now.

How about it, "Guv"?  How about proving I'm wrong?  How about putting some real meat on the bones of your empty rhetoric?  How about doing what real leaders do, and lead?  How about doing something beyond satisfying the demands of your campaign contributors, something that would, absolutely and truly, put people first?

The ball's in your court.  Don't just dribble.  Shoot.

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