It Takes a Village To Raise a Neighborhood

A partnership based on trust between a network of CDCs and Johns Hopkins University creates a unified vision for Central Baltimore

August 13, 2014

NACEDA staff meets with Charles North Community Association President Don Donahue at Red Emma's Bookstore Coffeehouse in his neighborhood

When I began my internship at NACEDA I knew little about community development. I was lucky enough to start off my internship with a tour organized by the Central Baltimore Partnership. I saw first-hand the impact of community economic development in a struggling city.

Touring Central Baltimore

Having grown up in Chicago, I witnessed crime and poverty in communities that I thought would never see prosperity. In Central Baltimore I was relieved to see a unified plan in motion to tackle blight and crime. After meeting with the Central Baltimore Partnership, Johns Hopkins University and a local civic association, I understood the kind of partnership and trust it takes to transform distressed neighborhoods.

In Central Baltimore, the Homewood Community Partners Initiative has developed a comprehensive plan for creating affordable and safe neighborhoods. It’s the glue holding together many partnering organizations and institutions. As we drove through some of the 11 neighborhoods making up the Homewood Community, I saw burgeoning commercial corridors, beautiful artwork, renovated schools, and clean streets. I wondered where all of the funding was coming from for these projects.

$10M commitment by Johns Hopkins

I learned that Johns Hopkins University committed $10 million dollars to the initiative. Joe McNeely, Executive Director at the Central Baltimore Partnership, talked about his organization’s role in bringing together community groups and Johns Hopkins to form a partnership. Joe emphasized the importance of developing trust between all of the partners who had different priorities and goals and a history of not working together. Because of the trust level, the partners were able to create a unified plan for Central Baltimore to leverage an additional $50 million dollars of investment.

As I toured Central Baltimore, it was clear that the community is starting to thrive. But, how does the university benefit from investing such a large sum of money in the initiative?

We met with Salem Reiner, Director of Community Affairs at the Johns Hopkins University, who explained that their investment in the community was good business. Improving the surrounding community helps them attract and retain students and faculty. He mentioned a live-near-work program to motivate employees to live near the university where safe living was a concern. I remembered during the tour that I had seen an elementary school with a banner saying that it was supported by Johns Hopkins. I learned that some of the $10 million pledged by Johns Hopkins is dedicated to renovating two elementary schools. Salem noted that families and faculty living in the area would be more willing to send their children to those schools.

A unified vision

As my internship comes to a close, I am reflecting on my experiences at NACEDA. There is something special about getting to meet with the players who dedicate their time to working for the betterment of communities. In the case of Central Baltimore, the big picture was that it took a partnership based on trust and to develop a unified vision for the community. I hope even the most distressed neighborhoods like some of those I know in Chicago can be ambitious enough to bring together people from all backgrounds to seek common community development goals. This type of unification benefits everyone and I will keep this lesson in mind as I move forward in my life.

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