East Baltimore is a place of disparate identities. In a city of fractured neighborhoods, clusters of affluence and blight, East Baltimore is a particularly desolate place. Row houses crumble along drug-infested streets, and decent work is hard to find. Schools are languishing, and students are driven to the only lucrative job market accessible to them - the drug trade. Families cling to what little they have - their neighborhoods - and struggle to survive.
And now they are being driven from their homes by institutions that have neglected their existence for decades. East Baltimore Development, Inc. (EBDI) is a consortium of entities that have in many ways been complicit in, if not responsible for, the gradual deterioration of East Baltimore. Now they are using eminent domain for a commercial project - an ethically ambiguous practice that has spurred legislative debate in nearly 40 states, including Maryland - and razing entire city blocks to see it through. This is something we should all monitor with the utmost vigilance, asking substantive ethical questions along the way.
The EBDI plan is by no means without value, and for many reasons Baltimore is in desperate need of sustained commercial development to revitalize some of its most depressed pockets of blight and crime. But whenever an organization of powerful commercial and political entities uses an ethically questionable bureaucratic tool to drive struggling families from their homes, independent watchdogs and concerned citizens should take notice.
As the plan moves through its second phase - displacing in its wake more than 800 families, many of whom have not returned - Hopkins should take heed of residents' concerns. Objections to the design of the plan aside, the very real potential exists for families to be relocated to neighborhoods where the necessary resources - schools, health care and jobs - are scarce. Others simply cannot afford to return to neighborhoods they've lived in for decades.
In this second phase, EBDI will implement a wide-ranging construction and preservation program that will demolish some homes and rebuild others. We appreciate the effort to keep some of these homes intact, but for the residents who will inevitably be forced out, questions still remain. EBDI still has to acquire the funds to support its relocation and social service programs, and its progress should be closely tracked.
This page has pledged to follow what for students of the University and residents of East Baltimore should be one of the most important stories in the political and economic history of this city. Commercial development can indeed be a revitalizing force for the pockets of urban blight across Baltimore, but as this powerful consortium of private and political entities razes neighborhoods and drives families from their homes, we should all continue to pose the necessary ethical questions.