The Foreign Affairs Symposium (FAS) hosted Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake yesterday in Mason Hall. Rawlings-Blake discussed the challenges of "reinvigorating a great American city" and improving the city of Baltimore.
Rawlings-Blake began her presentation by recounting Baltimore's history as an active port city, but acknowledging that, though the industry remains active, it is no longer the city's strongest industry. "Many pillars of early 20th century growth are gone, lost to a global market place," she said.
Rawlings-Blake asserts that the port of baltimore, healthcare, educational institutions, tourism and neighborhood businesses have emerged as the most lucrative and flourishing industries in Baltimore.
In addition to enhanced economic success in the city, Rawlings-Blake shared the city's significant improvements in safety and security, combating the grave concerns that haunt residents and prospective residents. In the last two years, there has been a 17 percent drop in homicides in the last two years and 679 fewer victims of violence.
However, violence and crime continue to pose a threat to residents and dissuade potential resident from moving to the city. Baltimore's reputation for being dangerous place has stigmatized all parties.
Rawlings-Blake acknowledged the progress and the city's devotion to safety, but does not believe that this is a time to celebrate.
"As we talk about the achievements that we've made over the past few years, I don't think it's a time to celebrate because we still are a city that has a challenge of violent crime," Rawlings-Blake said. "We have to continue to do more. We have to put our foot on the gas so we can still become a safer city."
The education system in Baltimore has drastically improved with unprecedented highs in graduation rates. Rawlings-Blake said that this is the largest year over year increase in a decade, and that the drop out rate is half of what it was in 2007.
Better safety and education have made Baltimore a more conducive environment to families. Rawlings-Blake's goal is for Baltimore to have 10,000 more families over the next 10 years.
Though she has faced skepticism surrounding such a mission, she asserts its possibility.
"We just need to continue improving schools for young people, making our communities safer for families, rebuilding our neighborhoods by tearing down vacant homes and doing what is reasonable to cut property taxes so we can become more competitive, and finally, by making sure that the government is efficient and not an obstacle, but a partner with businesses that want to create jobs," Rawlings-Blake said.
President Ron Daniels and Rawlings-Blake have also discussed initiatives through which Hopkins students can partner and engage with the city. Currently, the two have partnered in the redevelopment of East Baltimore.
She asserted that the Baltimore City and Hopkins are mutually dependent.
"Hopkins is not going to pick up and move to another place in the country. It's here. We rise and fall together," Rawlings-Blake said. "I'm also hoping to develop a more systematic way to engage students that care about cities and want to serve to have discussions and ideas about how we can tackle some of our most intractable problems."
Rawlings-Blake's insight into Baltimore's current state of economy and security aligned with the theme of FAS, which is "The Paradox of Progress: Chasing Advancement Amongst Global Crisis."
"I think that on the most basic level, the paradox of progress, think about how even as you forge forward in society, you have these kinds of problems and moments of crisis. Baltimore is kind of a city in crisis right now, some people would say. I think that the mayor made a lot of really good comments about how we're coming out of that, but even on a national level, learning about how a point of crisis like Baltimore has been doing or Baltimore is doing now is really important," junior FAS Executive Director Andrew Davis said. "And on top of that, cities across America are all dealing with similar problems- enhanced crime, lower levels of population, lower revenues. Stephanie Rawlings-Blake is doing a really good job in trying to use what she has to improve the city which can hopefully be applied to any other city in America if they need it."
Rawlings-Blake's perspective on Baltimore appealed to students at Hopkins directly because of their engagement with the city during their time as an undergraduate.
"I think it was really interesting how she was saying that Hopkins and Baltimore rise and fall together. A lot of people come to Hopkins and then leave Baltimore, but i think that she's demonstrating a really cool and unique dedication to opportunities for people from Hopkins to come and live in the city and show us what the city can be. We have to take a second look at Baltimore and explore," Davis said.
Due to the strong connection and sense of pride that students have for Baltimore, there was some dissatisfaction amongst Hopkins' undergraduates with the mayor's presentation because of the issues that she chose to focus on discussing and because of how she chose to regard Baltimore.
"I was pretty disappointed in the mayor. She seemed to have not that much of a vision. She didn't really address public transportation well, which is a huge thing for students. I didn't like how she thought that Baltimore should just be a suburb of D.C. I understand what she was saying, but we should make you want to live in Baltimore because it's Baltimore not just because we're close to D.C. I was kind of disappointed; she just didn't seem excited to be here," sophomore Adam Roberts said.