Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 23, 2024

Baltimore is not your playpen, Hopkins: Watch where you expand

By THE EDITORIAL BOARD | April 19, 2024


If you’ve ever walked to Homewood Apartments, you have likely noticed the houses on N. Charles Street that are marked by the classic navy Hopkins signage. You may have looked at them and wondered, “Why does Hopkins own this? What’s in there? How can I get in?”

At Hopkins, we’re familiar with the uses of campus landmarks, even if we don’t frequent the buildings ourselves. Students watch dance shows in Shriver Hall, learn French in Gilman Hall and experiment with circuits in the Bloomberg Center for Physics and Astronomy. It seems pretty straightforward. 

But the University’s real estate holdings extend far beyond the gates of Homewood Campus, and the functions of many Hopkins-owned buildings remain largely unknown to the student body.

You might think that you’ve left Hopkins territory by walking a few blocks away from campus, but as the navy signage follows you, one thing is clear: The Hopkins bubble extends much farther than initially meets the eye. Recently, The News-Letter’s News & Features team launched an investigation into the University’s land and real estate holdings, both around Charles Village as well as the wider Baltimore area. After assessing its holdings, our Editorial Board is left with questions regarding the University’s intentions and its relationship with the Baltimore community. 

Hopkins must increase the transparency of its real estate acquisitions 

More often than not, Hopkins does not publicly announce that they have purchased land. It is not uncommon to find out about the University’s latest real estate addition through word of mouth.

While in recent years students have discussed the University’s quiet purchases of The Academy on Charles and The Alpha Delta Phi (WAWA) house, the University’s lack of transparency can be traced back to far earlier. 

When the University started renovations on Gilman Hall in 2007, it decided to move faculty into the Dell House, located on 29th Street, which had been acquired in 2003. Yet, several tenants learned that they would have to vacate to make room for professors from a News-Letter article, rather than from Dell House management or the University.

Residents found out in October 2007 that they had to move out of their apartments by Feb. 1, 2008 — Hopkins undoubtedly knew it would be executing a multi-year renovation of Gilman Hall before then. Though the University was able to shell out $85 million for a building, it could not spare Baltimorean residents even a passing thought.

The Dell House is not an isolated incident; Hopkins has repeatedly left Baltimoreans in the dark when pursuing its own interests. When the Hopkins-sponsored East Baltimore Development Initiative (EBDI) acquired several homes in the Middle East neighborhood, residents reported not receiving a letter, phone call or any formal notice that they would have to move. Hopkins continues to bulldoze its way through Baltimore, disregarding those it crushes along the way.

Hopkins should not only share information about its real estate purchases but also be transparent about their intended use. 

In 2002, Hopkins began to purchase rowhouses on 29th Street, but the following two decades saw no use of them. Finally, in 2022, the University demolished the rowhouses and the land now sits empty and unused. We fail to understand why the University bought these homes only to sit on them for 20 years and then demolish them against the wishes of community organizers. 

The News-Letter reached out to Hopkins for comment on these purchases. A University spokesperson claimed the demolition occurred over concerns that the structures posed a fire hazard and could not be reformed. Hopkins had 20 years to do something with the rowhouses and didn’t. To hide behind fire safety and feasibility is a cop-out.

Looking to the past: The tumultuous history of Hopkins in Baltimore 

The history of Hopkins and Baltimore is a fraught one, marred with controversy and violence. Hopkins has contributed to the displacement of residents in Baltimore and has benefited from redlining, going back to the early 20th century at least. 

In the 1950s, Hopkins displaced 1,100 families living near the hospital, promising a project that would include a new “beautified neighborhood” for the displaced Black residents. Yet, Hopkins failed to keep its word and while the development ended up yielding medical offices and housing for staff and students, there was a clear lack of any community housing. 

Going back even further, in the early 1900s, the Baltimore City Council passed an ordinance that labeled the properties surrounding the Hopkins Hospital as “better than average” and having “considerable desirability.” The redlining by the city tacitly set up the distinction between the shine of Hopkins and the “dullness” of the surrounding community.  

These examples are just a few of many. Though Hopkins likes to think of itself as bringing opportunity and innovation to Baltimore, it has also brought immense pain and destruction. Until Hopkins reckons with its past, history will repeat itself. 

Looking to the future: Hopkins must better its relationship with Baltimore

During Orientation Week, students are immediately introduced to the concept of the Hopkins bubble, and the University encourages us to venture beyond it to explore all that Baltimore has to offer. Through programs like the Community Impact Internships Program and the Henderson Hopkins Math Tutorial Program, Hopkins has made it clear that they want students to prioritize giving back to the Baltimore community. But, no matter how many hours we volunteer, we cannot give back all that the University continues to take. 

University administration places the onus on students to heal the institution’s relationship with Baltimore — while they themselves continue to worsen it with initiatives like EBDI, which has displaced 720 families. Although Hopkins has offered displaced residents the opportunity to return (nearly a decade and a half later), simply returning to a physical location cannot re-create the social fabric of the community that was lost.

Hopkins, as the largest employer in Maryland, has a responsibility to better its community. However, this must be done in conjunction with the community itself. The University does not have a right to move in wherever it sees fit and pursue whatever it pleases at the expense of surrounding residents. 

That being said, we expect Hopkins will continue to expand throughout Baltimore. It is a massive institution with an incentive to attract more prospective students and job applicants. However, it need not do so with such callous disregard for the lives it uproots.

By continuing to approach expansion in the same way the University always has, Hopkins has only reinforced the historic cycles of mistrust between itself and the Baltimore community.

Nothing will change unless Hopkins does. 

We’ve said this many times, but truly, Hopkins, do better.

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