Published by the Students of Johns Hopkins since 1896
May 21, 2024

Baltimore strong: The resiliency of cities

By RAGHAV AGRAWAL | April 3, 2024


Like many other residents of Baltimore, I woke up on Tuesday morning to the news of the Francis Scott Key Bridge falling overnight when it was hit by a massive ship that was exiting the Port of Baltimore. It goes without saying that this was a devastating incident for the city, and our thoughts and prayers are especially with those who lost loved ones.

The impetus for writing something really came after my surprise at my own visceral reaction to the news. I woke up to frantic messages from my family as they checked in on me. While I initially gave them the all-clear, I turned my attention to the videos that were circulating online of the bridge collapsing as it was hit by the ship; much to my surprise, I felt an amalgamation of devastation, anger and uneasiness. As I read on and kept track of the news throughout the day (much to the detriment of my classes), I felt a sense of fear rising.

There's an explanation to all this — I love Baltimore. This city has been immensely kind to me in the last two years that I’ve resided here. I feel an unshakable bond and sense of community amongst its residents. When disasters like this befall the things that I am extremely attached to, it’s bound to hurt. When it happens in Baltimore, it makes me question fate — after all this city has been through, after all it's known for, how will the bridge collapsing change how we feel about ourselves? How will the city I love recover from this? 

When I stepped back from my immediate emotions, I turned to the bigger picture — how is the bridge collapsing going to affect my city (apart from the romantic in me hurting over its representation)? To put it simply, the debris from the bridge and the ship have effectively stopped operations at the Port of Baltimore indefinitely. The port, which has existed since the 17th century and brings major global trade to Baltimore, will lose ships and long-distance trucking and cost scores of people their jobs. Ships inbound to Baltimore have already been diverted to the ports of Virginia and New York. The bridge also served as an instrumental part of the interstate system, a collection of roads that I have come to love through my trips in the outdoors across the eastern U.S. This redirects immense amounts of traffic off this key beltway and severely disrupts cargo and commuter connectivity all along the northeast.

But of course, we must also face the political implications of such an accident. Apart from the obvious, increasingly important presidential race, Baltimore’s mayor Brandon Scott will also be running for re-election this year and has (and will) face major scrutiny in how he responds to this crisis. This could be make-or-break for him. The highly polarized nature of American politics right now guarantees that such an issue could be taken out of context, especially as we enter a key election year. Conservative commentators on Fox News, in their live broadcasts on Tuesday, made comments insinuating that this accident was a direct attack on America and somehow managed to blame what they call President Biden’s open border. In a situation that was clearly an accident and had ongoing search and rescue operations for missing people, the American news machine still managed to belittle its magnitude by pushing their agenda. It irked me. It made me mad all over again — not so much at fate, but at a system that sees nothing but its own personal gain.

Still, I promise that this isn’t the reason I chose to write this today. As outraged as I may be by its politicization, this isn’t the time for me to care about it. It’s obvious that my feelings lie with the rest of the residents of this city — that’s who I want to focus on. It’s the community I’ve forged within this city, seen on display on many occasions, that makes me hopeful we will find our way forward.

It’s the resiliency of characterful cities like Baltimore to respond to crises that is demonstrated through unwavering community support. I’ve seen this before, back home in Bombay. From daily local train journeys, annual city-stopping floods and once-in-a-lifetime terror attacks, the people of the city forget their differences and band together to help their fellow inhabitants in times of dire need. Baltimore is similar in its community, and I’ve already seen it in action. I promise, especially if you were as affected by this as I was, there is a legion of this city’s residents behind you. The city will reel from the fallout of this accident for years to come, but its people will always be ready to help.

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