mad anthony

Rants, politics, and thoughts on politics, technology, life,
and stuff from a generally politically conservative Baltimoron.

Saturday, January 07, 2006

Baltimore named fattest, I mean fittest, city...

For reasons nobody can understand, Baltimore has been named the Fittest City in America by Men's Health magazine. Additional article here, complete with pic of guy cramming down a fried chicken sandwich while driving.

Baltimore doesn't strike me as a terribly fit city, and it seems telling that most of the reaction from people in the city - who are usually eager to find something good about Baltimore - is a big "huh?".

From the article, about why B-More was chosen:

How could such a turnaround be possible in the space of one year? Men's Fitness editor Neal Boulton is quick to point out that the survey is far from scientific, and he says it took additional factors into account this year that worked in Baltimore's favor.

Among them: the amount of public park space, access to health care, air quality, the relatively small number of fast-food restaurants, and the leadership of Mayor Martin O'Malley. Boulton says Baltimore has become safer, more prosperous and more conducive to fitness.

"Baltimore is a paragon of urban renewal. That's why it's the fittest city, that's why it's the comeback city," Boulton said.

Well, we do have a lot of parks, but many of them tend to be used more for selling drugs and dumping bodies than for working out. (I have, on rare occasions walked around the Druid Hill resevoir, since it's near me, and I used to walk around the Guilford Resevoir, but then I joined a gym...). Safer is a relative term. I'm guessing that by fast-food resturants, they are refering to chain resturants, and there are some in the city, but there are a whole lot more local independant carryout/takeout/local bar type places, serving up plenty of greasy food.

I'm not sure about access to health care, but just because you can go to a doctor and have him tell you to lay off the fried chicken and hit the treadmill doesn't mean you will. And I find it hard to believe our air quality is that great, judging by the creepy pink sky over B-More at night.

And while there is a certain amount of urban renewal, there are still lots and lots of burned out buildings, sometimes a block or two away from up-and-coming or trendy neigborhoods. But the presence of $500,000 rehabbed townhouses in Fells and Boulton Hill does not make a city full of healthy people.

Then again, I've gotten healthier in the last year. Maybe I drove the stat up.


At 6:33 PM, Blogger Camdenbrick said...

"If you always do what you've always done, you'll always get what you always got."

Urban Renewal

During Urban Renewal, what is in the best interest of the city is sometimes not in the best interest of the people. And what is in the interest of the people is often not in the best interest of the city.

Community organizations that have no expertise or experience in modern urban design and renewal have no place in influencing the renewal agenda any more than a lawyer should be telling a doctor how to do neuro-surgery on a sick patient. Urban Renewal and Design is a challenging and daunting endeavor even for the experts. Yet New Urban experts are beginning to chalk up successful renewal stories across the country. Modern Renewal does not appease or allow a sense of entitlement by amateurs to meddle in the process.

Urban renewal is not a social welfare program. Social programs are already abundantly in existence for the needy in every city. Urban Renewal programs are special events. Urban Renewal programs co-opted by social activists will fail. Social programs masquerading as Renewal will eventually be exposed for what they are, with negative ramifications to follow, possibly inhibiting consideration of another renewal try any time in the foreseeable future. The same goes for political and institutional pork barrel projects masquerading as Renewal or Economic Recovery projects. Usually, the make up of the renewal board itself is a strong predictor of it's direction, whether it's makeup is weighted in favor of social community activists, politicians or known political cronies, or outside experts with no local constituency to appease, and with no continuing participation after achieving benchmarks.

Urban renewal is the removing of blight and creating high density, safe attractive walkable new neighborhoods and shopping districts through policy and design for the benefit of middle and upper class business owners who will settle and create a sufficient tax base to provide services for all residents. These are shoppers, business owners and residents who do not yet have any presence in the city.

In other words, present city residents and businesses must bite the bullet and make sacrifices for current outsiders to accrue future benefits. The target constituency for urban renewal programs lay outside the city, not in it.

Today's residents will share benefits with others that cannot come to fruition any other way. Territorial attitudes and a sense of entitlement that attempt to keep outsiders at bay and keep benefits in will generate no benefits and further isolate inner city poor from mainstream opportunities.

Urban renewal efforts influenced by social service and affordable housing providers will come to resemble a social service program and be a complete turn-off to the region's middle and upper class. Renewal leaders who as politicians had a history of applying short term patches to long term problems will find it hard to build trust with skeptical stakeholders, especially prominent business people with honed analytical skills.
The history, business and political ties of Renewal leaders will play a large role as to informing stakeholders decisions. Without attracting a viable upper class from the region urban renewal is dead.

Specious arguments such as"we stayed and stood by the city during it's hard times, now we deserve something…" is a thinly disguised parasitic, something for nothing attitude. As if people would hesitate to move to a better neighborhood if they could afford to. Is being stuck in a ghetto, uneducated, and poor for a lack of employable skills the mark of and qualifications for sainthood? Renewal leaders who succumb to this victimology do the city and its good people a disservice while repelling desirable potential inhabitants. While large historical forces have shaped the American ghetto, this is the context in which some must deal with their problems, not an excuse for failure or handouts beyond the social sector. Life can be hard, and harder for some, but Urban Renewal funds are not to be used as welfare funds or for public housing. That is what the local housing and welfare boards, with their separate and historical funding sources are for.

No matter how many people attend church or work hard in some cites, it is a lack of architectural cohesion, wasted space in the form of parking lots and vacant lots, vandalism and other property crimes, burglary and thefts, the preponderance of illegal drug markets, violence, blight, rampant slovenly appearance and behaviors, tacky shoddy retail shops, unruly foul mouthed children, illegitimacy and lack of a skilled and employable populace that defines the troubled aspects of a city needing attention. These problems in turn lead to a lack of economic and social capital. The preponderance of urban churches, overwhelmed and insufficiently successful (as a urban renewal tool) in their mission of personal transformations have failed to transform inner cities into anything resembling paradise. All inner city churches struggle and are ill suited to take on the additional burden of urban renewal and design, and are a poor substitute for successful Urbanist experts with proven track records.

Church organizations often become a default local government in dysfunctional cities, securing government and philanthropic contracts and fees to provide social services. Rather than being content with the compensation and intrinsic rewards for doing good works, when renewal funds become available, churches often subsume renewal efforts into their mission, demanding a cut of the economic pie, a seat at the political table, and influence to engineer social outcomes.

Too often opportunistic ministers, both storefront and traditional, subordinate their historical role to become real estate developers in the profitable non-profit housing industry. Successful at supplanting market oriented Planners in master-planning neighborhoods, whole areas are taken off the market and are assigned for low-income housing development and rehabilitation to benefit owners and tenants who cannot afford or don't maintain their properties. This does not correct the underlying problem, the inability of residents to maintain their properties, and resets to the beginning the deterioration cycle, which leads inevitably to another tax payer bailout.

Failed urban renewal cycles are more the rule than the exception, and the heavy and counter-productive hand of poverty servicers has played a major part in their failures. In some cities however, with every cycle they have become more expert in inserting themselves into the mix. With such limited vision partners unschooled in economics as gate-keepers, it is no wonder that the full complexity, serendipity and dynamics of market forces, investors, individual visions, entrepreneurial endeavors and regional participation rarely gets a shot at involvement before the renewal steam runs out.

Businesses and new residents will not be attracted into the worst cities unless their physical, and psychological security can be assured. Unless someone can stand in any part of a redeveloped zone, turn 360 degrees and not see or feel threatened by blight in any direction, their psychological comfort cannot be assured.

In the worst cities nothing less than gated communities and defensively designed business districts will work to provide a sufficient level of comfort. However, gated-communities and business districts with controlled access for security are considered so revoltingly antiethical to poverty service and social engineering leaders in some areas that they would rather see their city fail without them than succeed with them, regardless of the fate failure consigns to residents.

Gated communities are not only the norm in some areas, but also the most desirable places to live. Malibu Colony and Bel Air in the Los Angeles area have been gated since the 1920's and are the most exclusive and expensive residential neighborhoods in the nation, supplying an inordinate amount of property taxes to the local government. Even on the edge of some undesirable neighborhoods in Los Angeles, historically gated communities have held their values while surrounding un-gated communities on all sides have gone down to blight and ruin. No one complains about gated communities in California. In fact they thank goodness for them.

An indicator of how much control the poverty industries have over a city's political and civic life is to walk down its main street. If the number of housing and social organization offices fronting the street are larger than any other business category, chances are the poverty industry is the prevailing influence and will dominate the philosophical outlook of the renewal agenda. This is a red flag to any prospects visiting the city.

The poverty industry is by nature adverse to the middle class values of free enterprise and self-reliance. Social service agendas require constant subsidies and a persistently dependent constituency to survive. Poverty service businesses are no more welcoming of competing ideologies into their bailiwick as middle class values proponents are into theirs.

Local officials who persist in assisting social service and housing agencies in locating in or near scarce prime real estate, even in the midst of a renewal effort, reveal their desire to maintain ties as they are with their traditional constituencies while ignoring attractive site design plans for the constituents outside the city. This in turn may reveal that local officials see the current renewal effort as just another cycle which will end, and are planning their moves to be well positioned when the cycle is over. Faux renewal cycles are often pork barrel opportunities utilized to reinforce the power broker and constituent status quo.

Businesses do not prefer to locate amidst signs of poverty, but prefer to be associated with areas projecting success. If at the start of a renewal effort it is recognized that social welfare institutions are already too salted throughout an area, and relocation would be turbulent, the locus of renewal may have to be shifted. Constructing a new main street may be the only alternative.

In decisions of city vs. people, serious renewal officials will always serve as the appointed city advocate with complete fidelity. People representation falls to elected officials, social service advocates, community activists and hired attorneys. As can be seen in this unbalanced equation, the forces against renewal are mighty. In the face of such an array, the City needs to have at least one consistent body of representation that does not make compromises on its health. Just as a corporation is an artificial person with rights that protect its integral existence, so the city must receive such singular respect and protection. Again, what is good for a city may not be good for people in it, and what is good for people may be bad for the city. Great Urbanist's hold true to their principles and positions, and may be over-ruled but do not compromise convictions or beliefs.


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