Charm City Blues – Time for A Civic Xanax

Baltimore, Maryland  DSC029075-6
Source: Tim Shahan (Flickr)

As a native Baltimorean, I feel completely qualified to say this:  Baltimore, you have self-esteem issues.  Its time let go of those issues.  You need some civic therapy and then a dose of town pride on a daily basis.  Let me explain.

During my time in high school and college, I have listen to (many times unwittingly) other native sons and daughters trash Baltimore.  A few examples of this civic/self-loathing included statements such as:

“There are so many haters here!  I need to move to {fill in the blank supposedly less hater filled city}”

“Its boring here”

“This {fill-in-the-blank} university (in Baltimore) is wack.”  My thought:  For some reason  the people who would say this would stick around for all 4 or 5 years at the ‘wack’ uni and get a degree which is surely benefiting them today.

My theory for this overall down-spirited attitude towards one’s hometown is manifestation of low civic-esteem.  Baltimore, a medium-sized historically maritime town, sits in between a lot of ‘bigness’ if you will.  40 miles to our south is the Capital City  of the U.S.A. and arguably the world (though the D.C. is 30 square miles, give or take, smaller than Baltimore that federal seat business is a lot to compete with). 90 miles north is Philadelphia, which from this Baltimore girl’s perspective is a huge Baltimore it reminds me of home so  much, the good and the bad.  200 miles to the north is New York City and well..its New York baby!

So in the middle of all this ‘bigness’ is Charm City.  While strategically located and historically important, not a capital city, not the financial epicenter of the country, contained by 90 square miles. Take that, mix in a bunch of ‘urban issues’ of crime, the problems with the education system, lack of employment opportunities – depending on what strata of society you are in, and what many consider a lacking substantial entertainment scene, especially during the night hours, you get a population that feels like the red-headed stepchild of the east coast. Enter the complaints about haters, ‘being boring’, and ‘wack’ colleges.

I have always been an action-oriented person so to hear these complaints about my fair city, grates on my nerves.  Essentially, the people who make these complaints are the people who do not feel the need to improve the situation they complain so much about.  With that said, if you are from B’more and you feel this way, here is a preliminary five-point blueprint to become proud of our city.

Become educated on the history of Baltimore

Get  to the library or just type in ‘Baltimore history’ in your favorite search engine and begin learning about Baltimore’s history.  Pretend like you are in the 3rd Grade again and take the obligatory elementary school trip to Fort McHenry.  Tour our local historic-focused museums.  When you become educated of the rich history of our city, you will become very proud.  Trust. 

Do Something!

Complaining isn’t an action-oriented activity people.  Flapping your lips to your friends isn’t going to get you very far.  As the saying goes ‘Be the change you want to see.’  A few ideas just to get those neurons firing in your brain:  volunteer/become a committee or board member for organizations focused on improving a particular slice of city life – environmental, social, small business, housing, etc.  Become an active member in your neighborhood associations.  Show up to a City Council or Planning Board meeting to stay informed about the issues.

Say Something!

Via the written word.  Write a letter editor for one of the media outlets about the good taking place in your neighborhood. Become a citizen report if you so desire.  If you are an organization, report on your good deeds within your host community.   A recent example is this story about the Morgan State U Football Team shoveling snow for homeowners in the adjacent New Northwood neighborhood.  This story received a ton of press.  We need more of these stories.

Create Something!

Start your own thing.  Whether it be a community group, special interest group, online community/activist activity, etc., this is a way for you to make a mark on improving the City’s quality of life.

Becoming a walking booster club for the City

After you do all this learning, doing, saying and creating….then you can start talking.  Especially to when you go out-of-town.  I work in the DC metro area and I talk about Baltimore quite a bit.  When I visited Connecticut last Christmas, I talked up Charm City like it was nobody’s business.

And for the love of God, stop complaining about haters.  I get so tired about hearing that term.  Its played out, find another term to use.  ‘Haters’ are going to be wherever you go.  Get over it and keep it moving.

There is your Civic Xanax folks.  Take once daily with our municipal water supply that is so clean companies bottle it to sell as ‘spring water’.


How the West Was Lost

Considering the economic climate as of late, check out this great Tedx talk by economist and author Dambisa Moyo about how economic policies enacted over the last half-century have impacted the U.S. and the world.  Enjoy!

Tales of a Young Urban Planner – How to Sidestep An Out-of-Bounds Question

A few weeks ago, I found myself an extremely taxing conversation with a representative for a commercial real estate company.  I had to do on demand research which put this call at 25 minutes.  Towards the end of the conversation, the rep asked me to recommend law firms in the area that deal with land use issues.

Now hold on.  Seriously?

Private sector representative just asked public sector employee to recommend to him/her a legal team that will give his/her company a favorable outcome.  I say ‘favorable’ because who wants an unfavorable outcome when there is land, money and time involved.  I almost choked on my tea when hearing it.  I explained to the rep that I was not in a position to do this.  The rep says ‘Its okay, this conversation is off the record.’

What???  Because that makes it better somehow.  In the murky world of land deals, dollars and politics, nothing is truly ever off the record.

The rep began to rattle off a few legal firms that s/he was already aware of doing business with my agency.  I replied ‘yes, you are correct, they have worked on cases brought to our agency.’  The rep wanted to know which of these firms was actually ‘good at their job.’  At this point I am completely exasperated.  I said ‘you are going to have to speak with their clients to make that determination.’  The rep FINALLY caught the hint and seemed a bit embarrassed by the line of questioning.  End scene.

During the course of my career, I have heard of firm representatives (reps) attempting to pay for the lunch of employees and inviting agency employees to social functions held by the reps.  All of these actions are out-of-bounds and could be considered a bribe.  Someone just starting out in the field may find it nice when a company/firm representative wants to invite them to a party or pay for coffee/lunch/whatever but you better believe from the rep’s perspective, s/he is operating under the mindset that these acts are greasing the skids, some way some how.

Baby planners and baby public sector employees who have any sort of contact with the public.  If your spidey sense is  going haywire to any type of request that sounds remotely off,  trust it.  You will save yourself a whole heap of trouble down the line.

Rant over, off to write my next post which will be all smiles and rainbows…