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Help People, Not Corporations

Photo: Illustrations by Tom Chalkley, License: N/A

Illustrations by Tom Chalkley

In Baltimore, 2013 was a banner year for the kind of redevelopment that turns mayors into governors and millionaires into billionaires. And that’s great for John Paterakis and Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake and Michael Beatty and Brenda McKenzie, the new head of the Baltimore Development Corporation.

Giving out Tax Increment Financing (TIF) deals, floating bonds, and twisting the meaning of what used to be known as federal anti-poverty programs is, after all, what they do. It’s all they do.

And, to be fair, they do it on the theory—long-running but as yet unproved—that monster convention centers with city-owned name-brand hotels attached and “mixed-use” mega-developments like Harbor Point promote job growth and a generally healthy city.

Many consultants have claimed this, after all, for decades. Who you gonna believe—those well-paid professionals or your own lyin’ eyes?

This model of development, in which upfront tax breaks for giant, politically wired, centrally planned developments are alleged to pay big dividends in later decades, has dominated thinking for 40 years or more. That it perfectly coincides with the decline of cities such as Baltimore—in population and especially in income for its residents—seems to have occurred to, well, pretty much everyone except the people who are so well compensated for developing giant, subsidized skyscrapers and facilitating the same from places like the BDC.

And so City Paper hereby offers this resolution, knowing that almost everyone we see on the street will agree with it, and no one in a position to implement it will: In 2014 Baltimore’s development professionals will concentrate exclusively on the well-being of the city’s existing residents.

Imagine, for a minute, a city in which regular homeowners are offered TIFs in order to improve their front yards, driveways, or marble stoops. Small shopkeepers given tax incentives to stay in place! Residents who now stay in sleeping bags under the JFX given access to gleaming offices filled with professionals who ask only, “What do you need?” And then deliver!

What if the streets were paved, the underground pipes fixed, the police force trained and reformed (and paid) to improve their professional service?

What if the taxes homeowners paid went to services for homeowners and residents, instead of bonds to float a failing hotel?

Baltimore would attract 10,000 new residents within weeks, not years.

Ah, right. But what of the governorship, and beyond? How would a mayor ever get ahead in a city like that?

Indeed, in a city like that, led and administered on behalf of the residents, what mayor would want another job?

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