This is a guest post from community resident Howie Baum. A professor of Urban Studies and Planning at the University of Maryland College Park, Howie took some time to reflect upon the importance of GHCC’s work after a recent visit to 29th Street Community Center with his students.
I live in Rosebank Brackenridge Bellona, a North Baltimore neighborhood that is part of the Greater Homewood Community Corporation area, and I teach social planning in the University of Maryland’s Urban Studies and Planning Program in College Park. As a city resident, I am fortunate to be represented by GHCC on a variety of public issues. As a professor, I am glad that I can bring my students to GHCC to see what a strong, creative community organization looks like.
I recently took my Community Social Planning class to meet with Karen Stokes, Ira Kowler, and Hannah Gardi at the 29th Street Community Center. The students are preparing for careers in urban planning, and I wanted them to see the assets and challenges of a low income neighborhood and to understand how a community-based organization works with neighborhoods, and what the staff of the organization need to do to keep it going. Also, as I tell my students, I’d like them to fall in love with Baltimore and decide to work and live in the city after they graduate.
The students caught on to Greater Homewood. They liked the vision of holistic community development that guides the organization: the first question always is, what do residents think would be in the interests of their community? The students liked the idea of community schools. (In the 1990s I helped start a community school at Tench Tilghman Elementary in East Baltimore, and I know the idea makes great sense.) Students were impressed by not only the range of GHCC activities, but also the considerable time and energy spent involving residents in community organizations. And, the students were struck by how much effort is necessary to keep GHCC funded and to maintain and manage the organization. The fact that Greater Homewood has been around for 45 years, when many other Baltimore community organizations have died, speaks volumes. The visit showed students that there are places where they can apply their intelligence and idealism in real jobs doing the kinds of community development we discuss in class.
I think GHCC is good at doing important work. Baltimore faces all the challenges of any big city with a large low-income population, and efforts to address these problems are handicapped by a scarcity of local wealth. The city depends on outside money. However, private investment, by its nature, goes where profits can be made, and low-income neighborhoods are rarely attractive in these terms, and the federal government hasn’t had a serious urban policy in decades. Under these conditions, neighborhoods must do what they can to identify and exploit their own assets.
Greater Homewood has been doing that. Voluntary, nonprofit organizations in Baltimore are doing some of the most creative work in addressing challenges and creating a more livable city. As a resident who sometimes gets discouraged, I was uplifted to see the work of Greater Homewood. I will keep it in my students’ minds, because, selfishly, I want them to come work in our city.