Next City has a profile of an initiative known as the West Baltimore Innovation Village. Spearheaded by residents and with the support of anchor institutions like the Maryland Institute College of Art and Coppin State University, the Innovation Village aims to leverage the power of high tech industry to equitably develop a 7 mile swath of Central West Baltimore that includes Reservoir Hill (pictured above) , Penn-North, Madison Park, and Sandtown-Winchester.
The effort began in 2013 with the formation of the Mount Royal Community Development Corporation. Initially the focus was on fixing up vacant houses but the focus soon shifted to the lack of jobs in the area. Inspired by initiatives likes Boston’s Seaport District and Philadelphia’s University City, the organizers hope to create economic opportunity for existing residents, attract investment in the community, and ensure no one is displaced.
Current plans are for the Innovation Village to be centered on the site of the former Madison Park North Apartments. Once known as Murder Mall, the Innovation District is proposing the construction of 300-500 mixed income apartments, retail and office space, a grocery store, and 50,000 square feet of space for tech companies and local entrepreneurs.
There is some skepticism about the initiative. Ray Kelly of the No Boundaries Coalition expressed concern that the Innovation District amounts to gentrification. Tiffany Welch, President of the Matthew Henson Neighborhood is taking a wait and see approach. But according to the article it is with “her eyebrows raised.”
Richard May, the head of the the Mount Royal Community Development Corporation and a resident of Reservoir Hill says he understands why so many residents are skeptical but that something needs to be done to create economic opportunity for everyone.
The issues surrounding the Innovation District are emblematic of the concerns that come with revitalizing economically distressed communities. On the one hand, residents suffer significantly from the lack of investment. While at the same time new investment threatens to displace those already living in a community due to rising rents and property taxes.
Another potential area of concern for residents not addressed in the article is skepticism over whether and when the project will happen. Many low income communities have “heard it all before” only to see ambitious plans for their neighborhoods fall apart. Overcoming this skepticism and getting residents on board is a difficult but necessary task.
The plans for the West Baltimore Innovation Village are exciting and may serve as an example of equitable development. We look forward to following this ambitious endeavor.
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