As a long-time transit advocate I wanted to share two observations from last week’s trip to Baltimore with the InterCity Leadership Visit put on by the Saint Paul Area and Minneapolis Regional Chambers.
The two busloads of us from Minnesota were stunned by the level of disinvestment in several Baltimore neighborhoods. While we have neighborhoods with a lot of challenges in the Twin Cities, we have few neighborhoods where one can see through the roofs of houses for block after block. And all of this was just a mile from the popular and booming Baltimore Inner Harbor and downtown.
After touring these neighborhoods, and speaking with leaders from many parts of the community, two themes emerged.
1. Transit connections to jobs are critical
My ears perked up when we heard Laura Gamble, Regional President for PNC Bank, say the most important single action to address poverty is “transportation to connect people to jobs”. We also heard a great deal about how to overcome other barriers to employment. But transit is critical. Gamble’s assertion, incidentally, echoes much academic research.
2. Don’t do it to us; don’t do it for us; do it with us
We heard this precise phrase more than any other, from a variety of stakeholders. And, “Don’t do it to us even while explaining to us how it will be good for us. We need to be partners, to see ourselves in the choices.” And: “Start early. Don’t come to us toward the end.”
For a project to succeed, the affected community needs to be a genuine part of the decision-making. As one of the neighborhood leaders we met with put it, “We need to be able to able to point to how the project reflects our input.”
Some of the conditions we saw were far removed from Saint Paul and the East Metro. But I also heard a warning; we disregard these lessons at our own risk.