One of America’s oldest cities, Baltimore’s neighborhoods were built at a human scale–efficient, walkable, and compact. Even with the economic ravages of the last half century, those “good bones” of urban form still have value that can be tapped by local residents.
Todd Powell’s real estate eye sees that yet-uncapitalized value along the spine of one of those neighborhoods, West Baltimore St. Todd grew up in Baltimore City and during his long real estate career he’s come to know neighborhood resident and small-scale developer JR Lee. With dozens of rehab and new construction projects in Southwest Baltimore, JR describes himself as a “hammer and nails kind of guy.” Another of Todd’s colleagues, Debbie McIver, is swinging her own hammer right across the street from JR’s latest project. Debbie has Baltimore City roots too. After a long career in real estate-related fields, and some small business coaching, she’s become a small-scale redevelopment small business herself with her 2,800 SF three story 5 unit building.
These are three of the core folks behind the Baltimore Collective – an entrepreneurial, Black-owned small business, private sector-led neighborhood-focused implementation “jump start” for the W Baltimore St Corridor plan. The goal is to drive economic opportunity and inclusion from the inside out. JR himself probably knows all the small formal and informal construction and rehab-based businesses in the neighborhood, and has worked with or trained a third of them! He’s also on the board of the non profit Southwest Partnership which devised the 2015 plan for this and six other nearby neighborhoods. Five years later not too much has yet changed in this corridor. “Most plans start with lots of analysis and promising pictures, and the last page recommends “find developers.” We’re starting with the developers–they’re us! And we can grow more from this neighborhood.” JR said.
Todd sees “People who have roots in Baltimore, and roots in this neighborhood, as really the local experts.” Anchored by local folks, this locally-powered redevelopment implementation effort hopes to effectively partner with others from beyond the neighborhood. “That’s a set of connections the Collective is hoping to make to spur implementation and generate local benefits.” The next step is for the Collective to form a team and launch a “Working Plan” that takes the most relevant parts of the corridor plan and breaks it down into what can be done tomorrow. And the next day. And the day after that. Small, but critical, incremental steps consistently making progress at a pace that can be sustained indefinitely. And generate local ownership, local benefits with small-scale buildings that can be built and rehabbed by a small-scale, incremental approach of Baltimoreans.