A coalition led by Sojourner-Douglass College consisting of local residents and core community institutions is proposing a new paradigm for community development in the Oldtown community of East Baltimore that goes way beyond the traditional “top-down” approach. Their plan will not displace the current residents - nor merely treat symptoms, while leaving all the essential elements of poverty intact. Rather, they aim to develop “bottom-up” systems and institutions that confront the root causes of poverty and enable the current residents to increase their own economic prospects.
Such a broad scale assertion of civic engagement on the part of urban residents, though rare, is the very essence of what it means to be self-determined and validates the premise underlying “bottom-up” approaches: that working collaboratively and with the proper resources, even people perceived as poor can successfully plan and implement their own development. Coalition members agree and they are committed to test and prove this assumption by working with, not for, the residents to massively organize and help them acquire the necessary resources.
If Oldtown is to be revitalized without the gentrification created in other Baltimore neighborhoods, economic development must be undertaken unlike any that has ever been done before. The systemic barriers that exclude entire groups must be confronted forthrightly and dealt with realistically. It is not realistic to expect the traditional economic drivers to suddenly provide widespread economic uplift for urban residents. Where is the infrastructure to support employment for ex-offenders and chronically unemployed people? Such inescapable realities require well thought out, intentional solutions.
Change4Real confronts these barriers forthrightly through authentic partnerships and the bold introduction of a replacement economy capable of producing hundreds of new employment opportunities and incubating dozens of new businesses. Using such devices as well developed training programs grounded within the core institutions of Oldtown; new economic engines that can provide widespread economic uplift for residents, e.g. employee-owned cooperatives; and old fashioned community organizing techniques, Change4Real intends to engage the many residents of Oldtown necessary to effect the magnitude of social and economic transformation the Coalition envisions.
A community that will sustain for all its residents a satisfying level of economic well being will reap many benefits. If families are economically secure and children see parents, particularly fathers, engaged in making a living from their own efforts, parents can have higher expectations for their children and the benefits of learning will become an easier sell. Whenever groups of people have access to livable wage jobs and are able to build wealth through cooperatively owned businesses, homeownership and other assets, their communities will become places of choice, capital will circulate many times inside the community and the hopes and dreams of the residents can be fully realized.