What would it take to create a widespread sense of urgency about solving Baltimore’s problems? I often feel that our region’s relative wealth allows some of us to be insulated from the pockets of poverty and instability that deeply affect too many of our fellow citizens. When critical public moments arise—such as the upcoming legislative session to address the state’s structural budget deficit—we fail to speak up, to take a stance about what needs should be met through public funds.
But what if we extract ourselves from the comforts and distractions of our everyday lives to assess what is unacceptable, what is fair, what is a smart investment in our future?
For example, how many of us would act differently if all our private schools, independent and parochial, suddenly had to close? If all our children were enrolled in the public school system, would we finally be motivated to find resources to attract the most talented principals and teacher? Would we insist upon after-school programs that are not only safe, nurturing and rigorous, but downright exciting? Would we make certain that young students not only enjoy updated books, computers, labs, and equipment but also the internships, cultural enrichment, life skills and leadership training that make for a successful transition to adulthood?
Or, to borrow an idea from New York City’s Mayor Bloomberg, what if we could no longer use cars to travel to jobs, doctors’ offices, and grocery stores, but suddenly had to depend on mass transit? Would we tolerate the inefficiency of a slow and incomplete transit network? Would we reconsider where we want to live and how we want to allocate public incentives for the location of jobs, stores and services? Would we be motivated to insist on better access to services if we walked through our neighborhoods on our way to work and home, seeing more clearly how others live and witnessing firsthand the effects of unequal health care, unemployment and abandoned housing?
Right now we have an unprecedented opportunity to speak up and make change. Our questioning and opinions matter now. As the State of Maryland faces its budget deficit, elected officials need to know what our priorities are and they need to hear from us directly. Maybe, if we allow our imaginations to take the lead, we can join together in a vision for what Baltimore can really become. Try it.