If the Oldtown community of East Baltimore is to be revitalized without the gentrification created in other Baltimore neighborhoods, a new form of economic development must be undertaken. Systemic barriers that exclude entire groups must be dealt with realistically. Change4Real, a coalition led by Sojourner-Douglass College consisting of local residents and core community institutions, believes that working collaboratively and with the proper resources, even people perceived as poor can successfully plan their own development. Therefore, Coalition members intend to work with, not for, the residents to help them acquire the necessary resources.
The barriers that must be dealt with realistically include entrenched poverty, civic and economic disinvestment, resident disengagement, lack of education, mis-education, low job skills, limited experience, low wages, conservative hiring practices, no health or other benefits, lack of transportation, inadequate child care, uncoordinated support networks, and substance abuse, among others. The Coalition intends to help residents address these barriers through jointly creating socially-responsive interventions grounded within the core institutions of Oldtown to support the community’s vision for personal and family growth and community-based economic development.
Additionally, they intend to produce hundreds of new employment opportunities and incubate dozens of new businesses capable of engaging the many residents of Oldtown necessary to effect this social and economic transformation through the introduction of economic engines customized to resident needs, e.g. business incubation/financial services; employee-owned cooperatives; weatherization/energy efficiency; allied health/biotechnology; hotel/hospitality/tourism; and skills apprenticeships.
A community that sustains economic well-being for all its residents will reap many benefits. If families are economically secure and children see parents, particularly fathers, engaged in making a living, parents can have higher expectations for their children and the benefits of learning will become an easier sell. Whenever people have livable wage jobs and can build wealth through cooperatively owned businesses, homeownership, and developing other assets, their communities will become places of choice, capital will circulate inside the community, and the hopes and dreams of the residents can be fully realized.
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