Yesterday, civic leaders from Baltimore and around the country came to North Avenue’s Parkway Theater to discuss pressing urban policy issues including blight and drug addiction as part of The Atlantic’s CityLab Baltimore conference. OSI-Baltimore was a proud underwriter of the event.
Former New York Mayor Michael Bloomberg, a Johns Hopkins grad, opened up the conference talking about the role cities can play in advancing work on crucial issues when the federal government steps back, and used climate change as an example: When the Trump administration backed away from the Paris climate accords, cities and states around the country stepped up to make their own commitments. Another example is Safe City Baltimore, the immigrant defense fund that OSI-Baltimore founded in collaboration with the mayor’s immigration office to support immigrants with legal claims to stay in the US who face deportation under Trump’s executive orders.
Next, Atlantic contributing editor Alison Stewart interviewed Mayor Catherine Pugh, who said that reducing violence is key to changing the narrative about Baltimore and increasing investment in the city. Next up, Baltimore’s new Housing Commissioner Michael Braverman joined his counterparts from Detroit and New Orleans in a rich discussion about confronting blight and revitalizing neighborhoods.
In the next session, MICA President Sammy Hoi interviewed Albany Mayor Kathy Shehan about Breathing Lights, an innovative art project in which lights pulsed from the windows of vacant buildings, drawing attention to them and the need to address blight. At the end of the session, Sheehan emphasized the deeply entrenched roots of blight. “Neighborhoods didn’t get this way by accident,” she said. “They got this way because of racism and because of policies at the local, state, and federal level.”
In another session, the Atlantic’s Stewart talked to Baltimore Health Commission Dr. Leana Wen, former US Drug Czar Michael Botticelli, Josh Sharfstein, associate dean of Public Health Practice and Training at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, and Nicole Alexander-Scott, director of the Rhode Island Department of Health about “Battling Opioids: Lessons from the Front Lines.”
Dr. Wen emphasized the need to de-stigmatize addiction and increase resources to proven solutions. OSI-Baltimore and Dr. Wen recently announced OSI’s new $200,000 grant specifically to help the Health Department combat overdose and reduce stigma.
In the next session, Baltimore author and activist D. Watkins talked about the importance of lifting up the stories of Baltimore residents. “If you’re not telling your story, you’re giving society the space to kill you,” he said. Asked about his influences, Watkins pointed out historian and OSI-Baltimore Board member Taylor Branch in the audience and noted that, after reading one of Branch’s books in college, Watkins changed his major to history.
In the last session, artists Elissa Blount-Moorhead, Juan Ortiz, and Lu Zhang, talked to local artist and activist Jessica Solomon on the topic of “City as Muse: Energizing Community Through the Arts.”