A bigger picture

June 4, 2009

In the discussion that has developed around Baltimore’s vacant and abandoned property, one thing has become enormously clear to me. A fundamental issue feeding much of the city’s challenges is underutilized infrastructure. Baltimore is a city that grew to house over 900,000 people at the city’s population peak. Currently, we’re around 640,000. That means that the city infrastructure is overdeveloped by ~30%. Infrastructure is the physical network of buildings, roads, sewers, utility lines, bridges, ports, light rail, etc. The service network of solid waste collection, fire fighting, policing, health care, etc. depends on the physical infrastructure. It needs to be maintained. Maintenance costs money. We’re in a situation where we’re attempting to maintain city infrastructure that is 30% too large. This has resulted in everything being stretched thin, compounding the problems of overtaxed city services and residential flight.

So what can we do? 1. Attract residents. 2. Make the city infrastructure smaller.

In the comments of this site, there has been some back and forth between the two ideas. There are advocates for knocking down swaths of the city that are currently under-utilized (blighted). My initial proposal to revive the dollar house program approached the issue from the opposite side, creating an attractive environment for new residents to come to the city. I believe that both approaches are in order. I also believe that the folks at City Hall are of the same mindset.

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