“Over the next 2 1/2 years, the city is budgeted to spend nearly $22 million to tear down 1,500 abandoned houses — a move urban planners say could transform Baltimore visually and clear a path for struggling neighborhoods to attract future development. Previously, the city had been spending about $2.5 million a year on demolition.
The houses in communities like Johnston Square will be replaced with gardens, urban farms and green space, with the intention that someday new homes and businesses will take their place.
Ralph Moore, 61, a longtime community activist in the East Baltimore neighborhood, recently walked past a shell that once housed a family with children who poured out the front door and into the nearby St. Frances Academy. The empty house is standing amid a half-demolished strip of the city’s trademark rowhouses.
Moore and others are glad, for now, to see the vacant houses come down. But they also say they’re expecting to hear in time about plans for redevelopment.
“I think you can’t talk about demolition without answering the question, ‘What’s going to come in its place and who’s going to benefit?’ ” Moore said. “We just don’t want a lot of tracts of vacant land like Detroit.”
Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake says she understands the concern. “When change comes and when there isn’t an immediate market demand, it leaves a lot of unease because the future isn’t certain,” she said. But the goal, she stressed, is “renewal and strengthening our neighborhoods. … We’re not putting the properties on the back burner.”
The demolition schedule is part of the mayor’s Vacants to Value program, which she calls a data- and market-driven approach to ridding Baltimore of a sizable portion of its 16,000 vacant, blighted houses over the next 10 years. The goal is to systematically assess vacant houses, restore those that are viable, and demolish whole swaths of those that are not, in the process creating sites for eventual redevelopment.”