Over the past few decades, economic disinvestment has affected the city of Baltimore. Neighborhoods, once bustling with activity and community interaction, now stand neglected and damaged. Urban renewal did increase investment in areas such as the Inner Harbor, but it also resulted in the collapse of much of the infrastructure of Baltimore communities. Between 1970 and 2000, the city allocated over two billion dollars to enhance the Inner Harbor instead of investing in schools and community centers.
In combination with racial discrimination, this disinvestment has driven a wedge through the city of Baltimore. While parts of Baltimore are thriving, the future for low-income communities has been neglected. Youth development programs do not receive sufficient funding and support. Many underprivileged high school students in Baltimore struggle to further their education, due to a dearth of learning opportunities such as research and internships. Baltimore neighborhoods need a solution that will bring together communities and encourage investment.
Project Charmify is a student-run social startup that revitalizes vacant lots and brings community-driven programming to Baltimore’s neighborhoods. Through our innovative approach, we partner with high school students to develop and execute their vision for the community space. The opportunity to bring budding local businesses to our spaces introduces young Baltimore natives to the city’s up-and-coming social entrepreneurial scene and connects new businesses with their communities.
The over 14,000 vacant lots in Baltimore are representations of the decades of disinvestment that the city has faced. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, vacant lots “tend to attract or be subjected to illegal dumping [and] are often contaminated with hazardous wastes [which] result in unsafe conditions for children and adults.” In addition, “they disrupt [the] sense of community and lower property values.” The vacant lots could serve countless positive roles, but instead they are simply left as landfills, collecting waste.
Many previous attempts at urban revitalization have been met with many challenges. Urban development projects often fail, in part because reformers neglect the needs of the people who live in the communities they are trying to serve. Project Charmify works to ensure that the community has input and ownership over their public spaces. Focusing on reintegrating public spaces into the community is the best way to encourage reinvestment and bring communities together. Charmify’s unique approach—including student advisors—is a fresh, new way to address the problems inherent in urban life.
Project Charmify addresses the disinvestment in Baltimore by facilitating low-cost programming in vacant lots, together with a peer student body in the community. We hope to revitalize the city, without taking away funds from public resources or displacing residents. The work Project Charmify does simultaneously counteracts the years of disinvestment and the physical reminders of neglect. Through meeting with high school students and allowing them to be a part of the organization, Project Charmify exposes the youth of Baltimore to social networking and entrepreneurship. Providing these students with such opportunities is key for the future prosperity of the city. By implementing these methods and leveraging connections at Johns Hopkins University, Project Charmify works to stimulate lower income communities and bring the charm back to Charm City.
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