By Sean Yoes, AFRO Baltimore Editor, [email protected]
I spent some time over the weekend with one of my favorite people in the activist community, Nneka Nnamdi, founder of Fight Blight Bmore. Nnamdi is brilliant and tough as nails; she has invested her considerable prowess into the pervasive and soul killing issue of blight in our city, which overwhelmingly imperils Baltimore’s Black communities disproportionately.
It’s no secret I’m a West Baltimore centric kind of guy; I believe Mondawmin is the heart of WB and Penn-North is the soul. Perhaps, it is ironic those two venerable Black communities were the flash points of the Uprising of April 2015. When you consider the storied histories of both (the righteous and the wretched), they are hallowed grounds. But, the heart and soul of West Baltimore, and East Baltimore are being methodically and thoroughly ripped out by blight. We can somewhat measure the impact of violence, murder and mayhem on our communities, although we can never know the full impact on our psyches and spirits. But, plausible metrics on the impact of blight on Baltimore have been elusive. That is something Nnamdi wants to change.
“A blighted Baltimore is a bleeding Baltimore,” writes Nnamdi in her “Blight Blog” on Facebook. “Living with blight can be as traumatic as being shot with a bullet. When people hear blight they often think about the disease that affects potatoes and has caused famine. But, in this context blight refers to the condition of real property as vacant, abandoned, dilapidated, misused or underutilized properties,” she writes.
To state the obvious, Baltimore blight is ubiquitous like summer humidity. Take the harrowing West Baltimore gauntlet of Fulton Ave., for example. Drive up Fulton from the passenger seat perspective, and attempt to take in the structural and spiritual pathology of those neighborhoods. I do it all the time and every time it literally takes my breath away.
“The conditions of properties that would cause for a property (or neighborhood) to be called a blighted, slum, tenement and shanty are not new in America,” writes Nnamdi. “Even in Baltimore there has been a long history of slum clearance. The demolitions department as we know it today started with demolition laws put in place in the late 1800s…Due to resident flight from American cities like Baltimore fueled in part by racism, beginning in the 1960s, to surrounding counties, neighborhoods lost population as well as businesses, community institutions and places of employment,” she writes highlighting a slice of blights sordid history in Baltimore. “These factors in concert with the post-industrial economic downturn of the 1970s and the epidemic abuse of illicit drugs in the 1980s, resulted in numerous abandoned, improperly used, unkempt and/or underutilized properties commonly referred to as blight,” she added.
And of course, the negative economic impact of blight on already impoverished communities is devastating, making escape from that poverty an implausible prospect for most.
“People living in neighborhoods with blight are not only losing access to home equity, community history and public sector improvements, the are also being exposed to community based trauma resulting in long term stress from fear of unsafe property implosion, toxic exposure, and crime,” Nnamdi writes.
“It is estimated that…more than 30 million housing units in the United States have significant physical or health hazards, such as dilapidated structures, poor heating, damaged plumbing, gas leaks, or lead. Using these numbers, the economic impact of blight just in terms of lost home equity is in the billions of dollars,” she writes.
In blighted communities hope is scarce and solutions maybe even more so. But, Nnamdi and her allies continue the work.
“Any solution applied going forward should be devised with the intent of breaking the cycle of blight that has plagued communities of color and/or poor people,” she writes. “Solutions ought to be developed in a manner that are inclusive, equitable, non-speculative or predatory. These principles are most often present in solutions that are developed organically and close to the problem.”
Sean Yoes is the AFRO’s Baltimore editor and author of “Baltimore After Freddie Gray: Real Stories From One of America’s Great Imperiled Cities.”