Revitalizing Baltimore: How IT Is Helping

Sara Peters, Editor in Chief | 10/28/2013 | 17 comments

Sara Peters
Who wants to set up home in a place where one's closest neighbors are the vermin residing in the vacant row homes up and down the block? In place of other children to play with, there are the molds growing on the wood boarding up the windows and the rats nibbling at the remains of the lives that used to be led within those walls.

There are approximately 16,000 vacant buildings and 14,000 vacant lots in the city of Baltimore, Md. Nevertheless, two years ago Baltimore Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake declared that she wanted to attract 10,000 new families to the city within a decade.

Baltimore City CIO Chris Tonjes says it's not an unreasonable goal. Under Mayor Rawlings-Blake's leadership the city is making major strides, and Tonjes tells me that her goal is central to almost everything his office does.

"We ask ourselves, can we count how many [new families] came to Baltimore based on what we've done," said Tonjes.

One way Tonjes and his team help is by supporting the Vacants to Values (V2V) program. Created in 2010, and run by the city's department of housing, V2V is at the core of the city's efforts to combat urban blight. The program "streamlines the sale of city-owned properties and uses the private market to maximize the repair and rehabilitation of vacant properties." They conduct a market analysis of Baltimore's neighborhoods on a block-by-block basis, to identify which neighborhoods are the best candidates for rehabilitation and development incentives -- determining which properties can be repaired, which just need to be demolished.

Tonjes said that his office helps by giving the housing department the ability to gather and share very good data -- data they can use to help prevent the spread of urban blight and plan what can be done to reclaim value in those properties. The housing department is one of the many organizations that uses the OpenBaltimore data warehouse, currently in beta. It is a place where both the government and the public can access and aggregate data, and is a part of creating a more open government.

One of the bright spots in the city's economy, said Tonjes, is the fact that Baltimore has a lively, growing group of small technology businesses.

One of the reasons for this is the city's technology incubator, ETC. ETC provides space and services to early-stage tech and biotech companies based in the city. Since it was created in 1999, 60 percent of the companies that have "graduated" from ETC remain in the city of Baltimore itself, and all of them remain within the Baltimore region. The organization estimates that "together, ETC companies have created more than 2,325 new jobs and have generated in excess of $375.8 million in economic activity" for the city of Baltimore.

"We want to link ourselves to the innovation community," said Tonjes. "What we can do is nurture that innovation. Introduce them to partners and customers."

Another way that Tonjes is working to draw new businesses and new residents to Baltimore is by enhancing the city's broadband access (which hasn't been easy).

"There are parts of town I call digital deserts," said Tonjes. He wants to eliminate those deserts and make broadband options more affordable. "We think it's a draw for commercial development and for young people who want to move here."

It seems that Baltimore is on the right track. Mayor Rawlings-Blake is a very popular mayor, the Vacants to Value project is showing tangible results, and more people are beginning to move back to the city, slowly closing in on the mayor's goal of 10,000 families.

What do you think of Baltimore's progress thusfar? Can you point us to other programs that are using IT to revitalize depressed urban economies? Let us know in the comments below.

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View Comments: Newest First | Oldest First | Threaded View
Page 1 / 2   >   >>
batye   Revitalizing Baltimore: How IT Is Helping   11/12/2013 1:18:25 PM
Re: IT helping
thank you, but it is life...  but as long as I could able to walk I could work :)
Susan Nunziata   Revitalizing Baltimore: How IT Is Helping   11/12/2013 1:08:07 PM
Re: IT helping
@Batye: so sorry to hear about your health putting a limite to your volunteering. Perhaps now Karma will come around and for all the help you gave out now some will come back your way. Kindest regards. 
batye   Revitalizing Baltimore: How IT Is Helping   11/6/2013 1:28:06 PM
Re: IT helping
thank you Susan,I'm a bit sad as due to the health reason I'm not able anymore volunteer... I miss my volunteer days... 
Susan Nunziata   Revitalizing Baltimore: How IT Is Helping   11/6/2013 1:11:07 PM
Re: IT helping
@Batye: This is a wonderful story, thanks for sharing that. You deserve a round of applause!

It is great to see when people find ways to give back to the community and it really makes a difference.

I hope we see more of this in the future.
batye   Revitalizing Baltimore: How IT Is Helping   11/1/2013 2:23:33 PM
Re: IT helping
yes, could not agree more steps in the right directions and joint efford for a change... = positive results...
batye   Revitalizing Baltimore: How IT Is Helping   11/1/2013 2:22:14 PM
Re: IT helping
could not agree more, good story, I hope in North America/Canada we would see the same :)
batye   Revitalizing Baltimore: How IT Is Helping   11/1/2013 2:20:43 PM
Re: IT helping
yes, Susan, IT makes a big difference... long time ago I help out with the program recycle old pc's for the less priviliged kids... after one year we did see less gang's activities in the area- where we run the program :)
Susan Nunziata   Revitalizing Baltimore: How IT Is Helping   10/31/2013 11:38:12 PM
Re: social IT
@soozyg: I was there about 3 years ago for a Yankees-Orioles game, and the inner harbor was still quite nice. Baltimore overall though was struggling even before the Great Recession . It's really encouraging to see a government CIO taking such a leadership role in helping the city to realize a plan that will help so many people.
Susan Nunziata   Revitalizing Baltimore: How IT Is Helping   10/31/2013 11:36:18 PM
Re: IT helping
@Sara: This is a fantastic story and one that I hope will be repeated in other cities that are struggling. It's also interesting how they are approaching the public/private aspects of this. It's a real model for other places and I hope other cities are paying close attention. 
Susan Nunziata   Revitalizing Baltimore: How IT Is Helping   10/31/2013 11:35:02 PM
Re: IT helping
@tekedge: So true, there are lessons here for struggling cities or neighborhoods anywhere. And it's heartening to see when IT makes a true difference in the lives of people. 
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