My Baltimore's Next: Marc Unger
Let's be completely honest about something. This city is broken and the only hope for Baltimore's future lies in systemic change across a broad front. Cosmetic fixes such as Grand Prix races, soccer games, or opening up a couple of new theme bars in Power Plant Live aren't going to accomplish anything. Frankly, it's like throwing makeup on a dead guy. Politicians and residents must recognize, as well as be willing to discuss openly, the fact that any substantial change will take years. I mean twenty or thirty years, not four.
Unfortunately, long range, visionary thinking isn't conducive to winning elections. We live in a culture of instant gratification. We want what we want now and damn you if you can't make it happen, we'll simply tweet you out of existence and move onto the next plan. The city's tax base has fled to the counties or out of the state. Generating revenue in a city this damaged is tough but by spending money wisely -- on education, social programs, infrastructure and, yes, a police force capable of protecting its citizenry without exploitation -- Baltimore can slowly transform itself into something more than what it's been for far too long.
It all needs to start with the city's youth. The drug wars and gang culture which continue to ravage the city won't be eliminated any time soon and in too many neighborhoods kids living in extreme poverty, surrounded by rats and boarded up row homes, with no structured family and no guidance, willingly gravitate towards crime. In these neighborhoods, often just a couple of blocks away from the so called "good areas" such as Canton, Federal Hill, and Charles Vilage, a seemingly endless cycle of despair continues to fester.
Far too often, the dreadful circumstances in which many of these children live isn't identified until one of these kids commits a crime. As a city, we need to step in earlier and remove children from homes where they are being emotionally and physically abused, where drugs are being sold openly, and find safer places for them to live. I realize that in a society where personal rights are guaranteed, it's very difficult for government agencies to do much without the consent of an adult, but something must be done. At school, children must be nurtured in an environment where knowledge and intelligence are revered. They must learn that the world truly does offer so much more than what they see from their grafitti'd stoop in Barclay. A city will thrive if its children are taught to take pride in their surroundings. They need hope. They need security. They need to believe that, as they grow up, there will be jobs and opportunities to raise families, to prosper and to become good citizens of the city they call home.
How can all this be accomplished? Where will the money come from? Who has the power to steer this transformation? These are questions I'm not qualified to answer. I'm a humorist and won't pretend I have the depth of knowledge to offer up concrete solutions. But let's look to cities where success has been achieved and see what lessons can be learned and how they can be applied locally. Let's open up the dialogue. Let's not allow our politicians to dismiss deeply rooted problems and continue the pattern of feel good talk about how charming Baltimore is with it's harbor and formstone.
Last year a young research student at Johns Hopkins, a 23 year old man who had only recently moved to Baltimore, was stabbed to death just a few feet from my apartment. I was asked by the police to look at the body to see if I knew who it was. I didn't. But I do know what Stephen Pitcairn represents. He represents all that's been lost in this once truly magnificent city. Marc Unger is a Baltimore-based comedian, writer, and actor. He has performed regularly at many of the nation's top comedy clubs including The Comic Strip and Gotham Comedy Club in New York and the world famous Comedy Store in Los Angeles. He can also be heard periodically doing fill-in work on the 98 Rock morning show.Comments? Questions? Find us on Twitter, visit our Facebook page, send us an email, or rate us on NewsTrust.
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Photos by Arianne Teeple