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Baltimore and Newcastle: A Restoration of Two Cities

27 November 2017 | Posted in: News

Written by: Rayannon Innes | Photography: Jenny Braudaway

Baltimore: it’s a city residing on the other side of the globe that tells a story resonating somewhere much closer to home.

Once a city defined by a prosperous steel manufacturing economy, the mid-Altantic city of Baltimore (MD), suffered a familiar industry collapse and subsequent spike in unemployment. It quickly earned the infamous title of a rust belt city as much of the population fled for other towns in surrounding regions.

Accompanying this, large-scale drug trades emerged in particular neigbourhoods, bringing a significant increase in crime rates. The housing market was stifled and many real estate agents and investors abandoned the city, resulting in an immense rise in vacancies. Unfortunately for the city of Baltimore, the city and its community face a continued deepening of this socio-economic turmoil.

It’s here where native Baltimorian and 2017 Next City Vanguard delegate Max Pollock stepped in to help. Stemming from a love of Baltimore’s heritage-rich architecture and a growing frustration about the deserted state of his home city, Max established Brick+Board. With support from the City of Baltimore, the social enterprise professionally trains disadvantaged members of the community to salvage brick, board and other high-quality building materials from vacant sites. These materials, steeped in historic Baltimore character, are then restored and preserved to be sold commercially through their independent marketplace.

Through this process of pairing people with place, a recent state sponsored campaign ‘Made In Baltimore’ has recruited Brick+Board to engage the public in additionally activating the vacant spaces as a response to the city’s growing maker economy. Brick+Board enable local start-up businesses and artists to incubate the vacant sites and breathe life back into the city.

Despite the familiar qualities between Baltimore and Newcastle, during Max’s week-long visit to Newcastle as part of the recent Next City Conference he observed a greater degree of prosperity in Newcastle’s current development schemes. In particular, Max, and his other States-based peers, recall the opposing nature of Australia’s housing crisis to their own.

“In Baltimore we’re struggling to provide basic things: schooling, housing, safe neighborhoods…” Max said.

“…Having a shortage of houses is kind of a good thing because it means too many people want to live in your city whereas in Baltimore it’s the opposite. That was a troubling take away”.

In regard to any challenges Newcastle might face in the further growth of the CBD and greater region, Max’s key recommendation was to involve all stakeholders, particularly the local community, at all stages of the city’s development.

As Max see’s it, it’s the people that make a place. It’s that core quality, when cultivated well, that defines and differentiates a global city.

“It’s the people that I like most about Newcastle which is something that I can identify with in Baltimore. It’s something that I want Novocastirans to hold on to” Max said.

“The coolest thing about Baltimore is that there is a lot of civic pride in being Baltimorian. Not trying to be DC, not trying to be like New York. I sensed that in Newcastle a couple times. You’d say ‘we’re not Sydneysiders, we’re more progressive than Sydney’ – that sort of civic pride is something I really respect. Even as Newcastle becomes this global city, it’s about not losing sight of that.”