The teenage members of the one-year-old Inner Harbor Project recently appeared before City Council to ask for a “safe and inclusive” atmosphere in the Inner Harbor, the scene of some violent incidents involving youth.
The Inner Harbor Project, directed by Celia Neustadt, is a team made up of students from Baltimore City schools. Backed by an executive board including presidents of the Downtown Partnership and Waterfront Partnership and financial support from Ayers Saint Gross, the Cordish Company and Ignite Baltimore, among others, the group has, according to Neustadt, conducted about 40 interviews with Inner Harbor stakeholders and led 20 focus groups at local high schools.
“Our goal is to create a safe and inclusive Inner Harbor for local Baltimoreans, tourists and businesses alike,” Neustadt told the City Council’s Education and Youth Committee on Wednesday, June 26.
The young members of the group presented five recommendations that they said would allow that goal to be reached.
The Inner Harbor Project’s first recommendation is to “increase the harmony among youth at the Inner Harbor.” Doing so would be difficult, said Diamond Sampson, a rising junior at Baltimore City College High School. Diamond acknowledged “physical and non-physical” incidents of violence that occur among youth at the Harbor.
Sampson’s classmate Rickya’h Brooks recommended peer mediation as a way to stop violence before it starts. She also said that teen volunteers could monitor social media Web sites such as Facebook for potential conflicts that could escalate into violence.
To create a better relationship between youth and police, the group recommended establishing an Inner Harbor “code of conduct,” which would both inform youth of their rights and of the rules that must be followed.
Anthony Johnson, who just graduated from Digital Harbor High School, recommended that youth engage Inner Harbor store owners in a dialog. He said that a Harborplace policy that barred youth under age 18 from entering stores before 5:30 p.m. on school days was short-sighted.
“Most teens go down to the Inner Harbor to buy things,” Johnson said. “Others go to window shop, and when they do have the money, they return to that item.”
Regarding theft, Johnson pledged that the Inner Harbor Project would “ broadcast to teens that their behavior has a huge effect on whether teens can go to the Harborplace and The Gallery.”
Emmanuel Grogan recommended that the Inner Harbor—which he said was mostly focused on tourism—be made over as a public space for locals as well. He recommended “cheaper activities” such as free concerts, and more seating. This would be good for tourism also, he argued.
“We know that what attracts tourists is authenticity,” he said. “What is more authentic than actual Baltimoreans?”
Aerielle Desalegne of Independence School Local 1 recommended more youth outlets in the Inner Harbor. She added that many youth saw the closure of the ESPN Zone as a sign that they were not wanted in the Inner Harbor. Kirby Fowler, president of the Downtown Partnership and a board member of the Inner Harbor Project, clarified that several ESPN Zones across the country had closed simultaneously for economic reasons.
Councilman Jim Kraft complimented the group on their presentation, and noted that there seems to be a perception of two different times at the Harbor.
“The earlier time is when it’s majority older white folks, and the later time is when it’s majority younger black folks,” said Kraft, adding that for the older crowd, “there’s a perception that they can’t be there when the younger black folks are there.”
“Right or wrong, this is a perception we always dance around,” he said. “We really need to figure this out, because it’s at the heart of so much of this.”
Neustadt said that the issue of perception would be addressed in the proposed code of conduct. She noted that youth often engage in rough horseplay—not actual violence—and are surprised when they are disciplined or told to leave.
“From focus groups, you hear all the time, ‘What were we doing wrong?’” she said.
Melissa Hyatt, commander of the Police Department’s Central District, which includes the Inner Harbor, said that the police would be collaborating with the Inner Harbor Project once the code of conduct is completed.
“Really, the primary goals of the Inner Harbor Project and the Baltimore Police Department are very much in sync,” she said, “a safe and enjoyable environment and improving community engagement.”
City Council President Jack Young noted that the ownership of Harborplace and The Gallery is interested in meeting with the Inner Harbor Project. He added that more youth activities, such as an ice-skating rink, are being considered for the area.
Laurie Schwartz, president of the Waterfront Partnership and a board member of the Inner Harbor Project, said that her group was looking into more free activities.
“It is a huge part of what we do,” she said.
by Erik Zygmont