Gentrify or die? Inside a university’s controversial plan for Baltimore
Three years after the death of Freddie Gray, Johns Hopkins medical school is transforming a vast 88-acre section of Baltimore. Will it work and is it right?
The minivan is passing through a scene that typifies urban decay, Baltimore-style: blocks of modest rowhouses, where some dwellings are inhabited, others are boarded up or abandoned to the elements, and some blocks are entirely vacant, studded with empty lots.
This was east Baltimore, says Ron Daniels, an affable scholar of law and political science whose accent betrays his Canadian roots, and who since 2009 has been the president of Johns Hopkins University. Block after block after block. It was either boarded-up vacant housing or just fields strewn with rubble.
The van turns off Broadway, and reaches a kind of clearing in this landscape: an 88-acre zone that on the map has the shape of a grand piano. At the southern end the pianos keys is a thicket of shiny new construction: offices, labs, a hotel, a tall apartment building. Then there is a townhouse complex set around a courtyard; a few rehabilitated rowhouses; and some decrepit ones that have so far escaped the bulldozer. And space: a lot of empty space, large open parcels of land, cleared and ready for action.