Ecological and economic justice is a four-letter word in “Charm City” Baltimore.
For more than four years and two mayoral administrations the working class, predominantly minority community of Woodberry has been under a death sentence from Loyola College of Maryland. Mayor Martin O’Malley and his toadies in the City Council are the judges and executioners.
What Loyola College plans to do is worse than putting in a toxic waste dump in the middle of a forest. Oh wait. That’s already been done here. See below. They want to build a monument of greed to themselves that will literally look down on the rest of the city. Woodberry happens to be by TV Hill, the highest point in Baltimore.
Woodberry is an historic community in the Jones Falls River Valley. It’s the home of the earliest industries in post-colonial America using the power of the river to run its engines and the engine of American capitalism. Today it’s more of a hideaway for those needing to escape urbanization (although not urban-related problems). Nestled in a swath of green space stretching 1000 acres, Woodberry is in the heart of Baltimore’s last unprotected forest. Listed in 2001 as one of America’s top ten most endangered landscapes (Scenic America), this community has been abused by every developer and private institution that has coveted this beautiful, secluded forest.
In the 1930’s, the City of Baltimore started a process of using the forest as a perpetual dump which did end in the 1980’s. Long before any environmental legislation regarding the disposal of toxic waste, tons of everything imaginable, including PCB’s and other carcinogens, were dumped there. For creating another sanitary dump in 1981, former Mayor and later Governor Schaefer gave the community a neglected playing field as a bone as well as a concrete playground (not even with swings).
What we have now is a 200+ year community by an urban forest that sits atop of numerous landfills, above the Jones Falls River that feeds into the Baltimore Harbor and the renowned Chesapeake Bay. The last thing needed is to disturb this land. Now comes Loyola.
With nudging from the Baltimore Development Corporation, a quasi-governmental agency (with absolutely no City oversight or accountability yet sits on the Mayor’s cabinet) Loyola engaged in a deal to purchase 50 city-owned acres to build 2 sports complexes, including a 6000 seat stadium, more than 2 miles from campus. The lights from the stadium alone would be seen miles away and even into communities whose children could afford Loyola’s $27,500+ yearly tuition. The potential environmental damage to the community and to the City at large could be devastating. It is ironic that Mayor Martin O’Malley is now suing CSX for a train derailment 3 years ago that exposed the city to potential toxic emissions and millions of dollars of lost revenues due to the closure of much of downtown. This mayor has been taking a lead on being a national spokesman for urban terrorism concerns. What about the eco-terrorists of Loyola College, Mr. Mayor?
A key argument used by the college for building a stadium is specious; need to improve athletic performance. True, their stadium on campus is not of high quality. It has not, however, prevented this business college from attaining top 10 status for men’s soccer, men’s lacrosse and women’s lacrosse. Taking away home field advantage by busing fans and athletes to another stadium will not enhance their performance. They should expect to be booed and jeered by colleges like Syracuse when they play each other, but how will the athletes feel being jeered by local residents and environmental activists on a regular basis? Considering that the only entrance will by through the newly built Northern Police Department, at the cost of 6.5 precious acres of forest including 100-foot tall sycamores, the concern for national security plays into it. Will the city need to provide protection for its own police station as it awaits, hopefully, hundreds of protesters?
One of the main arguments by city council members is the traffic crunch on game days and that it would be best to move the problem to another community (read: working class and minority). Loyola College, with its present stadium, is located in the wealthiest section of Baltimore City. What the college has planned to replace the site of Curley Field is an academic building, likely to be used at a minimum of 5 days a week all school year. The level of extra traffic alone negates any need to move the stadium.
This ecological and economic assault on the people of Woodberry has not gone unnoticed. In every environmental fight there should be a Lois Gibbs (Love Canal fame). In Woodberry it is Jan Danforth. This working class single mother was born and raised in Woodberry, and the forest was her sanctuary. Like many in the surrounding neighborhoods, she remembers the hot summer days of Baltimore swimming in the Woodberry quarry. After coming back from many years in San Francisco, she noticed how her community has changed. As apolitical as one can get, Danforth was conformed into a grass roots activists of the highest intensity. Stopping Loyola over “My dead body” is her common refrain, even today.
In spite of these words, to quote City Council President Sheila Dixon, the project was always ‘a done deal’. A leader in the anti-environment, anti-community forces on City Council, Robert Curran (uncle in-law to the boy mayor) was very eloquent in why he supported Loyola. “The Mayor wants it so I have to give it to him.” His honesty behind the scenes served as a cover for his imbecilic public statements of the need to move the problem in the Loyola area to another neighborhood.
The people of Baltimore have always remained fairly ignorant of environmental problems. (We’re good at that) Though when told of the impending demise of Woodberry for a college stadium, sympathy is near unanimous. It is unfortunate, although not unexpected, that the media took a walk. The local, and only daily newspaper in town, The Baltimore Sun, towed the Administration/Loyola line. The TV channels, including those that are based on TV Hill, saw it as too controversial and barely covered it and rarely with any sympathy for the community. It took grass roots action and thousands of volunteer hours from the Woodberry Planning Committee to shake the community out of their complacency. From the simplistic view of “Didn’t we stop it?” because people wrote letters or attended a rally to the all too common, “You can’t fight City Hall” the volunteers were faced with a fight that would have made Dionysus’s task look like a cakewalk.
The WPC did succeed in one major coup. It persuaded the Land Use Committee of the City Council to have an open meeting, on location, and in the evening. Lasting until after midnight, more than 200 residents, environmental activists, and Green Party supporters mobbed the conference room of Northern Police District. Only one person who allegedly spoke for a Loyola neighboring community association, Bill Henry, Jr., spoke highly of the college. His main argument was typical of the patronizing tone the residents of Baltimore are faced with on a daily basis when under assault by developers. “We trust Loyola. They should, too.” He later acknowledged that he worked for developers himself.
In the end, the Woodberry Planning Committee was coerced into signing a Memorandum of Understanding with the colonial powers, City Council passed legislation agreeing to sell City owned land to Loyola College and the Baltimore City Board of Estimates voted to sign the deal. The hang-up now is that the City and State are trying to use a special program called Project Open Space, designed to save green space, to actually destroy this unprotected forest in order to give Loyola their prize.
The fight is not over. Survivors of the WPC formed the Woodberry Land Trust, an attempt to preserve in perpetuity the remaining forest of Woodberry. The transfer of the land hasn’t been signed yet, no land rapists with their earthmoving machinery have come in to level the land and anger seethes at the community level.
Myles B. Hoenig is a Green Party candidate for Baltimore City Council, and former member of the Woodberry Planning Committee and founding member of the Woodberry Land Trust. He along with Ms. Danforth resigned from the WPC rather than sign the MOU. www.baltimoregreens.org link to Hoenig. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Governor Robert Ehrlich (R) email@example.com. It’s in his hands now! Major political rival of the mayor. Both will be running for Governor in 2006.State House, Annapolis, Maryland 21401-1925, (410) 974-3901 Fax (410) 974.3275 Toll Free 1 (800) 811-8336
Baltimore City Councilman Robert Curran (City Council leader of the
anti-community, anti-environment forces against Woodberry)
Father Harold Ridley (Dean of Loyola College of Maryland) Refused to meet
with community representatives. Executive Assistant, Vicky Weller:
Eminence William Cardinal Keeler
firstname.lastname@example.org (encourage him to pressure Loyola College not to
sign the agreement as a matter of social and ecological justice)
320 Cathedral Street, Baltimore, MD 21201