Looking back to the beginning of this course, the impression that I had not only of the neighborhood but the process of growth and revitalization was slightly less focused and was full of vagueness. This insight is not a reflection on the amount that I cared about this topic, as a native New Yorker, I understand the cultural toll that growth without proper mechanisms in place for local residents can take. It is for this reason that I was most anxious to embark on this journey, to make sure that when we plan for the future, we do not forget about the citizens of the present. The growth for me was in identifying the different characteristics and concepts that make up the underpinnings of a thriving neighborhood. In this course, we had them named and we looked at each issue individually, however it wasn’t hard to see the overlap in the livability themes.
The evolution of my perspective is subtle, it is taking the abstract concepts and making them concrete. Many of us may use a term like “Food Desert” at a cocktail party or when talking about it from a distance. But what does that look like? How does it feel? What is the effect that it has? From my time in Jonestown, talking to residents, store owners and others; you can feel the deleterious effects quite easily. The convenience store becomes a focal point of the community, even though there is a Whole foods less than a mile away. The experience also led me to the more profound realization that when looking at an area in this way, that a neighborhood is often too large a unit of measure. The changes that I envisioned sometimes came down to one block, if not just one building. As we learn from Baltimore as a whole, one building can drastically change the outlook of a block; positively or negatively.
Another thing that evolved for me was the knowledge that community members held; knowing what is needed better than just about anyone else. Although, we may look at the issues of a certain community from a bird’s eye view, to get the measure of what is essential, talking to the residents is critical. In a snippet of a video with Dwight Warren, the McKim center leader, the anecdote that in a new construction project, the builders had prioritized a dog park over a park for children, was simple yet staggering. To me it symbolized the struggle to serve the community best while looking towards what features future residents would like. It encapsulated the virtuous yet misguided instincts that we can have while undertaking such a process.
The three main takeaways from this course for me are:
The Livability theme that resonated the most with me was Shared Prosperity. The reason is simple, when we look at communities they are living breathing organisms with complex connections and social systems. The goal of any project in this arena is to build those systems and add to the community as a whole. As I stated previously, it also resonates with me because I have seen the cost of prosperity that is not shared; it is a loss of something that is very difficult if not impossible to recover. Additionally, helping to build prosperity through education and training is something that I have always found very rewarding and sustainable.
Moving forward, I have always felt that I had the desire and the raw tools that it took to invoke change in a community, what this experience has given me is the clarity to know how I can apply my skills and some of the things that I need to keep in mind as I do it. Previous to this experience, the specter of the enormity the task of bringing resources to a community was overwhelming. However, when breaking it down to the livability themes or even further to smaller components the task seems more like the infusion of a tool or resource that any community needs to thrive. The shift in focus from trying to solve all problems, to making one thing better at a time changes the scope of the project and the impact completely.
I do not plan to take the practicum course directly following this course, because of the travel commitments that I have for my job currently. One of the challenges that I found was finding the time to spend enough time in the community and get to know it to implement projects. Without the ability to commit to this fully right now, it makes it difficult to take the practicum course. I hope that I will be able to take the practicum in the future, since I believe in the idea of a medical education training program as well as the impact that a Food Co-op would have in the community.
Looking outside of the scope of this project, I would really like to work with youth to show them that the medical field is a real opportunity to have a stable career with legitimate growth opportunity. This idea has always been one in my head, however, as I have learned more about the elements of a thriving community I am further convinced that there is a place for it in many communities. Additionally, reflecting on this entire process, I feel that one thing that Baltimore as a whole needs to help cultivate is the Food Co-op concept; it is time for the idea to expand past the affluent, to the areas where the impact would be felt the most. Looking at the opportunity that having thriving farmers markets and local growers provides, it is hard to see why the opportunity continues to go untapped. This project has been enriching and empowering, leaving the thirst to implement the change that I worked to envision.