You are here

Piloting a "neighborhood-based counterpart" to gentrification

Posted May 22, 2018
  • In 2013, CityLab students took part in the Exeter Gardens project, which converted a derelict lot into a thriving urban farm in East Baltimore.

  • CityLab participants in 2016 spoke with community members near the abandoned Old Town Mall during an "urban immersion" experience.

  • Students from a Morgan State University Design Studio course partnered with CityLab in 2017 to help visualize an East Baltimore street in part of the Central Crossroads development area.

Business with humanity in mind: That's what the Carey Business School teaches. Few examples exude that mission more than CityLab, a course developed by associate professor Lindsay Thompson, PhD (A&S '01) in 2013. The course focused on the redevelopment of Jonestown, a struggling but geographically important neighborhood located just north of Carey's campus on Baltimore's Inner Harbor.

"The character and quality of business really drives a lot of the values of a community," Thompson said in a previous interview with Rising.

Since then, CityLab students have helped create a master plan for the neighborhood. One alumnus, J.J. Reidy, MBA (Bus '15), founded Urban Pastoral — originally a hydroponic farm in downtown Baltimore that's grown into a development firm specializing in urban regeneration. Partnerships with other Baltimore universities and nonprofit groups have broadened CityLab's horizons well beyond the 16-week course for Hopkins business students.

Thompson touches on these successes and her thoughts on CityLab's future in this installment of “What Happened Next?”

How has CityLab evolved since its founding?

We see it as much more than a course now — it's an urban revitalization collaboratory connecting the emerging entrepreneurial talent of Johns Hopkins students, faculty, and staff with the city's business, civic, and public sector leaders in building a more livable city that works for everyone. We have a joint program with MICA, we are beginning to collaborate with Morgan State [University], and we've talked with the University of Baltimore and Loyola [University Maryland] about citywide collaboration. We're working with some of the most innovative nonprofits in the area. Some of the most powerful experiences our students have had through CityLab are connections with people and organizations they didn't know existed. But CityLab is still anchored in historic East Baltimore neighborhoods and still focused on business strategies that foster healthy habitats and people, cohesive communities, engaged citizens, and inclusive prosperity. 

"This is revitalization from within. ...This will enable current businesses to ride the wave of development rather than be displaced by it.”
Lindsay Thompson, Carey Business School

What is CityLab focusing on right now?

We have a new initiative called Central Crossroads. It's a network of neighborhoods situated along Central Avenue, once a thriving commercial corridor stretching from the Harbor to Old Town. CityLab teams have identified over 150 small businesses in the Central Crossroads area that will need access to capital to reposition and scale their businesses for the future. Our recent collaboration with Mary Miller [a visiting senior fellow in Hopkins' 21st Century Cities Initiative] documented a pattern of local underinvestment in Baltimore small business, especially in neighborhoods like the Central Crossroads area. Fortunately, the community has responded with a new initiative, Baltimore Business Lending, to help capitalize small businesses. Also, Baltimore's knowledge institutions — Johns Hopkins and others — generate technologies that are transforming everything from clothing and personal accessories to cars, energy, and home products. By integrating technology generation with local business development, we can build a neighborhood-based counterpoint to external gentrification forces, including existing small businesses in rebranding and repositioning Central Crossroads as a smart, sustainable main-street neighborhood.

"A neighborhood-based counterpart to external gentrification" — what do you mean by that?

This is revitalization from within. Right now, the Central Avenue corridor is full of small business talent running auto body shops, social services, barber shops, and corner stores that typically are displaced by gentrification. Our goal is to engage current business owners as founders and charter members of a neighborhood-based business network to anchor business development and promote access to capital while sharpening managerial skills, launching and welcoming new ventures, repositioning and scaling existing businesses, and sharing expertise. This will enable current businesses to ride the wave of development rather than be displaced by it.

What's next for CityLab, and how can people get involved?

People can contact me directly. We have projects coming up that really need a lot of support. In July, a Made in Baltimore project will showcase local products at the Carroll Mansion on East Lombard Street. In the fall, we will host our first small business lending event at the Carey Business School. We are especially excited about the opportunity to collaborate on the development of the long-neglected Perkins, Somerset, and Old Town communities in East Baltimore. These are big projects that willl take years to complete, but we've already started with small steps, and now we're going gangbusters.

To learn more about supporting CityLab or other Carey Business School initiatives, please contact Greg Bowden, associate dean for development and alumni relations.