More than 1,000 Northwest Baltimore residents packed into the Cross Country Middle School auditorium Wednesday, Oct. 16 to voice their opinions on what they consider most important in their neighborhood.
The event was organized by a joint effort from Baltimore City and the five Northwest neighborhood groups. Each resident checked in at a table, where they verified that they live in the area and received a strip of seven stickers. They were then directed to the auditorium, where they could place their stickers beneath any of the 26 recommendations for how to spend the Strategic Neighborhood Action Plan money acquired from slot machines (see recommendations below).
While the sticker balloting will not directly affect where the funds are directed, Kate Edwards, community planner for West and Northwest Baltimore, said the input will be taken into consideration as the city and the major community groups make their final decision this winter.
“It’s incredibly important to get as much input as possible,” said Edwards.
While working with the five Northwestern neighborhood community groups ensures the city gets a lot of the community opinion, hosting an event such as this, where any Northwest resident can come and speak for himself or herself, allows for broader opinions and insight.
“Here, they can identify priorities,” she said.
Twenty minutes into the event, organizers ran out of stickers, and residents were told to start signing their initials under the initiatives they considered to be most important. While some people in attendance found this a nuisance, most saw it as a measure of the meeting’s success.
“We warned them to come with enough stickers,” said Avrahom Sauer, of the Cross Country Improvement Association, comparing the turnout to a World Series sweep for the neighborhood associations charged with getting out word of the meeting to residents.
“When [Northwest Baltimore residents] are truly given the opportunity to speak out, they’ll take advantage,” said Sauer.
Mount Washington Improvement Association Honorary Director Mac Nachlas agreed that the turnout was indicative of how involved Northwestern residents are in their community. The five neighborhood organizations “are representative” of the people in the neighborhoods, he said.
The groups working on the 26 recommendations tried to really encapsulate what their residents cared most about, said Nachlas.
Representatives from different Northwestern neighborhoods had narrowed a much larger list down to the 26 laid out for their neighbors, and that involved a lot of looking at the bigger picture, he said.
Nachlas added that the neighborhood groups did not pick initiatives that would help only their territory but instead came together with the city to identify recommendations that would benefit all different parts of the Northwest.
Chaim Rubenstein struggled to pick which recommendations he thought were most important.
“I wish I could fund all 26,” he said, adding that he spread his stickers among improving safety, parks and housing in the region.
The large turnout reinforced the faith Rubenstein has in his district. “People in the Northwest care a lot about their neighborhood,” he said.
Located on the outskirts of the city, Northwest residents choose to stay in the city rather than to move just a few minutes away to Baltimore County, Rubenstein said. “We’re staying in the city because we care about the city,” he said.
Corinne Borel was happy to have the opportunity to chime in on where some of the SNAP funds should be directed, but she was worried about the funds’ dependence on slots. Some of the recommendations presented seemed more like necessities, she said, adding that she was disappointed to see them treated like “frills.”
“We are very pleased that the community prioritized safety as a key priority,” said a statement from Shomrim, pointing out that Recommendation 24 advocated for the strengthening of support for volunteer safety groups.
The public safety organization sent out an email blast a week before the meeting encouraging residents to attend the meeting and to support Recommendations 23 and 24.
“Clearly this community came out and said that safety is important to them,” added Shomrim Vice President Ronnie Rosenbluth.
Other recommendations that received a lot of resident support were 1, 4, 11, 13, 14 and 15.
Polling was also available online for a more extended length of time. Stickers and online balloting will not be tallied for a couple weeks, when all input has been collected, said Edwards.
Heather Norris is a JT staff reporter — firstname.lastname@example.org