Honestly, until an hour ago I knew nothing regarding the schools in Baltimore City aside from the random news story (usually bad) on the news. Not surprisingly, there is a plethora of information and data that exists on the internet that was very helpful in painting an accurate representation of the schools in Jonestown.
The youth are the nucleus of a neighborhood, therefore decent education is vital for community development. So, if we look at the high school in Jonestown, how does the high school fare?
Paul Laurence Dunbar High School is ranked 4 out of 10 with 10 being the best score. The wealthy counties in the state, Montgomery and Howard, are the top schools in the state. Are resources and neighborhood affluence impacting factors in the disparity of rank? Looking at the poverty levels in Jonestown, the areas closest to Little Italy only see about 20-30% of families to be in poverty. Further north it’s a totally different story as 60-80% of residents are living in poverty.
Examining the actual test scores reported by US News, the differences are frightening, especially when comparing the college readiness indexes. However, Paul Laurence Dunbar High should feel a little bit of comfort as the graduation rate is 92%, while an affluent school in Howard County, River Hill, is only slightly higher at 98%.
What about the minority business profile of Jonestown? According to the Maryland state government, only five businesses in Jonestown are owned by a minority, with three of those five also being owned by a woman. The minority business owners also seem to be clumped together on East Baltimore Street.
Socioeconomic factors affect education. Consistent housing and bringing small business to the area are key to elevating the level of education provided to Jonestown youth.
“Grow as individuals, grow as a community." - Freda G. Sampson, Director of Diversity and Inclusion for Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan.
I spoke with Dwight Warren, Executive Director of the McKim Center, who has been involved with the McKim Center for 55 years, from boy to Director. I was a little confused on what the McKim center entailed, but apparently McKim Center, McKim Free School (formed in 1821), and McKim Community Association are all one and the same.
Surprisingly, the McKim center only employs 2 full time staff and approximately 7 part-time people.
Volunteers are mostly parents of the kids who are involved in the track and field or wresting programs (held at offsite locations), and about 20 turn out to help.
McKim also sponsors a feeding program for senior homeless. About 25-35 people show up each day for coffee and lunch, most are from the shelter on central Ave. The senior population in Jonestown is mostly the homeless.
The aftercare program serves 4-12 year olds and ends by 6pm, then NA groups are held at the center.
I commented to Dwight that when I interviewed local teenagers, the overwhelming theme was that there was a lack of place to play sports. Dwight acknowledged that “not a lot of thought was given to returning population” when Albemarle was built. “Albemarle square needs a facility just for them”.
The cost to keep McKim Center afloat each year is 195K. Doesn’t seem too high?
Current Board of Directors are nearing retirement, average tenure is 15 years. They need new, energetic board members!
With the 240 plus apartments and mixed use coming to Jonestown, there will be more people power to help influence change.
Councilman Stokes is active in the community.
Digging for voter statistics turns out to be quite the task while trying to drill down to District level. Eventually I located the statistics. District 12 includes almost all of Jonestown, and only 23% of registered voters turned up to vote.
Is Jonestown a cohesive community?
Strengths of a cohesive community, do I see them in Jonestown?
Diversity - Jonestown is predominantly black, with the southern are 50-70% black and the northern part of the neighborhood ranging from 70-90% black.
Local organizations to help or outside support - Jonestown is shown support from quite a few non-profit organizations and trusted leaders in Baltimore. One specific non-profit to which I am very familiar with (my mother in law works there) is The Abell Foundation. Bob Embry leads the foundation and I had the privilege to interview Bob last year regarding his career as a leader and what he views as strong characteristics needed for effective leadership. Along with other charitable organizations, The Abell Foundation continues to support the McKim Center to improve the quality of life for people in Jonestown.
Faith-based cohesion - During one of my walkabouts, there was a church BBQ taking place outside on a lovely Saturday afternoon, and there was a ton of people in attendance. The churches in Jonestown seem to be the backbone of the city.
Lloyd Street Synagogue is prominent and attracts many visitors.
I had noticed on previous walkthroughs that there were not many people walking the streets, and I found this very odd at the time, considering the weather was beautiful and it was the weekend. Did they not have anywhere to go within walking distance? The only people I encountered were teenagers who were visiting a corner store. One of the comments that the teenagers made to me was that Whole Foods was too far to walk to, and there was no place in Jonestown to stop in and get a quick bite to eat. (I think they wanted a McDonalds or Burger King!) I did some digging, and my analysis revealed that there aren’t any close farmers markets or grocery retail locations within walking distance (excluding Whole Foods which many find overpriced).
If we can bring more local business to the area that serves relatively healthy meals (non-fast food), can we improve the health of the community?
Therefore, this week I spent the majority of my time during research on health variables for the Jonestown neighborhood. Check out more of my findings on my Healthy People page.
I walked the lower half side of Jonestown, I plan on walking further north on my next field visit. It's a big neighborhood, and to be honest, I'm still not feeling 100% safe yet.
Throughout my walk, I was checking the condition of sidewalks and the amount of vegetation in the neighborhood. I was pleasantly surprised to see the sidewalks in good condition and present in the neighborhood. However, I distinctly noticed a lack of vegetation. Now, the Carroll mansion and the garden is an obvious exception, and there were a few planted trees in Albemarle Square alongside the street, but once we (my field team member and I) moved past Albemarle the cultivation of green abruptly stopped.
On the topic of greenery, Jonestown has two “parks” - Shot Tower Park and McKim park. Calling these spots a park is a stretch. Shot Tower Park is the hangout for the homeless, and McKim park is devoid of the typical things you see in a park, like flowers and kept grass, and only contains a basic playground and run-down basketball courts. Not to mention, the nice kept homes on Baltimore Street that face McKim park, for those residents the view outside is not pleasant. Improving McKim Park would not only give the neighborhood kids a place to go, but it would also improve the scenic view for the people that have to look at the dilapidated playground when they walk out their front door each day. Speaking about front doors, I also took notice that the streets were a ghost town. The traditional stoop culture of Baltimore was not felt in Albemarle Square, and it took quite a few blocks to find anyone on a sunny afternoon on a Saturday. Where was everyone?!?
When speaking with one of the local business employees who worked in the area for over 20 years at Poupon Patisserie, the worker stated that the kids had no place to go and essentially just roamed the streets. Aside from the bakery customers, the only other foot traffic that passed were kids. The employee didn’t seem particularly happy about the current state of affairs.
Clearly room for improvement for both “parks” and the need for a true green space. I have posted some photos on my Healthy Habitat page, so please check the page out for a closer look and a 360 view. Additionally, I have posted a video interview with local residents that was conducted by Chris Lee (one of my CityLab team members) and I during our exploration.
Comments are welcomed! To comment, just click the Comments link below.
During the tour of Jonestown with our urban fellow this week (Professor Lindsay Thompson), I was fascinated to learn that Jonestown used to be the waterfront in Baltimore. The Inner Harbor was merely a landfill that was redeveloped to what it is today – a vibrant seaport and tourist attraction.
On the Baltimore Police’s website, they have a nice little history of Baltimore and two old maps on elephant folio that I found very interesting (shown below). The maps are from 1732, and show how the city was parceled off into units that were divided up amongst the first settlers. Notice the shoreline is the Jones Falls Canal.
Jonestown is a designated historical and architectural preservation by Baltimore City Historic Ordinance 02-0901 07//11/02. The map on the right depicts the areas marked for preservation, and I was able to see several historic landmarks during our neighborhood walkabout.
So, what is so special about Jonestown? The ordinance preserves the unique culture garnered by European immigrants who lived in Jonestown during the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Not only were the residents a mix of different classes and religions, but the Jonestown area was home to residential, commercial and industrial living, many of which are still standing as landmarks in Jonestown. The Flag House and the Shot Tower are also national landmarks.
While the neighborhood has changed quite a bit over the last three centuries, in 2001 the city decided to demolish the Flag House Courts. Home to low-income families, crime, and poverty, Baltimore followed suit behind other big cities and eradicated skyscraper-like housing for the poor. Similar to the Murphy Towers on the west side of the city that were also demolished, Flag House Courts underwent the same fate.
The Flag House Courts were regenerated into mixed-income housing that resonates Baltimore row home architecture. Now called Albemarle Square, the housing consists of both tenants and owners who can enjoy a quick walk to the Inner Harbor and nearby entertainment.
Here are before and after pics of the "projects"...
Okay, so where is Jonestown and why should I care?
I drove around the perimeter of Jonestown, then I drove down a few blocks of the north and south ends of Jonestown. This was my first time ever in Jonestown, and I felt that the neighborhood was a mix of vacant buildings, renovated housing, historic landmarks, city services (police and post office), and one Rescue Mission. Some areas felt safer than others. I wonder how safe the residents and business owners find Jonestown?
The area near Albemarle Square was renovated and the neighborhood appeared to be kept in good condition (from what I understand an older housing unit was demolished in recent years). However, the businesses in the north area were devoid of life and most of the buildings were boarded up and vacant.
I wondered to myself if there are any wellness sites in Jonestown? I didn’t see any fitness, nutrition, or indications of healthy living. S. Central Street seemed to be the hotspot of the area and the most vibrant, although using the word vibrant may be a stretch.
I did not interact with any Jonestown locals during my visit, but in the coming weeks I decided that I will seek out stakeholder interviews.
Here are some of the pictures I took, mostly are of the vacant buildings.