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Wednesday, July 25, 2007

Baltimore's Makeover Could Use More Than 'Hairspray'

I first noticed something when I saw the sleek black limosines sliding their way along Charles Street. Once on the bus, I saw what was going on -- it was the Baltimore premiere of the new remake of the cult film Hairspray.

Fans and TV crews alike had mobbed the sidewalk and as the bus drove by, we passengers saw film co-star Amanda Bynes posing in very Hollywood fashion out on the sidewalk for the photographers.

So this is what passes for glamour here in Baltimore.

You see, Baltimore is caught up in a bit of an identity crisis. This city, which once had serious personality, now lives in the shadow of this other city just an hour south on I-95. Yes, you guessed it -- our nation's capital, Washington DC.

Washington is a living city. Whatever their political stripe, Washington attracts the best and the brightest who come from across the country -- and around the world -- just to change the world, and leave their mark on it, too.

You can feel that energy everyday in Washington, as I do working there.

At night I come home to the somnambulent-by-comparison Baltimore, which is caught between the quaint past as seen in Hairspray and a future not yet made or defined.

Baltimore is just not the magnet for people and energy that Washington proves to be every day.

Certainly, Baltimore is home to the world-famous Johns Hopkins University, as well as many fine colleges and universities. Yet, they all operate as islands and never achieve the critical mass that government, non-profits and all of the other associated enterprises of Washington DC can muster.

Baltimore's in the midst of a mayoral election and the top issue on everyone's lips is the city's high crime and soaring homicide rate.

The thing is, Washington also has crime, murder and all the other urban social ills of a modern city. And yet for all of that, smart people keep coming to Washington. People in Washington have a lot more to talk about than their murder rate.

It will be up to the next mayor of Baltimore to provide the city with more of the energy that is so common and infectious on the streets just an hour south. With its universities and other assets, Baltimore has what it takes. What needs is a vision to create that critical mass its neighbor down in Washington has. What DC has is the "people's business." Baltimore needs to find some new business of its own, as unique in its own way as you'll find in government in Washington.

It's time that people in Baltimore also have more to talk about than either their crime rate or the sweet nostalgia of Hairspray.

Bookmark and drop back in sometime.

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