Sur­vey seeks pri­or­i­ties of city’s of­ten-un­heard pop­u­la­tion

Blue­print for Bal­ti­more results will drive elec­tion fo­rums

Baltimore Sun - - FRONT PAGE - By Chris­tine Zhang

Re­nee Greene stood in the din­ing area of Lex­ing­ton Mar­ket, con­cen­trat­ing on the pa­per ques­tion­naire in her hand. On the se­cond page, she paused.

“Bet­ter parks, less trash on the streets, fewer va­cant homes … I want all of them! Why do I gotta select just one?” she ex­claimed.

The 53-year-old La­trobe Homes res­i­dent was one of more than a dozen peo­ple on a re­cent af­ter­noon fill­ing out a sur­vey called Blue­print for Bal­ti­more, which seeks to iden­tify the pri­or­i­ties of 10,000 to 12,000 Bal­ti­more res­i­dents ahead of the 2020 may­oral elec­tion.

About half of the re­sponses are ex­pected to come from in-per­son out­reach ef­forts like the one at Lex­ing­ton Mar­ket, which was or­ga­nized by West Bal­ti­more ad­vo­cacy group No Bound­aries Coali­tion. The rest will come from peo­ple who take the sur­vey on­line by Dec. 7, said Evan Ser­pick, di­rec­tor of strate­gic com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Open So­ci­ety In­sti­tute-Bal­ti­more, which is spear­head­ing the ini­tia­tive.

OSI-Bal­ti­more has com­mit­ted $150,000 to fund the sur­vey pro­ject in 2019 and 2020, and the T. Rowe Price Foun­da­tion will do­nate $100,000, Ser­pick said.

The sur­vey asks res­i­dents whether they think their neigh­bor­hood is a good place to

live, and to iden­tify the most im­por­tant fac­tors that they think would help make it bet­ter. Sev­eral ques­tions ask Bal­ti­more­ans what they would pri­or­i­tize if they had con­trol of the bud­get, and which ini­tia­tives they would sup­port when it comes to is­sues like ed­u­ca­tion, hous­ing and pub­lic safety.

OSI-Bal­ti­more plans to re­lease a report by Jan­uary and to hold fo­rums where all de­clared pri­mary can­di­dates in the may­oral and City Coun­cil races will be in­vited to dis­cuss the results.

“We need some hard in­for­ma­tion about what peo­ple want … some­thing that, frankly, lead­ers can be held ac­count­able to,” Ser­pick said.

Com­mu­nity groups are tar­get­ing his­tor­i­cally un­der­counted pop­u­la­tions by can­vass­ing spe­cific neigh­bor­hoods, said Tre Mur­phy of Black Lead­ers Or­ga­niz­ing for Change, an­other group help­ing with the can­vass­ing ef­fort.

“If we use tra­di­tional meth­ods and tra­di­tional tactics, we’re go­ing to miss the hard-to-reach com­mu­ni­ties,” Mur­phy said. “So, we want to overem­pha­size those com­mu­ni­ties com­ing in the door.”

The trade-off of such a tar­geted ap­proach is that the re­sponses can’t be gen­er­al­ized to rep­re­sent Bal­ti­more as a whole, said Mileah Kromer, di­rec­tor of Goucher Col­lege’s Sarah T. Hughes Field Pol­i­tics Cen­ter. The sur­vey is not a ran­dom sam­ple of res­i­dents and so may over- or un­der­rep­re­sent cer­tain groups.

“When you in­ter­pret the results, you should in­ter­pret them in terms of what the in­di­vid­ual re­spon­dents said and not Bal­ti­more­ans in gen­eral,” she said.

Kromer praised the pro­ject’s goal of giv­ing a voice to com­mu­ni­ties whose mem­bers don’t nor­mally re­spond to sur­veys and who don’t have the same “ac­cess to power” as some peo­ple who do.

“You might not be able to say ‘this per­cent­age of Bal­ti­more­ans think this,’ but you can say ‘we talked to thou­sands of res­i­dents in these ar­eas and this is what they said,’ ” she ex­plained.

Jose Ser­rano-McClain, a di­rec­tor at HR&A Ad­vi­sors, which is con­sult­ing on the sur­vey, said the report will be trans­par­ent about method­ol­ogy and the de­mo­graph­ics of re­spon­dents, in­clud­ing race, age and zip code.

HR&A worked on a sim­i­lar ef­fort with Port­land, Ore­gon, ear­lier this year. Find­ings were pre­sented in Septem­ber to the City Coun­cil and will be in­cor­po­rated into city­wide strate­gic plans, said Shan­non Car­ney, a per­for­mance an­a­lyst in that city’s bud­get of­fice.

Stephanie Smith, as­sis­tant di­rec­tor for equity, en­gage­ment and com­mu­ni­ca­tions at Bal­ti­more’s depart­ment of plan­ning, said she’s given ad­vice to Ser­pick on best prac­tices for com­mu­nity out­reach. The plan­ning depart­ment spon­sored the city’s 2019 Sus­tain­abil­ity Plan, which in­cor­po­rated in­sights from thou­sands of res­i­dents.

Smith said she’s look­ing for­ward to see­ing the Blue­print sur­vey results.

“It gives us an­other prompt, an­other op­por­tu­nity, to make sure we’re hear­ing what com­mu­nity mem­bers want,” she said. “You can never have too much in­put.”

Lester Davis, a spokesman for mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young, said he had not had of­fi­cial con­ver­sa­tions with OSI-Bal­ti­more about the sur­vey but that “it seems in keep­ing with the ad­vo­cacy work that they’ve done.”

Davis pointed to a “very ro­bust and much talked­about” So­lu­tions Sum­mit the or­ga­ni­za­tion hosted in 2016, where par­tic­i­pants voted on the rec­om­men­da­tions they wanted Bal­ti­more’s new mayor and City Coun­cil to con­sider.

“OSI has been en­gaged in this type of work in a con­struc­tive way over the years,” he said.

Many of the sur­vey tak­ers at Lex­ing­ton Mar­ket were sur­prised some­body was ask­ing for their opin­ion. Some doubted their in­put would mat­ter.

“You think this pa­per right here is go­ing to make a dif­fer­ence?” said Cur­tis Wil­lis, 59, to lead can­vasser Eean Lo­gan.

Wil­lis even­tu­ally filled out the sur­vey af­ter a spir­ited dis­cus­sion with the 28-year-old No Bound­aries Coali­tion or­ga­nizer. “I en­joyed talk­ing to him,” Wil­lis said later.

Lo­gan and Mur­phy said they saw the sur­vey as a start­ing point for fu­ture con­ver­sa­tions. In ad­di­tion to col­lect­ing re­sponses, which are anony­mous, can­vassers asked peo­ple to share their con­tact in­for­ma­tion sep­a­rately to be no­ti­fied about fu­ture events, like the No Bound­aries Coali­tion’s Civic Cul­ture Satur­days.

“We want to be su­per in­ten­tional about open­ing up re­la­tion­ships and cre­at­ing path­ways where [hard-to-reach com­mu­ni­ties] have a di­rect con­nec­tion to the po­lit­i­cal pro­cesses that di­rectly im­pact their lives,” Mur­phy said.

Whit­ney Chase, 32, care­fully con­sid­ered each ques­tion, while a friend stood to the side.

“Just take it!” the former Bal­ti­more City Schools teacher, who grew up in the East Mon­u­ment Street area, urged her friend. “Our voices mat­ter.”

Hes­i­tant at first, he fi­nally grabbed a pen and filled it out — ad­ding one of the last re­sponses to that day’s pile.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Whit­ney Chase, of Reser­voir Hill, fills out the ques­tion­naire Nov. 14 at Lex­ing­ton Mar­ket to track Bal­ti­more res­i­dents’ pol­icy pri­or­i­ties.

KARL MER­TON FERRON/BAL­TI­MORE SUN

Jane Nes­bitt, of West Bal­ti­more, lis­tens to Eean Lo­gan, di­rec­tor of civic cul­ture and youth pro­grams with No Bound­aries Coali­tion, Nov. 14 at Lex­ing­ton Mar­ket as a group of com­mu­nity or­ga­ni­za­tions con­duct a sur­vey to track res­i­dent pri­or­i­ties.

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