Baltimore Mayor Catherine Pugh was out for a walk around the city’s east side recently, taking in the sights and checking on her constituents. That part of town is a bit on the rough side (to put it mildly) and the tour took the group past abandoned buildings and crumbling infrastructure. But Pugh seemed genuinely surprised by at least some of it and was caught on video exclaiming that she could detect the odor of rats and dead animals. It’s not exactly the sort of clip that you want to send over to the city’s tourism board.
This brief Instagram video catching the Mayor in her moment of frank honesty has already racked up more than a million views.
In the footage, Pugh tours an area of vacant houses with city leaders and says: “What the hell? We should just take all this [expletive] down.”
“Whoa, you can smell the rats.”
“Oh, my God, you can smell the dead animals.”
Pugh isn’t the first mayor to confront collapsing inner-city neighborhoods and suggest that maybe they should “take all this [expletive] down.” The problem is that taking all that, er… stuff down costs money. And if the city was rolling in cash you probably wouldn’t have that many vacant properties in the first place.
But there’s a better solution to the vacant buildings, dead animals and rats (with or without pizza in their jaws). Getting the government to tear down buildings and make room for new growth is not only expensive but frequently complicated legally. Far better to have private investors come in, take possession of the properties and take care of the demolition and construction themselves. Then, rather than expending scarce taxpayer dollars, you can turn the properties into tax revenue generating real estate. But the big puzzle for cities such as Baltimore is how to get private investors interested in taking a chance on moving into an area that resembles a war zone.
That’s going to take longer, but it could be done. First, both the city and the state need to get serious about cracking down on violent crime and show that you can put felons with guns behind bars and keep them there. Once the security issues are handled you’ll probably have to sweeten the pot a bit and offer some tax incentives, along with a chance for investors to buy the properties very, very cheaply so it will be worth their while to invest in all the cleanup that’s required. Toss in some job programs coordinated with local high schools and colleges so the new owners will have employees and tenants and you just might turn that city around.
Or you could just keep smelling the dead rats. Your call.