It is encouraging to see the Baltimore Sun giving attention to the water quality problem of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. (http://articles.baltimoresun.com/2011-01-30/features/bs-gr-harbor-20110130_1_canton-and-fells-point-ray-bahr-trash) Restoring the Harbor to “Swimmable, Fishable” standards is indeed no small task, but it is a vision worth the effort. With failing schools, crime, budgetary shortfalls, and 11 straight seasons of losing baseball, many will argue that putting our energy and limited resources toward such an intransigent problem demonstrates a flawed sense of priority. I will make the argument that each of these issues reflects a systemic problem that can be addressed with a holistic effort to restore the harbor.
The Baltimore Harbor is the sink to our entire community. Its condition is a mere reflection of the collective lack of awareness of our connectivity and interdependence. It also is a microcosm of the Chesapeake Bay. Although we take pride in the seafood that exemplifies local culture, much of that food is imported from other waters. The sediment, nutrients and chemicals that drain from neighborhoods continue to impair the habitat and productivity of the Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay. The water quality is so poor that it threatens human health. And the trash is, put simply, an embarrassment. In the end, these impacts result in economic losses and a degradation in the quality of life.
So how do we change behavior? How do we make everyone aware that they affect the health of the region with the small decisions they make on a daily basis? It starts with education and it starts with the schools.
Perhaps the most meaningful way of learning is by associating lessons with the real world. Restoring the Harbor provides a great theme around which to build a curriculum. From the history of the City’s origins, the importance of trade to economy, land use, habitat, biology and math, all of this can be told in the story of the Harbor. By linking restoration to education, we will not only improve our kids’ understanding of the machinations of life, we’ll help them develop a respect for and a desire to be stewards of their environment. Moreover, they become powerful ambassadors of change that just might inspire cynical adults.
The way forward in restoring the Harbor is by greening communities, creating more pocket parks and tree lined streets to provide shade and soften the hardened landscape. Vegetation has been found to lower heart rates and ease anxiety. Nature deficit disorder is thought to be a contributor to high rates of depression. Poorer communities have fewer trees, poorer health and higher crime rates. By greening neighborhoods, communities become more desirable, more populated and in time, safer. Property values are higher where there are trees. Moreover, dollars invested in restoration are cycled through the community more times than any other investment. Where a Walmart exports money from a community to its shareholders, restoration typically supports only local businesses, from nurseries, landscapers, contractors, designers to baristas. More money, more jobs, better quality of life, less crime.
And what about them O’s? Well, maybe the City coming together to make the Harbor swimmable and fishable would say more about our community pride than the success of our boys of summer. It might just attract more talent too.