As city leaders were promoting a plan yesterday to make the Inner Harbor “more exciting” for tourists and family friendly for locals, activists were rallying around a very different set of waterfront problems – the pollution of Chesapeake Bay and the poor treatment of low-wage workers there.
“This year’s crab yield was one of the lowest in history! We have 40-mile dead zone due to nitrogen and phosphorus!” said Julia Fiore, an organizer for Food and Water Watch, at a news conference held yesterday morning in Waverly.
Fiore was part of a small group preparing to deliver to the office of Del. Maggie McIntosh (D., 43rd District) a petition with more than a thousand signatures from Baltimore residents, calling for her support on a bill to make Perdue Farms pay for its role in adding to nutrient pollution in Chesapeake Bay.
Pollution was the first thing that came to mind when The Brew struck up a conversation yesterday with a Federal Hill resident, who was jogging near the Visitors Center where the Inner Harbor makeover had been officially unveiled.
“They can fix it up all they want, but if it stinks like it does in the summer, who’s going to go there?” said Alan Rodriguez, recalling the sight of hundreds of dead fish in the Inner Harbor last July.
The Multiplier Effect
The waterfront touristic face that Baltimore presents to the world these days is a flashpoint for some of the city’s hottest issues – the environment being just one of them.
Crime, free speech, rising sea levels due to climate change, a proposed city begging ban and low-wage workers’ rights have all bubbled up in recent months with an Inner Harbor focus.
Proponents of the waterfront facelift have a particularly sticky public relations problem, as they push a project that would cost tens of millions of dollars (no price tag was given) in a city with deep poverty, neglected neighborhoods and citizens increasingly opposed to tax breaks for glitzy downtown projects.
One answer that city officials had for that critique yesterday was a report by HR&A, a New York strategic advisory group, that puts a dollar figure on Inner Harbor tourism.
In 2012, it said, about 14 million tourists came to the Inner Harbor and, along with the employment of some 3,000 workers, they generated $2.3 billion in economic activity for the region.
Speaking Up for Workers
Labor groups organizing at the harbor have been saying workers and local residents see few of those benefits.
Yesterday afternoon, former Inner Harbor ESPN Zone workers were downtown in front of the federal courthouse, discussing their recent victory in a legal action against the Disney subsidiary. (The company had abruptly laid off roughly 140 workers and failed to give them 60 days notice when they shut their doors in 2010. The labor advocacy group United Workers worked with the former ESPN Zone employees on the case that Disney eventually agreed to settle.)
United Workers has been pushing for a “Fair Development” agreement for Inner Harbor workers, saying they are subjected to chronic wage theft, abusive working conditions, a widespread lack of health insurance and sick days and an inadequate response to workplace injuries.
Today, in conjunction with Unite Here! Local 7, they called on the proponents of Harbor 2.0 to include “increased benchmarks for worker rights” in any waterfront makeover plan.
Families vs. Volleyballers?
The people braving November chill yesterday at the Harbor weren’t particularly political, but they did have some strong opinions.
Katharine Bauer, of Nuremburg, Germany, was rolling a ball up a ramp for two-year-old Louisa to kick back. Told that city officials were talking about putting a playground nearby, she responded with some heat.
“Tell me about it. I’ve been looking for a playground!” said Bauer, in town with her husband, who was working on the Christmas Village opening soon at West Shore Park.
She lamented that the carousel was closed, pointing out that she had just been in Philadelphia, where the carousel was open and cheaper.
Rodriguez, meanwhile was incensed about the plan for Rash Field, which appears to be replacing the sandy outdoor volleyball area with a park and playground oriented to families.
“What are they talking about? There’s whole big playground right there, up on top of Federal Hill!” he said, pointing across Key Highway. He said he loves to play and watch beach volleyball at Rash Field in the summer.
“Sometimes,” he said, “I just don’t get this city.”