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Saturday, March 10, 2012

Transformational Leadership – Baltimore's journey from decay to prosperity

 “Transformational leaders change their organization's culture by first understanding it and then realigning the organization's culture with a new vision and a revision of its shared assumptions, values and norms.” - Bass, B. M, & Avolio, B. J. (1993). Transformational leadership and organizational culture. In Public Administration Quarterly, Spring, Vol. 17, 1.
As Project Managers, we sometimes need to look beyond the methodologies that define our vocation. This blog entry is presented as one example of overcoming barriers by imagining and creating innovative solutions to the problem of the moment.
Baltimore, Maryland -- the home of Fort McHenry and inspiration for Francis Scott Key’s “The Star Spangled Banner” -- has been through many stages of urban growth – from discovery and excitement through prosperity to decay and back to prosperity.  This is a story of one such time in the City’s History and how one person led the City to a new age of inspiration.
William Donald Schafer, Mayor of Baltimore – a man with a vision. He wanted to transform Inner City Baltimore from a seedy, embarrassed harbor to a money-making, attractive tourist destination. The time is the early 1970’s and Baltimore’s downtown and Inner Harbor were known world-wide for vices rather than virtues. At one time a beautiful port, it was now a place of urban decay where missions, saloons, and back alley resting places prevailed. Adjacent and to the north of the Inner Harbor was the Block, a red-light and club district comparable with other such places around the world.
Beyond the Block, in the surrounding neighborhoods and to the East, were many areas of abandoned, decrepit homes. No developer wanted anything to do with renovating these historic homes, some more than 200 years old. Three-story row homes with marble steps, the areas had, at one time, been the soul of the city. There was great pressure on the Mayor and Council to raze these buildings and prepare the land for sale, at very low prices, to developers who promised to build modern, attractive, tax-paying homes. Of course, they wanted incentives to go along with the give-away land. The Mayor said No, he wanted the homes and, more importantly, the communities preserved; moreover, he said that if they wouldn’t preserve those homes and renovate the Inner Harbor, then he and the citizens of Baltimore would.

His vision was the renovation of the Inner Harbor and downtown Baltimore into a world-class tourist attraction of which the citizens of Baltimore and Maryland could be proud. He believed that the way to make this happen was to bring people back into the Inner Harbor area. He wanted families to make this area their home. This scheme of Willy Don’s was attacked from all sides, especially from those who saw the area as unrecoverable and unsafe. But he had a vision.  
He buttonholed everybody from the local councilman and businessman to the President of the United States to share his vision and to seek the means to make it happen. Mayor Schafer and the Council understood the Federal Homesteading Acts that brought prosperity to the West and would use the same concepts to restore Inner City Baltimore.  He and the Council were able to pass the first Inner City Homesteading Act – a win-win proposition for families and City alike.

For one dollar ($1), a family could buy a home that had been certified by Civil Engineers and Architects as structurally sound with floors, stairs, and walls. The catch was that the buyer had to make the building their only home, had to live in it for a minimum of three years, and had to meet all City Building Codes within one year of purchase. They paid no rent or other fees, but were obligated to pay property taxes if and when the properties gained in value.
The rest is history: Inner City Homesteading was an outstanding success. The City went on to reconstruct the Inner Harbor and the berth of the U.S.S Constellation. This also led to new roads and highways and, eventually, the building of the National Aquarium and Camden Yards, an inner city baseball park.
William Donald Schafer was a transformational leader. His process was listening, cajoling, and influencing -- a two-way exchange of vision and ideas. He influenced others to follow him on this journey supported only by his vision. He convinced groups from all walks of life that his was a vision for Baltimore that would help all. He was directed to a goal – the revitalization of his hometown!

1 comment:

  1. Charles - You've done it again. This post is now (by far) the most viewed post in the history of Thanks for a great post and for helping build's readership!

    You Rock!

    PS Enjoy your new polo shirt :)