Occupy Baltimore

25 Jan

Monday night I attended a BMoreSmart event (a tech event) at which Rico Singleton, CIO of Baltimore City, was the key speaker. Among the many things he addressed that night, developing a relationship with the local tech community was key. He wants to/needs to be able to hire local people for many (mostly) coding and development projects the city needs done but doesn’t have the staff to do.

This is, of course, complex.

The city isn’t quite set up for this type of working relationship. Much is yet to be done to work out the kinks of that system.

The city isn’t really in the position to pay the appropriate market rate for the volume and caliber of work that needs to be done.

The sexy-shiny-social-public-facing apps are great, but it’s often the onerous, less-glam projects that really need doing.

The city isn’t set up to pay someone a portion of their fee and allow them then to own the code/product they create (so that they can sell it to others).

And, perhaps most importantly, the city lacks the talent to fill the jobs need in the whole city. (Don’t scream, you geeks. He wasn’t saying that there isn’t tons of talent and a great tech community; rather, that the volume of work to be done and the people able to do it just doesn’t exist at this time.)

There’s the Apps for Democracy, Code for America and a slew of other choices, but those projects and programs tend to be about sexy subjects/apps and such.

One of the speakers showed a website he’d developed on vacant properties in Baltimore. It was quite cool. And the data, well, it was quite fascinating.

I heard talk of Mayor SRB and her plan to bring — what is it? — 10,000 families to Baltimore in x years? And then I had a funny thought: funny, in that I laughed to see pieces of a puzzle come together.

“Occupy Baltimore!” was what I heard.

Yes, Occupy Baltimore.

Here’s a vision to try on in your head. I kind of like the way it is in mine.

Imagine the city were able to create a good system wherein it had a robust this-is-what-we-need procedure for short-term, specific tech projects. Imagine if decided to pay but a pittance for (probably, though not exclusively) young developers to work on these projects for below market rate. Imagine that the city would own the code, as their structured mindset so requires them to do so now if they pay for development.

Imagine that rather than being paid fully in cash for wages, or in code developed that they could resell, instead these coders were paid in Occupy Baltimore “currency:” in cash specifically and only toward vacant Baltimore housing. I’ll make up some numbers, but let’s say a project was worth $10,000 in a legitimate market, but the city only had $2,500 to pay for it. The person who took that job could get $2500 in cash and, say, for example’s sake, $15,000 in Occupy Baltimore currency. Maybe they took on another project, or worked with a friend or two to pool their Occupy Baltimore bucks. Who knows? Before a year could be out, a few friends could pool together to rebuild a vacant home.

Now, it might behoove the city to put these (mostly) young coders in group housing during there earn-less-than-market-rate days, assuming they were to work a minimum number of hours a week or month. It would need to be good housing. Dormitory grown up housing. Preferably near a fun area of Baltimore so they’d feel more connected to the city. These are Millennials of which we speak, and their long-cycle cultural legacy is affluence, technology and culture. They want all that and more, and adults do well to give it to them in childhood. Now that they are in young adulthood, we need to think differently about how to make as much as possible free for them. Not free as in hand-out free, but as in trade-energy-and-vitality-for-free. That kind of free.

I’m sure there are a 1,001 problems with this vision. And a 1,001 reasons why it’s perfect and right.

It’s one thing for a politician to say, “I’m gonna” (ref the State of the Union tonight and any other candidate on the campaign trail). It’s another thing to think differently and find solutions that are right for the times.

And the banks. Remember the banks, Wall Street, investment firms? Well, here’s a chance for the banks to redeem themselves; I’m sure they can work out some financing with the vacant properties, the city’s Occupy Baltimore bucks and some lovely form of a new housing program for young Millennials moving into city’s to re-energize them and bring brightness. Imagine the possibilities for bank’s (local ones especially) to transform themselves before the new generation of customers by doing right … for THEIR generation. To give them hope and possibility.

With Baltimore’s CIO, Rico Singleton, thinking in the direction he is thinking to get more coders who will do big work for little money, with Mayor SRB thinking in the 10K More Families direction she is thinking, with the insane vacancies in Baltimore (what, isn’t Baltimore the only major city in the last couple of decades to have actually lost population?), with shamed financial institutions needing a really good (and legitimate) win, with the massive and can’t-be-fought cycles of generational shifts and the opportunities for working with young Millennials at hand, my sense is Baltimore may just be the city perfectly positioned to make the OCCUPY movement actually mean something.

Occupy Baltimore!

Young geeks, if not you, then who. If not know, then when.

***

No, I didn’t edit or proofread this post. It is what it is.

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