Inner Harbor Project: bringing together all harbor visitors for a better Baltimore
December 06, 2016
Celia Neustadt sees the Inner Harbor as a meeting place where people of all ages and creeds interact with each other. It’s a center of commerce and tourism. It’s a major hub for all of Baltimore’s transit lines. On any given weekday afternoon, it’s teeming with energy.
It’s the one place in Baltimore that every Baltimorean has in common: we’ve all been there.
“The Inner Harbor is the only place I can think of where teens are rubbing shoulders with business executives,” Neustadt says. “There is a huge opportunity for those people to interact with one another because the major obstacle of location is removed.”
Of course, that common space is not without conflicts, often involving young people. Most of these conflicts arise from a misunderstanding or a clash of differing perspectives. But over the years, it’s Baltimore’s youth who have been most negatively affected. In 2012, for example, the Baltimore City Police Department arrested 163 teens in the Inner Harbor and downtown.
It’s that tension that the Inner Harbor Project, founded in 2012 by Neustadt, works to resolve through youth-led conflict resolution and training.
The Inner Harbor Project’s work is led by paid youth workers. Support for the project from BCF has come through the Fund for Rebuilding Baltimore in 2015, and from the Baltimore Women’s Giving Circle in 2016.
If you are visiting the Inner Harbor or Federal Hill on a weekday afternoon or on a weekend, you might see Hood2Harbor Peace Ambassadors—teens in brightly colored tee shirts—speaking with other youth about the Inner Harbor Project’s mission. The Peace Ambassadors are a positive influence on youth who enjoy the Inner Harbor’s amenities. They also provide information on the project to passersby and tips for other teens who are in the Inner Harbor area.
Another important component of the Inner Harbor Project is the Harbor Card, a discount card that is given to teenagers who complete a 2-hour service learning project. The card gets them discounts to popular Inner Harbor attractions, and keeps them connected to the Inner Harbor Project.
“It’s just another way to create another positive outlet for youth – they get the card, and they visit attractions in the Inner Harbor and engage with other teenagers,” says Neustadt.
The project also hosts youth-led police training that helps Baltimore City Police Department cadets practice techniques for successfully interacting with the city’s youth population. Through the 3-hour training program, youth and officers share their perspectives about each other
The culminating exercise is a role reversal: youth become “officers” and cadets “teens” to demonstrate the best way to communicate.
“The goal of this training is to help officers gain some empathy for youth,” says Neustadt, “so that when they go out on the street, they see kids as complex people.”
It seems to be working. From July through August of 2016, not one youth was arrested at the Inner Harbor.
Members of the project also spend time mediating personal conflicts among youth on social media before they play out in the Inner Harbor.
This type of mediation has been successful because teens are leading it. “Because their legitimacy to mediate conflicts is based upon their ability to be in the middle of things,” says Neustadt. “We’re working here to prevent conflicts before they happen.”