Despite the increasing faith in privatization, self-interest, financial speculation, and decreased welfare and government, Baltimore has experienced a proliferation of alternative economies from worker cooperatives, to free stores, free schools, free gardens, gift exchanges, property commons, time banks, and more.
Essay Abstract by Malcolm Rio, Harvard GSDPublished: May 2018
Baltimore is a city with a rare and unique charm compared to other cities across the United States. However, like many U.S. medium-sized cities, Baltimore was devastated by the effects of deindustrialization and large-scale migration from the urban core to the suburban or exurban periphery.
During this period, from the late 1950s to the early 1990s, the city transitioned from an industrial center to a tourist and service- based (FIRE) economy. Baltimore experienced significant shifts in its population, labor, infrastructure, and penal systems. These adversities were entrenched within the city’s dark and significant history of racism that manifested in segregationist spatial practices — redlining, blockbusting, radicalized policing — and economic exploitation — predatory lending, union busting, discriminatory insurance and utility policies. Today, Baltimore continues to struggle with these spatial and economic issues and has been slow to revitalize due to contemporary neoliberal ideologies of space, labor, and urbanism. Despite the increasing faith in privatization, self-interest, financial speculation, and decreased welfare and government, Baltimore has experienced a proliferation of alternative economies from worker cooperatives, to free stores, free schools, free gardens, gift exchanges, property commons, time banks, and more. This paper will examine the alternative economies emerging in Baltimore City. I will discuss how these communities are organized and administered. Further, I will demonstrate how these communities construct spaces of solidarity that hint towards an urbanism predicated from the Commons. In doing so, these communities offer alternative imaginations of space, labor, and urbanism and proposes methods for (re)thinking urbanism in post-industrial cities.
Baltimore is a city with a rare and unique charm compared to other cities across the United States. However, like many U.S. medium-sized cities, Baltimore was devastated by the effects of deindustrialization and large-scale white-migration from its urban core to its suburban or exurban periphery. During this period, from the 1950s to the 1990s, the city transitioned from an industrial center to a tourist and service based (FIRE) economy. Baltimore experienced significant shifts in its population, labor, infrastructure, and penal systems. These adversities were entrenched within the city’s troubling yet significant history of racism, which manifested in segregationist spatial practices like redlining, blockbusting, and racialized policing tactics, as well as racialized economic exploitation such as predatory lending, union busting, and discriminatory insurance and utility policies. Today, Baltimore continues to struggle from these spatial and economic injustices and contribute to the city’s slow revitalization and have been magnified by a faith in contemporary neoliberal practices over the management of space, labor, and urban development.
Despite this increased faith for privatization, innovation through self-interest and competition, financial speculation, and the further abatement of social welfare programs and government-aide, Baltimore has experienced a proliferation of alternative economic practices that offer an alternative to the “post-industrial neoliberal city.” This paper combines informal interviews with a collection of case studies that exhibit various models of alternative economic practice, such as worker-cooperatives, free stores, time banking, alternative mediums of exchange, cooperative housing, and land trusts, with urban analyses of Baltimore City. I will demonstrate how these case studies are organized by the spaces they find themselves and, reciprocally, how these case studies organize their spaces to better foster urban solidarity and hint towards an urbanism predicated on a faith in the Commons rather than the “post-industrial neoliberal city.” In so doing, this paper concludes with alternative imaginations of urban space, labor, and economic practice in Baltimore City and proposes methods for (re)thinking urban design and planning in post-industrial cities across the U.S.
A HISTORY OF VIOLENCE: RACIAL IMMOBILITY AND INFRASTRUCTURAL BYPASS
Properties, prisons, borders: it is through the prevention of motion that space enters history… with the prevention of motion, force – in the most literal sense, of applying physical pressure to bodies – assumes a special kind of necessity. Quite simply, being in a place is something you do with your body – nothing else – and therefore, to prevent your motion from one place to another, your body must be affected. The history of the prevention of motion is therefore a history of force upon bodies: a history of violence.
The Alexandria Drafting Company's (ADC) 1985 map of Baltimore imagines the city from a vantage point made possible by the car (Figure 1). The city’s urban fabric is annulled in order to feature sites of patriotic pride — For McHenry, the Phoenix Shot Tower, Bethlehem Steel, the Star-Spangled Banner Flag House, Washington Monument — with only one site, celebrated for its Southern architectural history, the Hampton Mansion, explicitly connecting Baltimore and the Nation’s history of (white) excellence to the racial injustice on which it was built upon. Only the city’s major interstate-networks are depicted in this map —the McKeldin Beltway (I-695), the Jones Fall Expressway (I-83), the Harbor Tunnel Thruway (I-895), Interstate 70 (I-70), and Interstate 95 (I-95). Today, these major interstates are still the principle transit infrastructures of Baltimore City, accounting for $461 million in traffic relief for I-695 and I-95 from Maryland Governor Larry Hogan’s $7 billion Baltimore Region Transportation Investment policy. However, the city of Baltimore has long failed to provide adequate urban transit for its carless residents whom are largely lower-income households and African-American. The public transit that does exist, mostly in the form of bus routes — a consequence of the city’s past with the automotive cartel National City Lines (NCL) — are over-bloated, underfunded, and unreliable, leaving residents “waiting around for hours trying to get where [they] need to go.” Recent attempts to remedy Baltimore’s failing public transit infrastructure, namely the implementation of a “Red Line” to the city’s existing light rail system that “would have provided improved transit to underserved African-American neighborhoods of East and West Baltimore” was thwarted in 2015 by Republican Governor Larry Hogan, a decision which has been speculated to be racially-determined.
The historical consequences from Baltimore’s past racist policies and segregationist practices – redlining, blockbusting, and Jim Crow era laws – is perpetuated today in the city’s urban immobility and is most formally evident in the Jones Falls Expressway (I-83) impacts on the city’s urbanism. Constructed in the 1950s to connect the region’s emerging predominately white suburbs to its city’s downtown, I-83 bifurcates Baltimore into two-halves. Neighborhoods which were immediately adjacent to I-83 flourished in comparison to neighborhoods that wore more peripheral, and witnessed structural advantages that fostered for better economic development (Figure 4). Over time, the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to I-83 became demographically majority-white areas, formally constructing a white spine through the center of Baltimore, while the peripheral neighborhoods East and West of this spine conversely developed demographically into two Black-majority regions. This spatial distribution of racial division and structured economic advantage/disadvantage is colloquially referred to as “the white L and the Black butterfly.”
This urban formation in combination with unequal access to urban mobility prevents full-participation in Baltimore’s formal economy, historically established within the “white L.” Thus, many residents within the “black butterfly” who dramatically face limited economic opportunity must often engage with Baltimore’s informal economy as a means of subsistence. As the nebulous term suggests, Baltimore’s informal economy is hard to define or measure given its informal organization. In 2008, this diversified set of economic activities, from informal childcare to sex work, accounted for an estimated $872 million of unrecognized income or approximately 7% of Baltimore’s total economy. However, the term “informal economy” deemphasizes what is well known to be its major component, the city’s illegal drug trade. The intensity of the city’s drug trade, from the enormous flows of heroine to the city’s correlated propensity of violence and murder, has ignominiously nicknamed Baltimore as the heroin capital of the United States and has been depicted in blockbuster dramas like David Simon’s The Wire and The Corner. The city’s mid-Atlantic position along the eastern U.S. coast makes Baltimore a prime destination for drug importation for its multidirectional distribution across the broader U.S. The
Baltimore’s relationship with heroin stretched as far back as World War II, but has formidably intensified with in recent years.
Heroin abuse is multigeneration, with children of heroin users at greater risk of abusing the drug.
Struggle with addiction
Figures from MD Health report
What are alternative economic practices
J.K. Gibson Graham Figure of economic iceberg
What they offer
Other texts from Spaces of Solidarity?
Catalog of case studies
Small description of the case studies
Figure of case studies
Alternative ways of real-estate
Housing Baltimore Housing Roundtable
Red Clover Collective
Housing Cooperatives: Horizontal Housing and Red Clover Collective
Horizontal Housing Co. (HH) is a housing cooperative and intentional community that germinated from the Baltimore Free Farmand inspired by another intentional community, Red Clover Collective (see Lexicon), which was founded in 2004 and is located in the Baltimore’s Better Waverly neighborhood. HH is a non-stock corporation and another project with roots in Fusion Partnerships. HH was formed as a corporation responsible for purchasing property that can be utilized by either the Baltimore Free Farm as gardening space or by Horizontal Housing Co for housing/living space. Currently, HH owns three adjoining row-homes in the Hampden neighborhood of Baltimore City. Their first property was purchased in 2012 after a Baltimore Free Farm member, Paul Pojman, passed away leaving his behind his house and property that other members had been living in. Two years later, HH purchased the adjoining lots that were a part of the farm’s gardening space but had been planned to be sold by the city to developers under the city’s “Vacant to Value” initiative – a program aimed at selling abandoned property.
HH is home to about ten members, one of which is Wes Haines who I was able to have a short conversation with about HH’s structure. He informed me that members go through a three-month trial period before becoming a co-owner. There is no specific political ideology expected of new members as long as members help the intentions of the project, which is to live collectively and sustainably and to create a safe and egalitarian space within Baltimore City. In a recent call-for-members, HH asks that members commit 20 hours out of their month towards volunteer work. Haines explains that a benefit of cooperative housing is that aside from splitting the utility bills, responsibility and functionality of the land is equally shared. Decisions are made as a collective with equal voting and veto power. Another ambition of the collective is to be fully income-sharing and eventually join the Federation of Egalitarian Communities (FEC). Though these have not yet come to fruition, the benefits of income-sharing ranges from the remediation of economic inequality within intentional communities that occur outside the community – i.e., the structural economic disadvantage women and people of color experience in the gender and racial pay gaps – to the (re)valuing of non-wage or low-wage labor – i.e., domestic labor and childcare. The Fellowship for Intentional Community cites income-sharing as “one of the four main principles of the US ‘Federation of Egalitarian Communities’ [alongside egalitarianism, co-operation, and non-violence].” While income-sharing does not guarantee complete equality among all members of an intentional community, it offers a method of to remediate the economic exploitation and ideological values these communities may experience at their peripheries, such as alienating labor or predatory developers.
Mobile Store: Go-Go’s Retread Threads
Putting the “bus” in “business,” Stacy Chambers runs her vintage clothing store, Go-Go’s Retread, out of a vibrantly painted 90’s school bus. She started her business in 2010 after being inspired by an NPR story focused on the hardships of traditional brick and mortar stores. In our phone interview, she shared that a major economic in running a mobile store is that she can travel to where she knows her customers will be – festivals, concerts, artists’, farmers’, and flea markets. Chambers remarked that while many people either want or claim to support local small businesses, many are often overwhelmed by commitments of everyday life, which restricts their ability to seek out local businesses. She notes that people often tend to support these values when on vacation, which consequently extracts capital out of the community. Thus, rather than be tethered to a specific location, Chambers’ bus put her products directly in front of clientele. This economic practices also reverse traditional marketing schemes. While Chambers still needs to market her wares and whereabouts online through her website and social media platforms, her store benefits from the marketing and attention around the events she sells at. I asked Chambers if she felt her business lacked a sense of stability that traditional storefronts might experience. She expressed that in the digital age there I not a lot of economic stability for either her or traditional stores. Whether it’s a mobile store ran out of a bus or a brick and mortar storefront, most people are buying online, which strains those models that are dependent on in-person sales.
Though running a mobile store means Chambers is not vulnerable to the ebb and flow of Baltimore’s real estate market, Go-Go’s mobility has not always been friction free. Chambers has experience legal barriers due to running a business out of a bus. In order to operate her mobile business, Chambers must obtain several licenses and permits that require bureaucratic negotiation across several municipal offices. This has caused Chambers to encounter various encirclements in trying to obtain the proper license, which consumes valuable time away from her work and adds additional emotional stress and labor. Chambers’ bus is 28-feet, 3-feet over the city’s legal requirement to obtain a street vendor license. In 2014, the City of Baltimore stopped issuing licenses to street vendors with vending vehicles long than 25-feet, and in 2019 will no longer renew licenses for mobile vendors who had already obtained licenses with vehicles longer than 25-feet. These legal barriers put forth by the City have made it more difficult for mobile vendors to operate, causing them to migrate to cities already wealthy suburban counties which have looser regulations. In the past, the city of Baltimore prohibited food trucks and mobile vendors from operating within 300 feet of similar retail business establishments, which limited where Chambers could park her bus and sell her wares. Embedded in this policy the Capitalist belief in inherent competition between similar retail and the fear that mobile businesses possess an unfair advantage over traditional brick and mortar retailers. This fear is intensified by the digital age, which has made it harder for small-businesses that rely on interpersonal sales to thrive. Chambers has noticed that when small-business owners are overwhelmed about their rent or financial stability in a city with little resources, her bus can sometimes be misperceived as a threat and a breakdown in solidarity between businesses will occur.
While many businesses may operate on a competitive and cutthroat mentality, Chambers does not believe this. She told me that she believes “more-begets-more.” As a general curtsey, Chambers calls local businesses in an area she intends to set up shop in advance of her arrival. To better the local solidarity, Chambers tries to hire local photographers and models when organizing her marketing campaigns. Chambers has also partnered with local makers and artists in the past, though there are not a lot of local makers on brand with the clothing she sells. Her regular customers also experience a form of solidarity. Chambers says she takes care of her regular customers either through small discounts or alike. She notes that she is very appreciative of those who look out for her and help sustain her business, wanting to give back in ways she can. For example, Chambers has sometimes traded her wares with another local vendor’s wares at the farmers’ market. However, without this solidarity established, haggling or bartering her wares becomes exploitive. The common misconception of artistic or creative labor outside the rigid sterility of capitalist exchange has embolden some customers to be disrespectful. Chambers mentioned that sometimes new or non-local customers will attempt to haggle down the prices, seeing her non-traditional business practice as an informal business rather than a life-sustaining enterprise. She also notes that this form of interpersonal solidarity is missing from online shopping, where one-another’s economic background remains unknown and establishing a relationship is not possible.
Alternative ways of gaining access to resources
Station North Tool Library
Located in the southeast corner of the Station North neighborhood, Station North Tool Library (SNTL) is an unusual of its kind. Rather than lending books, this library provides access to and training on over 3,000 tools – from tape measurers to electric chainsaws – to the its members. Arman Mizani, one of SNTL’s co-directors and an educator in the SNTL’s home repair classes, explained that the concept for a tool library was organic and took root in the mind of one the project’s founders, John Shea. At the time, Shea was teaching sculpture and recognized that access to tools and their creative knowledge was an expensive and therefore exclusionary endeavor, with students paying high tuitions at art colleges or art programs. Conversely, vocational schools provide highly-technical and task-specific knowledge around tools, though at lower tuition costs, and may not be suitable nor economical for individuals interested in general home repair of hobbyist fabrication. Wanting to democratize tool access and knowledge, Shea and his partner, Piper Wilson, decided to organize a library which would offer free rental access to a variety of tools and open shop hours to its members, as well as a range of creative, technical, and practical workshops to the public at a low cost.
The project obtained seed-money from Fusion Partnerships and other foundations and organizations, and operates as a grassroots non-profit, allowing its membership pricing to remain affordable while also being able to cover the space’s operational costs. Memberships range from $9 per-month to $39 per-month, with a sliding scale option of 0.001% of a potential member’s annual income. Basic membership includes shop safety training, 10% of classes, a check-out policy of 8 tools per week, and free use of the shop during open hours. In order to manage the space, Mizani and the four other co-directors rely on the help of approximately 40 volunteers, whom act as de facto board members by providing their advice and expertise when needed. Mizani explained that though SNTL is not a cooperative, its team has adopted similar organizational procedures that can be found in worker cooperatives. Major votes loosely seek consensus among its team and in order to ensure conversations do not get dominated by a few, SNTL uses Slack to help organize who speaks during meetings.
Volunteers do not only help manage the shop, but also assist in the workshop training, which Mizani described as a major part of the SNTL mission. After its initial launch, SNTL developed a workforce development program, intentionally offering classes in the evening to accommodate for work-life and/or family-life of its members. Starting off with only a few courses in tool use and product fabrication, SNTL now offers education in wood-working, wall repair, tiling, electrical work, plumbing, and product fabrication such as coffee tables, cutting boards, knife making, spoons.
BYKE Collective (yes interview)
Whitelock Community Farm (no interview)
The Book Thing (yes interview)
Baltimore Free Farm (yes interview)
Alternative ways of funding and banking
Baltimore Time Bank (yes interview)
Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy (BRED) (no interview)
BNote (no interview)
Alternative ways of building community
NDCC (yes interview)
Women’s Industrial Exchange (no interview)
Made in Baltimore (yes interview)
Feature Case Study (Red Emma’s) (yes interview)
Make sure to add Starbucks issue
Photo from Doc’s Castle Media, http://www.docscastlemedia.com/2016/08/
Red Emma’s Bookstore is a worker’s cooperative in Baltimore, Maryland and is self-described as a “radical infoshop” and an ongoing “project.” It’s social impact within Baltimore as models of cooperative economic practice and embodied racial ideology are notable for its short history, which began as Black Planet Books, a small anarchist collective located in Baltimore a historic waterfront neighborhood of Fells Point. In its early years, the project was an all-volunteer bookstore and meeting space. At various times, the project had been privately managed, but its ideological bedrock of anarchism had always been explicit and offered a space for Baltimore residents to gather and discussion anarchist issues and practices. The project laid the foundation of critical thought and practice within Baltimore, normalizing the role of radical critique in the city, and in 2004 the project was (re)envisioned and (re)organized to allow for a more sustainable economic model not dependent of volunteerism and thus opening itself up to more diverse forms of participation. Closing its chapter as Black Planet Bookstore’s, the project (re)branded itself as a less ideologically adamant space, which had previously limited political solidarity with other social movements within the city. The project took on a new life as Red Emma’s, named after the anarchist political activist, theorist, feminist and author Emma Goldman. During its lifetime, Red Emma’s has served as a model of alternative economic practice and radical thought. In this paper I examine key ways in which this project is emblematic of urban solidarity evident in the project’s economic and political practices, its spatial role and contribution to the urban fabric of Baltimore as a Commons, and lastly its intellectual resources, many of which are free and accessible to urban residents.
A space of economic & political solidarity
The project took on a new life as Red Emma’s named in homage to Emma Goldman who was a feminist, anarchist, activist, and labor rights organizer well known for her role in the development of American and European anarchist philosophies. Red Emma’s officially opened in 2004. It implemented it’s organizing space as a method to use commodity exchange “to help pay the rent,” and pre-figure the kinds of institutions members of the project wanted to see in the city. The project no longer operated on a volunteer-basis, offering a wage to its worker-owners, however, its roots were modest and Red Emma’s from 2004 to 2013 was never a primary source of income. When Red Emma’s moved from their 800 St. Paul Street location to 30 W. North Avenue in Station North, they did so with a mission to pay a living-wage to its worker-owners, a challenging reality for a project which operates under an anti-capitalist and anti-hierarchical model despite of increasing neoliberalism in Baltimore. At the core of their economic model is the desire to show “that anarchism doesn’t mean being disorganized and that anticapitalism [sic] doesn’t mean being unable to operate efficiently.” Within this model, all workers collectively own an equal share of Red Emma’s and possess an equal voice (vote) about business operations. In order for decisions to move forward at Red Emma’s, they must go through a process of consensus, in which no member has strong disagreement. This method of governance if different from the common conception of democratic systems that exploit the consolidation of power to overpower the minority vote. Consensus, however, requires unanimous agreement – similar to the verdict process of a jury – which further represents Red Emma’s commitment to a non-hierarchal practice: “If we’re serious about our critique of power and power dynamics in the world around us, it’s imperative that we not reproduce these dynamics inside our own projects; consensus is a big step in this direction.” The project’s non-hierarchical philosophy also manifests in its distribution of labor. Without the roles of “boss” or “manager,” the entirety of the collective is responsible for both menial tasks, such as cleaning bathrooms and trash removal, as well as restaurant management, business accounting, and other general governances.
Red Emma’s is also active in expanding their alternative economic practice, inspiring others a political and economic model for worker cooperatives in Baltimore. Red Emma’s has generated similar projects, such as the 2640 Space project, a grassroots cooperatively managed community center, and Thread Coffee, a “collectively owned and operated small-batch coffee roaster committed to a transparent model of trade that promotes dignity, sustainability, and solidarity.” Worker-owners from Red Emma’s are also active with the Baltimore Roundtable for Economic Democracy (BRED), a coalition of state-wide worker cooperatives and activists that “prioritize coop development that directs educational and financial resources to historically marginalized communities” through non-extractive financing.
A space of spatial & urban solidarity
Its current location at positions Red Emma’s as a space of urban solidarity. Its non-hierarchal and anti-capitalist ideologies are spatially manifested by the hard realities of its surrounding urban context. Red Emma’s is one of the many new businesses and cultural centers being developed in the area as a part of the Station North Arts and Entertainment District development initiative. Beginning in 2002, this district was designated as an Arts & Entertainment District by the State of Maryland invested in developing the surrounding areas into a creative hub. The district piece together parts of the Charles North, Greenmount West, and Barclay neighborhoods, which the latter two is home for many African-Americans in Baltimore and has endured decades of economic depression, vacancy, and crime. Baltimore’s racial and economic minorities suffer an urban-immobility fixed in a bloated and under-funded public transit system that is further stressed by limited accessibility to efficient East-West connections. The racial and economic division between East and West Baltimore and the role transit and mobility plays is evident in the way these classifications bifurcate along the Jones Falls Expressway (I-83), which “embodies the[ ] historical racial tensions” of Baltimore. North Avenue is one of the few East-West thoroughfares. However, the Station North development initiative places extreme economic and juridical pressure on the surrounding communities, which continue to suffer from Baltimore’s socio-political past.
Red Emma’s is aware of these realities of gentrification, urban co-option, and a legacy of infrastructural bypass and a racial and class-based immobility tied to economic opportunity and access. Similarly, to their economic operation, Red Emma’s actively works in conditioning their space in non-hierarchical and non-capitalist ways. Technically a private-business and therefore private space, Red Emma’s subverts the Lockean proviso by allowing all inhabitants to utilize their spaces and free resources without required economic consideration – essentially allowing one to “loiter.” Red Emma’s intentionally implements small architectural interventions, such as long communal tables retrofitted with outlets, free Wi-Fi, and public non-gender specific restrooms, to encourage civic use and access. Its restaurant implements a pay-it-forward program, which allows patrons to pre-purchase various food and drink items for “someone who needs help affording food, someone who’s having a rough day, or someone who just forgot their wallet!”
Red Emma’s spatial proximity to a concentration of methadone clinics in the area is exposes another quality of the project’s spatial solidarity. Baltimore, like many poor post-industrial cities and towns across the U.S., suffers from an opioid-addiction crisis. From 2015 to 2016, the state of Maryland experience a 70% increase in opioid-related deaths, which accounted for 89% of all intoxication deaths in Maryland in 2016. The city of Baltimore is especially impacted by this epidemic with its metro-area significantly outnumbering all other Maryland regions combined. Numerous methadone and drug-rehabilitation clinics are located within the area. Red Emma’s stands at the intersection of North Avenue and Maryland Avenue and is serviced by two major bus routes, the 51 (North-South) and the CityLink Gold line (East-West). These buses provide access to the nearby clinics. Many of these clinics’ patients take advantage of Red Emma’s Common-like space, utilizing their free Wi-Fi, outlets, bathrooms and subsidized food. The space also offers a place to be – a bodily practice increasingly policed as the area gentrifies – when either waiting for the bus, treatment, or other events of everyday life. Because many struggle with opioid addiction, the prevalence of drugs and the trauma and violence the drug-trade brings is an unavoidable reality at Red Emma’s. While Red Emma’s provides a space that subverts an ongoing assault on urban public space through capricious enforcement of vague loitering laws, it also provides a haven for opioid-users to be dormant. Thus, patrons coexist with individual whose struggles reflect a dark reality of Baltimore that many spaces of gentrification attempt to avoid, filter, or remain ignorant of. Despite the inherent exploitive nature of “observing,” there is a radical power in this space of unfiltered reality; dissimilar social classes coalesce with one architecture that immerses its inhabitants with a totality of urban life. However, this reality has its limits, and presence of violence and the threat of overdose runs-down Red Emma’s operation, which is does not possess the capacity nor the ability to function as a safe-injection site. Given the politics of of the project, man of Red Emma’s worker-owners are transgender or non-gender conforming who are subjected to the violence that correlates with the drug trade’s homophobic and sexist culture. Patrons are often adjacent to sporadic outburst and the threat of harassment or theft is always present. Because Red Emma’s sits within a space of recovery, the site attracts city drug dealers who come to the area and prey on those recovering and persist the violence in the area. This violence reached an apogee when a man was shot inside Red Emma’s in the upper body after an argument. As a response to these matters, Red Emma’s has implanted a new role into its organizational structure — a space host — who is responsible for moderating the safety of the space. However, the threat of violence still remains, especially when worker-owners must intervene in the use or sale of drugs, disruptive behavior, or other abuses of the Common space. Violence does not only originate from the abuse of space, but also the abuse of power. A space host was mistakenly arrested by the Baltimore police who was unable to distinguish between worker-owner and culprit. Red Emma’s is not collectively anti-police but has an uneasy relationship with the police given the Baltimore Police Department’s history of abusive power and racism and its intersections with Red Emma’s radical politics. Similarly, the community of landlords, leasers, and residents invested in the development — or gentrification — of the area outwardly express fears of specific populations and their use of the public space. Red Emma’s tries to intervene in conversations that deal with development-politics.
A space of intellectual solidarity
Lastly, Red Emma’s is a space of intellectual solidarity. The site is also home to the Baltimore Free School, a tuition-free community funded classroom space. Red Emma’s is positioned between two private and highly competitive educational institutions, the Maryland Institute College of Art (MICA) and Johns Hopkins University (JHU). Yearly tuition at these institutions are above $40,000, and bring with it the concentration of a social class and its ideological and economical value to the region. The presence of the Baltimore Free School radically challenges the common assumption that education and the exchange of critical ideas can only occur within systems of hierarchy, competition, and capitalist exchange. In fact, Red Emma’s radical politics, extensive vegan and vegetarian menu, collection of highly acclaimed academic literature, and surplus of outlets, coffee, and free Wi-Fi attracts these institutions’ students and faculty who get involve with the school or Red Emma’s public lectures and events. In addition to Red Emma’s physical use of space as an intellectual Commons, the project also openly shares their worker Bylaws and business management software, offering a digital resource for those in the community interested in starting or managing their own business.
Today, Red Emma’s strive to pay is worker-owners $15 an hour. The project has evolved from an organizing space meant to inspire people about radical politics to a working model that inspires other communities to invest in worker co-operatives. Red Emma’s provides an example of alternative economic practices, which is need in a city like Baltimore that continues to struggle to both socially and economically since de-industrialization and white flight. The injections of pro-capitalist economic schemes, such as the creative economies and sharing economies, has only further exploited existing race and class segregation in Baltimore. Red Emma’s faces real struggles in its hopes to balance rent, pay a living-wage, and stay committed to its radical political practice. Its capacities as a restaurant, bookstore, and intellectual commons are often stretched thin by the presence of the opioid crisis and the violence and health risks its brings. However, Red Emma’s in invested being a positive and humane space, interested in what non-carceral methods of drug-intervention and harm reduction would look like in Baltimore. Red Emma’s demonstrates a continued business practice that resists top-down hierarchal management where workers have equal say in setting work hours, take away equal shares of profit, and are actively shape the institutions they wish to see in the world.
Need to move out of white L or provide better access to it
Or both, situated as phases
Malcolm Rio is a graphic and architectural designer and thinker from Amherst, Massachusetts. Before MIT, he was an AICAD teaching-fellow positioned at the Maryland Institute College of Art in Baltimore, Maryland. His research investigates the relationship between utopian narratives and their inscription on forms of subaltern or "blackened" citizenship. Rio obtained his Master of Architecture from the Rhode Island School of Design, and his Bachelor of Science in Philosophy and Bachelor of Fine Art in Graphic Design from Towson University.