Baltimore has long been a place that transcends its physical location. Its accents and charm set it in the South, its economy resembles that of the Rust Belt, and its disarmingly friendliness places it light-years away from its powerful sister city an hour down I-95.
Perhaps this ambiguity is why it’s a less visible part of the post-industrial urban story than cities like Detroit, St. Louis and Milwaukee. Since the mid 20th century, Baltimore has struggled to regain its footing as many of its key industries, like steel processing and auto manufacturing, became unprofitable or moved overseas. During this period, the city lost 300,000 residents, and the deadly cycle of depopulation took its familiar toll: services were cut, leading to surges in crime and poverty, leading to more depopulation. To bring itself back, Baltimore needed to do more than simply find new residents – it needed to do so in a way that would inoculate it against future economic stresses.
In a way, the plan Baltimore hatched is a perfect example of a resilient city evolving and adapting – except that instead of adapting to, say, stronger hurricanes or droughts, Baltimore is adapting to the new economic realities of the 21st century. In 2012, Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake announced an initiative to attract 10,000 families to the city, and, in sharp contrast to the rhetoric coming out of many other cities at the time, she affirmed that immigrants would be one of the main demographics targeted.
It was an inspired plan. Baltimore’s economy, once heavily reliant on life-long careers held in large companies, now lends itself to the kind of local-level entrepreneurship that immigrants excel at. Immigrants form the kinds of tight-knit communities that can drive down crime and vacancy rates. And as recent arrivals from other countries, their decision to settle in Baltimore has the potential to “go viral” as friends and family from their native lands follow in their footsteps.
The resourcefulness of this enterprising group, and the re-populating feedback loop they have the power to create, is one of the main reasons the city wanted to attract immigrants in the first place. Now, for the first time in half a century, Baltimore’s population is rising once again, and the city’s physical location seems less important to its success than ever, as its newest residents expand its boundaries across the world.
Still Life Projects produced and shot this film in Baltimore over the course of one week in March. Click here to read their behind-the-scenes account of creating it.