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Why Baltimore?

Posted by Jason Rhodes on December 9th, 2013

A few hours ago, I tweeted a few times about the CreateBaltimore event happening today. I said:

I love Baltimore. But reading through some notes from @CreateBaltimore, I wonder if I belong in the tech community here, or understand it. 12:40 PM

and then

For me, the only answer to “Why Baltimore?” is “Because we live here.” 12:42 PM

Before I go on, let me clarify — I don’t dislike CreateBaltimore or the Baltimore Tech community. The event sounds positive and I think there’s a ton of great stuff going on in our city. I’m incredibly impressed by people like Mike Brenner, Jonathan Julian, and others who give a ton of themselves to push that community forward, providing opportunities for people to get involved, and being incredible resources.

So don’t let anyone refer to me as “the guy who hates the Baltimore Tech community”, because I absolutely don’t. I’m just not sure I fit into that community as it’s often described. And until today, I couldn’t really explain why.

I didn’t make it to CreateBaltimore for all kinds of boring reasons, but I’ve been following along with the Twitter conversation and came across a few people’s notes. Lauren Herda lists a collection of answers to “Why Baltimore?”, a question I assume they posed at the event. Answers from the notes include history, geography, proximity to other cities, “edgyness”, imperfections, and opportunities. One note really stuck out to me, and it was another question:

What can you do better in Bmore than anywhere else?

I don’t have a good answer to that question. I think that most of the things I want to devote my small amounts of free time to would be just as viable and interesting and successful (or not) if I lived in any other place. That’s why I said what I said on Twitter. I’ve grown to love my time in Baltimore over the past almost 10 years, but I live here by accident. My answer sounds like “just because” because, well, that’s kind of what it is.

That’s not a weak or snarky answer to me, either—I’m just not that interested in the question. Today, I started to understand that when people ask “Why Baltimore?”, I think they’re asking “Why would others outside Baltimore want to come here?” or “Why would people here want to stay, instead of leaving to go somewhere else?” These are important questions to think about if you want to attract a great talent pool or a host of growing companies to your city. And because a lot of the people doing this work are awesome, they’re working on directing all that excited energy back into projects that will make the city great (and more attractive, again).

Be attractive to outsiders, develop for locals.

In other words: be attractive to outsiders, develop for locals. Market to the world, bring good people here, make things for Baltimore.

If I’m right about that, I understand why I don’t always feel excited about what those groups are trying to do, because I’m interested in the opposite. I want to be a part of a community that embraces “be attractive to locals, develop for everyone”, if that makes sense. Build relationships with local developers, maybe we’ll build something awesome together.

I live in Baltimore because I ended up here, and I’m sure a lot of people ended up here the same way. Now that I live here, I’m interested in being a part of the community of other people who happen to find themselves here, too.

If I was trying to get a group of folks to play intramural baseball on Sunday afternoons, I wouldn’t need to think about questions like “What kind of baseball can we play here that you can’t play anywhere else?” I’m not trying to attract people from Florida or Arizona, or even to keep people here. If you live in the area and you like baseball, come play — maybe we’ll get to be friends, have a few laughs, and possibly even get better at baseball while we’re at it.

So who wants to be part of an intramural development and design club? ;)

Warning: Comments ahead. Never read them.