During the first week of June Baltimore's City Council overwhelmingly approved legislation modifying Baltimore's curfew law to make it one of the strictest in the country. Kids under 14 have to be indoors by 9pm. Kids between 14-16 have to be indoors by 10pm on school nights and 11pm during the summer. Kids found in violation of the curfew will not be arrested but instead will be sent to a "contact center". Their parents will be fined up to $500 (a $200 increase).  

Here's a video about the legislation.

Here's a video with the mayor.

Note how the mayor and most of the people interviewed in both videos use "common sense" to support their approach. Who wouldn't want children in general in the house by 9pm? What sane adult would allow their children outside after dark? If we were to ask 100 people randomly what would be the "natural" consequence of letting children roam the streets at night I'm betting 90 of them would say crime. 

The first week of June, while the City Council made their decision I was in Paris, attending The Right to the City conference. In 1968, a few months before students and workers in France almost overthrew the government, Henri Lefebvre published an essay "La Droit a la Ville" (english translation: "The Right to the City") arguing that people who live within the city, who in effect use the city as their canvass, have more of an inherent right to the city than people who own it (businesspersons, developers, people who work but don't live in the city, etc.).

Here's a copy

Since Lefebvre's essay was published cities in the United States have been forced to make two different sets of moves.

The first move is to spend more and more resources on attracting corporate investors, offering a variety of tax incentives to do so. In the United States and elsewhere this move is "incentivized" by national policies that diminish the amount of resources cities have to spend on social services. Beginning with Richard Nixon (who to be fair was not interested as much in killing aid to cities as he was in rationalizing aid to cities) and moving through Ford, Reagan (who was interested in killing aid to cities), Bush and continuing through to Obama, at best cities have been given incentives to engage in "public private partnerships" that would give them national resources in exchange for creating more favorable business climates[foot]Bill Clinton’s Empowerment Zones worked this way[/foot]. As cities relied less and less on public investment they had to rely more and more on private investment in the form of municipal bonds, a tactic that relied on high bond ratings from bond rating agencies. These bond rating agencies tended to look down on social service provision believing it to be a poor investment.

Which brings up the second move. As cities spent more and more on corporate investors they spent less and less on neighborhoods and on working class and poor populations. They spent less and less on parks and green space. They spent less on recreation. They spent less on summer programs. They spent less on a variety of resources that served to enhance the quality of urban life for the people who actually lived, loved, and played in the city. 

With one exception.

Money spent on policing either remains stable, even in the face of budget cuts, or increases. And while city officials get little to no help from states and the federal government to provide social services and the like, they DO receive aid from states and the federal government for policing. 

Around a year ago, Baltimore closed and privatized 20 recreation centers, arguing they didn't have the resources to staff them. If you listen carefully to the interview with the mayor above, the mayor noted that she wants a "contact center" in every major district. Where will the resources come from? Who will staff those centers?

Lefebvre's work is helpful here. Youth as a group are more likely to use the city for a variety of wonderfully unintended consequences than any other demographic group. They should have a right to the city, particularly when juxtaposed against the downtown business interests who arguably rely on the type of tourists who might be less inclined to spend money downtown if it is "swamped" with kids.[foot]See The Inner Harbor Project for an intervention.[/foot]

But Lefebvre doesn't account for differences within urban populations. It isn't just business interests that want to see kids controlled, it's adults who increasingly come to support the "common sense" notion that spending money on curfew centers makes more sense than spending money to keep recreation centers open.     

The Mayor held a meeting with a variety of youth groups in the city. From what I understand the youth were extremely critical of the mayor's approach, causing the mayor to suggest that as an adult she had more of a right to make decisions about their lives than they did. 

This issue is important to me intellectually, given both my first and second (forthcoming) books. It's important to me politically–I'm on the board of The Intersection. I have a good idea about how black baltimore youth think. And evidence suggests some adults have different opinions as well.     


Unfortunately there's no way to resolve this through a traditional black politics lens. Using such an approach would either have us focusing more on racism than on the type of intra-racial politics we see here, or it would have us focusing more on adults and child safety than on the possibility that even if we use child safety as the most important issue the central question we should be asking is, what should the city be used for. WHO should the city be used for?