Documentation and data from ethnographic research in West Baltimore

Documentation and data from ethnographic research in West Baltimore

City of Baltimore

For my masters thesis, I studied micro-businesses in under-resourced areas in West Baltimore, including Franklin Square and Sandtown-Winchester. Micro-businesses typically have 1-5 staff, are located in food deserts, and serve a demographic that is financially dependent on state assistance.

This initial study paved way for partnerships within city government, inclusion of overlooked stakeholders, and the reframing of how a municipality could approach under-resourced areas.

I mapped out all associated with a selection of micro-businesses in West Baltimore in order to understand relationships to these enterprises. These maps included storeowners, residents, vendors, city employees, construction workers, amongst others. The goal of these maps was to have micro and macro perspectives on these outlets in hopes to reframe how the city of Baltimore could approach them to better serve their surrounding areas, while including them in any/all policy (re)design. I addressed this from an economic development perspective and aimed to include everyone in the conversation. A few questions I often considered were: “what have these outlets been historically; what are they currently; and, what can they be?”

I tried to include this question: "how do we include everyone influenced by this niche market in the decision-making process?"

My research revealed several gaps in services, from local government to several stakeholders. It was common to have a few key stakeholders absent from conversations or sometimes not considered a key stakeholder. In order to ensure a comprehensive approach while considering the inherent flawed nature of this niche market (historically and presently), I utilized these maps to illustrate the need to include everyone – from owner to patron to vendor – when drafting a plan regarding next steps for listed micro-businesses.

This discovery led me to rethink how one could approach micro-businesses in under-resourced areas in order to encourage positive impact in their neighborhoods. The fundamental need in some parts of West Baltimore was to bridge the gaps between stakeholders by thinking about all of their short-term and long-term needs. In order to do so, I developed partnerships and brokered relationships between several Baltimore city departments including the Mayor’s Office of Immigrant and Multicultural Affairs and Baltimore’s Department of Planning. We have been drafting a potential position focused on community development as one possible way the city and a third party could be this bridge. Note that this would only be the first of many steps. 

I was a pro bono consultant and informal sounding board to this project until December 2016. However, the foregoing is still in progress.

Position Human-Centered Design Strategist
Role Research & Analysis; Organizational & Systems Design; Partnership Development; Community Organizing