Fleeing Baltimore: A Documentary About Middle-Class Flight

A Baltimore City property owner and community activist makes a documentary about middle-class flight.

Dan Cosgrove began shooting videos and then uploading them to YouTube in 2008 to fight crime and grime in Washington Village, the Southwest Baltimore City neighborhood also known as Pigtown.  Now he has produced a 60 minute documentary about middle class-flight from the city, called:  "Fleeing Baltimore: A Documentary About Middle-Class Flight". 

According to Cosgrove, it is "the first time, the subject is approached from the point of view of former-city residents who fled to the safety of the surrounding counties".
Featured in the film are former Assistant State's Attorney, Page Croyder; former City-Council candidate, Adam Meister; former Baltimore Sun reporter and lecturer at Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies, Eric Siegel, Marcus Dent, Chapter Commander of the Baltimore Guardian Angels; among others.

A screening of the film was scheduled for May 12, at the VFW Post 9083, 8123 Harford Road, in Parkville, but the event sold out in 48 hours, so it was canceled and will be rescheduled to accommodate more people, Cosgrove said.  A future date for the showing has not been set.   Cosgrove, a life-long Baltimore County resident, and a graduate of the University of Maryland Honors Program, in Political Science, owns property in Washington Village and was elected President of the Washington Village Development Association (WVDA)  six years ago.  During that time he shot videos highlighting the crime and grime in Washington Village and the failure of the city government to respond to the needs of the middle-class and urban homesteaders in the community.   

(Visit the WVDA YouTube Channel at: http://www.youtube.com/user/WVDAChannel.)

The following is a interview with Cosgrove that also appears on the Baltimore Examiner website: 

Tully: How long did you work on "Fleeing Baltimore: A Documentary About Middle-Class Flight" ?
Cosgrove:  It really started back in 2008 when I picked up a video camera and wondered if it could be used as a tool, to advocate for Pigtown. I've been filming a lot of the good, the bad and the very ugly, in this city, for more then four years.  After years of releasing shorts, concerning a number of topics, it was time to put together a full-length documentary.  It's currently going through the process of test screening and will be submitted to film festivals after the test screenings are complete. 

Tully:  What has been the general reaction of viewers who have seen the movie so far? 

Cosgrove:  This film is socially significant and needs to get out there. This may be the first time individuals who participated in middle-class flight, from Baltimore City, have been interviewed (on film) about their experiences. 

Tully:  Have you shown the movie to any city officials so far?  Do they know about it?
Cosgrove:  I've reached out to some city officials and some that ran for political office but lost.  There appears to be a general interest building about the subject matter and the film.
Tully:  You don't actually live in Baltimore City, so why do you care so much about it?
Cosgrove:  I own property in Baltimore City and have spent the last six years advocating for better city communities as the President of WVDA.  I have a strong vested interest, in the city, despite living in one of the surrounding counties.  If I did not have a vested interest, I would not try to shed light on the city's problem of depopulation, its causes and consequences.
Tully:  Why didn't you find a place in the city to screen your film?
Cosgrove:  We chose the VFW in Parkville because John Waters used the location in several films.  That said: "Fleeing Baltimore" has screened in Baltimore City three times at unadvertised test screenings. We wanted to open this screening up, to a small group of the public, so we put it on the web site. However, word of mouth (from the unadvertised test screenings) has caused an unexpected demand for tickets. 
Tully:  In your opinion, what are the main reasons people are fleeing Baltimore City?
Cosgrove:  The main culprit causing city residents to leave the city is the government; it's dysfunctional.  It can't provide the most basic services that only a government can provide.  Furthermore, it's in direct competition with governments in the surrounding counties that can effectively provide those services at a much cheaper cost.  People that are economically mobile are going to gravitate to good schools, safe communities, and governments that can properly bill their residents for water, for example.    

Tully:  How do you view Mayor Rawlings-Blake's goal of attracting 10,000 new families to Baltimore City within the next decade?
Cosgrove:  It's not going to happen.  In fact, there's a new trend in Baltimore City that needs to be reported: Good people with good jobs and good credit are walking away from their city homes, destroying their credit and allowing their homes to be foreclosed.  The press hasn't picked up on this yet, but the city's already spinning it as being caused by the real estate bust.  It's not.  People are leaving the city, despite the personal cost, just to start over outside the city.
Tully:  If you had it to do over again, would you invest in Baltimore City?
Cosgrove:  No.  This government doesn't function: It can't send out reliable water bills; it can't get the illegal dirt bikes off the street; its courts won't incarcerate repeat offenders; and its taxes continue to go up and the list of its dysfunction goes on and on. 

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Christian April 20, 2012 at 03:33 PM
I think that stating that the issues which involve this city are due to a dysfunctional government is an excuse to over simplify the issues involving this city. There are a multitude of reasons why this city has problems and include a myriad of issues such as too many foundations sapping the income of the city, state and federal government and not allowing for plans that could actually work be created by those funds that are being used by foundations. Another is the concept of "Benefits Districts" to supplement the services of the government, when the city already has a facility in place to perform tasks required by the citizens of this city. You may have to make your voice heard, but it can be accomplished. Baltimore is a magnificent city with a great deal to offer to its residents and can be a place to live in if you are willing to work for it. I happen to think that Baltimore has so much available with its museums, its theaters, its restaurants, its beautiful streets and boulevards and the most wonderful thing about it is its people. Living in a city where people say good morning and smile at you if you smile at them is something very neat. If you think your real estate taxes are high, don't ever move to New Jersey or you might just pass out from shell shock. Baltimore can and just may be the Paris of the Mid-Atlantic.
k harris April 20, 2012 at 04:23 PM
Oversimplified and then some. Hopefully the documentary will be more informed than this article suggests. To understand the problems of today, it'd be wise to start with "Not in My Neighborhood: How Bigotry Shaped a Great American city" by Antero Pietila. The past has shaped the present.
Christian April 20, 2012 at 07:05 PM
We can learn then from the past and attempt as a city to be better than it was. There is so much here in Baltimore that to flee from it would be like closing the door on hope. I really think that if and when we rally as a city we can be a powerful force to make positive change in our society and fleeing will not allow that to happen. It is time to look crime right in the face and work with our government to eliminate it. Let us stop making excuses and do something positive. The Pastor at the Ark Church in the Oliver community said last year to City officials, the following "Why do we do the same wrong things over and over again?" Now is the time to step forward and do something that will benefit the entire city as equals and to help stop the crime and grime that we have become accustomed to. Mr. or Ms. Harris, I hope you don't flee the city and will do your part to make it safe and clean. I will read Mr. Pietila's books. Thank you.
Mike Aaron April 20, 2012 at 09:10 PM
I've got to agree. Middle class flight is a complex phenomenon, about which hundreds of books have been written. There is no simple reason and no single cause. I applaud Mr. Cosgrove's efforts to take action, but he undercuts his credibility by making such simplistic statements.
David Taylor April 23, 2012 at 04:06 PM
"I resemble that remark..." I was born and raised in Baltimore, and I lived there until I was about 30, but when the time came to start a family we decided on Baltimore County. It wasn't the crime/drugs, since you get than anywhere, and honestly it wasn't really that bad where I was. It was the schools and the services and the self-serving politicians. At the time, I saw what I called the "death spiral" happening, where people who have the means will move away, which lowers the tax base and chips away at the bonds that form the community (the people). This in turn erodes the quality of the schools, services, rec centers, fire departments ... which drives people with the means to leave ... and so on. I had friends try to convince me to tough it out, and I still left part of my heart in the city, but this just wasn't a fight I could be on the front lines for. I think Baltimore is a great city, with amazing, smart, engaged people who care - and I think there's hope yet. Maybe we'll be back after the kids are out of school and they clean up city hall... but for now we'll have to cheer from the sidelines. p.s. Fire stations and schools and rec centers and the general quality of life in the neighborhoods are what matter (to me at least) - not Grand Prix events or the "fishable harbor" hype that the politicians are selling.
Christian April 23, 2012 at 06:16 PM
Hi David:: What can I say to you after such eloquence stated as to the reasons why you left the city. Years ago, partly due to the cost of Manhattan, the crime in Manhattan and the schools which were doing poorly, we moved to the suburbs so that our child could get a quality education and be safe. We moved to a wonderful neighborhood in northern New Jersey and enjoyed the benefits of a better education for our child who got her Masters at Yale. She was able to do that because of the quality education she received and while we paid dearly real estate wise, it was worth it. However, the call of the city life we knew so well still haunted us and we moved to Baltimore, without our daughter who now resides outside of Manhattan in Jersey City. If you decide to move back to the city, look us up and we will welcome another city person who can help rebuild this city again. It isn't too late.
Sean Tully April 24, 2012 at 03:25 AM
I think Dan Cosgrove made some valid points as to why the city is in the condition it is in. Does the interview cover all bases? Certainly not. But, in all fairness, it is a fairly short interview. Go see the movie when you can for more information. Having said that, we can't continue to blame the current state of the city on the past. There are many reasons that the middle class fled the city in the 60s, 70s, and beyond. Racism was surely a major factor but also the development of the interstate highway system played a part. As the middle class earned more money, they wanted to live in houses with lawns and trees, etc. As more and more people owned cars, they could start using the new highways to drive into work instead of having to take public transportation. So to blame everything on racism is not a complete picture either. As for the city today, architecturally and culturally, it is a wonderful place. But, unfortunately, living in the city is becoming unbearable for more than a few people. And much of the trouble stems from, as Cosgrove said, "dysfunctional" government.
Jeff V April 24, 2012 at 05:01 AM
Black flight now out paces white flight from the City. Viewing the current depopulation through the lens of 1968 is how most people in positions of power and influence still think. That’s why the City’s depopulation will continue.
Jeff V April 24, 2012 at 05:14 AM
"complex phenomenon" It's not complex! You've undermined your credibility. In the age of information, the City government can't send out accurate water bills. Fire stations are closing, rec centers are closing, pools are closing, police pensions are being cut, the tax base is decreasing by the day. I think Cosgrove's on point!
Christian April 24, 2012 at 12:45 PM
You must consider that this city of 632,000 +/- 5% is small in comparison to the other metropolitans in this country, but manages to provide many of the needed services for its citizens, but until people really start voting again, they can only blame themselves for some of the problems that we face in this city. The numbers of the voting public have been so low that it shows that many of our residents have given up hope so they allow the same old politicians to rule over us, but what is needed to truly grow this city is for its citizens to get up and vote new independent men and women with a committment to the city. Also, if we want to keep rec centers open, then demand that they be kept open for our children and remember one important thing, at least I believe it is essentially the most important thing, and that is we are all equal and should be treated in that manner. The city will grow when there is hope.
Sebastian Sassi April 24, 2012 at 02:25 PM
Yawn. Nonsense! There's nothing complex about it--Baltimore failed to provide adequate sanitation, trash collection, fire protection, police support, and quality of life/livability for middle class residents. It failed to protect private citizens and jail criminals who are violent, and when the housing bubble burst, the tax payers left. "You're missing the complexity" is the weak-minded person's shorthand for "I have nothing useful to contribute and want to kick sand over the fact that my softheaded politics are shown to be morally bankrupt and without solutions for places like Baltimore." One thing I learned having lived the Pigtown experience: no matter how noble your efforts, there'll always be sophomoric jerks on the Internet doing nothing substantive about the world's problems willing to slag your efforts from the comfortable distance of the keyboard.
Jeff V April 24, 2012 at 03:14 PM
More people voted than are given credit. They voted with their feet. They left the City and took their tax dollars with them. People aren’t going to support a government that allows illegal dirt bikes on the streets, a government that allows drug dealers on the corners, a government that refuses to incarcerate career criminals. The politics of the City are pro-criminal. Many state, “we can’t arrest our way out of the problem”. As if allowing drug dealers to kill each other would make the City safe.
Christian April 24, 2012 at 03:42 PM
To all: I don't think that I have all the answers and I have heard a great deal from those who participated in this discussion which has been very impressive in scope and understanding of the issues that the city faces. I can only state that if all the people who wrote their ideas ever got together as a group of residents of the City of Baltimore, I believe that a great deal could be achieved. If we could all meet and collectively work on the problems of the city I believe that there is hope still for the city to really be proud again. This city or any city will never be heaven, but it surely can improve itself with the ideas and expressions registered here within the last few days and I hope you will agree that a lot has been learned so that we can effectively move forward. So vote, contact your government when you see an issue and work with your neighbors to become involved in your communities and yes there will be sophmoric people in the background saying stupid things, but we can overcome that,
Sean Tully April 24, 2012 at 11:20 PM
Christian, the only hope for Baltimore City is to get tax payers moving back in and, unfortunately, I see little hope of that happening anytime soon.
Matthew May 15, 2012 at 06:25 PM
As someone who is a resident of Pigtown, Dan is completely right about the city and the government. I would focus on the courts and the judges though, they are truly the ones that are destroying the city by letting drug dealers and murderers back on the streets of Baltimore time and time again. And then we give them welfare so they can continue their life of crime.
Fleeing Baltimore December 17, 2012 at 06:07 PM
Over 7800 views of the Fleeing Baltimore Indiegogo video on YouTube!! Also, an increasing number of views and increasing pace of views for the pre-screening interview, the trailer and the teaser. It appears this documentary may finally be finding its audience. That said: There are only about ten (10) hours left to help fund the next step in the completion of the documentary. Here’s the video with the link to the Indiegogo page: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=owG_5T1Xsi4&list=UUOTO4-IYxWOMuMvG86sKHlg&index=1


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