Boiling Point: How Cities Fail

by Phillip Ghee

This is my city. Periodically, throughout the decades, the City of Baltimore has been my home. This city, a city that by all means, logistically and compositely, should be a world class and a great city. Ironically, now it teeters on the brink of either social collapse or in the least, the formation of an irreversible caste system supported by voluntary apartheid.

A city, no city, can be perceived as great, dynamic or prosperous if it abandons and neglects huge numbers of its population; regardless of how many shiny towers, festive plazas and nearby, conveniently located, pristine golf courses it has access to.

Perhaps Baltimore is no more unique in its failing and failed polices than any other declining urban city. What they have in common is that they have all reached or are reaching their 'Boiling Point.' And although there are multitudes of politicians, policies makers and social observers standing close enough and nearby, no one has made a truly concreted effort to shut off the flame or at least lower the temperature.

What follows this short essay is a piece written by me: experimentation in creative writing, where I take full advantage of poetic license. In this, perhaps my last attempt, to bang this message home, the essence of all my writings. After writing the piece, I, although being the author, was astounded by its revelation just as much as any other reader might be. I thought to explore even deeper, how things had come to, such the point, to which the paper reflects.

I follow, when possible, most of all forms of media coverage of Baltimore. I was perplexed in my attempts to understand how so much fanfare could be generated about so little progress in the face of so much obvious decline. Then something occurred to me, a lingering tidbit of information from a nerdy past.

Boiling Frog

The boiling frog story is a widespread anecdote describing a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is placed in boiling water, it will jump out, but if it is placed in cold water that is slowly heated, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to significant changes that occur gradually

Cultural usage

If you drop a frog in a pot of boiling water, it will of course frantically try to clamber out. But if you place it gently in a pot of tepid water and turn the heat on low, it will float there quite placidly. As the water gradually heats up, the frog will sink into a tranquil stupor, exactly like one of us in a hot bath, and before long, with a smile on its face, it will unresistingly allow itself to be boiled to death. The expression "boiling frog syndrome" is sometimes used as shorthand for the metaphor.

Unlike the frog or possible frogs in this adage, I have been removed from the pot, many times throughout my many years. Upon each removal I take with me a snap shot, a visceral thermometer recording of the conditions of the pot while I was there and as I leave. Think of you own vacations. You visit a new place. You take a visual snap shot of all that surrounds you. At best you savor those recollections or in the least store them safely away in your memories. If you were to re-visit the same site years later, you would be adequately able to compare those new encounters and visions to that of those stored in your memory. Depending on your level of observation and cognizant awareness; you would be able to deduce valid analysis of differences between the two snap shots. Now imagine if you live for years at a time in those locations and then re-visit them years later.

Whenever, I am away from Baltimore, sometimes as much as five years, I put forth great effort to keep apprised of the city's goings on. While away, I mostly hear about all the great and wonderful things happening in Baltimore. I return to the city, full of anticipation and expectation, only to find, each and every time, that the city, at large and in all its respects has continued unabated in its obivious and noticeable decline.

I tune in to the sources that cover, news, policy and social vibrancy. In lieu of this most obvious setback, what happened, what went wrong? I am expecting to hear some admission of failed policies, some acknowledgment of decline...some apology. And what do I hear? What I hear for the most part is those same glorious announcements, heralded statistics, of progression, of containment, of functionality. To listen to and accept these reports as truth reduces one to depths of gullibility. People, you need to depend more upon your senses. Do you not see, think, observe and feel? Things are not getting better. The matter, the flesh, as it is when meeting the boiling point is beginning to break down. Awake and climb out of that pot. Once out, tell those responsible and able to turn the damn flame off.

Boiling Point: How Cities Fail by Phillip Ghee

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