The City of Baltimore is dotted with about 250 residential neighborhoods. Some of these locations are gleaming with skyscrapers overlooking the picturesque Inner Harbor, while others feature tree-lined streets, stately mansions or even centuries-old row homes with marbles steps. In many respects, Baltimore is a vibrant and livable city. But then there are the rows of vacant homes — and the indicators of poverty surrounding them.
For Nikolay Ratajczak, a senior in the B.S. in Real Estate and Economic Development program, it’s a different picture of these boarded-up homes that he sees. Through the grime, the trash and the clutter, he believes that opportunity awaits. In fact, he can back up this point of view with his award-winning research.
Ratajczak is the top winner of the 2014 Grosvenor Fund Management and the Philadelphia Real Estate Council’s second annual Mid-Atlantic Real Estate White Paper Competition. In his paper, “Vacant Opportunities and the Charm City Model,” he identifies marginalized residential neighborhoods located on the periphery of growth and development that nevertheless are networked with urban amenities like public transportation, employment, retail and — most importantly — universities and medical centers. It’s through these conduits, Ratajczak offers that a transformational economic change can happen in Baltimore.
Ratajcak’s statistical analysis, much of which was collected from a database put together by the Jacob France Institute (the University of Baltimore’s economic research team), in collaboration with the Baltimore Neighborhoods Indicator Alliance, led to his conclusion that targeted areas could see impactful urban revitalization and population growth if the homes were rehabbed for renter-occupied properties in addition to owner-occupied properties.
Ratajcak’s narrative in his paper was as thoughtful as his presentation of the data. Essentially, he wrote that the city faces three major challenges to neighborhood-based economic development: social, environmental and financial hurdles. He noted that these challenges are often pulling in different and opposing directions: One part of a neighborhood may be thriving, e.g., two new cafes have opened on a central street, while another part, e.g., the number of young working adults, may be on the decline.
Still, these interests don’t have to compete against one another or against developers or investors who take an interest in a Baltimore neighborhood. In Ratajcak’s outlook, the “Charm City Model,” as he calls it, an entrepreneurial approach can overlap the three challenges. It’s a template for significant change in Baltimore and other mid-Atlantic cities, Ratajcak says.
For his efforts, Ratajcak received $1,000 and the publication of the paper by the Philadelphia Real Estate Council, plus the opportunity to attend and present his research at an exclusive PREC Roundtable.
Between this most recent win, and his second-place finish in the 2013 Undergraduate Statistics Class Project Competition sponsored by the Consortium for the Advancement of Undergraduate Statistics Education, Ratajcak’s research is establishing him as a Merrick student with a particularly strong career ahead.
Ratajcak was selected as a student speaker for UB’s Commencement Exercises in spring 2014.