We're all in this together, Baltimore!

Dennis F. Rasmussen

December 12, 1990|By Dennis F. Rasmussen

AS THE Baltimore area's new county executives begin the enormous task of running their governments, they also inherit a mandate to work with their counterparts on reginal issues. The need for a vehicle for regional problem-solving was recognized in 1963 when the Maryland General Assembly created the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments (the former Reginal Planning Council). Now, nearly three decades later, there is a growing consensus that a regional approach to resolving mutual local problems makes sense.

During the past several years, the council and its members -- Baltimore city, Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard counties and the state of Maryland -- have set in motion a regional policy-making process. Currently, we are forging regional partnerships in such key areas as work force quality, affordable housing and cultural development. These and other issues are also being addressed by the council through a planning process that will lead to a 1992 strategic plan for the Baltimore region. But the plan won't bear fruit unless it is implemented -- and that is a choice that can only be made by local government.

Today's global environment requires that all parts of our region work together to forge a strong collective vision of our future. We need to recognize that the six major jurisdictions comprising the Baltimore region are interdependent; they are a whole greater than the sum of its parts. We are one of the most dynamic areas in the nation, with a rich diversity of cultural, recreational and natural resources. In 1992, Baltimore and Washington, D.C., are slated to merge into one consolidated metropolitan statistical area. This move will position us as part of the fourth largest market area in the nation -- behind only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago In short, we stand poised to become a world-class community with a quality of life second to none.

Unfortunately, according to research undertaken by the Baltimore Regional Council of Governments, things aren't all rosy. We have been doing well enough economically in many parts of the region, but this prosperity masks some fundamental problems with schools, family support systems, unequal sharing of economic benefits and the burdens of state and local taxes. Despite our recent economic gains, social and economic disparities within our region have widened. Infant mortality, teen-age pregnancy and high school dropouts are worse in our area than in most other places in the nation.

While Baltimore's rebirth was the catalyst for our region's renewed spirit and unprecedented economic development, now, along with other old East Coast metropolitan areas, the city and the counties are facing tough challenges which could erode our past gains. The hard, cold fact is that the fate of the region is inexorably tied to the rise or fall of its central core. Sooner or later we will have to come to grips with the cost to the region if we fail to commit the needed energy, ideas and resources to bring Baltimore's schools and public services in line with those of its neighbors and to maintain its staying power as the financial, economic and cultural heart of the state.

Another problem we face is that big-time philanthropic resources are drying up. This turn of events has already placed our major cultural institutions and non-profit agencies in jeopardy. But if we can act together, we can leverage our existing human and financial resources to overcome this problem.

During this period of political transition and rapid international and technological change, we must confront our mutual concerns or the chance for positive improvement will be lost. Just as recent world events have demonstrated that coalition-building is the global order of the day, on a regional level, too, we would do well to adopt a similar approach. As our chief elected officials and county council members move into their new roles, I hope they will pause to consider the future of our region.

Dennis F. Rasmussen, who was defeated in a bid for re-election as Baltimore county executive, is chairman of the Baltimore vTC Regional Council of Governments. This is adapted from a speech he delivered last week.

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