Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and the four newly elected county executives in surrounding jurisdiction seem to be concentrating
these days on everything except regional cooperation. They had better change their ways. Listen to this warning:
"Baltimore, without some real help, is in danger of becoming America's next Detroit or Newark. . . If the city's free fall and the counties' withdrawal aren't stopped soon, future economic prospects and the quality of life from Columbia to Bel Air, Glen Burnie to the Pennsylvania border, will be imperiled."
This dire prediction crackles in a study, "Baltimore and Beyond," published in a special supplement by The Sunday Sun today. It was prepared by columnist Neil Peirce and experts in local governance under a grant from the Abell Foundation.
Whether the focus is on the port or on overall economic growth, it is evident that Baltimore City and nearby counties can either hang together or hang separately.
"County officials must have the courage to tell their constituents that Baltimore City's well-being is critical to the entire region, that if the city starts to sink economically, the ripples of decay will spread inexorably outward. County delegates to Annapolis ought to identify with city interests as one would with a close partner," says the study.
While the report encourages the city and the surrounding counties to strike mutually beneficial deals, it is not optimistic about such deals.
"The politics of a deal will be tough all around. County residents show increasing alienation toward a center city that's become the region's catchment basin for families in extreme poverty. Median family income in the city, once roughly comparable to the counties, is now just half as great. With its loss of so many middle-class people (first whites, now more and more blacks), Baltimore City faces abandonment and decay."
Regional thinking in the Baltimore area has been more honored with lip service than action, by politicians who shirk the responsibilities of leadership. Yet regional cooperation makes eminent sense, particularly in these times of austere government budgets. It should be made a public mandate. For that reason, there is great merit in the "Baltimore and Beyond" suggestion to convene a one-time civic congress for the Baltimore region.
With delegates from each of the five metropolitan counties and Baltimore City, such a forum would identify priorities and create a citizen lobby to prompt the politicians to redesign the ways local governments do business. As the global marketplace changes and competition heats up, the Baltimore area can thrive only as a united force.