Studies assessing Baltimore's future tend to lean heavily on diagnosis and tread lightly on cures. Now comes a Greater Baltimore Committee report that wastes little time belaboring the obvious, outlining instead a regional economic vision powered by medicine and biological research.
"Baltimore: Where Science Comes to Life" offers the business community, educators and politicians a realistic, if challenging, glimpse of what the region could become and some inkling of how to get there. The vision takes root in Baltimore's substantial and growing involvement in the life sciences.
The report cites clear evidence of this shift, including the growth of the Johns Hopkins medical behemoth which has usurped Bethlehem Steel as the region's dominant private employer. Maryland leads the nation in research bankrolled by the National Institutes of Health. Nearly a third of the region's top 50 employers are health related. The Baltimore-Washington corridor ranks third in the country in the number of biotechnology companies. Well over $1 billion in construction is currently in progress or planned in medical or life science projects. Printing and publishing, the region's fastest growing manufacturing industry, is now driven by medical publishing.
Baltimore is hardly alone in casting about for a new engine to replace its manufacturing past. Moreover, the city has substantial liabilities to overcome: few corporate headquarters; troubled elementary and secondary school systems ill-equipped to feed an increasingly top-flight higher education network; severe and continuing economic, social and educational disparities.
Yet these obstacles do not negate the vision. Rather, they argue powerfully and urgently in favor of such a well-focused objective. Many questions remain unanswered, including the shape and scope of the radical educational and social reforms needed to take the GBC's vision across all socio-economic strata. The group's report calls for a sweeping and permanent re-definition of learning, teaching and, perhaps most important, the community's role in this process.
Some will doubtless view "Baltimore: Where Science Comes to Life," as yet another example of blue-sky thinking. But this document should not wind up collecting dust. It opens the door for serious discussion among educators, businesses, politicians and policy makers about the life sciences in Baltimore. The city can no longer entrust its future to the largess of increasingly insular and politically powerful suburban counties. The revitalization of the Inner Harbor bears testament to what can happen when policy makers unite behind a vision. No one is suggesting that this report contains all the answers, but its objectives and recommendations are certainly worth pursuing.