Going Beyond 'Baltimore and Beyond'


We are prepared to eat some crow.

Our "Baltimore and Beyond" report, printed in The Sun May 5, was intended as a wake-up call to the Baltimore region.

We found the city faced with deeper social problems than many Baltimoreans confess. We found both the city and neighboring counties nostalgically preoccupied with great hopes for elected political leaders, when in fact all of America seems to be into an "anti-hero" phase with its politicians.

And we found the region correspondingly slow to forge city-county alliances or to mobilize independent citizen action or pressing problems.

None of this was intended with anger or rancor. For 20 years, one of us (Peirce) had been writing about Baltimore in books and columns, reciting the city's remarkable revitalization strides for a national audience. Another of us (Henderson) was recently on the jury to award Baltimore an All-America City Award for 1991.

But it's clear we misjudged our audience -- especially on the Baltimore City side. A number of Baltimore political leaders read our words as an attack on the city or on the mayor and City Council.

Our positive words about the city must have seemed to them overbalanced by our focus on critical problems. And it's true we focused on what we see as the chaotic social situation in many Baltimore neighborhoods and the city's need for truly radical reform.

Others faulted us for failing to interview the "right" people -- forgetting, we believe, that we'd spent two decades writing about Baltimore politics and neighborhoods and started our project with a fairly wide knowledge of the city and its politics.

We even got stung from the editorial side. Despite support in The Sun's editorials, the deputy editorial page editor of The Sun dismissed our report as one of "a confusing kaleidoscope of visions." A Sun columnist wrote we'd been too general and failed to conduct a "hard-headed charging through the numbers."

But let's be clear. Our task wasn't to plow through statistics already well reported by this paper or repeat its regular coverage.

An outside team like ours has a quite different role: to bring a fresh perspective, to use its knowledge of cities across America as background and to offer a few ideas that seem -- based on a broad range of interviews -- to be "waiting to be born" in the community we visit.

That is why we underscored the need for a broad and sweeping "deal" between Baltimore and its surrounding counties -- a deal to avert the grim scenario of Baltimore declining while its relatively more affluent suburban neighborhoods get uncomfortably crowded and polluted.

We actually spelled out specific terms of how such a deal could commence. The suburbs would go to Annapolis expressing much stronger fiscal support for the city, including for funds to relieve its dangerously high property tax. We know that would be a statesmanlike -- but politically tough -- position for county legislators to take.

There'd have to be major reciprocating action by Baltimore. It would have to convince the counties and Annapolis alike that fresh dollars flowing into the city wouldn't simply disappear, but could realistically be expected to emerge as solid investment leading in to a stronger, less dependent city in the future.

The obvious stepping stones to that, it seemed to us, were dramatically improved schools, much more intensive work to turn around ravaged neighborhoods, and public-private partnerships to make Baltimore an unassailably good model of expert city management.

Lest anyone believe either the city or counties can "go it alone," can expect prosper while their neighbors suffer, we listed nine specific reasons -- from the region's image to the world to its future tax burdens and work-force preparedness -- to underscore the continuing city-county interdependence.

To our knowledge no one else, in any other American city, has spelled out so specifically the starting terms of a deal between city and suburbs. Reaching a deal, and then building on it with constantly increasing mutual support, will be the secret to building the Baltimore region as one of the coming century's strong "city-states."

The stark reality is that without such a deal, the future will be divisive and bleak.

A city-counties deal would not eclipse the growing black political control in the city. Nor would it imperil existing county governments. But it would say that both need to work together a great deal more cooperatively in the future and not pretend that such "nice" accords as sharing arts costs or library exchanges will do the trick.

Cooperative action has to extend to a search for joint solutions on extraordinarily thorny issues, education and crime among them.

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