IT USED TO BE a whisper. Now it's a cry -- from appointed and elected officials, civic leaders and editorialists: The metropolitan counties are going to have to help Baltimore city survive for the benefit of all -- in short, hang together or hang separately.
In recent history, of course, the counties have been skeptical of any city-county arrangements. Let the city take care of its own problems, say the countians, many of whom left Baltimore to escape to the comparatively trouble-free 'burbs.
But it was not always thus.
It is a great irony: Not too many years ago people from Baltimore, Anne Arundel, Harford, Howard and Carroll counties would do anything to give the impression they "lived" in the city. So as to enjoy its resources, they faked addresses and paid special fees. And you couldn't get self-respecting Baltimore city residents to travel to the counties -- except to visit the beaches (Bay Shore), to purchase ice cream (Emerson Farms) or to pass through on their way to far-away points.
Things got turned on their heads.
There was a time when county residents would take any route they could to enroll their children in city schools; after all, the county schools were considered "rural." The city was hospitable; it allowed county residents to enroll in city schools for a modest fee.
Young men and women trained in the state teachers' colleges wanted to work in the city. City schools had a national reputation, and the pay was better.
County residents complained. It was said they had no sidewalks, no street lights. Worse, in most places there weren't corner drug stores. How could anybody grow up sane without going through rites of passage at a corner drug store?
And if you lived in the county you could not belong to the Pratt Library.
You could not vote in Baltimore city elections -- the only ones thought to count.
You could not get a cab.
The counties were Baltimore city's poor cousins.
But for a host of reasons known to just about everybody, a kind of sociological flip-flop took place. It was not too long before things were reversed: The city is now the counties' poor cousin, holding out the beggar's bowl -- in this weird irony -- to those who had once held it out themselves.