The (Sub)urban Renaissance

January 13, 1992

Maryland's fiscal crisis underlines the stark differences between Baltimore City and its surrounding counties. As urban affairs expert Marc V. Levine pointed out in a Perspective article Jan. 5, the urban renaissance of the '80s turned out to be more glitz than substance for Baltimore and other cities, which are now in dire fiscal and social straits, while the counties have boomed.

Jobs, the middle class, businesses and money have been flowing out of the city for years. As a result there is a more pronounced autonomy in many of the new suburban concentrations. By offering jobs, housing, entertainment and shopping, these centers have become self-contained communities that give residents little reason to come downtown anymore or, for that matter, to identify with the city.

Suburbanites have always felt less connected to the city than their urban counterparts. Now a poll conducted by the New York Times finds that a greater percentage of people living in the suburbs in 1991 (more than half) feel more disconnected from the city than a decade ago. This should be a warning to Baltimore as the counties ringing the city struggle to expand their own tax bases. Former Baltimore County Executive Dennis Rasmussen went so far as to suggest building a new indoor arena at the Timonium Fairgrounds to substitute for the one downtown. Similarly, Pikesville has been fighting for a cultural arts center which, though it would certainly revitalize that area, would divert money and patrons from downtown haunts. And countless businesses are moving to suburban locales such as Columbia, Owings Mills and Hunt Valley -- taking with them not only jobs but residents who want to shop, see a movie, hear a concert or go out to dinner close to home.

This poses a danger -- not just to city residents for whom the social and fiscal fallout is toxic but also, in more subtle ways, to residents of the surrounding counties. Baltimore City remains the economic hub of the region -- home of the port, University of Maryland professional schools, the Hopkins hospital and university complexes and Loyola, Morgan and Notre Dame colleges to name a few. Every local government has a stake in the city's economic vitality. Yet as long as the city remains politically isolated from the counties, there can be no progress. It is time to stop choking on the words "regional cooperation," and to take concrete steps to share not only resources but a critical sense of identity and mission.

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