What binds Baltimore and D.C.?

September 23, 1992

The federal government is expected to combine, on paper at least, the Baltimore and Washington areas into one megalopolis, stretching 200 miles from Berkeley County, W. Va. to Queen Anne's County. Appalachia meets the Eastern Shore -- in one common market?

The change is solely for statistical purposes, but some people believe the change will help the region sell itself. The Washington market is now the eighth largest in the country. Baltimore is 18th. With 6 million-plus people, this joint metropolitan statistical area would rank fourth. Only New York, Los Angeles and Chicago would be larger.

Residents won't feel the effect, at least not immediately, but business leaders who have pushed for the change contend it will make the region more attractive to foreign companies eyeing American markets. State and local politicians also hope the designation gives the region a leg up for federal aid and projects, such as a demonstration high-speed "magnetic levitation" train line.

In real life, though, what do these two metropolitan areas have in common, much less with places such as Martinsburg, W. Va? Starved for professional football for eight years, Baltimore would still rather die of hunger than root for the Redskins. Washington, meanwhile, looks askance at Baltimore -- Harborplace aside -- as the City of the Great Unwashed. Washington leaders say there's little question their name should come first in the census marriage since Baltimore brings to the union population, not panache.

Well, you say, at least we join as one at Oriole Park? Ha. Many Baltimoreans seem downright insulted that the recent three-millionth fan, lavished with gifts from the ballclub, came from Washington; they contend the new park doesn't get as spirited as Memorial Stadium because it no longer has a Baltimore crowd.

Despite this cultural divide, the entire region has been marked by great change over the past decade. The cities, suburbs and countryside in the D.C.-Baltimore area all endured immense upheaval in a short span. Concerns about school crowding, traffic, crime, housing costs and gentrification echo from the mountains of the black bear to the marshland home of wintering Canadian geese. Twenty-one of the 24 counties in the proposed region experienced Sunbelt-like growth of 10 percent or more in the 1980s -- an outgrowth of the improved images of Baltimore and Washington.

So for a host of reasons, a combined market makes sense -- so long as it doesn't mandate that Baltimore root for the Redskins.

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