Suburbs Aren't Oz

December 01, 1993

The suburban security blanket, like the one Linus totes around in the "Peanuts" comic strip, seems to fray with each passing news item:

Food pantries note increased demand in the suburbs, particularly in affluent Howard County . . . Panhandling more evident along suburban shopping strips. "It's safer," panhandlers say. . . . Retired executive shot through his living room window in Baltimore County's wealthy Green Spring Valley . . . Baltimore County announces heightened security to protect holiday shopping mall crowds.

The suburbs aren't immune to the effects of recession, urbanization, drugs, the breakdown of families -- all the ills asphyxiating inner cities. These are not the 'burbs of Barry Levinson's "Avalon." Within 15 miles of the beltway, the suburbs are more urban than rural in terms of land use and demographic mix. Urbanization spills miles beyond the city, sweeping across the eastern half of Howard County, oozing east of the Severn River in Anne Arundel, and shooting like flares up the highway corridors in Baltimore and Harford counties.

The suburbs aren't Oz, Paradise or Shangri-la. They're simply where 35 of every 50 people in the Baltimore region have chosen to live (or 65 of every 100 people in Maryland if you throw in Montgomery and Prince George's counties), drawn by schools and transportation access and green space.

Maybe it's more a measure of the suburbs' health than their sickness, however, that people and politicians and the media take notice when the suburbs cough. Murder, crime, poverty? That shouldn't happen there. Somebody do something.

Actually, that's the reaction that could help turn around Baltimore City, now en route to its second straight year of record homicides. When suburbanites become alarmed about urban problems spreading to their neighborhoods, they will demand action. City officials no longer will be alone in trying to combat these troubling social concerns.

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