The 'Washingtonizing' of Maryland

September 08, 1995

Analysts who portrayed the election of Gov. Parris Glendening as a milestone regarding a shifting of power in Maryland haven't seen anything yet.

The "Washingtonizing" of Maryland will continue into the 21st century if long-range projections from the state Office of Planning come to fruition.

As Baltimore city and county decline in population through the year 2020, Montgomery County is expected to become the first Maryland jurisdiction to top 1 million in population. Howard County, which is in the Baltimore metropolitan area for statistical purposes but whose commuters are split 50-50 between the two cities, will continue to grow faster than any large jurisdiction in the state. Frederick County, which solidified its place as a bedroom for Washington-area workers in the 1980s, will leapfrog Harford and Carroll counties to become the sixth most populous Maryland county. Another D.C. exurban county in Southern Maryland, Calvert, will continue as the fastest growing in the state, nearly doubling in population.

As a share of Maryland's population, the Baltimore region has been declining, comprising 52 percent of state residents in 1980 what is expected to be 47 percent 10 years from now. The only two regions significantly growing in their share of the state's population are the Washington suburbs and Southern Maryland.

Baltimore has for two centuries been the political and cultural hub of Maryland life. It still holds sway as the state's figurative heart, its international identity, even as its population has waned. But clearly, Marylanders and their political and buying power are shifting south and west.

Two factors that are hard for the demographers to measure could have a huge impact on this.

First, the growth in the Washington suburbs will be impacted by the continued downsizing of the federal government.

Second, and most significantly, population planners have a tough time weighing human nature years into the future. For example, a decade ago, when women began delaying child-bearing into their 30s and 40s, planners' projections were thrown for a loop.

As baby boomers age, they may find less use for outer suburbs as they become empty-nesters. With less patience for long commutes and no children in grade school, they may seek a return to the urban core. If cities, including Baltimore, can turn around their public safety problems, they may be able to catch this mega-trend and ride it.

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