Report proposes spreading city's poor in suburbs Plan's aim is to stop decline of Baltimore, cut poverty rate

Henson rejects premise

Author Rusk warns of 'point of no return'

mayor, others wary

October 15, 1995|By TIMOTHY J. MULLANEY | TIMOTHY J. MULLANEY,SUN STAFF Staff writers Joanna Daemmrich and Patrick Gilbert contributed to this article.

An article in the Oct. 15 editions incorrectly reported that the city of Baltimore's settlement of a suit brought by the American Civil Liberties Union on behalf of tenants at four city housing projects that have been demolished or are slated for demolition would force residents to move out of the city.

The Sun regrets the errors.

Baltimore can cut its rate of poverty in half by 2015 if Maryland adopts policies aimed at spreading more poor Baltimoreans, especially poor blacks, throughout six surrounding counties and funneling some property taxes from suburban growth back into the city, according to a new book by one of the nation's leading urban scholars.

Baltimore Unbound, the result of a two-year study funded by the Abell Foundation, is a guide aimed at saving Baltimore from what author David Rusk calls a "point of no return."


Mr. Rusk says the city's 31 percent share of metropolitan Baltimore's population is overwhelmed by the demands of caring for 41 percent of the region's poor whites and 86 percent of its poor blacks, fueling a cycle of middle-class flight, citywide decline and poverty among black city dwellers that is all the more persistent because of its concentration in certain neighborhoods.

As a result, city residents' median family income has fallen to only 59 percent of their suburban neighbors', down from 92 percent in 1950. Twenty-two percent of Baltimoreans live in poverty.

Mr. Rusk says none of the 24 U.S. cities where city dwellers' incomes are less than 70 percent of the average in nearby suburbs, and that have big population losses and minority populations twice as concentrated as in the suburbs, have ever recovered.

"Baltimore can't deal with a role as a warehouse for the region's poor," says Mr. Rusk, a former mayor of Albuquerque, N.M., and son of the late Secretary of State Dean Rusk. "With those [statistics], Baltimore can't win. Those cities keep on going down and down. Not one of those cities has ever closed the income gap with its suburbs by even one percentage point."

Baltimore Unbound is controversial even before most people have read it.

Black politicians in Baltimore scorn the 159-page book's emphasis on concentrations of poor black people as the root of many urban ills, and they are wary of sharing power with suburban politicians.

And some suburban leaders say Mr. Rusk has done practically no political spadework to sell his ideas to the suburbs.

"I disagree with the premise, and I'm insulted by it," said Baltimore Housing Commissioner Daniel P. Henson III, who has worked to break up concentrated communities of poor blacks by demolishing city housing projects. "His premise is that Baltimore is forced to be a warehouse for poor blacks. I don't see how he proves that the city can't survive because it's 60 or 75 percent African-American."

"I think it's interesting for discussion purposes, but is it reality? No," said Michael Davis, a spokesman for Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III. "He's already written a book, and he's coming to tell us what he's saying. That's not a way to get cooperative change done."

Even Mr. Rusk admits that the political road to reform will take years, as did the battles for Camden Yards, Harborplace and the Baltimore-Washington International Airport, now-established landmarks that had to overcome fierce opposition.

"I don't know of any region of the country where independent suburban jurisdictions have come around voluntarily to a program like this," he says.

'Elastic cities'

Abell Foundation President Robert C. Embry Jr. said Abell commissioned the book in 1993, impressed by Mr. Rusk's reputation for studying other cities. Mr. Rusk is a supporter of what he calls "elastic cities," which expand their boundaries by annexing territory around their borders as those areas begin to attract population and commercial development.

In cities such as Indianapolis and Charlotte, Mr. Rusk notes that annexation has stemmed the erosion of city fiscal bases and slowed the descent of inner-city neighborhoods toward concentrated poverty. He does not propose that Baltimore annex suburban counties, both because Maryland law prohibits it and because a consolidated metro Baltimore would be too big to run efficiently. "That would be crazy," he says.

Instead, Mr. Rusk proposes three big ideas that are already law in Montgomery County, Minneapolis-St. Paul, Minn., and Portland, Ore.:

* To move people out of the city, he wants the state to make metropolitan Baltimore adopt a version of a Montgomery County law that requires builders of communities of more than 50 new homes to build 15 percent of their homes for people with low and moderate incomes.

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