Where's the regional leadership? Little being said: Feeble attempts at metro-wide cooperation hurt city and its suburbs.

August 16, 1996

YEARS AGO WHEN there were fewer suburban post offices, people who lived outside the city limits often had their mail addressed to that town, with the appropriate zone or ZIP code to tell the mail sorter where it should be delivered. Many took pride in claiming residence in a metropolis though they actually lived next door. Not anymore. People who spend a third of almost every day inside the city go home and pretend it's a foreign land filled with strange folks with odd customs that they know nothing about.

It's not a local phenomenon. Big cities across America suffer from the cold shoulder they get from suburban communities that can't stomach urban ills. Their mutual survival, of course, depends on getting past their differences and concentrating on collaboration. As big-city problems increasingly grow past geographic borders, more people see that. But, in the Baltimore area, not enough. Efforts at regional cooperation have been spotty. Politicians have preferred to feed off the ignorance of each other that city and suburban dwellers have.

If they can ever get past the stereotypes that instill fear and mistrust among their populations, leaders on both sides of the city/suburb border might find it easier to forge alliances. They could begin by looking at successful examples of regionalism that might be emulated. One is the Regional Plan Association, which serves New York and its suburbs. At 67 years old, RPA is the oldest independent regional planning association in the nation. It takes credit for a number of initiatives to save park land, expand mass transit and create jobs.

This area has had several incarnations of a similar agency over the past 32 years, the latest being the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, which was spawned four years ago by the old Baltimore Regional Council of Governments.

The council's successes have been modest, mostly getting public officials to talk about transportation, waste disposal and air and water quality concerns. The region needs stronger leadership by elected officials such as Mayor Kurt L. Schmoke and Baltimore County Executive C. A. Dutch Ruppersberger III to overcome divisive rhetoric and combine money and resources to solve problems that won't be bound by city/county lines. That may not be politically expedient, but it's the right thing to do.

Pub Date: 8/16/96

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