FORGIVE Frederick city officials if they suddenly start...

Noted in brief

November 29, 1997

FORGIVE Frederick city officials if they suddenly start shouting, "We're No. 2!"

They just passed Rockville, according to the Census Bureau, for the title of Maryland's second-largest city (46,227 versus 46,019). That's considerable bragging rights when the old historic town tries to sell itself as a hot market for residential, commercial and industrial development.

Indeed, the city is a fast-growing town in the middle of a fast-growing county. Frederick has benefitted immensely from the high-techology development that has spread north along Interstate 270 from Rockville. There's more room to grow in formerly rural Frederick County than in the southern portion of heavily populated Montgomery County.

Another of Rockville's northern neighbors soon will make Montgomery's county seat No. 4 instead of No. 3 on the largest-city list for Maryland. Gaithersburg, just a few miles further up I-270, added nearly 6,000 residents in the past six years, versus 1,200 for Rockville. That places Rockville just 658 souls ahead of Gaithersburg. By the time of the 2000 census, the two cities will change places on the population chart.

But none of them can ever hope to become No. 1.

Even with a continuing population drain, Baltimore City is this state's runaway champ. Latest census estimates place the city's residential base at 675,401. That is a loss of more than 60,000 since 1990, dropping Baltimore's population to its lowest level in 86 years.

This is cause for concern. Not only does it mean less federal and state money flowing to the city under per capita aid formulas, but it clearly shows that middle class residents of all races continue to depart for the suburbs at an alarming rate.

As the outward migration from inner city to nearby suburb to outlying suburb continues, some formerly sleepy little towns are starting to feel the impact.

Westminster (15,073) saw its population jump 15.4 percent -- fastest in the state -- between 1990 and 1996.

Havre de Grace on the Susquenhanna River (10,092), added residents at a 12.7 percent pace.

Even Elkton in formerly far-off Cecil County felt the vibrations from the urban-suburban flight, adding 13.6 percent to its small population (10,308).

Where will it end? Americans have always been mobility-minded, seeking their Manifest Destiny out West, or before that in the New World. Now the modern-day wagon trains are moving north from Rockville and north from Baltimore. We keep searching for a better life, just like our pioneer ancestors.

Pub Date: 11/29/97

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