How many people? PlanBaltimore: Planners try to chart a course for city by focusing on major corridors.

March 21, 1998

FROM A PEAK of 949,708 in 1950, Baltimore's population has been falling precipitously. Some 657,000 people now live in the city -- down 79,000 since 1990, according to the Census Bureau. The exodus to outlying counties continues, furthered by some of the cheapest mortgage rates and lowest gas prices in memory.

Since September, the city Planning Department has been working on a comprehensive blueprint for Baltimore's future. Because no one has a clear idea of what the population will be, "we are planning for a city of 700,000," Planning Director Charles C. Graves III says. "I don't call it optimistic. It's realistic."

The goal of this effort, called PlanBaltimore, is a set of strategies by January. As part of that process, a team of consultants (Wallace, Roberts & Todd) is looking at revitalizing seven ailing retail corridors: Pennsylvania Avenue (from Mosher to North Avenue), North Avenue (Jones Falls Expressway to Smallwood), Reisterstown Road (Keyworth to city line), Greenmount Avenue (Southway to North), Harford Road (Herring Run to city line), Eastern Avenue (Highlandtown to Greektown) and Edmondson (Fremont to Hilton). Introducing uses besides commercial could be a key.

Among other ideas being discussed are ways to strengthen the area around the Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions in East Baltimore and to extend light rail from Camden Yards to Social Security headquarters in Woodlawn. Also being debated is the fate of 40,000 vacant houses that, left abandoned, could lead to the decline of whole neighborhoods.

Experience suggests planners are better at analyzing data than predicting trends. That would argue for a broad PlanBaltimore document. It shouldn't be vague. For this costly, 14-month exercise to be valuable, it must outline specific directions for the Schmoke administration -- and its successors -- to guide this city in the next generation.

Pub Date: 3/21/98

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