Conference is told why cities are in trouble Baltimore's schools cause many to leave, Siegel says


March 28, 1998|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN STAFF

COLLEGE PARK -- If those attending the Managing Growth in Maryland conference yesterday at the University of Maryland came to hear glowing words about the rejuvenation of city life in Baltimore, what they got was an earful of cold reality.

Fred Siegel, the keynote speaker and a professor of history and economics at Cooper Union for the Advancement of Art and Science in New York City, told the gathering of approximately 300 builders, developers and government officials that Baltimore among the many troubled cities that are seeing their citizens "rush to the exits" because local government has failed to provide adequate schools and safety services.

The talk by Siegel was one aspect of the day-long conference put on by seven homebuilder associations throughout the state and organized by John Kortecamp, executive director of the Home Builders Association of Maryland. The conference was developed, in part, as an effort to broaden the discussion of Smart Growth issues and legislation passed last year by the Maryland General Assembly.

But what those in attendance heard first from Siegel was a blunt commentary on why cities are in such trouble.

"One of the primary reasons why people are leaving Baltimore is the schools," Siegel said. "This is true of virtually every big system in the country, the collapse of the schools."

In addition, Siegel, who lives in New York, said, when "high taxes and low services" are combined, they are "a deadly combination."

Said Siegel: "People don't stay in cities where taxes go up and services decline. They get pushed out."

Confirming some of Siegel's points was Michael Conte, director of the Regional Economic Studies Institute at Towson University, hTC who displayed data collected from post office change-of-address forms that showed the residential flight from Baltimore.

"What we see from the data is that the primary trend clearly does continue to reflect move-

ment from the city and out of the city, not to the suburbs, but to the 'exburbs', to those areas outside the traditional suburban range, and even to some extent the outside of the center of the metropolitan range," Conte said.

The lone area in the city that showed strong inward migration was Canton. Otherwise, when most of the residents moved out of the city, 51 percent settled in Baltimore County, and 26 percent went out of state.

But it was the "exburbs" that fascinated Conte, with "large parts of Carroll County having heavy inward migration, going all the way out into Frederick and past Frederick City." Conte also pointed to Harford County, the Eastern Shore, Wicomico County and Ocean City as "the areas that people are going to."

But as for the city, Siegel said it's possible to reverse the trend.

"Baltimore has a history as a great commercial city to fall back on," he said. "If it could revive some of that, albeit of diminished size, it could restore itself as a commercial city. There is a chance that Baltimore -- by helping itself -- could alleviate some of the problems."

Pub Date: 3/28/98

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