LIFE, people who have lived a long time will tell you, is a wheel: what goes around, comes around.
Keep that in mind when considering the city-suburbs relationship these days. The counties surrounding Baltimore publish glowing statistics about how they are prospering, how well their students are achieving and what a grand life they have. They look down on Baltimore as a place they fled.
That is a turn of the wheel.
Baltimore City is what people used to run toward. Not too many years ago, many suburban residents gave bogus addresses or paid special fees to enjoy the city's superior resources.
In those days, you couldn't get a self-respecting Baltimore resident to travel to the counties, except to visit the beaches (Bay Shore, Tolchester), to purchase ice cream (Emerson Farms) or to pass through on the way to New York or Atlantic City.
There was a time when county residents would take any route they could to enroll their children in Baltimore's schools. After all, county schools were considered academically inferior to the city's. The city was hospitable and sympathetic to the suburban dwellers' plight; it allowed county residents to enroll in city schools for a modest fee.
Young teachers wanted to work in the city. That is where the challenging students were and the higher pay.
County residents complained about the quality of their civic life. They had no sidewalks, no street lights, no neighborhood stores -- how in the world could a teen-ager come of age without the benefit of corner-drugstore society?
And if you lived in the county, you could not be a member of the Enoch Pratt Free Library. Suburban library systems didn't measure up.
You could not vote in Baltimore elections, which were the only ones thought to count.
As a matter of fact, Baltimore County didn't get its first elected county executive until 1958.
County people who wanted to do serious shopping came to Baltimore. The great department stores were in the city (Hutzler's, Stewart's, Hecht's, May); so were the popular theaters (Stanley, Hippodrome, Century), the restaurants (Miller Brothers, Chesapeake, Oyster Bay), and the automobile dealers, including Martin Motors, Kelly Buick and Bob Fleigh Studebaker.
But for a host of reasons known on both sides of the city-county line, a kind of sociological and economic flip-flop has taken place over the past few decades. Now, Baltimore is the counties' poor cousin, holding out the beggar's cup to those who once held it out themselves. And city residents are left to wonder in amazement how things got reversed.
But if life is indeed a wheel and history repeats itself, then in time the balance between city and county could shift again or at least equalize.
Forces in confluence may well act to help turn things around: suburbanites' frustration with long commutes and boring suburban life; attractive modest-cost housing in the city; a growing middle class with the power to force improvements in public safety, education and amenities; and a desire to be closer to a downtown that is growing, from the new stadiums to Inner Harbor East.
If such a turnabout were to occur, it would be the suburbanites' turn to wonder in amazement.
And if you are young enough, you might live to see it.
Gilbert Sandler writes from and about Baltimore.
Pub Date: 4/21/98