City populations on the increase Trend: Nationwide, more people are moving into downtown areas, and developers are building more housing in town centers.

The Urban Landscape

October 15, 1998|By Edward Gunts | Edward Gunts,SUN STAFF

WHILE LARGE cities all over the country report that downtown living is on the rise, Baltimore expects to see a smaller increase than most.

Of 21 cities surveyed for the James Rouse Forum on the American City, a symposium in late September, Baltimore ranks 18th in the percentage of downtown housing growth anticipated for the next 12 years.

According to figures compiled for the Rouse Forum Survey by the Brookings Institution and the Fannie Mae Foundation, Baltimore had 13,800 downtown residents in 1995 and projects the population to rise to 14,600 by 2010, an increase of 5.8 percent.

That level of growth is more than those of Detroit (which expects its downtown population to rise 5.6 percent), Los Angeles (which expects a 1.5 percent rise) and Atlanta, which expects to lose 19.5 percent of the downtown population it had just after the 1996 Olympics.

Other cities expect increases in their downtown populations, from 9 percent in Boston to 303.3 percent in Houston. Memphis and Seattle anticipate twice as many downtown residents during the next 12 years. Even cities that have lost population for decades, such as Philadelphia and Chicago, expect that the number of downtown residents will rise.

The rise in downtown living reflects two trends, according to Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Institution Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy.

"First, changing demographics could be extremely positive for cities," he said. "Older Americans, empty nesters and young couples who are having children later in life are all growing segments of the population, and they are very interested in the convenience and amenities of urban life."

The second trend is "the resurgence of downtowns as cultural and entertainment centers in a region," he said. "Downtowns have energy and excitement. People are drawn there to work and to live."

Sponsored by the Fannie Mae Foundation, Enterprise Foundation and Brookings Institution, the Rouse Forum was established in 1997 to bring together the nation's urban leaders to focus on the progress and future of the American city. It is named for Maryland native James Rouse, who died in 1996 after working much of his life to revitalize urban centers, including Baltimore.

Dao Nguyen, author of the downtown living survey, said she consulted representatives from the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore and Baltimore Metropolitan Council on downtown living trends in Baltimore, and used figures from the council.

For the survey, she said, "downtown Baltimore" is bounded roughly by Martin Luther King Jr. Boulevard, Pratt Street, Interstate 83 and Mount Royal Avenue.

Laurie Schwartz, president of the Downtown Partnership, said at a recent public meeting that Baltimore's low ranking in the Rouse survey has sparked some discussion in her organization.

Although the rise in downtown living is a fairly new trend and data is still becoming available from other cities, she said, it might be reasonable to think that Baltimore's downtown population could rise more than 5.8 percent during the next 12 years.

Hammer Siler George and Associates of Silver Spring recently concluded that demand for housing in downtown Baltimore is strong enough that 1,000 additional residential units could be occupied during the next five years.

One project that will add apartments by early 1999 is Gallery Towers, the renovation of a 21-story apartment building at 111 E. Centre St. by Southern Management Corp. Southern also plans to create 175 apartments inside the former Hecht Co. building at Howard and Lexington streets.

Also, the conversion to 36 apartments of the former YMCA building at 300 N. Charles St. is about to begin. Savannah Development Corp. is the developer, and Cho Wilks and Benn is the architect.

Neighborhood Design Center marks 30th anniversary

The Neighborhood Design Center will mark its 30th anniversary with a celebration at 6 p.m. todayinside the Emerging Technology Center, part of the former American Can Co. complex in the 2400 block of Boston St.

For tickets: 410-233-9686.

Pub Date: 10/15/98

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