Charm City rated highly

Despite view, analysts question likelihood of reviving cities

Redirection urged

Maryland conference on growth is this week in Columbia

June 20, 1999|By Robert Nusgart | Robert Nusgart,SUN REAL ESTATE EDITOR

Joel Kotkin, who was born in New York and resides in suburban Los Angeles, enjoys Baltimore. In fact, he is rather impressed by it.

"I think Baltimore is the best urban living value in the Northeast by far," said Kotkin, a professor at the Pepperdine University Institute for Public Policy.

"If you want to live in an urban community with a traditional 19th-century ambience, you can do it in Baltimore in a way that you can't possibly do it unless you are very wealthy in Boston and phenomenally wealthy in New York.

"Baltimore has a lot of things going for it."

But for all of the charm of Charm City, Kotkin says that cities -- such as Baltimore -- will never be what they once were.

"The cities have become this kind of niche lifestyle. And I have to be frank about it: I don't see cities coming back and [being] places where families live in any large numbers," said Kotkin, who has written and studied the plight of urban areas.

Kotkin will deliver the keynote address -- "Reviving the City: Going Backward Won't Move

Us Forward" -- at this year's Maryland Conference on Growth Management, sponsored by the Home Builders Association of Maryland and the Maryland State Builders Association.

The all-day conference will be held Wednesday at the Columbia Hilton on the Columbia lakefront.

Another highlight of the conference will be a debate between conservative Ben Wattenberg, host of PBS' "Think Tank," and Jonathan Weiss, a senior adviser on Smart Growth policies for Vice President Al Gore.

"If you still have crime, and you still have dirt, still have crummy schools and high levels of taxation and regulation, you still are not going to get what you want," Kotkin said of government policies that are geared to steer builders to cities.

"If you don't deal with the education issue, you're simply not going to be able to keep people in the city ad infinitum.

"I know there has been a huge move of African-American middle class into Baltimore County. As one Baltimore official said to me: `Anybody who can, has already left Dodge.' "

And Kotkin says "heavy-duty growth control" is not the answer.

"I think it will be more of an issue of how we make the urban areas more attractive," he said. "How do we make them so that people want to live there and want to stay, where businesses want to go. There are intrinsic advantages that [cities] have."

Kotkin, however, said cities remain a "repository" for younger single residents and those who have become empty-nesters.

"I think the best things that cities have going for them is Generation Y, which is much bigger than Generation X," he said.

"And that could create a new surge of people living in the city because you will have this large generation of twenty-somethings who do want to live in the city.

"If you look at places like Canton and some of those neighborhoods -- and obviously Federal Hill, that is pretty far along -- those are great urban neighborhoods.

"And then you have to think what will make those places even more attractive."

But Kotkin said, "Despite all the hoopla of `back to the cities,' the numbers do not bear it out."

John Kortecamp, executive vice president of HBAM, concurred that as more businesses continue to move to suburban areas, the urge to live in those areas grows.

And as technology allows for more people to work at home, there will be less need to live in an urban environment.

"I think there will still be a lot of people who will for a variety of reasons choose to live in cities and downtowns, but the work factor, which is so huge now, is not going to be the major determinant," Kortecamp said.

Therefore, Kortecamp said, the residential landscape of urban areas will be affected, as well as implications on public transportation and commercial office space.

"People will still commute, but they will be commuting just a couple of days a week," he said.

"There are still likely urban dwellers and lots of them, but I think the density is not going to be anything like it had been. I think it will be a much better use of the urban land.

"It is just changing the equation."

Pub Date: 6/20/99

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