City, suburbs share plight, panel says

Nationwide groups say regional effort would benefit all

One's loss another's surfeit

Urban exodus speeds development sprawl, growing disparities

Revitalization

June 24, 1999|By Liz Atwood | Liz Atwood,SUN STAFF

While some cities like Boston and New York are boasting of downtown revivals, Baltimore will continue to lose people and jobs in the coming decades unless regional alliances stop the hemorrhaging, national experts warned yesterday.

"When we talk about an urban renaissance, we have to put it in context," Bruce Katz, director of the Brookings Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy, said at a seminar sponsored by the Baltimore Metropolitan Council on the city's future. "Decentralization is the dominant theme."

The exodus from American cities that began after World War II accelerated this decade, leading to increased concentrations of urban poverty and greater disparities between cities and their suburbs, Katz noted at Evergreen House in North Baltimore.

Baltimore has 13 percent of the state's population, but 56 percent of its welfare cases, he said.

Meanwhile, suburbs like Carroll, Harford and Anne Arundel counties are losing their farms and forests to development and struggling to build schools, roads and utilities to serve a growing population, Katz said.

Cities and suburbs throughout the country are realizing that while their problems may be different, they will have to work together to solve them, said William R. Dodge, director of the National Association of Regional Councils. "We need to convert people from NIMBYs [not in my back yard] to RIMBYs, the region is my back yard," he said.

Katz and Dodge said Maryland is a national leader in addressing sprawl with its Smart Growth Initiative to save farmland and direct money to older communities. But the state must do more to promote cooperation among local governments, they said.

"A city can't revitalize itself," Katz said. "It depends on a coalition and alliances at the state and regional levels."

To succeed, Maryland must move from regional alliances dominated by environmental concerns to partnerships that can deal with the economic inequality between the city and suburbs -- perhaps considering some form of revenue sharing between the jurisdictions, Katz noted.

Despite concerns about the area's future, the staff of the Baltimore Metropolitan Council found reasons for optimism.

Josef Nathanson, the council's director of economic research and information systems, said the city retains an important economic role and is home to the region's largest private employer -- the Johns Hopkins University and medical systems.

Dunbar Brooks, chief demographer for the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, said there are demographic reasons to feel optimistic about the city's future as well. While the population explosion after World War II fueled suburban growth, the aging population and declining household size could spark a return to the cities, he said.

Baltimore may already be seeing a slowdown in the exodus, and more than 500 market-rate apartments will be built in the city in the next two years, Brooks said.

"Downtown is once again becoming a viable option," he said.

Pub Date: 6/24/99

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