Shrinking cities led by D.C., Baltimore

Two urban centers suffer greatest losses in 1990s

July 01, 1999|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's 12.3 percent decline in population between 1990 and 1998 was the second-largest drop among U.S. cities with 500,000 or more residents, according to figures released yesterday by the U.S. Census Bureau.

Only Washington, where the population shrank 13.8 percent during the decade, had a greater percentage loss than Baltimore among the country's 26 largest cities, census figures show.

The only other large cities that lost people during the decade were Philadelphia, Milwaukee, Detroit, Boston and Memphis, Tenn.

Baltimore lost 90,421 people during the past nine years, leaving the city with 645,593 at the end of last year compared with 736,014 in 1990. The city ranks 16th in population.

Washington lost 83,776 people during the same period, leaving it with 523,124 people and putting it 23rd on the list.

While the populations of Baltimore and Washington were declining substantiallyduring the decade, the 17 cities with populations between 500,000 and 999,999 actually grew by 2 percent during that period, the Census Bureau said.

The nine cities with populations of 1 million or more grew by 3.5 percent, the bureau said.

In the last year, Baltimore's population decreased from 657,545 to 645,593. The decline was in line with the annual drop

Baltimore has experienced since 1991, when the city has lost between 7,500 and 15,000 people a year, census figures show.

Among major cities gaining population, Phoenix had the largest increase, growing by 21 percent to 1,198,064, followed by Charlotte, N.C., which grew by 20 percent to 504,637.

Marc Perry, a demographer with the Census Bureau, said Phoenix and other Sun Belt cities grow in part by annexing adjacent land. "That's something that Baltimore is not able to do," he said.

But Perry acknowledged that even without annexation, "the percentage of decline for the cities of Baltimore and Washington is sizable."

Absent data about how many people left the city and how many moved in, Perry cautioned about drawing conclusions from the figures.

Aging population

But he said one reason Baltimore and some older cities are losing population is that the age of their residents is older.

"Younger people form families. If you have a younger population, you have more of a tendency for population to grow," he said. "Older populations don't have any growth momentum to them."

Charles C. Graves III, Baltimore's director of planning, said the decline is in line with city projections.

Baltimore's population should continue to decline, though at a reduced rate, for the next five years before stabilizing, Graves said. The Maryland Office of Planning has forecast that Baltimore's population will be about 622,000 in 2020 -- an annual decline of about 1,000 people a year from current levels.

Attracting residents

Graves acknowledged that both Washington and Baltimore have lost significant numbers of residents to surrounding areas but said, "I do think the pendulum is going to start to swing back as there's more congestion in the suburbs."

He said the city has begun to experience success in attracting two groups of new residents: young professionals and empty-nesters.

"We're doing a lot of things in the city as relates to providing more diverse housing products, creating new neighborhoods and focusing on the quality of life," he said.

But the head of a citywide civic group, calling Baltimore's population decline "sad," said more needs to be done.

"The leadership has to be extremely proactive," said Karen M. Footner, president of the Baltimore Homeowners Coalition. "Make Baltimore a tax-free zone. Get people back here so neighborhoods can come alive."

Saying the city's population decline should be the top priority of Baltimore's leadership, Footner said her group is mailing a survey to candidates for top city offices asking them what they plan to do about the problem.

Yesterday, leading candidates for mayor said the key to stopping Baltimore's population loss is improving public safety and schools to keep residents from leaving and make the city more attractive to potential residents.

Candidates' views

"We need to make the city a safer place," said Martin O'Malley, a city councilman from Northeast Baltimore who is among the candidates seeking the Democratic nomination for mayor in September's primary. "Where the city is safe, the population is growing. Where the city is not safe, it's shrinking dramatically."

Mayoral candidate Carl Stokes, a former councilman and school board member, agreed that public safety needs to be improved, but added that smaller class sizes and other educational improvements are needed as well.

"We've got to fix schools in the city of Baltimore," he said.

Efforts to reach mayoral candidate Lawrence A. Bell III, the City Council president, were unsuccessful.

The figures released yesterday are from the Census Bureau's Population Estimates Program. The bureau conducts a more extensive population and housing survey every 10 years, at the beginning of each decade.

According to the figures, New York continued to be the most populous city by far, with 7,420,166 people, an increase of 1.3 percent during the decade. Los Angeles was second with 3,597,556 people, up 3.2 percent, and Chicago was third with 2,802,079 people, up .7 percent.

Pub Date: 7/01/99

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