Swelling suburbs, growing diversity

Census: In the 1990s, minorities increased rapidly though growth slowed overall, and families moved farther from big cities, crowding roads and schools in once-rural areas

Census 2000 The Maryland Count

March 20, 2001|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,SUN STAFF

Maryland became a bigger, more suburban and more racially diverse state during the 1990s.

The first detailed returns from the 2000 census show that the flight of white and black families from the largest cities continued, draining Baltimore and Washington of hefty chunks of their populations.

At the same time, thousands more families - largely white - kept on going.

They left or leapfrogged the inner suburbs, leaving them less white and more racially diverse than ever before. They built their new homes in former cornfields of the outer ring of suburban counties, bringing more-crowded roads and schools to once-rural landscapes from Harford in the north to Calvert in the south.

FOR THE RECORD - An article yesterday on Maryland's census results incorrectly identified Crofton and Odenton as planned urban developments. Such developments have been built within those towns, but they do not cover the entire areas. The Sun regrets the error.

Maryland grew by 515,000 people during the 1990s, bringing the total to almost 5.3 million people on April 1, 2000. The 10.8 percent growth rate was the third-slowest of any decade in the 20th century and less than the national average of 13 percent.

All of the state's growth was provided by blacks, Asians, Hispanics and other minorities. The number of non-Hispanic whites declined by nearly 40,000.

Baltimore City's population fell by 84,860 people (11.5 percent) to 651,154 - a smaller loss than expected but still among the largest numerical losses for any city in the nation. Almost five whites left for every black. Washington, meanwhile, lost 34,841 people during the 1990s, counting 572,059 in the 2000 census.

Baltimore Mayor Martin O'Malley expressed relief last night at his city's numbers. "I was fearful it would be below 600,000. We all recognize the reality of what the last 10 years did in terms of loss of population. But I see some hope from these numbers," he said.

The better-than-expected numbers likely resulted from undercounts of minorities in the 1990 census and more vigorous efforts to find them last year. As effective as those efforts were, the 2000 census is still believed to have missed more than 3 million people nationwide.

The new census data will be used by state lawmakers for congressional redistricting. The figures will also be used for state and local redistricting; for the distribution of more than $200 billion in federal aid; for planning by school officials and government agencies; and for marketing decision by private industry.

Among other key findings from the Maryland data:

Blacks joined the exodus from Baltimore in numbers large enough to shrink the city's black population by almost 17,000. It was the first loss in the city's black population since at least the Civil War. Observers credited a stronger economy for giving more blacks the freedom to move.

Baltimore County's black population grew by more than 77 percent, or 66,149. One of every five county residents is black, up from one in eight in 1990. The county lost nearly 27,000 whites.

The fastest growth was in the outer ring of suburban counties and at the beach. Calvert County topped the list with a gain of 45 percent. Worcester County surprised planners with growth of 32.9 percent. Howard gained 32.3 percent; Frederick, 30 percent; Carroll, 22.3 percent; Harford and Cecil, 20 percent each; and Queen Anne's, 19 percent.

The continuing pursuit of newer, more affordable housing, better schools and safer streets has come at a cost.

"I look out my window and there used to be a day when I would see very few houses," said Zene "Jake" Wolfe, 62, a cattle farmer in Myersville in fast-growing Frederick County. "Now I look out and they're everywhere. One of these days there's not going to be any farmers left in this county. As far as I'm concerned, the county has developed too fast."

The disappearance of farms and forests, and the arrival of traffic tie-ups, street lights and Wal-Marts can be unsettling, said Greg Bowen, deputy director of planning and zoning in Calvert County.

"There's a feeling of ... impermanence that comes with that rate of growth," he said. For older residents especially, "the inevitability of growth and change has been very disconcerting."

The state's growth is also putting more stress to the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. "There's more cleared forest, more farms are going to be converted to development," said Theresa Pierno, executive director of the Chesapeake Bay Foundation's Maryland District "There's more impervious surface, more runoff, erosion, sediment issues. It causes more problems, ultimately, for our battle to save the bay."

Planners such as Bowen and politicians in the high-growth counties are scrambling to find the right balance - of designated growth centers, new roads and public transportation; design controls and development regulations; adequate facilities rules and rural preservation schemes - to keep life livable and affordable for old and new residents alike.

Maryland's population growth during the 1990s was fueled almost entirely by births among minorities and by foreign immigration. Domestic migration during the 1990s - people moving between Maryland and other states - showed a net loss, according to prior surveys.

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