Baltimore County gains, city loses

Outlook: Growth is big in the west and northwest. Baltimore's 11.5 percent drop cuts widely, but increases along the waterfront encourage officials

Census 2000 The Maryland Count

March 20, 2001|By Eric Siegel and Andrew A. Green | Eric Siegel and Andrew A. Green,SUN STAFF

Baltimore's loss of population in the past decade occurred across a swath of the city, with growth in only a small number of neighborhoods, mostly along the waterfront and in the northern part of the city, according to census data released yesterday.

And although Baltimore County saw population declines in some places, particularly the older neighborhoods on the east side and some north-central areas, growth in the county was generally larger than expected, thanks in large part to extremely rapid gains in the west and northwest.

The figures, and interviews, suggest that flight from the city is not the only factor in the county's population change.

The 2000 census numbers show the city lost about 20,000 people more than the county gained. Demographers and residents say that although people do leave the city for Baltimore County, many others hop-scotched the county to move to more far-flung suburbs. At the same time, many Baltimore County residents left for Carroll, Harford and Howard Counties.

The number of whites declined in both jurisdictions -- though the city lost nearly three times as many whites as the county. The number of African-Americans dipped in the city and grew substantially in the county -- far faster than demographers had predicted.

Blacks make up nearly two-thirds of the city's population and a fifth of the county's.

The numbers of Asians and Hispanics, which have grown explosively in Maryland and around the country, increased in Baltimore and Baltimore County, but those groups still account for a small fraction of the population.

Overall, Baltimore County grew 9 percent, to 754,292, while the city population dropped 11.5 percent to 651,154. Though 1994 estimates indicated that the county's population had surpassed that of the city, yesterday's figures officially give the county more people than the city for the first time.

In the city, the loss of 84,860 people over the past 10 years continues a half-century decline from a peak of 949,708 in 1950. It seems certain to push the city below its ranking of 16th among U.S. cities once the Census Bureau completes its release of population data by the end of this month.

The white population, excluding white Hispanics -- which 50 years ago stood at 723,655, greater than the city's total population today -- has been declining for decades and stands at 201,566, down 82,621 from 1990.

But the drop in black population -- of 16,187 to 435,768 -- is unprecedented in this century, and perhaps in history.

Dunbar Brooks, a demographer with the Baltimore Metropolitan Council, said the recent economic boom gave an increasing number of blacks more opportunity.

"So they do the same thing whites have done -- they move to the suburbs," he said.

Of the city's 200 census tracts, all but about 30 had fewer people in 2000 than they did in 1990.

Among the areas experiencing the greatest losses of people were Cherry Hill in South Baltimore and the inner-city areas below North Avenue, on both sides of downtown, which have been affected for years by drug dealing and violent crime.

In some of the census tracts north of the Johns Hopkins University medical complex -- where hundreds of rowhouses have been demolished and hundreds more sit empty and boarded up -- population has gone down 50 percent.

Derek Lewis, 41, grew up in Middle East but left four years ago to buy a home in Ednor Gardens near Memorial Stadium to be able to provide more space and security for his two daughters.

"My younger daughter was learning her colors by the way drug dealers were yelling out, `I got the yellow caps, I got the green caps, I got the red caps,'" said Lewis, who works for Casey Family Services, running a mentoring program for east-side youths.

Besides implications for redistricting and federal aid, the steep decline in the city's population has affected nearly every aspect of city life, from the stagnant property tax base to the problem of vacant homes to the need to close schools and libraries.

Still, the numbers were better than many expected.

City planning director Charles C. Graves III, who had thought the city's population could dip to about 600,000, said the immediate challenge was to retain the people who have remained in the city and gradually build the city back to about 700,000.

"We're starting to see trends of people not leaving as quickly," he said.

Terri Turner, executive director of the Citizens Planning and Housing Association, said she had a "sense of hope" that seeds of rebirth were being sown, particularly among younger people with "that urban gene."

"My gut impression is that there is a renewed confidence in city life," she said. "The question is, `Will it translate into numbers?'"

In a few areas of the city, it has.

Population increased about 25 percent in the Fells Point and Inner Harbor East area, where a historic waterfront community is blending with new development, and about 11 percent in Federal Hill, for example. It also increased in areas of North, Northeast and Northwest Baltimore.

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