Baltimore slips down in census rankings

Loss of 84,860 people since 1990 helped push city to No. 17

March 31, 2001|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Baltimore has slipped again in the rankings of the country's most populous cities.

Rapid growth in some Sun Belt and Midwestern municipalities over the past decade, along with Baltimore's loss of 84,860 people, helped push the city from No. 13 in 1990 to No. 17 last year, according to census data released this month.

Baltimore's decline in numbers and percent of population was greater than that of any other city in the Top 20. The city, whose population peaked in 1950 when it was America's sixth-largest city, was overtaken in the rankings by San Francisco, Jacksonville, Fla., Columbus, Ohio, and Austin, Texas, and maintained a scant 1,054-person lead over Memphis.

Mayor Martin O'Malley said he was not nearly as concerned about the fall in rankings as the fall in population.

"Certainly the loss of population is a big deal," he said. "The drop in rankings is not a big deal. As far as our prestige or our future, I'm not sure where you fall in rankings is as important as whether you're on the rise or not. I think we're on the rise."

Jeff Petry, an economist with Economy.com who follows the mid-Atlantic region for the West Chester, Pa., consulting firm, said population rankings "matter to somebody" but have little practical effect on a city's ability to grow and to attract businesses.

"Does it really mean anything?" he asked. "It definitely shows Baltimore has suffered."

Petry said cities "always want to be higher in population growth" but said rapid growth as well as steep declines can have a downside. "A lot of fast-growing areas are dealing with congestion issues, housing issues," he said.

Gene Bracken, director of communications for the Greater Baltimore Committee, a regional business group, said, "That ranking change pretty well defines the challenges we face. If Baltimore's economic engine is going to be rekindled, the exodus of the work force needs to be stemmed."

Baltimore was one of four cities among the Top 20 to lose population in the past decade. The city had 651,154 people in 2000, down from 736,014 a decade ago, a decline of about 11.5 percent.

Detroit, which saw its population fall below 1 million for the first time in 80 years, declined by 7.5 percent, Philadelphia by 4.3 percent and Milwaukee by 5 percent.

Among major cities with more than 250,000 people, Baltimore's percentage loss of population in the last decade was greater than that of any city except St. Louis. It lost 12.2 percent of its people, leaving its population at 348,189.

Washington was the only Top 20 city in 1990 that failed to make the cut this time around. The District of Columbia saw its population fall from 606,900 in 1990 to 572,059 in 2000, according to figures released yesterday.

But Washington's decline - 34,841 people, or 5.7 percent - was far less than had been expected. Census Bureau estimates for 1999 had put the district's population at 519,000.

Washington's place in the Top 20 was taken by Austin, which became a center of high-tech industry in the 1990s. Austin leapt from No. 27 to No. 16 on the strength of 41 percent growth.

Austin was one of four Texas cities in the Top 20. California also had four cities in the Top 20. No other state had more than one.

Detroit and Milwaukee both fell in the rankings. But Philadelphia, despite its loss in population, remained in fifth place.

In fact, the ranking of the top five most populous cities are unchanged from the 1990 census: New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, Houston and Philadelphia.

Besides Austin, other rapidly growing cities in the Top 20 include Phoenix, where the population rose 34.3 percent to 1,321,045; San Antonio, which gained 22.3 percent to 1,144,646 and Houston, which added 19.8 percent to 1,953,631.

As impressive as the growth of those cities was, it paled beside that of Las Vegas, which while not in the Top 20, ballooned 85.2 percent to 478,434. Nearby Henderson, Nev., grew at twice that rate, or 170 percent, to 175,381.

Along with Washington, cities bubbling just under the Top 20 were Nashville, Tenn., with 569,891, up 11.6 percent; El Paso, Texas, with 563,622, up 9.4 percent; Seattle, with 563,374, up 9.1 percent; Denver, with 554,636, up 18.6 percent and Charlotte, N.C., with 540,828, up 36.6.

Among cities outside the Top 20 losing population was Cleveland, which fell 5.4 percent to 478,403. In 1950, Cleveland had 914,808 people, just behind Baltimore, which had 949,708.

Baltimore ranked sixth in 1960; seventh in 1970 and tenth in 1980.

The Census Bureau is expected to release soon a listing of the nation's 100 most populous cities.

Population changesince1990......................... ........................................ ..................................................................1990

City............................2000.... ..........1990...............Change..............Pct.............Rank

1. New York......... 8,008,278.......7,322,564.......+685,714............ +9.4.............1

2. Los Angeles....3,694,820........3,485,398... ...+209,422.............+6.4............ 2

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