BALTIMOREANS may not want to hear it, but the truth is that their hometown is not among the nation's cutting-edge cities.
Urban experts have come to this conclusion for good reason. Instead of thriving during the go-go years of the 1990s, Baltimore led the nation's big cities in population loss. In just 50 years, the city's population has shrunk from 940,000 to 651,000.
"Our biggest challenges are the erosion of the city's tax base, the associated exit of middle-income population from the city and an aging infrastructure," Francis B. Burch Jr. told the annual meeting of the Greater Baltimore Committee last week when he was sworn in as the chairman.
He pledged that the organization would work to:
Ensure funding for the renovation of the Hippodrome Theater so that revitalization of the west side of downtown can be completed.
Help launch redevelopment of East Baltimore, north of the Johns Hopkins medical institutions.
Promote the creation of a coherent master plan for the harbor area.
These are crucial building blocks, if Baltimore is to grow again. And none of them is more important - or urgent - than the transformation of the Johns Hopkins area in East Baltimore.
It's ironic that one of the city's earliest "pilot programs" in the 1950s focused on a blighted 27-block neighborhood northwest of the Hopkins medical facilities. Although the project won nationwide publicity and funding from the Ford Foundation, gains were short-lived, and the area soon deteriorated again.
Five years ago, hopes were raised when the Historic East Baltimore Community Action Coalition was launched to transform 87 acres north of Hopkins. But despite the availability of $34 million in federal funds, the initiative never really got off the ground. Instead, it got strangled amid power plays and political infighting.
At Mayor Martin O'Malley's behest, a Pittsburgh consultant has been working on a new plan. It forecasts demand for more than 1 million square feet of biotech research space near the Hopkins medical complex, plus new housing, a hotel and other economic growth engines.
Though the consultant's plan has not yet been unveiled, it's welcome news that GBC has identified the project as a priority. The Johns Hopkins medical campus is a key to the city's future growth - from additional job opportunities to new housing.
The stakes are high. This time, failure in East Baltimore should not be tolerated.