Decline continues in city's numbers

Baltimore population falls 2.4% as suburbs continue to grow, new data show

`Trends don't change overnight'

April 29, 2002|By Eric Siegel | Eric Siegel,SUN STAFF

Despite reductions in crime, improvements in schools and stepped-up efforts to encourage people to live in Baltimore, the half-century decline in the city's population has continued since the 2000 census, new figures show.

Between April 1, 2000, when the census was taken, and July 1, 2001, Baltimore lost 15,944 people, or 2.4 percent of its population, according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau being released today. The rate of decline - more than 1,000 people a month - was greater than the annual average during the 1990s, when the city lost a total of 84,860 people, or 11.5 percent of its population.

Meanwhile, the region's five counties - Anne Arundel, Baltimore, Carroll, Harford and Howard - continued to grow, adding 34,563 people.

Of those counties, Anne Arundel registered the largest numerical gain, 8,237 people, while Howard and Carroll each had the largest percentage increase, 3.2 percent - continuing the growth pattern of the 1990s.

The continuing regional trend - a shrinking population at the core and growth on the perimeter - leads to problems ranging from vacant homes in the city to crowded schools in the suburbs.

"It's a terrible trend for the region," said Alfred W. Barry III, board president of the Baltimore-based Citizens Planning and Housing Association, which is pushing for greater regional cooperation on planning and other issues. "It calls for a fundamental rethinking of how we're going to accommodate growth and how to accommodate transportation."

The numbers show that "trends don't change overnight," said Kristen Forsyth, spokeswoman for the state Department of Planning. "Even though we have significant Smart Growth policies in place, it takes years to turn around demographic trends."

The estimates - based on births, deaths and other information - are issued each year between censuses, when counts are made for congressional and state legislative reapportionment. Unlike the decennial data, which include detailed information on age, race, housing and other characteristics down to the neighborhood level, the estimates contain only aggregate population numbers.

Maryland grew by 78,670 people, to 5,375,156, according to Census Bureau estimates released in December.

As the newest data show, the populous Washington suburbs continued to exhibit substantial gains: Montgomery County grew by 18,006 people, or 2.1 percent, to 891,347; Prince George's grew by 15,276 people, or 1.9 percent, to 816,791.

The greatest percentage growth over the past 15 months came in the outer suburbs, such as Frederick County and Southern Maryland. Calvert County, which grew by 45 percent in the 1990s, grew 5 percent by July 1, 2001.

"I think in large part you're seeing middle-class families who may have lived closer to the core of the region previously - or in different regions altogether - picking up and moving," said Alan Berube, a senior research analyst with the Brookings Institution's Center on Urban and Metropolitan Policy.

Besides Baltimore City, the only jurisdictions to show a drop in population were Allegany and Dorchester counties.

Baltimore's decline was an unwelcome surprise to city planners, who had hoped that a vibrant housing market in several neighborhoods was a sign that the city's depopulation was beginning to turn around.

"It's a little bit disappointing," City Planning Director Charles C. Graves III said of the numbers. "I would have thought we would have started to stabilize by now."

Since the 2000 census, the city has made marked progress in reducing violent crime and increasing school test scores - showing improvements in the two areas that experts agree are most important to people in deciding where to live.

The city has also begun a push to encourage residents to remain in the city and to attract new ones, including incentives to create more housing downtown that would appeal to young workers.

During the 1990s, officials speculated that some of the population decline might be the result of smaller households, with empty-nesters and singles occupying houses where families once lived.

Graves said that phenomenon may still be occurring. "We're going to need to continue to work on getting households with families to stay in the city," he said.

Population peak in '50

The city's population peaked in 1950 at 949,708 and has dropped every decade since then.

Between 1990 and 2000, Baltimore lost more people than any major city in the country - even as some of the nation's older cities, notably New York and Chicago, grew.

However, the Census Bureau's estimates for the city during the 1990s indicated a greater decline than had actually occurred.

Comparisons with other cities are difficult because the data being released today are mostly county estimates. Baltimore is included because it is one of the few incorporated cities that is not part of a larger county. Estimates for most incorporated cities will be released later this year.

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