Cities rebounding, suburbs declining, new study shows

Urban Chronicle

April 20, 2006|By ERIC SIEGEL

Although it doesn't include the city, a just-released study seems pertinent to Baltimore.

The study, by University of Virginia planning professors William Lucy and David Phillips, compared income and housing values in nearly two dozen cities in the first four years of the decade with their surrounding metropolitan areas.

Its findings?

"Per capita income and median owner-occupied housing value increased on average in 22 central cities in large metropolitan areas relative to their suburbs between 2000 and 2004, improving on their performance in the 1990s," they wrote in a follow-up to their book Tomorrow's Cities, Tomorrow's Suburbs, which postulates that cities are rebounding while some middle-age suburbs are showing increasing signs of decline.

The sampling of cities still lagged behind their regions in both categories, but overall the gap is closing, based on data from the 2000 Census and the most recent American Community Survey conducted annually by the U.S. Census Bureau, the researchers found.

Per capita income in the cities rose from 86 percent to 89 percent of their metropolitan areas while the median value of owner-occupied homes rose from 83.7 percent to 86.4 percent of the metro areas, the study found.

Those increases might seem small, but they represent an improvement over the 1990s, when per capita income in the cities was flat compared with their metropolitan areas.

Charting trends for relative income and housing values is a way to determine how effective cities are in competing with their suburbs for residents who are relocating, the authors wrote.

The study does not include Baltimore or Washington because the metropolitan area information of the two cities has not been included in the annual survey data collected. That will change this summer, when the Census Bureau expands the information it collects from about 70 to some 600 metropolitan areas nationwide, officials said.

"From a Baltimore perspective, I think the trends in Buffalo, Cleveland, St. Louis, Milwaukee and Pittsburgh - all positive for [relative] per capita income, and mainly positive for median value of owner-occupied housing from 2000 to 2004 - are noteworthy," Lucy wrote in an e-mail.

Although comparisons between Baltimore and its region won't be available until later this year, the same data that Lucy and Phillips used for their study show that the city has made some significant gains since the turn of the decade.

The median value of owner-occupied houses (not to be confused with the higher and more widely reported sales number) rose from $69,000 in 2000 to $86,000 in 2004; per capita income rose in the same period from $16,978 to $19,921.

In the study, Lucy and Phillips pointed out that cities do not fare as well when comparing family income with their suburbs.

Family income in the 22 cities in 2004 was only 75 percent of that in the region, a decline of 1 percent in the past four years and substantially less than the 89 percent per capita figure, according to the researchers.

"This difference indicates a substantial gap between the appeal of cities for families with children and other households," they wrote.

Moving out is down

Speaking of census data, an analysis by the Census Bureau being released today shows that on average about 220 more people a year left the Baltimore region from 2000-2004 than moved here from other parts of the country.

That figure - called domestic net migration - is down from an average annual figure of nearly 5,300 a year in the 1990s. The figure for the District of Columbia area also showed a drop by an average of more than 4,000 a year - compared with more than 12,000 in the 1990s.

The figures don't mean the Baltimore area's population has declined; in fact, it has grown by about 100,000 since 2000. Domestic migration is only one of three components of population change, the others being international immigration and the difference between the number of births and deaths.

In Maryland, meanwhile, net migration into the state this decade has averaged about 5,400 people a year, compared with a loss of about 5,700 people annually in the 1990s. And that's without the national military base realignment and closure process, known as BRAC.

Draft plan delayed

The Planning Commission's consideration of the final draft of the city's new comprehensive master plan, originally scheduled for today, has been moved back two months.

The delay was made to allow for an extension to this past Monday on the draft plan, which was released in February and was the subject of a series of public hearings.

The final plan will be released May 15 and will be considered by the Planning Commission on June 15, according to the Planning Department's Web site. It will be introduced to the City Council in July, where several hearings are expected before its adoption in September, the Web site says.

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