My family moved out of Baltimore City last week, making Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake's goal of adding 10,000 new families in a decade a little bit harder to achieve.
We were the second family on our block in Butchers Hill to leave in a month.
In my family's case, the city will lose three people. Five are moving out and two are moving in. No house is abandoned. Cars will park in our former spaces and life will go on in Baltimore City, population 619,500, much like before. But the city will be smaller, and unless something drastic happens, the next Census will show the city dropping another 1,500 people in a year due to outmigration just like ours and our neighbors'.
While the Census figures show the yearly population loss to be small, it will make life harder for the shrinking number of taxpayers who remain behind. A smaller population also means a loss of political clout for Baltimore within Maryland and a diminished national status. Baltimore used to be the 10th-largest city in the country, in 1980. Now it ranks 24th.
You know there is a problem when the city's state representatives pass a law allowing inmates to be counted from their home counties for population purposes. That is one area where Baltimore wins hands-down. And has anyone noticed that national weather forecasters list the temperatures in Washington and Philadelphia, but not Baltimore? When did we disappear from their view?
It doesn't have to be that way. We wanted to stay in this place, where most everyone, high and low, calls a rowhouse home. It is a great equalizer in a very unequal city.
July 4 is a perfect example of why we love Baltimore. Almost everyone on our former block knows one another, especially those with children. Because of that, we could close down an alley street, set up a pool and slip and slide for the kids, string tarps to protect ourselves from the blazing sun, and bring chairs. Everyone shared a main dish and a side. Those with guitars played them. It was really fun, even in the sweltering, 100-degree heat.
Every day was fun on our block, though, from the beginning. On the day I moved, in six years ago, two neighbors introduced themselves immediately, one telling me the names, occupations and number of children of everyone on the street. He had lived in his Formstone rowhouse his entire life. Sitting on your stoop almost always turned into a multi-family affair. And I knew more than one neighbor would be willing to come over and watch our boys when our daughter was born earlier this year. We had in abundance what urban thinker and writer Jane Jacobs famously called "eyes on the street": The ones that keep children in line and watch out for one another and for your packages. We also had Salt, our favorite restaurant in the city, down the street.
That made up for our cars being rifled through occasionally, our garbage being picked up about 75 percent of the time, and the fact that we had to bolt our flower pots to our stoop or lose them. And it almost made up for the school problem, as in "Where can we send our children that is safe, close and challenging?" We tried the lottery at Patterson Park Public Charter School, which we had heard good things about. Our older son had 50 people ahead of him on a waitlist for kindergarten.
But when we did the math on property taxes for a larger home, we couldn't justify it. It would have rivaled a mortgage payment, with tax rates at least twice as high as the rest of the state. Our new tax bill in Baltimore County is almost half of our last, and the home is about one-third larger. The elementary school is also highly rated, and we're only 12 miles from downtown.
There are lots of problems in Baltimore. The community makes up for most of them. That's why there is a trickle and not a flood of people leaving. But without a major cut in taxes, managed decline is all Baltimore can hope for. It will be a sad ending for a city that once rivaled New York for the number of immigrants disembarking in search of the American Dream.
Marta H. Mossburg is a senior fellow at the Maryland Public Policy Institute and a fellow at the Franklin Center for Government and Public Integrity. Her column appears regularly in The Baltimore Sun. Her email is firstname.lastname@example.org.