On the surface, the similarities are striking. Two great American cities that swelled in population and wealth in the first half of the 20th century on the strength of heavy manufacturing, places where family-supporting jobs were there for the taking by anyone with a high school degree. Then a long, slow decline spurred by the flight of industry overseas and residents to the suburbs, racial tension, crime, failing schools, disinvestment, unemployment and abandoned houses.
At the end of that road, Detroit filed for bankruptcy on Thursday, by far the largest American municipality to do so. Forty percent of its streetlights don't work, many people don't even think about calling 911 when they need an ambulance, and the city may soon have to sell off the collections of the Detroit Institute of Arts. Baltimore, meanwhile, is cutting property taxes and planning for a $1 billion school construction binge. The population has stabilized and may be growing, and the biggest controversy in town is over how much the city should subsidize developers who want to build a $1 billion, 28-acre office/residential/retail complex on the waterfront.