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Baltimore's problem is sprawl, not a bad economy

The city of Baltimore has over 20,000 vacant row houses and 300,000 fewer residents than at its peak. Governor Larry Hogan recently announced funding to demolish whole blocks of them. A common narrative outside Baltimore is that the city is in collapse thanks to manufacturing jobs leaving, as in many Rust Belt cities. But that's not the biggest problem. Suburbanization is.


Vacant houses in West Baltimore. Photo by charmcity123 on Flickr.

Pundits often paint a picture of a place in economic decline that has never recovered from the loss of thousands of manufacturing and steel-making jobs. "Since at least the 1970s," E.J. Dionne Jr. wrote in the Washington Post in May, "the economy's invisible hand has ... been diligently stripping tens of thousands of blue-collar jobs from what was once a bustling workshop where steel, cars and planes were made."

Like Rust Belt cities, Baltimore used to rely on manufacturing and steel-making, but it has changed. The Baltimore metropolitan region's GDP is higher than Portland (Oregon), Columbus (Ohio), Orlando, Austin, Charlotte, Las Vegas, Nashville, and San Antonio. It ranks fourth in percentage with a graduate or professional degree and fourth in median household income among the 25 largest metro areas. (Washington DC is number one in both categories).

Here's the rub. While Baltimore City's population has dropped by 300,000 people since its peak census count in 1950, Baltimore County has added 550,000. Anne Arundel County over 400,000. Howard County almost 300,000. Harford County 200,000. Carroll County has added over 100,000 people.


Suburbanization into green fields in Owings Mills. Photo by Doug Kerr on Flickr.

State spending in the suburbs sapped Baltimore

Baltimore City's surplus of vacant houses is not there because of a poor regional economy or because the Baltimore region's population is shrinking. It exists because the region has built lots of new roads and highways, new schools, new utilities, and new homes outside the city, without equivalent investments inside the core city.

People and businesses have flowed to the geographic shift of new investments in surrounding counties. As this was happening, physical and social decay escalated in many of Baltimore's older row house communities, especially African-American neighborhoods.

Some of this early exodus was the result of directly racist practices such as redlining. However, shifting public investments outward, often based on theoretically race-neutral growth formulas, certainly was anti-urban and had the greatest impact on urban communities of African-Americans.

Regardless, people with choices of all races have made rational decisions to leave behind thousands of houses in poor school districts with old school buildings, high crime, pothole-ridden streets, inadequate transit, and leaky pipes.

A renaissance is around the corner for more neighborhoods

There are new positive trends that portend a brighter future for some of Baltimore's challenged row house neighborhoods. First, Baltimore City has stopped hemorrhaging net population. New city-based industries are thriving in health sciences and technology.

The Under Armour corporation is a major growth magnet with over three billion in annual revenue, and growing, every year. Lots of people are still moving out of the city, but there is a new crop of newcomers, often well-educated millennials and some immigrants.

However, they are not spreading across the city evenly. They are bypassing the most challenging row house neighborhoods.


Baltimore's booming Brewers Hill neighborhood is mixed with new apartments, offices, and fixed up rowhouses. Photo by Elliott Plack on Flickr.

Thousands of new upscale apartments and professional offices are being added downtown and in a ring of neighborhoods around the harbor, often on former industrial brownfield sites. The harbor adjacent row house neighborhoods have been fixed up and growing for two decades. It shows, that when there are amenities in the neighborhood, there is demand for row house living.


Vibrant rowhouses in Hampden west of Johns Hopkins University. Photo by Cat on Flickr.

One sign of what may be to come: the resurging row house neighborhoods west and south of Johns Hopkins University, several miles north of the harbor. Where there is a neighborhood anchor institution, good retail, and reasonable transit, some old Baltimore row house neighborhoods may reverse their fortunes in the next decade. Inclusivity will be important.

However, as in decades before, state and regional decisions on school, infrastructure, and transportation investments will play their part on whether some Baltimore city neighborhoods can come back. These decisions are particularly important for the most vulnerable.

Jeff La Noue is a project and sustainability planner in Baltimore. He has an Economics degree from St. Mary's College of Maryland and a Masters in Community Planning from the University of Maryland-College Park. Posts are his own viewpoint and do not necessarily reflect his employer. Jeff also runs his own urbanist blog, Comeback City

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So the economy was okay but the people doing better wanted a house wider than 12 feet?

by Bill Smith on Feb 1, 2016 2:24 pm • linkreport

Is anyone else seeing nothing but broken images? I'm using Google Chrome.

by JDC on Feb 1, 2016 2:42 pm • linkreport

Bill Smith

Many of the people doing better wanted a SFH instead of a rowhouse, or a new rowhouse instead of an old one, or whatever. Combined with segregation and schools, this causeed people who would have been happy to stay in a small old rowhouse to leave. Though people (generally childless, or affluent enough to use private schools) who loved the architecture and walkability of the old neighborhoods came in, but there were only so many of them, and they favored neighborhoods close to amenities like water (which also happen to be the neighborhoods that used to be ethnic whites, rather than african americans, and where perceptions of crime and city services were different)

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 1, 2016 2:43 pm • linkreport

While I agree with many points in this piece, I think the whole cause and effect relationship is a little lost here.

Sprawl is a problem in Baltimore area, as it is in most cities, but it isn't the problem.

The Baltimore area is actually relatively compact, especially if you ignore the "shared" DC suburbs in western Anne Arundel and Howard Cos. If you head north out of the city towards Harrisburg on I-83, in 20 minutes you're in the countryside. Even with the huge population loss, Baltimore's current population density of 7,672/sq mi is similar to those of other major Northeastern/Rust Belt cities, and far higher than any city between DC and Miami.

Now, look at all the cities with booming population growth, particularly in the Sunbelt--Nashville, Charlotte, Atlanta, Austin, San Antonio, Phoenix, etc.--it reads like a top-10 list of the most sprawling cities.

Gov. Hogan's ill-advised plan to bulldoze parts of the city, will probably lead to sprawl-type development ironically, since developers will probably come behind and build suburban style sfh tracts, as they've already done on Rte 40 in Baltimore and in many transitioning neighborhoods on the DC fringes.

"Baltimore City's surplus of vacant houses is not there because of a poor regional economy or because the Baltimore region's population is shrinking"

I don't think this is the general belief, at least not to people who are familiar with the area. As you stated, the region's population is booming, and Baltimore's economy is performing remarkably well. In 2015 the Baltimore metro area added jobs at a faster pace than most major metro areas in the nation, including the DC Area, and certainly faster than its "peers" (Pittsburgh, Cleveland, Detroit, Newark, St. Louis etc.).

There are multiple reasons why the city of Baltimore hasn't turned the corner and started to really grow and revitalize, none of which individually preclude the city's rebirth. These include:

1. Lack of mobility/transit investment, especially in poorer neighborhoods (CIP: Red Line cancellation)
2. One of the nation's highest violent crime rates (had been tumbling up until the riots)
3. Lack of quality political management/leadership, although SRB overall has been a very good mayor
4. Competition with the suburbs, as discussed in the article (why invest/live/operate in the city when suburbs are far safer and have better service/schools/infrastructure/$demographics?)
5. Disinterest from Annapolis
6. Competition with DC (national/international businesses
with local headquarters/offices/outlets/franchises will choose DC over Baltimore 9 out of 10 times)

The city has come really close to turning around, and all it needs is a spark (tearing down half the city isn't it btw). It could have been the Red Line. It could be the additional investments by UMB in West Baltimore or JH in East Baltimore. Or it could be the planned 4 million sq ft/50 acre Under Armour campus. Developers and investors are lined up waiting to jump in (over the past year alone there have been around 5 new 100m+ skyscrapers proposed, plus a plethora of other high-rises), but the banks are still hesitant. The civil unrest was undeniably a major setback, but if the city can get violent crime back under control, Baltimore City could see remarkable improvement and growth in the coming years.

by King Terrapin on Feb 1, 2016 3:03 pm • linkreport

Tearing down abandoned houses may not be a spark plug, but it is a way to lower the operational costs of governing Baltimore and deter crime. Abandoned houses are magnets for criminals because of all the bad things you can do inside the privacy of an abandoned house, that you can't do in a vacant lot.

by Hadur on Feb 1, 2016 3:07 pm • linkreport

It's good to hear about Baltimore's civic assets. . It's one of the most historic big cities in America.

I realize that population is not a perfect indicator. Still it's significant that Baltimore has lost 35% of its peak (1950) population, while 100 miles away in the rather similar city of Philadelphia, it's 25%. Philadelphia's population was stable between the 2000 and 2010 Census, while Baltimore kept losing population, albeit at a slower rate.

Sprawl, redlining, and suburb-focused investments have hurt just about every American city, including New York. But some cities have held up/come back more strongly (e.g. Boston despite the Route 128 tech beltway). I think there needs to be a fuller explanation of Baltimore's problems.

To me, as a former resident, Philadelphia now has a very different and more helpful feel than Baltimore.

by Wanderer on Feb 1, 2016 3:09 pm • linkreport

"since developers will probably come behind and build suburban style sfh tracts, as they've already done on Rte 40 in Baltimore "

Curious, where precisely on Rte 40?

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 1, 2016 3:16 pm • linkreport

People seem to think you cant have SFHs and density. Obviously not NYC style density, but certainly denser than most newer cities.

The real issue isnt so much the home type as the road design and exclusive use zoning. If you build cul de sacs with only residential its going to lead to sprawl. If you keep the street grid and allow some mixed use it won't.

The issue with Baltimore is still that its a terrible place to live for its black residents. Even when the population decrease stopped it wasnt because blacks stopped moving out - they left and were replaced by Hispanics and whites.

If you want Baltimore to succeed it needs to find ways to make life better for them. Gentrification or rebuilding of some areas can help by providing jobs and tax funds - but its not the end of the road - not for a city like Baltimore that is so heavily black and poor.

by Tom A on Feb 1, 2016 3:17 pm • linkreport

@Bill Smith

Row houses in Baltimore are by no means universally small. The rowhouses in west Baltimore are generally larger than East Baltimore. The row houses around Johns Hopkins Hospital are generally small, but the row houses near Johns Hopkins University are more often big. There are lots of medium size ones too. In addition, there are neighborhoods with a mix of sizes.

Here is a block not too far from a subway stop with giant vacant houses. Its not hard to find vacants of all sizes.
https://www.google.com/maps/@39.3036057,-76.6290881,3a,75y,2.42h,90.66t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1s70IOzHpQj8iTZ_zMNkl7Gw!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

by Jeff La Noue on Feb 1, 2016 3:25 pm • linkreport

@CrossingBrooklynFerry,
http://www.homesatuplands.com/

by Chester B. on Feb 1, 2016 3:27 pm • linkreport

CrossingBrooklynFerry - on Route 40 at Athol (on the west side a mile or less form the County line) they tore what I think was a public housing complex (apartments?) and replaced it with SFH and probably townhouses.

But the immediate area has alot of SFH - including the leafy Ten Hills, which is one of the nicer neighborhoods in Baltimore City. Its not like they plopped a huge cul de sac development into the middle of the city grid.

by Tom A on Feb 1, 2016 3:27 pm • linkreport

The fact that so many people from DC don't want to visit Baltimore speaks greatly about the problems of Baltimore.
I'd rather go to Fredrick MD or Anapolis or just about anywhere else.
Every time I go there I feel like there is nothing to do.

by Brett Young on Feb 1, 2016 3:28 pm • linkreport

Chester

Those seem to be mostly townhomes - not that different (though larger?) from the rowhomes of Baltimore.

Tom

That is what I thought - near the County line in an area that already had detached SFHs. Not evidence for what would happen in older areas closer to downtown.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 1, 2016 3:32 pm • linkreport

"Every time I go there I feel like there is nothing to do."

When I go I feel like I run out of time. So many museums, historic sites, and interesting neighborhoods.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 1, 2016 3:33 pm • linkreport

Its a bit disingenuous to blame sprawl entirely. The city lost its industry base, and the many blue collar jobs that went with it. The areas that housed those blue collar workers in the city thus became vacant and, as crime and poor schools became the norm, there was a rush for the suburbs.

by SJE on Feb 1, 2016 3:38 pm • linkreport

Every time I go there I feel like there is nothing to do.

I guess you don't like aquariums, baseball, football, museums, casinos, restaurants, etc.

by Chester B. on Feb 1, 2016 3:44 pm • linkreport

Brett Young, that only speaks to ignorance. Baltimore obviously has more to "do" than Frederick or Annapolis.

DC and Baltimore have had similar problems. Both have the same high unemployment rate (~7.5%) and similar violent crime rates. The difference is DC is gentrifying/clearing blight faster because it created more high paying jobs the last 20 yrs and has less row houses as a percentage of total housing stock.

But DC hasn't done much better than Baltimore in terms of economic opportunities for its poor and less educated residents. Those are greater economic issues this entire country is dealing with.

by Kevins on Feb 1, 2016 3:53 pm • linkreport

While Baltimore is not exactly thrilling, I don't see how Brett think Frederick and Annapolis are more exciting. One time I took a friend to Annapolis who had never been and I literally couldn't find a single moderately priced restaurant that was not a bar. Not a single one.

by VJU on Feb 1, 2016 3:54 pm • linkreport

You can play Pollyanna as much as you like, but until Baltimore's citizens start electing competent, responsive politicians that are interested in building a truly inclusive, multicultural city, the city will continue to suffer. A city cannot survive on massive population of underclass and a small population of single twenty somethings.

As to the stats listed, of course Baltimore had a lot college grads - it's home to two major universities. That doesn't mean all those college degrees are participating in a diverse economy. Further, compare apples to apples when you talk about GDP, or in this case, similarly sized cities.

by Arthur McCarthy on Feb 1, 2016 3:56 pm • linkreport

"A city cannot survive on massive population of underclass and a small population of single twenty somethings."

Which of those groups fill Roland Park, Mount Washington, Guilford, or, for that matter, Upper Park Heights and Cheslwolde?

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 1, 2016 4:02 pm • linkreport

Good article with some great points. Baltimore has so many wonderful assets, but the stigma of its decline has become all consuming. Besides no manufacturing jobs, Baltimore's fabric, while nice, suffers from two main issues. One, a lot of it is narrow and repetitive and a lot of it is cordoned off from other parts of the city by highways and other scars.

A good urban plan would 'repair' the scars with appropriate infill, while adding street trees to the canyons of masonry would go a long way to humanizing those blocks.

Rather than tear blocks down, it would be nice to see a comprehensive transportation plan coordinated with a city beautiful approach that employed the tools we know work towards making these abandoned neighborhoods livable.

I remember when there where those who spoke of DC's decline as a sign of it's obsolescence. With some will and creative thinking, I'm sure Baltimore could make a come back. It's such a beautiful city despite it's set backs.

by Thayer-D on Feb 1, 2016 4:02 pm • linkreport

So the economy was okay but the people doing better wanted a house wider than 12 feet?

It's not all 12 feet wide row houses. Reservoir Hill has plenty of abandoned row homes, many of them in the 3500-4000 square foot range. Eutaw place makes the brownstones around Dupont Circle look small.

by Richard B on Feb 1, 2016 4:10 pm • linkreport

@crossing

Anecdotes - the demographics of Baltimore don't lie, and they support what I wrote.

by Arthur McCarthy on Feb 1, 2016 4:10 pm • linkreport

Arthur

You did not answer my question. Who lives in Roland Park, Guilford, Mt Washington, Upper Park Heights, and Cheswolde?

There are also african american working class areas on the edges of the City.

Sounds like you have only been to downtown, the Harbor, and the neighborhoods nearby (and even then have been viewing selectively)

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 1, 2016 4:21 pm • linkreport

Point to your data.

What definition of "underclass" do you use?

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 1, 2016 4:22 pm • linkreport

I'm confused by the statement attributing exodus to the suburbs to redlining. I suspect the author is using the term as shorthand for disinvestment in an area as a whole. That's not, strictly speaking, what it was. It was the refusal to use underwriting practices for home loan applications, instead making decision on whether or not to extend a mortgage loan based upon whether or not a home was located behind the so-called red line, as it existed on a particular date. That line corresponded to the extent of neighborhoods in which black homeowners were a significant percentage.

by Crickey7 on Feb 1, 2016 4:22 pm • linkreport

I know I'm a couple of degrees and many years of planning work behind most of the posters on this, but the small row houses to me seem a problem with family-size living, but not necessarily with younger people or singles. To that end, why not try to put the government's thumb on the scale to turn them into apartments, basically, or whole blocks into multi-resident, almost dormitory-style housing?

by andy on Feb 1, 2016 4:24 pm • linkreport

@CrossingBrooklynFerry

"Curious, where precisely on Rte 40?"

https://goo.gl/maps/iar7nLn7vCQ2
https://goo.gl/maps/qSL2RDXcqaT2

"That is what I thought - near the County line in an area that already had detached SFHs."

Uplands is a big difference from what's on the other side of US 40:
https://goo.gl/maps/maRQucRzWoN2

I have nothing against single-family homes, but the site/unit/plot layouts belong in the middle of Baltimore County (if anywhere). EYA, for instance, builds excellent urban-style rowhomes even way out in the suburbs (see: West-Side at Shady Grove), (their sky-high entry-price for their product would keep them from building anything in West Baltimore anytime soon). This development wastes a ton of space, especially since it's right on Baltimore's principle east-west corridor (not to mention the cancelled Red Line).

"Not evidence for what would happen in older areas closer to downtown."

I wouldn't be so sure. When politicians are desperate for that "spark" I talked about, they'll let things like zoning restrictions, urban form, walkability, etc. slide to attract residents/jobs (and to pad their resume for re-election). It's a different story in DC where developers are lined up at the door and politicians can afford to be selective, strict, and nitpicky.

by King Terrapin on Feb 1, 2016 4:30 pm • linkreport

@crossing

I lived in Baltimore for four years, so spare me the, "you don't live here" ad hominem. But the parts of the city that you so dismissively listed are the only parts keeping the city afloat - if it weren't for th harbor, the stadiums, fells point, fed hill, UMBC and Hopkins, Baltimore would have collapsed long, long ago. But of course they aren't enough to turn it around, either.

As to "underclass," I'm talking about the 30 percent of Baltimore that is under the poverty threshold. I could also point to the abysmal stats coming out of BPS. As I said, the demographics don't lie - Baltimore is a dying city managed by totally incompetent leaders who have no concern beyond their stranglehold on power. And given who is planning on running for mayor, the next city election will be the last nail in Baltimore's coffin.

by Arthur McCarthy on Feb 1, 2016 4:32 pm • linkreport

andy

The problem is that A. It is not just the size of the houses (there are small rowhouses in places like Ridgley's Delight, South Baltimore, etc that appeal precisely to those demographics) but the fact that in the most disinvested areas the small rowhouses in bad physical shape, surrounded by vacant lots or other vacant buildings, where crime is high and amenities few B. Young people have lots of alternatives, from the aforesaid small rowhouses in higher amenity lower crime areas, to apts cut out of large rowhouses in high amenity areas (like Charles Village) or actual multifamily buildings, in places like Mount Vernon, Harbor East, Canton, etc.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 1, 2016 4:33 pm • linkreport

"I'm talking about the 30 percent of Baltimore that is under the poverty threshold. "

That is far from the majority. That means 70% do not fit that definition, and surely that 70% is not only single 20 somethings.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 1, 2016 4:36 pm • linkreport

King Terrapin

One more time, your picture does not show detached SFHs as usually defined, but groups of 4 attached homes (granted short rows, with lots of offstreet parking)

And yeah there are BOTH detached SFHs and traditional rownhomes nearby. That area is essentially on the border where the latter give way to the former.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 1, 2016 4:38 pm • linkreport

Ugh, so much to say!

I think those of you who are still criticizing the plans to tear down these rowhomes are missing the point about them being beyond rehabable in their deterioration. Many have internal structural collapse. Look at google maps at the following link and streetview the street. Is this what we're trying to save?

https://www.google.com/maps/@39.3097261,-76.6487613,104m/data=!3m1!1e3

I have a good friend who lives in Bolton Hill and who has family out in Reisterstown, and he just drives west on North Ave out of the city because it's quick and direct. I went on the trip with him once and block after block was not only 100% abandoned, but you could see the sky through the top floor windows. Yes there needs to be a plan beyond tearing these homes down, but be it through public or private money, they will be torn down. I fault Hogan on a lot of things, but getting rid of these units will be a first step.

I mean, so what if these are eventually replaced with more suburban style townhomes, or single family detached, or some combination of the two? The city lacks great transit, so placing density of all apartments in these blocks is ill-advised, and occupied single family detached homes is more population than is there with row upon row of abandonment. If all the units were to re-occupy at the current density the traffic would be horrible, and the lack of any sort of modern services (doctors/dentists/layers offices, grocery stores or retail in general) would be apparent. It's just block after block of rowhomes, something would have to be turn down to put in modern buildings that would accommodate these sorts of services.

The city geography is huge, and although sprawl was a huge deal, it's slowing down due to lack of room to keep expanding out. Baltimore County has pretty much hit the outward limit of its urban/rural growth boundary, with its remaining growth being an urbanization of Towson, redevelopment of owings mills mall area, and if Dundalk/Essex/Middle River areas begin to gentry even slightly with the new jobs promised at the old Sparrows Point. All of this would be good growth in the County, not more sprawl. Anne Arundel is similarly running out of room except for the Marley Neck Peninsula, and a few large scale mixed use developments along the BW parkway which are a shared DC suburb. Howard Co is also nearly out of room except for a redevelopment of the RT 1 corridor and 'downtown' Columbia. The number of neighborhoods undergoing some level of gentrification in Baltimore is huge, and could handle probably 25,000 - 50,000 new residents easily just in the currently gentrifying areas. Until you get families and not just DINKs to move into the city, you'll never reach the old population densities of the 1950s and 1960s.

by Gull on Feb 1, 2016 4:50 pm • linkreport

Baltimore's problem is "sprawl rather than a bad economy"?! I support creative urban planning, but man, this is really spiking and drinking the cool aid. Baltimore's ills are due to an economy that leaves many of its poorer residents, not to mention certain demographic social pathologies.

by Karl on Feb 1, 2016 4:55 pm • linkreport

I can begrudgingly accept that some homes have to go but I can decry that things ever got so bad. And the fact that we are going to tear down a bunch of houses but there's only a hint of a plan on what to do going forward.

And yes, sprawl is a big culprit. It may not be a cause but it has certainly exacerbated the other problems in many ways.

Marylands major metropolitan areas are booming. Willful neglect and disinvestment (usually stemming from racism and a weird bias against urban places) is why Baltimores efforts have been hobbled.

by Drumz on Feb 1, 2016 5:00 pm • linkreport

"I can begrudgingly accept that some homes have to go but I can decry that things ever got so bad. And the fact that we are going to tear down a bunch of houses but there's only a hint of a plan on what to do going forward."

While the "its (residential) sprawl, not economic decline" center city baltimore has taken a lot of hits, economically over the decades. Several corporate departures, out of the region (CSX) or to the suburbs (McCormick Spice) mergers (several banks) a lot of heavy industry decline (GM) . Plus with so little rail transit, downtown has not had that strong a location edge. Combine that with the usual downward spiral of schools, poverty and crime. The city has strengths, but I think not enough to fill all those vacant rowhomes within a reasonable period of time.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 1, 2016 5:11 pm • linkreport

Sprawl is the symptom, not the problem. The fact that the region does so well compared to the city shows the city still has a big problem. DC, for all its historical and current faults, has always been insulated due to the federal gov. Baltimore has not been, and it still has the open racial and economic wounds to prove it. Add in a disinterested state government and not always competent local leaders, and you end up with today- a resilent regional economy, but a city that can't get out of its own way. More than sprawl, urbanism, or anything else, what it's going to take to fix Baltimore is a functional educational system and good jobs for all residents. Otherwise, we'll see more riots and unrest between the haves and have nots.

by Peter L. on Feb 1, 2016 5:55 pm • linkreport

If 50% or more of a block is vacant, I think it should be torn down.

by Cassie on Feb 1, 2016 6:04 pm • linkreport

I lived in Baltimore for four years, so spare me the, "you don't live here" ad hominem. But the parts of the city that you so dismissively listed are the only parts keeping the city afloat - if it weren't for th harbor, the stadiums, fells point, fed hill, UMBC and Hopkins, Baltimore would have collapsed long, long ago. But of course they aren't enough to turn it around, either.

UMBC isn't in the city, it's in the county.

But Homeland, Roland Park, Guilford, Evergreen etc are somehow bringing the city down?
Between Greenmount and Falls, 33rd and Lake is one of the wealthiest neighborhoods in the country.

by Richard B on Feb 1, 2016 6:46 pm • linkreport

Actually, the Federal Housing Administration drew maps with literal red lines on them, showing that they wouldn't guarantee loans in those neighborhoods--many of which were black neighborhoods. I believe those maps were used up to 1968. But central city residents also had trouble getting mortgages apart from that.

by Wanderer on Feb 1, 2016 7:17 pm • linkreport

FHA won't give loans/ mortgages for fix-up properties - even if somebody got the construction skills, someone will usually needs a lot of cash on hand to buy one.

by asffa on Feb 1, 2016 7:27 pm • linkreport

The lack of transit argument isn't very persuasive.

The Baltimore Sun's map of properties slated shows a large cluster in Sandtown which (coincidentally?) was ground zero of last year's violence as well as the location of an MBA subway station.

http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/maryland/politics/bal-initial-demolition-plans-20160107-htmlstory.html

by Paul J. Meissner on Feb 1, 2016 7:35 pm • linkreport

I meant to say MTA. Stupid autocorrect.

by Paul J. Meissner on Feb 1, 2016 7:36 pm • linkreport

The Baltimore Sun's map of properties slated shows a large cluster in Sandtown which (coincidentally?) was ground zero of last year's violence as well as the location of an MBA subway station.

The lack of transit argument is silly. Some of the areas that have the worst unemployment/vacant housing/crime have the best transit in the city whether it be MARC or MTA Subway. Those transit lines connect to job centers in Baltimore's finacial district, Johns Hopkins Hospital, and DC which have seen the most robust growth over the last 20 years.

The problem is that the people living in those neighborhoods have trouble getting jobs offered in those job centers. In terms of transit to the next jobs in the logistics industry that is also booming in Baltimore, those neighborhoods are underserved. Amazon is running a private shuttle to get people to its warehouse.

by Richard B on Feb 1, 2016 8:23 pm • linkreport

The writer is not wrong but neglects to point out Baltimore city's defined border as part of the problem. White flight and sprawl happened in tons of cities over the past few decades but since Baltimore has a strictly defined border that cannot extend we got hit harder than most. In other cities people could spread out to surrounding counties but their tax money would still be used in the city. The fact that Baltimore city is surrounded mostly by Baltimore county and gets no money from it has hurt the city for a while.

by Paul on Feb 1, 2016 8:59 pm • linkreport

Crime is the reason Baltimore City is losing population to the suburbs. Sprawl is just symptomatic of the impact violence is having on the Baltimore Metro area. Who wants to live in a city that still riots in the streets in the 21st century? I feel bad for the decent people who still live there. What's the best way to cut down on violent crime? If you fix that problem, Baltimore City would most likely thrive again.

by Paul on Feb 1, 2016 9:29 pm • linkreport

"short rows, with lots of offstreet parking"

Yeah, and that's the problem

by King Terrapin on Feb 2, 2016 12:43 am • linkreport

Row houses don't have lots of offstreet parking.

by asffa on Feb 2, 2016 3:15 am • linkreport

There's a much, much larger issue for Baltimore: its proximity to DC. Baltimore faces the same challenge as Philadelphia and Newark. Ambitious young people head to the larger, more economically successful city nearby, perpetuating the downward spiral. Baltimore's renaissance will occur if/when transportation (HSR? Maglev? Self-driving cars?) allows a critical mass of people who work in DC to reside there. That's behind the success of Baltimore's revitalizing downtown (esp around Camden Yards MARC station), but needs to happen on a larger scale to benefit the city.

by Mark on Feb 2, 2016 7:13 am • linkreport

Thank you Jeff for your excellent column.

@Mark, proximity to DC is a strength, not a weakness. Ambitious young people are in fact heading to places like Baltimore. It is continually highlighted as a great place for millennials to live, work and play. Affordability (and good jobs) mean a lot to a 25 year old. I know quite a few in this demographic and they are working at exciting ed-tech businesses, in cyber security or doing really novel work at advertising firms that are based here (as opposed to DC and NYC). There are alsocthe traditional stalwarts like T Rowe Price, Legg Mason, Laureate, Under Armor and many others.

Alexandria is even closer to DC. Does that hurt them? Ultimately a Shenzen to Hong Kong model would be really interesting, and if the right investments are made, I see no reason why this can't occur.

by DJP on Feb 2, 2016 8:48 am • linkreport

If sprawl was the problem, wouldn't a lot more cities be in as bad shape as Baltimore?

by Chester B. on Feb 2, 2016 9:00 am • linkreport

@asffa

"Row houses don't have lots of offstreet parking."

Exactly. I should have stated that my comment was in response to CrossingBrooklynFerry who made the quote.

by King Terrapin on Feb 2, 2016 9:02 am • linkreport

Maryland needs to push for a four track rail alignment between Baltimore Penn and Washington Union Station with a of 10 minimum maximum headway for local and express trains

by mcs on Feb 2, 2016 9:03 am • linkreport

In 1998 DC had vacant houses, blight, etc and then Congress passed a law saying that any first-time homebuyer in DC would get a $5000 tax credit. That means if your tax bill is say $15000, you get to subtract $5000 and just pay the government $10,000. Then Mayor Anthony Williams said that would bring 100,000 new residents to DC. Many thought he was crazy. But you know? They came. Today vacant row houses are a rarity in DC, neighborhoods are coming back. Rather than tear down historic homes in Baltimore, why not get the Maryland federal delegation to try to get tax credit relief. If so, it would ultimately cost the government less and preserve historic neighborhoods.

by Sam Ford on Feb 2, 2016 9:23 am • linkreport

Affordability (and good jobs) mean a lot to a 25 year old. I know quite a few in this demographic and they are working at exciting ed-tech businesses, in cyber security or doing really novel work at advertising firms that are based here (as opposed to DC and NYC). There are alsocthe traditional stalwarts like T Rowe Price, Legg Mason, Laureate, Under Armor and many others.

The problem is that those companies provide few good-paying blue collar jobs. They might be great for millenials with college degrees, but that's not enough to sustain most cities.

I'd also argue that Baltimore's economic health is a bit overstated by the author. Much of that GDP that is being credited to Baltimore metro is coming from people in places like Howard/Anne Arundel counties. However, many of those folks have little connection to Baltimore. Their jobs and economic activities are driven by DC. They just happen to live in a Baltimore suburb.

by ArlingtonFlyer on Feb 2, 2016 9:24 am • linkreport

@Sam Ford,
Wouldn't it be easier for the state to give a $5,000 tax credit on state taxes?

by Chester B. on Feb 2, 2016 9:28 am • linkreport

Racism, fueled by white flight, created urban sprawl. Urban designers and architects have known about this concept for a long time, at least since the 1980's. It is a fact. This is what created the problems in the inner city. The sprawl directly contributed to the warehousing of poor blacks in the inner cities. This, coupled with high density of poverty, and lead in old homes, is what created the swaths of vacant homes. It is not that there is not enough people for these homes, theres 40,000 people on a closed waiting list for Sec 8 housing, there are thousands of families doubled up on small rented homes and apartments, there is 10,000 homeless, and 50% of Baltimore residents are poor and living in sub standard apt housing; its ithe redlining and descrimination by banks that still exists to this day that continues this trend towards vacancy. Everyone deserves clean, decent, lead-free housing. The Fair Housing Act of 1968, lobbied by Clarence Mitchell, and signed to law by LBJ, is still not being complied with. Affordable housing and large scale dormatory- style living of families is warehousing poor people. designers and government policy makers know this. Why is Baltimore so short- sighted as not to see that the vacant rowhomes present an opportunity to end poverty? If we can send a rocket to Mars, we can figure out how to put deserving people in these rowhomes.

by marti pitrelli on Feb 2, 2016 9:53 am • linkreport

Baltimore has not been de-industrialized, like Detroit, Cleveland and other dying Midwest cities, it has been RE-industrialized. The new corporations, health industy, and government industry have left working class poor in the dust. But that doesn't mean Balitmore is losing population, in fact it is projected for enormous growth in the next 25 years. Baltimore's population and demographics is changing, not shrinking. So to indiscriminately tear down swaths of vacant homes is not preparing for the future. And in fact, poses to poison the soil and water, and make industrial wasteland of the demolition sites from lead paint.

by marti pitrelli on Feb 2, 2016 9:59 am • linkreport

Arlingtonflyer, those jobs are located in the Baltimore city. Not in AACO or HOCO, so what is your point?

by Paul on Feb 2, 2016 10:09 am • linkreport

Arlington Flyer,

Can you back your assertion "that much of that GDP" is related to Anne Arubdel and Howard Counties? Workers in those counties work in Baltimore, DC and in the areas in which they live.

Why do some people on this site feel a need to tear down, even when presented with positive attributes like those in this piece?

by DJP on Feb 2, 2016 10:12 am • linkreport

If sprawl was the problem, wouldn't a lot more cities be in as bad shape as Baltimore?
I think this is the most important question asked here. There are plenty of successful sprawling cities. I don't have time at the moment, but here's an interesting experiment to run: Gather data on the 200 biggest cities in the country. First, collect some macroeconomic measure of city health for each of the 200 cities (e.g., unemployment rates). Next, collect some sort of urban sprawl index for each of the 200 cities (For an example of this, see http://www.smartgrowthamerica.org/documents/measuring-sprawl-2014.pdf). Finally, run a statistical regression expressing unemployment rate as a function of urban sprawl. Take the time to statistically validate results (e.g., NYC will probably be an outlier, and might be worthy of removing from the dataset). Make sure results hold up regardless of data definitions (e.g., try both data aggregated by city limits and aggregated by MSAs, use different measures of sprawl, use different measures of city health, etc.). I'd bet sprawl is only weakly correlated with economic health.

Clearly, (1) Baltimore has a lot of problems, and (2) Baltimore has a lot of sprawl. While the article's premise is interesting, the click-bait headline implies that (2) causes (1). I don't think this article has proven that.

by Jason S. on Feb 2, 2016 10:16 am • linkreport

I think that the people who are ridden with guilt that they are part of the problem, deny that urban sprawl has contributed to the inner cities decline.

by marti pitrelli on Feb 2, 2016 10:29 am • linkreport

Arlingtonflyer, those jobs are located in the Baltimore city. Not in AACO or HOCO, so what is your point?

The point is that you aren't going to fix Baltimore's problems by only having white-collar jobs in the city.

Why do some people on this site feel a need to tear down, even when presented with positive attributes like those in this piece?

It's not tearing down. It's just countering a somewhat deceptive claim that Baltimore has a healthy economy and therefore sprawl is all to blame.

by ArlingtonFlyer on Feb 2, 2016 10:57 am • linkreport

But by many measures it does have a healthy economy.

You are right about the need for more 'less than white collar' jobs. Think about it this way, Baltimore has been a city since about 1740, or about 275 years. For about its first 130 years it was not a blue collar city (pre Industrial Revolution). Then for the next 100 it had a large manufacturing base. Manufacturing jobs have really fallen off since the 1970s, and the ones that survived require an increasing amount of technical ability. The former, mammoth Bethlehem Steel has been purchased with the intent of adding to the Baltimore region's already large port operations / supply chain / logistics economy. Fedex has signed on for 300,000 sf of space. I would love to see training programs to move more low income folks into jobs there and at other places. Amazon has a 1,000,000 sf fulfillment center in SE Baltimore that is employing a lot of formerly unemployed city residents. And along with training, a reliable transportation infrastructure is another component that will help facilitate getting people from where they live to these jobs.

On the issue of rehabilitating the houses rather than tearing them down - many are beyond repair and are riddled with lead paint and in some cases, asbestos.

by DJP on Feb 2, 2016 11:19 am • linkreport

The op-ed and conversation are all very interesting, but there is clearly something very wrong with Baltimore, and sprawl (which exists around every major city) doesn't explain it in the least. I have to wonder if Baltimore would be in the same state as Erie, Cleveland, or Buffalo had it not been for it's connection to Washington DC (especially for those outer counties).

To explain, while many cities that were in disarray or total sprawl conditions 20 years ago, such as Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Boston, and Seattle, these cities have all managed to become somewhat vibrant and have redeveloped much of their downtown and surrounding neighborhoods in the past decades. Meanwhile, Baltimore - tucked between the thriving Washington, DC area and re-urbanizing Philadelphia - has not been the boom of new construction or revitalization. There are a few well-off areas near the inner harbor and in some tree-lined neighborhoods, but the redevelopment of the urban centers has not happened.

I blame much of this on poor governance. The city has suffered under poor mayoral leadership, a lack of city and state investment in the downtown and neighborhood connections, and an inability to learn from other cities success stories. This is NOT due to a lack of transit - Baltimore has a subway and light rail; this is NOT due to urban highways - which pierced many revitalized cities in much worse ways than the JFX, and this is NOT due to sprawl. When land is abundant and cheap, there are not many *AVERAGE* (i.e. not smart growth advocates or new urbanists, but average Joes' and Janes') people who choose the small, cramped urban rowhouse over the SF home with a backyard that's only 20 minutes drive from work. Yes - some people will - but most won't. Urbanism succeeds when land is in high demand and therefore costly, and when the cultural amenities provided by population and density make up for the lack of personal space.

by RailGuy on Feb 2, 2016 11:46 am • linkreport

Baltimore's number one problem is CRIME. You'd have to be blind to not recognize that. I'm sorry, but living in or visiting a city where the local people can't behave themselves to the point of rioting in the 21st century is not appealing at all to large segments of the population. No one can make me go there, and I flatly refuse to until they clean the place up.

by Mike on Feb 2, 2016 11:53 am • linkreport

"Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Kansas City, Minneapolis, Philadelphia, Boston, and Seattle, these cities have all managed to become somewhat vibrant and have redeveloped much of their downtown and surrounding neighborhoods in the past decades. Meanwhile, Baltimore - tucked between the thriving Washington, DC area and re-urbanizing Philadelphia - has not been the boom of new construction or revitalization. There are a few well-off areas near the inner harbor and in some tree-lined neighborhoods, but the redevelopment of the urban centers has not happened."

Actually Baltimore has seen redevelopment that in many ways is comparable to Philly (most of the other cities you mention were either not as old, as dense, or as reliant on heavy industry, or have huge advantages (the fracking boom in Pittsburgh - which also was not a city that suffered from racial issues to the same extent - indeed most on your list did not) Philly, IIUC continues to have large areas of the city suffering from disinvestmen - not sure if it has many vacant houses though (of course Camden NJ is not pretty)

I would suggest a difference is that Baltimore being a smaller metro area commuting to the suburbs has long been a more appealing option than in larger areas, and Philly has retained a stronger local business community (some old Baltimore companies are still in the City, but quite a few moved to the suburbs or out of the region)

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 2, 2016 11:56 am • linkreport

The riots were because of police abuse. It's not like the city decided to go have themselves a good riot because they were bored.

by drumz on Feb 2, 2016 11:58 am • linkreport

In summary it is a combination of the massive number of prewar attached homes, industrial decline, suburban sprawl, and racial issues.

by CrossingBrooklynFerry on Feb 2, 2016 12:00 pm • linkreport

@Mike,
I assume you also refuse to visit Paris, London, and other cities that have had riots in recent years...

by Chester B. on Feb 2, 2016 12:24 pm • linkreport

RailGuy, that's an incorrect analysis. Baltimore has undergone a building boom that's been bigger than anything Cincinatti, Pittsburgh or Kansas City has experienced the last 10 yrs.

Pittsburgh, with a much smaller population, has 28,000 vacant lots, which exceeds Baltimore's. Philadelphia has 32,000. This is not just a Baltimore problem.

by Kevins on Feb 2, 2016 12:29 pm • linkreport

Oh gee, more people trying to paint DC into some sort of Disneyland, but in reality sans the homocide tally, baltimores crime isn't much worse then DC.

by Paul on Feb 2, 2016 12:45 pm • linkreport

Another factor relevant for Baltimore that makes it somewhat unique: A lot of dual income households have one spouse working in the Baltimore area, and another working in the DC area. My sister’s family did that for a while. She worked in Baltimore, while her husband worked in Silver Spring. They lived in Ellicott City to help split the difference. For that reason, even if Baltimore didn’t have all the crime issues, because DC and Baltimore are so close geographically, the Howard/Anne Arundel County suburbs will always appeal to a number of people. That leads to employment growth in places like Columbia rather than Baltimore: Employers like to locate in places convenient to their employees to draw from a bigger talent pool. Most other large urban centers in the US are too far apart for this to happen, so you see a single jobs core with a few pockets in the periphery (e.g., Schaumburg just outside of Chicago). There might be more I’m not thinking of, but the only possibly exception is Philly/NYC. Even then though, there’s a bigger distance between those cities than between DC/Baltimore.

by Jason S. on Feb 2, 2016 12:55 pm • linkreport

Mike, Paul is right. Crime in DC was actually higher than Baltimore in 2014.

DC: 38,424 (2014) declined to 36,488 (2015)
Baltimore 38,153 (2014) to ???

by Kevins on Feb 2, 2016 1:02 pm • linkreport

The question is not whether suburbanization around Baltimore should have happened. Suburbs provide a desirable form of life for many. (There are many suburban style neighborhoods in Baltimore City as well)

The question is, should so much of the public investment gone into new suburban roads, highways, sewers, and schools, without also modernizing the city's infrastructure and schools. If, by having modern infrastructure, transport, and schools, Baltimore City could have captured just 20% of the suburban growth and tax base it lost, the city would not have lost population from its peak and there could still be a million people in the suburbs today.

by Jeff La Noue on Feb 2, 2016 1:47 pm • linkreport

Um, the commenter who gave this URL isn't quite being fair:

"Look at google maps at the following link and streetview the street. Is this what we're trying to save?"

https://www.google.com/maps/@39.3097261,-76.6487613,104m/data=!3m1!1e3

I looked at it and saw that but for a portion of one block where the houses are clearly abandoned, overall the houses appear to be occupied, the streets fairly clean and kept up, and overall not abandoned. It could be that decrepit is in the eye of the beholder, but someone who isn't in Baltimore proposing to do such "urban renewal" as what the gov. is proposing strikes me as just a way of controlling poor people and the space they occupy. It also reminds me of the way in which poor people in DC have been treated for a very long time by just such thinking--whole swathes of the city, especially southwest, torn down, with even larger swathes that were going to be torn down for highways and eventually were saved. Even today, with the boom in development in the Navy Yard area, the adjacent highway is a stark and ugly reminder of the controlling impulse of people who don't actually live in there having the power to negatively affect the entire landscape with unalterable decisions.

by Valerie on Feb 2, 2016 2:00 pm • linkreport

No one is going to mention the property taxes? The property taxes in the city are more than double the surrounding counties!

Every young professional I know loved living in Baltimore in their 20's, but when it was time to get married and settle down they moved to the counties where housing was cheaper, schools are better, and taxes are lower.

by Anthony on Feb 2, 2016 2:06 pm • linkreport

Schools did drive me out of the city. I lived in Towson for 14 years. Taxes in Baltimore County where 50% less than they were in the city. But the house in Towson cost 2 times that of my house in Reservoir Hill (and was 1/2 the sf), so that was a "wash". And the time spent in the car commuting just 15 miles....well, lets just say it was a lot of time spent in the car, a lot of miles of the car, and a lot of quality lost with my family. There is something to be said for "live close to where you work". It's greener too. Less carbon footprint left behind.

by marti pitrelli on Feb 2, 2016 2:17 pm • linkreport

Anthony, good point. The tax hikes are how many of those properties became vacant.

by Kevins on Feb 2, 2016 2:41 pm • linkreport

@Anthony,
Well said!

by Chester B. on Feb 2, 2016 3:33 pm • linkreport

Baltimore can learn a thing or two from the DC region.

the most obstacle to Baltimore future is CRIME. the city leaders need to get handle on that. this might sound undemocratic but they need to restrict certain people from elected office. these MOFOs are only out to flees the govt of it money and resources. they are the same gangs that couldn't shoot straight that currently running Metro

another is issue is the perception of the City and it crime rate. Baltimore Murder and homicide rate was not much more worse than DC for 2015 but to most people Baghdad was a safer place than Baltimore.

city managers in Baltimore should try to emulate DC by integrating Baltimore city with it surrounding Counties. Planning should be on regional level, not just Baltimore city and each county doing their own thing. what make DC work is it integration will all the surrounding counties. DC wouldn't be a great place to live without the 4 millions+ resident in MoCo, Fairfax, Arlington, PG, and all the surrounding area supporting it financially, expertise and cultural.

Baltimore has a lot of strength going for it. a very diverse economy ( Banking, Finance, IT, Logistics, medical, Education, and US Gov't support industry) cheap land and houses. you can beat the cost of living. it well situated to take advantage of the huge economic cluster that Boston to DC

a great future is the city's to lose.

by Wjones on Feb 2, 2016 3:52 pm • linkreport

For those jumping straight to blaming high crime and poor schools, I suggest checking out the work of the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance. The issue most strongly correlated with the health of a neighborhood (indicated by whether the population is growing or shrinking) is the percent of the population that has a long commute time (over 45 minutes), not the crime rate or educational achievement. http://bniajfi.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/01/WhatHappenedReport.pdf

by Eric on Feb 2, 2016 4:20 pm • linkreport

"the fracking boom in Pittsburgh"

Never happened in Pittsburgh. There's no oil/gas money in the city. Its all in the northern and southern rural fringes and the companies making the money aren't in the city. Its all tech and health care. The only major energy company is Consol and they're coal.

by Another Nick on Feb 2, 2016 5:25 pm • linkreport

@Wjones

2014 Baltimore murders: 211
2014 DC murders: 105

2014 Baltimore murder rate: 33.9 per 100,000 persons
2014 DC murder rate: 15.9 per 100,000 persons

In 2014, Baltimore's murder rate was more than twice that of DC.

2015 Baltimore murders: 344
2015 DC murders: 162

2015 Baltimore murder rate: 55.2 per 100,000 persons
2015 DC murder rate: 24.1 per 100,000 persons

In 2015, Baltimore's murder rate was again more than twice DC's. This is not close (or not much worse) like you were eluding to.

by revitalizer on Feb 2, 2016 8:52 pm • linkreport

@revitalizer

Crime *Sans* the homocide tally. Which isn't random innocent slays usually, statistically speaking.

by Paul on Feb 2, 2016 9:36 pm • linkreport

@Paul @Kevins

As for total crimes in the two cities:

2014 Baltimore total crimes: ~ 38,153
2014 DC total crimes: ~ 38,624

2014 Baltimore total crime rate: 6,127 per 100,000 persons
2014 DC total crime rate: 5,854 per 100,000 persons

Baltimore's total crime rate was higher. Although Baltimore's numerical amount of crime was lower, DC has a larger population, so that factors into the crime rate. Numerical numbers alone do not paint the correct picture for a comparison. The crime rate takes into account population, which gives a better picture.

Also of significant importance in crime rate is that DC's daytime population during the weekday is over 1 million people. This is one factor not fully accounted for in the media, blogs, and elsewhere, and would indicate an even lower total crime rate if it could be fleshed out more.

by revitalizer on Feb 2, 2016 9:38 pm • linkreport

This is silly. Baltimore has rather little sprawl, way less than the far more prosperous Washington DC area. Baltimore's problems are a feeble economy, rotten government, and crime all leading to emigration that causes housing to be surplus.

by Peter Samuel on Feb 2, 2016 11:28 pm • linkreport

"Gov. Hogan's ill-advised plan to bulldoze parts of the city, will probably lead to sprawl-type development ironically, since developers will probably come behind and build suburban style sfh tracts, as they've already done on Rte 40 in Baltimore and in many transitioning neighborhoods on the DC fringes."

I disagree that more SFHs would be a bad thing. The vast, vast majority of Balt. housing stock is skinny rowhomes or apartment highrises. Most people prefer SFH living, so I don't see how switching out dilapidated blocks of rowhomes for SFHs could possibly be a bad thing. Especially in Baltimore where there's plenty of vacant land to fill up. Housing variety is key and is one of the major reasons I can't convince myself to move to Baltimore.

by jag on Feb 3, 2016 1:09 am • linkreport

@JAG

"The vast, vast majority of Balt. housing stock is skinny rowhomes or apartment highrises."

This statement is not true. Baltimore City has lots of single family homes. There has to be at least 20 city neighborhoods that are mostly or completely single family. There are many walk up apartments and wide row houses and town houses as well. In summary, there is lots of housing diversity.

by Jeff La Noue on Feb 3, 2016 9:47 am • linkreport

Good point about the dual income situation. Im in the same boat - wife works in Towson, I work in College Park, house is in Catonsville.

I think SFH with the city grid would be alright - but the actual reality is that those lots are likely to sit empty for a long long time.

There are many more attractive areas that renovate before you get to rebuilding in the absolute worst neighborhods (if they weren the worst, they wouldnt have so many abandoned buildings.)

Ultimately Baltimore is in a kind of intractable situation. Its got a lot of low education people with few job prospects which leads to crime problem and poor schools (since the student body is the most important factor in the quality of schools.)

In turn this scares away the tax base that could help to slowly turn the city around.

I dont think DC is particularly instructive because of the massive federal involvement - in supplying jobs and in creating the transit system that makes the city able to be more dense .

But the basic gist is - find ways to create richer enclaves, use tax money to slowly increase quality of life for poor people, or have them move out to the county because they are gentrified out. Positive cycle ensues.

by Tom A on Feb 3, 2016 10:31 am • linkreport

"In 1998 DC had vacant houses, blight, etc and then Congress passed a law saying that any first-time homebuyer in DC would get a $5000 tax credit. Rather than tear down historic homes in Baltimore, why not get the Maryland federal delegation to try to get tax credit relief."

You can't really fairly do this at the federal level because then all the Detroits and Clevelands and Newarks and other poor cities around the country would (rightly) want the same benefit. I believe it flew in DC because it was a national embarrassment for the capital city of the richest country in the world to be in such poor shape. None of the other cities have that benefit. So if you were going to launch this program at a national level somehow, that could have merit, but to do one for Baltimore specifically, it would have to be at the state level. Personally, I think it'd be a great idea, but good luck convincing Hogan and the state legislature of that.

by JES on Feb 3, 2016 12:33 pm • linkreport

I am disappointed that in all of the comments above about problems in Baltimore City, there's been no mention of the failed and wasteful "War on Drugs" that was started at the federal level by Richard Milhous Nixon and escalated during the administration of Ronald Wilson Reagan - the negative results of which trickled down to the state and local government levels, with particular damage in Baltimore.

Anyone that has read David Simon's (still) excellent Homicide: A Year on the Killing Streets or the book he co-wrote with Ed Burns, The Corner: A Year in the Life of an Inner-City Neighborhood or watched The Wire on HBO knows how much damage that this failed conflict has inflicted on the human capital (and housing stock) of Baltimore. The War on Drugs has turned the city police force against its citizens, and induced more than a few people to flee for less crime-infested and drug-infested areas beyond the city limits in "the counties."

by C. P. Zilliacus on Feb 3, 2016 2:57 pm • linkreport

Agree, an important point. And it hardly rates a mention in the political debates or campaigning.

by Peter Samuel on Feb 3, 2016 3:03 pm • linkreport

revitalizer, is a crime rate of 6,127 all that different than 5,854? No. They're both high.

Yes, Baltimore has had more homicides than DC in recent years, but those homicides are not random as Paul says. They almost always involved people who knew each other and were involved in the drug trade.

People are much more likely to be victims of a less violent crime like larceny, which is a bigger problem in DC than Baltimore.

by Kevins on Feb 3, 2016 3:54 pm • linkreport

[This comment has been deleted for violating the comment policy.]

by Ed on Feb 4, 2016 10:30 am • linkreport

Invested in gutting and renovating an abandoned townhouse bought from the city. From the shoddy work by the contractor to the constant harassment by the ordinance nazis, it's been a nightmare. If you want to be a slum lord, inner city Baltimore is your place. If on the other hand you are a serious long term investor, it's the wrong place.

by Chorka on Feb 12, 2016 1:47 pm • linkreport

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