Copyright 2005 The Baltimore Sun Company
The Baltimore Sun
May 12, 2005 Thursday
TELEGRAPH; Pg. 1A
Baltimore's `inner suburbs' showing their age;
Study: UMBC researchers urge greater public and private reinvestment to revitalize Beltway communities struggling with stagnation and decline.
Timothy B. Wheeler, SUN STAFF
In the 66 years she's lived in Lansdowne, Dixie Yankulov has seen the ups and downs of this historic mining and railroad community just inside the Beltway in southern Baltimore County.
Crime got so bad a few years back that some elderly residents of this leafy suburb of modest homes were afraid to sit on their porches or venture out at night. So her husband, John, and others formed a citizens patrol to help spot trouble.
While there are hopeful signs for Lansdowne, its troubles are shared by many other aging suburban communities around the Beltway.
A new study by researchers at the University of Maryland, Baltimore County finds that these "inner suburbs," which boomed after World War II, are now struggling with stagnation and decline, increasing poverty and deteriorating infrastructure as jobs and younger, more-affluent families have tended to migrate to the outer suburbs over the past 25 years.
The study, by UMBC's Center for Urban Environmental Research and Education, calls for greater public and private reinvestment in these aging communities to stem the loss of open land and increasing traffic congestion as the region's suburbs keep spreading outward.
Though some of the city's early suburbs, such as Catonsville, Lutherville and Linthicum, remain stable and even are thriving, the study finds that many of the neighborhoods around Interstate 695 have seen little or no growth since 1980, while those where manufacturing plants closed have lost population.
"In a sense, these inner suburbs are almost caught in the middle between what's going on in the central city, where there's some revitalization and gentrification, ... and what's going on in the outer suburbs," said Bernadette Hanlon, a research analyst at the UMBC center and co-author of the report.
Analyzing census data from 1980 through 2000, Hanlon and co-author Thomas J. Vicino found that residents of Baltimore's inner suburbs tend to be older and poorer, to live in smaller, less-valuable homes, and to have lower-achieving schoolchildren than counterparts in the outlying suburbs of Carroll, Harford, Howard, and even the rest of Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties.
The study notes that the period saw a racial transformation in western Baltimore County. Woodlawn, where 85 percent of the residents were white in 1980, became 51 percent black by 2000, while nearby Lochearn went from roughly 50 percent to 78 percent black. Historically, both communities had more black residents than other inner suburbs, the researchers point out. The rest of the inner suburbs remain predominantly white - a pattern of segregation that they warned could affect the communities' stability.
Noting that Baltimore's inner suburbs are the kinds of existing communities where new development ought to be encouraged under Maryland's Smart Growth policies, the UMBC researchers called for government intervention to revive them. Local, state and federal agencies must offer incentives to attract and retain businesses and homeowners, and shore up the aging housing stock and struggling schools, they said.
The aging, smaller homes in many inner suburbs represent bargains in today's overheated housing market, the report says, which could help attract young families if the communities' other problems are dealt with.
"We're left with two options: Continue to build farther out and sprawl more," Vicino said, "or reinvest in our older communities."
Baltimore County Executive James T. Smith Jr. said that that is just what his administration is doing under its Renaissance program aimed at revitalizing the county's older communities. "It's a great county," he said, "but we've got some age on us."
Over the past dozen years, the county has invested hundreds of millions of dollars in road improvements and beautification around the Beltway, most notably in Essex and Middle River, where as a portent of that area's turnaround, private developers are building pricey waterfront condominiums.
"It's still a work in progress," Mary Harvey, director of the county's office of community conservation, said of the east-side rehabilitation. But similar efforts are under way elsewhere around the Beltway, she said, pointing out that the county has helped arrange for redevelopment of two abandoned shopping plazas on Liberty Road.
While budget problems have curtailed state community-revitalization grants, the Ehrlich administration is helping in other ways, Smith said. In the past week, the Baltimore County executive attended kickoff ceremonies for three affordable-housing projects in Dundalk, Middle River and Lansdowne - all financed with the assistance of state tax credits.
"The economic climate has helped," Smith said, acknowledging that home values have soared throughout the region in the past few years. "But this didn't happen yesterday. ... We planned ahead." He predicted that in another five years, the Beltway communities would all be showing signs of resurgence.
The changing fortunes of Baltimore's inner suburbs are fairly typical of older cities in the Northeast and Midwest, said Donald F. Norris, director of the Maryland Institute for Policy Analysis and Research, also at UMBC. But because most of the Beltway communities are under the control of a single jurisdiction - Baltimore County - there is more likelihood they can be revitalized.
As helpful as bricks and mortar can be in reversing a community's decline, experts say, the grit and spirit of residents are just as crucial. In Lansdowne, leaders such as the Yankulovs say they sense a rise in community pride that gives them reason to hope.
"I like our neighborhood," said Dixie Yankulov. "I wouldn't live anywhere else. After five generations, why move now?"
Police say crime is down. The county is about to spiff up Hammonds Ferry Road, the main thoroughfare, with street lamps and benches and reopen the neighborhood library, which was closed more than a decade ago. New people are moving in, drawn by the more-affordable homes.
"Lansdowne has been here for 100 years," said Yankulov, who notes that five generations of her family have called it home. "It's going to be here for another 100 years."
May 12, 2005