Realizing a 'Greater' Baltimore

Area leaders could do more to embrace the idea of “Greater Baltimore.”

Though people may describe the region around Baltimore City as "Greater Baltimore," area leaders — from government, business, non-profits and academia — could do more to fully embrace that term and develop the potential it implies. Doing so is a critical component for the continued rejuvenation of Baltimore City and the county communities near its borders.

Of course, the city and every county in Greater Baltimore bring any number of distinctive assets that are worthy of individual celebration and promotion. There are also some undertakings that cannot practically be done together. But many can be accomplished collectively and to greater effect with careful coordination — and they should. To this end, Greater Baltimore should be more than geography. How? Through a more complete and enthusiastic embrace of the idea of the city and its surrounding counties as a complete economic and cultural powerhouse. In Greater Baltimore, the whole can truly be greater than the sum of its parts.

There are organizations working to make this vision a reality, including the Greater Baltimore Committee, Greater Baltimore Economic Alliance and Greater Baltimore Cultural Alliance to name a few. There are also some hopeful signs that things are moving in the right direction. The Baltimore Regional Neighborhood Initiative (BRNI), for example, is leveraging strategic investment into local housing and business endeavors. Recognizing that the challenges and opportunities of community revitalization do not stop at a city or county boarder, BRNI is helping to grow the tax base and enhance quality of life in Baltimore City and the "inner Baltimore Beltway" communities of Baltimore and Anne Arundel counties. Moreover, there was widespread regional support for the much-needed legislation that is now paving the way for nearly $1 billion in funding for Baltimore City's public schools system. This funding will lead to the new construction or major renovation of as many as 30 Baltimore schools.

For the work that has been done, however, even more work remains.

For starters, the lack of an on-the-books plan to double stack rail cargo through Baltimore City from our well-positioned port facilities presents a long-term challenge. Failing to have the capacity to move cargo effectively jeopardizes good-paying jobs at our port, as well as future employment opportunities in manufacturing, logistics, assembly, packaging and energy industries.

Sparrows Point in Baltimore County is poised to be a job-creation center and could be the pre-eminent redevelopment opportunity of the entire East Coast. Making it that, however, will require buy-in beyond the county's borders as well as meaningful investments in infrastructure. Smart legislation that fosters manufacturing and high-tech jobs on the peninsula will be needed too.

The surprisingly inadequate conditions of Baltimore County schools will need to be addressed, as well ("Four-year plan calls for major upgrades for schools," Dec. 29). While it may not be structured in exactly the same fashion as the recent $1 billion program designed for Baltimore City's schools, the county needs a plan so that its schools are being modernized alongside those in the city.

Then there is, of course, the Red Line. Years of effort and hundreds of millions of dollars have already been invested, and these efforts could be scrapped without a mix of government, business and civic leaders from across the region stepping up and making the well-reasoned case for its continuation. BRNI, too, may soon find itself a target of short-sighted budget cuts in the years ahead without similar support from leadership across Greater Baltimore.

While there has been plenty to celebrate, there is no shortage of work outstanding to make Greater Baltimore more reflective of its name. Accomplishing these and other regional goals requires a new attitude and a renewed sense of partnership and collaboration that, while recognizing the value of jurisdictional boundaries, intentionally works across them.

John Olszewski Jr., who recently left office, was a two-term state delegate and Democrat representing southeast Baltimore County in District 6. His email is gojohnnyo@gmail.com; Twitter: @JohnnyOJr.

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