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Retirees can boost Baltimore's population

I grew up in Baltimore, attended school here, and after graduating Hopkins, moved to New York City. I've spent my adult life working in New York, and I'm thinking of retirement in several years.

The excitement and glamour of New York are counterbalanced by the high cost of participating in that excitement and glamour. Then there's the astronomical rents. Rents in Baltimore are retiree-friendly. There's the symphony, art museums and my extended family who live here.

I am seriously considering Baltimore. Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake wants to increase the city's population by 10,000 families, and that is a worthy goal. But surely drawing in older people such as me could also benefit this town.

Like many of my generation, I saved too little during the fat years, and in a race against time I'm saving furiously during the lean years. My 401(k) was hit hard by the stock market recession, and I don't know if I will have enough money to retire in New York.

Then again, there's Baltimore. My budget would go much further. My contribution in a smaller city would be more significant. My key concern is the high crime rate (more about this later).

The New York Philharmonic is sublime, but the high prices mean I listen to it on classical radio. In Baltimore, I could subscribe to the symphony and actually attend performances.

Shriver Hall produces a top-notch classical series, with many of the legendary performers who are playing this season at Carnegie Hall. And the prices — I have sticker shock in reverse. Les Violons du Roy, the renowned Quebec baroque ensemble, is discounted for $25. Les Violons du Roy is playing Carnegie Hall this March for $63 to $85. The brilliant pianist Richard Goode is playing Shriver Hall (Mozart and Chopin) for a modest $38. Richard Goode will play at Carnegie Hall in April, and comparable tickets range from $67 to $99. This season, Angela Hewitt, the marvelous interpreter of early music, is playing Rameau at Shriver in May. I'm tempted to take the train to Baltimore to hear her. She is not scheduled to play in New York this season.

I recently took a "sentimental journey" up North Charles Street from the Inner Harbor. I wanted to visit the central Enoch Pratt Library, where my father often took me as a child and teenager. The old building evoked strong memories, though not without a pang. There were rows of computers where card catalogs used to stand. The paintings of the successive Lords Baltimore were partly obscured by an accumulation of grime, desperately in need of a professional cleaning. How those portraits, with their elaborately costumed figures, had fascinated me as a 9-year old! I'd love to help initiate and support a campaign to have those paintings cleaned.

I was drawn to the large northeast corner room where fiction was kept, where at 14 I had discovered Baroness Orczy and the unforgettable "Scarlet Pimpernel," Daphne du Maurier and "Rebecca." I traveled up a curved staircase to an upper level, where I met a friendly man who had worked at the library since 1969. Our paths had never before crossed, but I was glad to meet someone who had a history in the place. So my memories pull me back.

In Baltimore, I could contribute both personally and economically to the city. My Social Security and personal savings, fortified by a working life at New York salaries, would easily buy or rent an apartment. I'd purchase a car, buy gifts for my grandnieces and nephews, subscribe to the symphony and contribute to art museums and to my former school.

What gives me pause is the crime rate. Crime is not limited to the far-off areas I would not visit. It travels up the main corridors of the city and creates a threatening atmosphere in the outer-city neighborhood where my family lives. But crime has been reduced significantly in the past year. There were 196 homicides in 2011, the fewest in 25 years. The total number of crimes is still high, but I am hoping the positive trend will continue.

The more I think about it, the more attractive Baltimore seems. The excitement I sought in my 20s is no longer necessary to me. I couldn't afford the enjoyments of New York in retirement, and the peacefulness of a quieter city has its attractions at a later stage of life.

I only hope the mayor continues to make fighting crime her first priority. Upon this the economic health of the city depends — and the return of residents like me.

Eileen Pollock grew up in Baltimore and lives in New York. Her email is epollock@mosessinger.com.

Copyright © 2015, The Baltimore Sun
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