City sees jump in young, college-educated residents

Julia Culatta, center, 26, of Federal Hill, plays with her dog, Tilly, whom was named for Baltimore Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman, as Laura Oliver, second from right, 26, of Federal Hill, and Kathleen Welch, right, 23, of Hampden, stand nearby during Baltimore Social bocce ball games. Towson native Giovanni Marcantoni, 30, launched Baltimore Social in 2010 with his friends. Today, the league has a network of thousands of participants, who play bocce and other games such as cornhole, skeeball and soccer. He's also expanded into other cities.
Julia Culatta, center, 26, of Federal Hill, plays with her dog, Tilly, whom was named for Baltimore Orioles pitcher Chris Tillman, as Laura Oliver, second from right, 26, of Federal Hill, and Kathleen Welch, right, 23, of Hampden, stand nearby during Baltimore Social bocce ball games. Towson native Giovanni Marcantoni, 30, launched Baltimore Social in 2010 with his friends. Today, the league has a network of thousands of participants, who play bocce and other games such as cornhole, skeeball and soccer. He's also expanded into other cities. (Steve Ruark, Baltimore Sun)

It's difficult for longtime Baltimoreans to say when exactly the young college graduates started moving into the neighborhoods clustered around downtown. But at some point they were everywhere, some 25,000 of them, toasting at bars, forming kickball leagues and jamming the free Circulator buses.

"These things take a little while to catch on, and then one day, they really rocket off," said Tim Barnett, 32, who moved to Mount Vernon from Texas in 2006 for a taste of city life. He expected to spend just a few years here, but he's stayed. He now works for Zipcar and is one of the organizers of the Baltimore Bike Party, a monthly event that attracts hundreds of people for a nighttime ride through city streets.


"It's at this tipping point, and it's tipping to the better side," he said. "Every day more and more people are getting involved with something else cool and awesome and beneficial."

A new analysis of census data has quantified the explosive growth. It found that the number of college-educated people ages 25 to 34 living within three miles of Baltimore's central business district increased 92 percent from 2000 to 2010. Their numbers grew from about 13,000 to 25,000, according to the study released last week.


The increase was the fourth-highest among the 51 metro areas in the study, which included Boston, Memphis and New York. And it occurred despite an overall decline in population in those Baltimore neighborhoods during the period.

"The thing that surprised us was how widespread this is," said economist Joe Cortright of the Portland, Ore.-based think tank City Observatory, which published the study. "We see it in nearly all cities now that the central cities tend to be outperforming the suburbs in the growth of this demographic group."

The influx has helped shape neighborhoods in an area that stretches south toward Fort McHenry, east to Canton and Patterson Park, west to the B&O Railroad Museum and north to Remington. (Hampden sits just outside the boundaries of the study.)

In Canton, the overall population rose more than 15 percent over the period studied by City Observatory, according to reports by the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance. In South Baltimore, diversity and median income grew. And in Federal Hill, the percentage of rental housing has increased, as has the number of bar stools — by an average of 127 spots each year from 2003 to 2013.


"The biggest difference to me is when you go to the corner of Charles Street and Fort Avenue in the morning and you see the people lined up, in some cases 30 and 40 deep, to get on the Circulator bus. That never would have happened 10 years ago," said William H. Cole IV, president of the Baltimore Development Corp. "The thought of people actually taking en masse some form of public transportation to a job farther up was foreign."

Some of the boom is due to demographics: Millennials, to which the 25-to-34 age group belongs, represent a generation even larger than the baby boomers and are more likely than their predecessors to have graduated from college. From 2000 to 2012, the number of people in that age group with at least a college degree increased 25 percent nationwide.

Experts say the move to the cities has also been driven by other factors, such as a nationwide drop in crime. The economy has generally shifted away from industries that need lots of space to knowledge-based companies that benefit from centralization.

Other factors are likely recession-related. The housing crash made many young adults gravitate toward rentals in cities. Meanwhile, a slow economic recovery has led some to postpone marriage and children, further swelling the ranks of the "young and restless" who are likely to live in cities.

For Baltimore, the shift reflects a downtown core that was slower to revive than in cities such as New York or Portland, analysts say. Baltimore benefits from its proximity to other East Coast cities, which have also experienced growth, while remaining more affordable.

But there are other intangibles drawing newcomers.

"I'd just heard great things about the sense of community," said Meghan Starinsky, 25, who bought a house in Federal Hill in 2012.

She and her now-husband stayed in Bethesda after graduating from the University of Maryland, College Park but soon started looking for jobs in the Baltimore area, driven by a desire to live downtown. Now they participate in social sports, cheer for the Ravens and Orioles, and on Sundays spend time "stooping" — socializing with neighbors.

"We lived in Bethesda, so we did a long trek downtown to D.C. ... The environment wasn't — I don't want to say not as friendly — but it just seemed to be more lighthearted and less serious in Baltimore," she said. "There's always something going on, and everything we could possibly want is within walking distance."

The new residents have spurred new bars, restaurants, entertainment and other services catering to young adults. For example, in Canton, the number of neighborhood establishments grew 15 percent from 2010 to 2012; in South Baltimore, the number of neighborhood establishments grew 11 percent over that period. The Kickball League of Baltimore, which started in 2001 with four teams, now has about 250 each season, according to co-owner Jim Figlozzi

The influx is also helping to drive changes in Baltimore's real estate market, including conversions of older buildings into apartments and the construction of new housing. Since 2010, Baltimore has added 4,800 residential units in buildings of 15 units or more citywide and 3,000 more units are under construction, said city Planning Director Thomas J. Stosur.

The Time Group's 520 Park Avenue project, a converted Hochschild-Kohn warehouse of 171 units, opened in June. It's more than 75 percent leased, with about 60 percent of the tenants coming from outside the city, said development director Dominic Wiker. The firm has had previous success renting units in Mount Vernon and Charles Village but had not done a new development in some time.

"We weren't surprised by the demographics. I think we were just surprised by the pace," Wiker said. "It's been strong. It's stayed strong and now when we brought a new product on the line, it showed us, 'Wow, we're not recycling the same people. The market is growing.'"

The presence of so many young, college-educated residents is also shaping political priorities, as the city works to appeal to them — and retain them as they age.

A tax credit for apartment builders, now available citywide, is an effort to encourage growth of the type of building favored by the younger population.

Young people helped move public transportation — including the Red Line, which would snake through neighborhoods such as Canton — to the fore of public debate. And they're pushing the city to be more bike- and pedestrian-friendly, said Cole of the BDC, a former city councilman who represented South Baltimore and other neighborhoods.

"That's something that was a conversation that was only on the margins six or seven years ago and now is a conversation that's happening at community associations all over the city," he said.


Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake, who has made the addition of 10,000 families a signature initiative, is looking for ways to retain the young residents. For example, she's pushing a huge school construction plan to upgrade facilities, reducing Baltimore property taxes and adding incentives for homebuyers.


"They don't stay young and single forever," she said. "The key for me is to keep them here."

The Economic Alliance of Greater Baltimore launched a campaign last year in an effort to attract millennials, who are more likely to move than any other group. Some of the people who appeared in that December video have already relocated.

Next month, the group plans to introduce another campaign pitched to that demographic group, with a Web portal to tell the Baltimore story.

"Markets that can attract and retain talent are the ones that are going to be successful over time," said Thomas Sadowski, the alliance's president and CEO.

A handful of businesses, such as Pandora Jewelry and the tech firm Mindgrub, have moved to the city, citing convenience for their workforce. Fast-growing Under Armour serves as another anchor.

Young people said Baltimore's size presents an opportunity to have a bigger impact than they might in another city.

"In any city, you're going to have a problem where bigger companies or bigger cities are going to want to poach the talent," said Shervonne Cherry, 31, of Mount Washington, who works at Mindgrub. But she said Baltimore's affordable lifestyle, as well as the collaborative nature of its burgeoning tech scene, have helped keep many people as residents, even if they tele-work for out-of-state firms.

"I call it half-poaching," she said. "If someone does get poached here, it must be a really big opportunity."

Many believe the long-term trends are in the city's favor — that new young people will keep coming, even as others stay.

Surveys of students from 16 local institutions by the Baltimore Collegetown Network found that the percentage of students who said they were definitely or likely to remain in Baltimore had climbed from 19 percent in 2003 to 38 percent in 2012.

"At some point along the way, I fell in love with the place. I like the people here. I love the city. It's where my life ended up being," said Ann Irvine, 30, who moved to Baltimore in 2008 to get a doctorate in computer science at the Johns Hopkins University and now works at the cybersecurity firm RedOwl Analytics.

The neighborhood transformations have not been problem-free.

In Federal Hill, the influx of young people has produced tension that erupted in a fight over the proposed Crossbar beer garden. Perennial concerns about parking have grown more intense as homes that once housed families now have groups of roommates with cars.

"We definitely see the negative effects of that in our neighborhoods with the vandalism and the noise level at 2 a.m. when our kids are dead asleep, the urination on the stoops and all the other stuff," said Judy O'Brien, founding president of the Downtown Baltimore Family Alliance.

But that's in part because young people with families are staying, setting up conflicts. The alliance has seen its membership grow into the thousands.

Irvine and her fiance, who works at Legg Mason, bought a home in Federal Hill in May, choosing a location from which they could walk or bike to work.

"We absolutely bought a house that is more space than the two of us need right now," she said. "We're pretty open-minded to staying here long-term. I have friends who have little kids in the city. The more of those types of people that are around, the more we want to do it."

The demographic changes in the neighborhoods around downtown are far from universal.

In Upton/Druid Heights, the median household income fell by about 5 percent and the population shrank about 1 percent. In Sandtown-Winchester/Harlem Park, the median household income grew about 27 percent, but the population shrank about 15 percent.

"We have to be very intentional about making sure that all of Baltimore prospers from the influx of new, energetic young people," said state Sen. Bill Ferguson, 31, who moved to the city in 2005. "We have to make sure we're building pathways to family-sustaining jobs, not just high-end service jobs or high-skills technology jobs that aren't available for folks to move" out of poverty.

Creating those connections between neighborhoods will help keep the younger generation in the city, said Seema Iyer, associate director of the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore.

"If we can create communities, not just in those neighborhoods, but create communities across neighborhoods, they'll feel like Baltimoreans and start investing not only their retail dollars but also their emotional dollars," she said. "Building community is going to be critical in order to have them feel like this is their home for the long term. That will be the real benefit, instead of just having 25- to 34-year-olds churning through the city."

For the moment, some say even the city's problems are part of its appeal.

"I really want to have a positive, noticeable lasting effect on the city around me, and pretty much anyone who wants to do that can find a way to do that in Baltimore," said Barnett. "If you can be a part of something that is on its way up and making itself better collectively, that is something that is fairly intangible but is really in the back of the mind of a lot of young professionals."

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