1. City image. Across the world, a region is known first and foremost by the physical image, the character and success of its center city. The counties' economic success of the 1980s rested heavily on the positive economic climate generated by the "Baltimore Renaissance." Conversely, when center cities float toward bankruptcy -- Cleveland in the late '70s, Philadelphia today -- the entire region suffers worse things than cruel jokes on the Johnny Carson show. It's able to attract fewer conventions and tourists. Skilled executives and engineers don't want to move there. Prospects for job-generating new research and technology are dimmed.

2. Work force. America faces a growing shortage of qualified workers -- not just engineers and technicians, but all manner of service personnel. In suburban offices, employers find it tough to get able clerks, salespeople and service workers. The inner cities are the likeliest labor pool.

3. "Pay me now or pay me later." Trouble in the cities isn't cost-free. Political boundaries do not, in the long run, seal off problems of ignorance, poverty, inferior child care, teen-age pregnancies, crime. Fail to address inner city social problems now and the bill -- in higher welfare costs, failed schools, packed prisons -- will come back to haunt everyone in higher taxes. Image, again, is related: Few people want to visit a devastated inner city.

4. Physical safety. Significant pockets of high crime increase the danger that residents of the region -- even people from the farthest suburbs -- will one day suffer personal violence as the inner city becomes every more desperate and criminals begin to roam far and wide. That may not be likely, but let things get bad enough and it could happen.

5. Growth and the environment. An abused, depopulated center city forces growth farther and farther into suburbs and "exurbs." Splendid inner city areas, with appealing architecture, fine parks and enviable ambience, get underused as middle-class people, fearful of crime and bad schools, desert the city. More county land gets chewed up, the population is dispersed and mass transit becomes impractical. With longer commutes, air pollution increases. And hundreds of millions of dollars worth of schools, water systems, and fire and police facilities have to be duplicated -- at immense public cost -- on the metropolitan fringe.


1. Customers. County people are big customers for the city's shops, restaurants, stadia, Inner Harbor and entertainment offerings. Lose those customers and thousands of city people go jobless.

2. Workers. Hundreds of thousand of people from the counties (418,000 daily, by latest count) work in the city. The city might like to tax them more, but at least it has to value the disposable dollars they often spend in town after work.

3. Jobs. The counties are where most jobs are today being created. Many city people need those jobs.

4. Political clout. As Baltimore's population declines, the counties' population grows and the suburbs become more and more powerful in the state legislature. The city needs the friendship of those legislators so it gets more state money to run its schools and grapple with its social problems.

5. Oomph. With their population, their economic expansiveness, the counties provide the muscle to make the Baltimore region a major player in the new world economy. That means new businesses and benefits for everyone.

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