If there is to be more regional cooperation between local governments, the push for it most likely will have to come from a "citizens league," according to a panel of urban experts and elected officials who addressed 700 members of the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors yesterday.
And one group that might form the basis of such a citizens' group is the real estate board itself, according to several local real estate experts who attended the symposium at Martin's West.
Mal Sherman, a real estate consultant based in Baltimore, initially suggested the Greater Baltimore Board of Realtors take a leading role in founding an organization that could work to address regional issues and encourage better cooperation between governments.
He made his suggestion from the audience after nationally syndicated urban affairs columnist Neil Peirce kicked off the symposium by suggesting a "Baltimore Region Civic League" be formed to work with elected officials and business leaders in addressing regional issues.
Mr. Peirce first suggested the formation of such a citizens league in "Baltimore and Beyond," a study published last May in The Sun.
Fletcher Hall, executive vice president of the real estate board, said
Mr. Sherman's suggestion was consistent with recent actions by the board, which has created a public policy committee to address regional issues. At the end of the day's meeting, he asked the real estate agents and brokers in the audience to raise their hands if they supported Mr. Sherman's idea, and three-quarters did.
Entitled "Focus on the Future," the daylong educational seminar included a series of presentations on the state of the region and the local real estate industry.
In addition to Mr. Peirce, speakers included the county executives of Baltimore, Howard and Harford counties; Greater Baltimore Committee Executive Director Robert Keller; Baltimore Economic Development Corp. President David Gillece, and representatives from half a dozen leading real estate companies.
Mr. Peirce stressed in his remarks that there is a need for a good working relationship between Baltimore and the surrounding counties, since all must address issues such as air and water quality, mass transportation, tax assessments, education, crime, growth management, the labor force and the health of the Chesapeake Bay.
But he said "it is very difficult politically for elected officials, from the counties or the city, to take a strong lead on regional cooperation" because "the public can beat on them for failing to stand up for their own jurisdiction."
An independent citizens league could bring "friendly pressure" on elected officials and business leaders to address regional issues they otherwise might ignore and could become key allies to "forward thinking politicians who put forward progressive agendas," he added.
"We suffer in our society for too much parochialism, too much protectionism," Mr. Peirce said. "A region needs a dramatically wider perspective. It needs to think about its problems afresh and move in new directions."