A paradise not realized American Dream gets lost in county's fears of urban problems.


EVEN RESIDENTS along an affluent corridor in the nation's sixth wealthiest county find the American Dream elusive. Though 14 miles from Baltimore, Ellicott City dwellers expressed fears in The Sun's "Voices of America" series of big-city problems -- crime, traffic and constant rush. One resident of plush Turf Valley Overlook says his 9mm handgun is ready to protect his family from an impending invasion of urban crime.

These fears might sound strange to families trying to survive tough city neighborhoods, where not just the fear of gunshots but actual shooting and death have created an American nightmare. Baltimore records more than 300 killings a year, which has made the city the ideal setting for the book and popular television series, "Homicide."

By contrast, Howard County recorded only three homicides last year -- a number that would amount to a typical weekend in Baltimore. Among the 1995 county killings were a murder-suicide involving a Columbia man and a former neighbor and the discovery of the decomposed body of a woman who had been missing for 10 years from her Fels Lane home.

No doubt, crime has grown in Howard County along with the suburbs' soaring population in recent decades. And robberies of businesses on U.S. 40 hit too close to home for comfort. Stolen cars and other property crimes are unsettling to families who had hoped to find safety and tranquility with miles of real estate separating them from the city.

Ellicott City residents also lament a lack of values, increasingly surly children and the loss of farmland that development of places like Turf Valley Overlook helped to erase. They want to escape to a place where urban problems will not find them. We hear a similar echo from the mountains of Garrett County, where residents of the state's westernmost corner complain about intrusive growth.

Families are finding that they can move away from urban areas, but not from their fears of urban crime. Certainly the violent crimes that lead nightly television newscasts help feed those emotions. But the standard of living they have achieved through opportunity and success still remains the symbol of the American Dream to less privileged families who can only imagine being in their place.

Pub Date: 8/19/96

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