Census data lullaby Population changes: Officials shouldn't be pacified just yet by city-county numbers.


LIKE THE ROOSTER who thinks the sun rises because he crows, county planning directors are fooling themselves if they believe they've found the secret to corralling residential sprawl.

Perhaps they're being sated by new Census Bureau data that show migration from Baltimore and Washington and into the first circle of suburbs slowing for the first time this decade. But the same survey also reveals explosive growth in more distant suburbs -- 35 percent in Maryland's Calvert County and 55 percent in Virginia's Loudoun County.

From almost the turn of this century, when ads in The Sun for new outlying subdivisions such as Montebello Park touted affordable lots, "county taxes, police and fire protection, 22 minutes to City Hall," movement to the suburbs has been driven by the same factors that drive virtually every buying decision: price and quality.

As early suburbs became more popular and services and businesses made them more "convenient," the cost of housing rose. Within a couple of generations, as those aging communities wilted beneath crime and drugs, they yielded their reputation for quality. That pattern has begun to be repeated in the next ring of suburbs.

Demographers, of all people, shouldn't be lulled by the raw population figures, which only tell part of the story. Did Baltimore lose 1,000 fewer people last year than the one before because residents were less inclined to leave, or because those with the means had already left?

Anyone who touts that Smart Growth is working doesn't know that Smart Growth has barely begun. The transformation of much of Maryland's landscape the past 15 years, from the Chesapeake to the Catoctins, has resulted from the baby boomers settling down.

Politicians and planners must work with the private sector to help persuade the children of those baby boomers to value the cities and original suburbs, as their grandparents and great-grandparents did.

Pub Date: 3/23/98

Copyright © 2019, The Baltimore Sun, a Baltimore Sun Media Group publication | Place an Ad