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The young and the not so restless

Recent reports have highlighted the movement of young, college-educated people to the nation's cities. Baltimore is among the beneficiaries of this shift. Between the turn of the century and last year, the city ranked third fastest of the nation's cities of 600,000 in population or more in attracting educated 25- to 34-year-olds — a growth rate of 75 percent.

In fact, Baltimore's rate of growth in young professionals was higher than in places such as Portland, Austin, Boston and San Francisco, which have long attracted millennials.

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This is good news for Baltimore and the region. Attracting the young and educated is an indicator that the city's fortunes are rising, and these are the people to propel it further. "The Young and the Restless & the Nation's Cities," a study recently released by Urban Observatory, links the presence of young professionals to the formation and growth of start-ups. It also credits young adults with driving urban revitalization.

That certainly is the case here. In Baltimore, young people made up the largest part of the city's population increase in 2012, helping the city reach a benchmark when its population increased for the first time since the 1950s.

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It doesn't take a planner or demographic data to notice more people on the sidewalks and the Circulator bus and in the cafés and parks. The city is attracting young professionals and all of their energy, vitality and economic potential. Improving the city's economy and making it a draw for newcomers is not just important for young professionals moving in, but for all city residents.

We need to capitalize on this trend and advance the type of development that is attracting young professionals to our urban areas — and that will help keep them there. We are seeing growth in the young and educated in Frederick and older suburban centers such as Towson, White Flint and Columbia and even, to a lesser extent, in rural downtowns such as Salisbury. Leaders in those areas are working to revitalize their downtowns as walkable and attractive places to live, work and play. The recipe is far from exact, but common ingredients include attractive, vibrant streets and a variety of restaurants, coffee shops, brew pubs, stores and cultural attractions. They also include jobs and housing that contribute to the community.

These things do not happen overnight or by themselves. They often take significant public and private planning, investment, outreach and patience as well as strong leadership from government, business and the nonprofit sector.

Redevelopment in existing developed areas limits impacts to farmland and natural resources like the Chesapeake Bay. Maryland is the fifth most densely populated state in the country, expected to grow by 1 million people in the next 30 years. If we want to protect our farms and forests and maintain a healthy environment, we need to grow smart and revitalize our communities — making the best use of what we've already built by directing growth there.

Last month, the Maryland Sustainable Growth Commission issued "Reinvest Maryland," a report resulting from a six-month effort to research ways to accelerate redevelopment and revitalization in the state's cities, towns and centers. The report proposes targeted investments, innovative financing, public-private partnerships and technical assistance that will benefit Marylanders of all incomes and backgrounds, and it illustrates best practices, case studies and a toolbox of state programs to accomplish the recommendations.

A few weeks ago, the Maryland Department of Planning published a study on Baltimore's growth trends, concluding that the population increase and influx of young people reinforces the need for city leaders to plan for good growth and community development and to invest resources to that end. The $1.1 billion investment in city schools and the planned Red Line light rail system serve as two driving forces to revitalize on the micro level — neighborhoods around new or reconstructed schools or light rail stations — or through large swaths of the city that haven't seen new construction in decades.

It's good news for Baltimore that young, mobile people with lots of options want to live here. The city appears to have reached population stability following decades of decline. This is a reassuring indicator of the city's resurgence and bodes well for the rest of the state seeking a comeback of its older communities.

Richard E. Hall is secretary of the Maryland Department of Planning. His email is richarde.hall@maryland.gov.

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