Overlooking the Baltimore harbor from Federal Hill.
Overlooking the Baltimore harbor from Federal Hill. (Ruth Schaefer / Community Contributor)

This plea is made to the suburbanites among us: If you have disengaged from Baltimore City, please consider re-engaging. My appeal is not based upon vague notions of virtuous acts. I appeal to nothing other than your self-interest.

So many of you tell me that you no longer go to the city. Often, I sense a hint of pride in your voice, as if you have managed to kick a bad habit. It may seem irresponsible to ask people to frequent the City That Reads Healthy Holly given its deeply regrettable state of affairs.


Your retort to me might very well be, “If I go to the city, I’m likely to end up at Shock Trauma.”

“No place better,” I might respond, “They really know what they’re doing — world class.”

But like you, I would rather end up at a restaurant with poor food and service than at Shock Trauma. Accordingly, my second rejoinder would be that there are certain parts of the city that are safer than others. You know this. What’s more, evil can rear its ugly head anywhere, whether in places of worship in Christchurch or Charleston or a newsroom in Annapolis. It is said that a life lived in fear is a life half-lived (“Strictly Ballroom,” 1992). You want to live completely. We all do.

Buses, racists and bridging the Baltimore city-suburban divide

Since the Freddie Gray unrest, the divide between Baltimore and its suburbs seems to have grown.

With that in mind, my third rationale regarding re-engagement is based on the notion that our region’s cultural heritage and greatness are inextricably linked to the city. It is there you will find the Walters Art Gallery, Baltimore Museum of Art, National Aquarium, Maryland Zoo, Visionary Arts Museum, Lyric, Hippodrome, Enoch Pratt Free Library, Baltimore Basilica, Baltimore Symphony Orchestra, Maryland Science Center, Port Discovery, Little Italy, Fells Point, Hampden, Mount Vernon, Harbor East, Johns Hopkins, Fort McHenry, Poe’s resting place, Center Stage, Reginald F. Lewis Museum, the Ravens and the O’s.

Yes, it’s an impressive, albeit partial list. The problem is that without you, the wayward suburbanite, the city cannot recover. In some communities, many of the wealthiest denizens live in the center city. You will observe this in London, New York and elsewhere. Here, wealth is decidedly concentrated in suburbia. The Baltimore region is the 7th most educated as measured by share of population with a college degree and the 5th most affluent in terms of median household income among the nation’s 25 largest metropolitan areas. But while the median household income in suburban Baltimore ranges from nearly $72,000 in Baltimore County to more than $115,000 in Howard County, it’s $46,641 in the city.

Thus, your boycott of the city serves to strangle the institutions that represent the foundation of city life. One day, there will be a great mayor. I understand, it’s been a long time. When that great mayor arrives, he or she will seek to leverage the strength of Baltimore’s institutions into a citywide renaissance. But if these institutions falter, whether a symphony or cluster of restaurants, even a great mayor may falter as would a chef lacking quality ingredients.

But there is so much to do in the suburbs you say, whether in exotic Essex, romantic Rosedale or glorious Glen Burnie. When I write an economic history of Glen Burnie, undoubtedly it will be entitled “A Route 2 Ran Through It.” While I agree that the suburbs offer much enticement, perhaps you will begrudgingly agree that the city offers relatively more on a per square mile basis and probably in absolute terms, too.

If these arguments fall short, perhaps you will consider your home’s value. Baltimore’s woes create issues for the entire region. While outmigration from the city to the suburbs accelerates with crime, grime and poorly performing schools, in-migration to the region slows. The overall effect is to reduce the rate at which your home gains value.

These impacts are massive. In booming Denver, median home values rose nearly 22 percent in suburban Broomfield County and by 24 percent in Jefferson County between 2015 and 2017 according to the American Community Survey. In Rutherford County, Tenn., a suburb of surging Nashville, median value rose nearly 29 percent. It rose 19 percent in neighboring Williamson County during this period. Contrast that with about 4 percent appreciation in Anne Arundel and Baltimore Counties, less than 2 percent in Carroll County, and less than 1 percent in Harford, Howard and Queen Anne’s counties.

For your own sake, it’s time to go back to the city. There’s more there than violence, corruption, panhandlers and squeegees. See if you can peer through that and find the charm beneath.

Anirban Basu is an economist and chairman and CEO of Sage Policy Group in Baltimore. His e-mail is abasu@sagepolicy.com.