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A defense of Howard County (from a Baltimore native)

A defense of Howard County (from a Baltimore native)
Hey, Baltimoreans, don't knock Howard County. It's got a lot going for it. (Nicole Munchel / For Baltimore Sun Media)

A recent letter writer quite accurately described Baltimore’s good points, and then brushed aside the problems associated with city life as “challenges" (“Howard County is bland, Baltimore is not,” July 10). Here are some of those challenges, from the perspective of someone who has lived in both places.

The Baltimore rowhouse I grew up in has gone on the market four times in the last 20 years. Each time, the price of the house went down. With each successive sale, a family moved into that house with hopes for a bright future, only to watch their investment and their dreams erode out from under them. In Howard County it’s possible to lose money on real estate, but you really have to apply yourself.

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The kindest thing that can be said about Baltimore City public schools is that they are struggling to improve. But Howard County public schools are excellent now, today. My kids and their friends are able to pursue their dreams in colleges, trades and military service, in part because they received an outstanding elementary and high school education. Would they have gotten this in Baltimore? Again, the kindest answer is, “maybe.”

Speaking of my kids, I sat them down to have “the talk” about encounters with the police. But probably not the talk you’re imagining. No, I had to explain that they can’t expect the same level of courtesy and professionalism in other jurisdictions that is the norm with Howard County cops. The succession of Baltimore Police Department headline scandals are an issue, of course. But when you’re stopped by police in Howard County, you typically don’t have to wade through testosterone, or ego, or bravado, or bullying. More often than not you’re dealing with someone who just wants to keep you and everyone around you safe. Howard County police officers are not angels. But they’re usually too busy being good at their jobs to kick down your door and rob you, toss you unrestrained into the back of a police van or arrest you for expressing your opinion.

The news media are always eager to gush over some new Baltimore high-tech business opening in a historic mill or loft. The new firm makes something that uses electrons to help us do something we never had trouble doing for ourselves before, only now the electrons do it faster and better. The well-paid staff of these businesses tend to be young, white and overeducated. Hey, incubators and startup funders. You want to make a difference in my home town? Open a business in west Baltimore that makes brooms, or wiper blades or winter gloves. Hire marginal applicants. Teach them a trade and some job skills. When they outgrow you and want to move up and out, write them a glowing reference. Then repeat.

Lastly, I guess it’s easy to deride county residents for wanting safety, especially if you live in the tonier parts of the city, where the police arrive quickly when called and the shooting death of a white woman on her own street is front page news. I have lived here much longer than I lived in Baltimore. But I have been held up at gunpoint exactly zero times in Howard County. The same cannot be said for my time in the city. Access to good museums and great restaurants is not worth my life or the lives of my family. Those very real, very personal incidents were not challenges. For me, they were deal breakers.

Does all of this make Howard County a better place to live than Baltimore? Of course not. It only makes it better for me. Another 600,000 people think Baltimore is a better place to live than Howard County. They can’t all be wrong. I realize that our leaders have taught us, for their own purposes, to focus on the things that divide us. But maybe we could outsmart them for once, and instead celebrate the things that make us different, and therefore interesting. Which is the better place to live: Baltimore City or Howard County? I have lived in both places, and my answer is, “yes.”

Steve English, Clarksville

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