Baltimore could leverage its proximity to D.C.

At current rates, Washington is going to be larger than Baltimore within the next few years. It is lame to think of population trends as some sort of footrace, but the reality is Baltimore has a lot of vacant houses and needs taxpayers. It needs to fill its street back up.

The reason for Baltimore’s perceived decline and Washington’s perceived rejuvenation has been rehashed over and over. The story is familiar. Baltimore gradually lost its manufacturing base while D.C. added creative-class jobs and reversed decades of decline, something The City that Reads has been unable to do. The federal government played a role in Washington’s growth, but also possibly helped prop up Baltimore’s population as well, as it is the low-cost housing alternative to D.C.

Baltimore boasts one thing that Washington will run out of very soon (if it hasn’t already): Affordable, urban and historic housing stock. Zillow charts Washington’s average home value (not price) at $344,100; Baltimore at $102,100. That is an enormous disparity which is accounted for almost solely by jobs.

Downtown Baltimore has 113,400 jobs; that’s about how many jobs Tysons Corner had in 2008. Downtown Washington has many times that amount.

But Baltimore is not far from Washington area jobs — 45 minutes on a good day. But currently there are no good days; that drive is going to be terrible, every day. And commuting on MARC is no picnic either; though some trains were just added to increase capacity, there is no weekend service and there are frequent delays.

If people working in Washington could live in Baltimore and get to work in an hour on public transportation, which would include more frequent MARC service, construction of a Baltimore Red Line and a Washington-area Purple Line and probably some form of Metro expansion, Baltimore would be an even more attractive place for city people to resettle than it already is.

There are many Baltimoreans who would object to this type of growth by-way-of snooty Washington workers. But it could be the city’s key to reversing a decades-long trend of depopulation — one Washington only recently got its hands around.

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