According to the 1950 census, the City of Baltimore ranked 6th in the country with a population of 949,708. By the 1990 census, the city slipped to 12th as it lost nearly 220,000 citizens in that 40 year span, and by 2008 dropped further to a projected 636,919.1)
What has caused this rapid decline? On the surface, some would say urban sprawl, and population numbers in neighboring Baltimore County would support this conclusion. It is impossible to cite one specific reason why this has happened, especially with similar occurrences in most large American cities after 1950. Sources from around the web, the city, and the Baltimore Sun point to many reasons such as “white flight”, urban sprawl, racial unrest in the 60s, manufacturing decline, high taxes, reckless municipal policies and even eminent domain abuse.
I have long been fascinated by this subject. The Baltimore of 1880 was a very different place than the Baltimore seen on theThe Wire. Once upon a time, the resident professional of Maryland worked hard in the rural counties in order to move into the city. In the late 1800s and into the World War I era, Baltimore City contained 85% of the state's population, and was fueled by a robust manufacturing base. An entire city upon itself called Sparrows Point was born and gave birth to what is now Dundalk and Highlandtown. Bethlehem Steel was one of the largest steel factories in the world and employed 4 generations of Baltimore middle class families. Additionally, the Port of Baltimore was among the nations most active and lucrative ship ports, and sat at the largest rail-head on the east coast.
The decline of Baltimore can be examined in three broad categories:
The relationship between all three and the roles they play are somewhat of a mystery even today. Failure of industry was not unique to Baltimore, it happened in every major city in the US-especially the Northeast. As the US moved to a service society in the 70sand 80s, manufacturing jobs were shipped overseas. Boston and Philadelphia saw even larger failures of industry, yet today they didn't experience a decline in the same magnitude as Baltimore City has seen. Social issues are also not very unique since they tend to be affected by the economic issue of industry collapse and wide-reaching events such as the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King which sparked riots in most major cities in the US. Baltimore city is unique in some ways with racial changes in the city, but this could not be a sole contributor to the decline. This leaves the remaining player in the decline of Baltimore city: policy. Policy is the administrator that mishandled conditions in Baltimore city that over time have produced today's difficulties. Today's municipal policies still don't seem to help the city recover from the past or understand how to push it in the right direction for the future.
This project will explore a broad Baltimore City first, and aforementioned reasons for its decline. Even though some of the history of Baltimore has nothing to do with specifically Central Baltimore, the story of Central Baltimore cannot be told without it. I am not inclined to believe that municipal philosophy or racial relations will change, nor will manufacturing return to Baltimore. I also do not believe tourism will ever be more than a financial drain to the city's coffers, costing more than it takes in. Gentrification doesn't always work, methadone clinics don't either, nor do blanket curriculum and public school policies designed for the entire city instead of small communities or districts. Municipal policy seems to be a centralized philosophy which addresses all the problems of the city with a single broad solution that has proven not only ineffective-but detrimental.
This project will eventually chronicle all the Central Baltimore community groups involved with trying to breathe life into the city. In order to get there, I will first show the relationship between industry, society and race, and how public policy can disenfranchise both. I will compare Baltimore to some other cities at points, and I will especially compare Baltimore municipal policy to others. I hope to accomplish two goals with this project, revealing inefficient policy, and promoting local community groups while crafting a call to action message that is accessible to any audience with a desire to help make real change.
In 1632, the King of England granted George Calvert (Lord Baltimore I) a large expanse of land in the new country, which in 1659 would become Baltimore County. A 550 acre parcel of that land located at the mouth of the Patapsco River was sold to land owners, and would become the town of Baltimore. The geology of the region was a primary consideration for the founding of Baltimore. The Fall Line runs through the center of the city in a roughly north and south direction. Water flowing over large rocks and naturally dropping onto the coastal estuary basin creates rivers of great velocity which are perfect for mills.2) The town of Baltimore was founded on August 8, 1729.
The region's stable weather, sandy coastal plains, and large harbor produced regular tobacco shipments by 1749. By 1768, the town grew large enough to become the seat of Baltimore County as merchants and shipwrights moved in to trade in things like flour milled at Gwynns Falls and Jones Falls.3) Baltimore swelled with wealth thanks to the largest shipwright industry in the new world. This shipwright industry played a large part in the Revolutionary War, and an even larger role in the War of 1812. Baltimore's livelihood was shipping and had the most to lose from British shipping blockades during the War of 1812; many Baltimore sailors took to Privateering, and were very successful .
After the War of 1812 Baltimore found itself a leader in shipping but with northern cities like New York not far behind. Additionally, New England cities had access to the new Erie canal connecting them to the West and threatening Baltimore's lead as a port city. In 1827, the Baltimore and Ohio Rail Company was chartered by Maryland and Virginia and intended to help lessen the economic effects of the Erie Canal to the north while maximizing the effectiveness of Baltimore's farthest western seaport location on the east coast. During the Civil War, the B&O moved union troops and supplies. By the end of the 19th century, the B&O connected St. Louis, Chicago, Philadelphia, Washington DC, and New York city with almost 5,800 miles of track.4)
The turn of the century saw great prosperity in the City of Baltimore despite The Great Fire of Baltimore in 1904. Two years later, on September 10, 1906, the Baltimore-American reported that the city had risen from the ashes and “one of the great disasters of modern time had been converted into a blessing.”5) The city had rebuilt with things like a state of the art sewage system and road improvements. In similar fashion to the War of 1812 and the Civil War, Baltimore found itself as a war supply port and industrial production base during both World Wars. The city also found itself relatively unharmed by the Great Depression due to the strength of its manufacturing base.
The population of Baltimore peaked in the 1950 census. Urban decay had already begun in central Baltimore though, long before population began to move to neighboring Baltimore county.