Baltimore Beach Volleyball

Recreation is a social magnet for Millennials-Baltimore Beach Volleyball shown here Image source: SouthBMore.com

Mayor Rawlings Blake has an oft-stated goal to add 10,000 net households in Baltimore by 2020. The city’s newly adopted slogan is, “Baltimore, A Great Place to Grow.”  This growth is badly needed to reverse the toll of losing 1/3 of the city’s population since 1950. In 2011, Baltimore had its first uptick in population in over 60 years.

How did this happen? Who is coming and who is going? Is it sustainable?  Let’s dig in.

The charts show very clearly that one group is doing all the heavy lifting.  Baltimore is more popular for 19 to 33 year olds, with a sweet spot of 26, than at any point in the last half century. This age cohort is the one group that is coming to the city, while all other age groups are roughly leaving Baltimore just as they have for the last half century.  Baltimore is so popular with twenty somethings that it has tipped the net population scale positive.

Baltimore population

Millennials are the demographic group helping Baltimore gain population for the first time in a half century

This data must be encouraging and scary for those who care about cities with these trends. The Baltimore millennial spike is profound, but loses steam with age.  Baltimore’s urban scene might help you find your mate, but after being hitched, young families eventually look for the exits.  The millenials or echo-boomers (Birth years 1982 to 2004) are a big 70 million strong demographic bubble with a pipeline of rising young professionals that should last another decade.

Dense walkable neighborhoods that have an active restaurant/retail scene complemented by parks that provide young professionals with recreation have been the overwhelming winners.  Safe and efficient transit and bike infrastructure will raise the city’s appeal to this cohort. City leaders can help more neighborhoods be successful be adding these amenities. Millennials bring vitality, energy, and do not demand much in the way of public services.

Patterson Park

Patterson Park and its surrounding neighborhoods provide the community, recreation, and lifestyle that many millennials want

Baltimore can retain young families longer with school choice. A family in Baltimore may understandably not like the bulk of the schools in the system, but they only need one good fit. There are a few good schools and they should be able to distinguish themselves.  Families who can choose one matching school may stay in the city. It is important for centrally led systems to not meddle with successful schools and dynamic principals. Competition will lead to better options and benefit more families.

For young professionals that have come to the city, lived in an apartment or small rowhouse, found their mate, and are starting to achieve professional success, property tax issues loom.    They may want to move because they are cramped.  There are many city neighborhoods with big enough houses. However, the data shows young families cross the border.

Will they stay in Baltimore city?  Source: Kathleen Hertel Photography

Will they stay in Baltimore city? Source: Kathleen Hertel Photography

For a $300,000 house in Baltimore city, the family will inherit a $6600 annual property tax bill compared with roughly $3000 for an equivalently priced house in the adjacent suburban counties.  The city can, at a minimum, adopt a new tax credit for city householders that want to move, but stay within the city. If Baltimore is the city that is “A Great Place to Grow”, there should be some ability for growing city families to buy bigger places in neighborhoods with quality urban amenities without getting whopped with double the property tax.

City boosters are appropriately gleeful about Baltimore’s first population gain in a half century. However, senior policy makers should acknowledge that it is young professionals that are leading the population reversal. There are tactical steps that should be taken to attract more millenials and keep young families in Baltimore longer. These steps warrant a sweeping plan that we can all see. Furthermore, it might give investors, philanthropists, and citizens a blueprint to rally around.