Millennials Lead Baltimore Forward

Baltimore Beach Volleyball

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

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 millennials 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.



Administrator and writer for Comeback City

9 Responses to Millennials Lead Baltimore Forward

  1. Charlie Duff says:

    This is a good article. I’ve sent the link to about 40 members of community development corporation boards. Only two comments: (1) I would have included a survey answer that begins “City government/leadership doesn’t get it at all and needs to.” (2) It would be helpful to make the point that 2/3 of American households, and 78% of Baltimore City households, are childless. Baltimore, like other cities, can attract and retain childless non-millenials as well as millenials.

  2. MC says:

    Great commentary. Very much sums up our family’s situation. With 3 young kids, we have a good (private) school that we walk to each morning. The $6,000 property tax bill on our $300k row house is one thing, but what’s next? As we look for a bigger house, there are many fine city neighborhoods, but the notion of a $12,000+ property tax bill is preposterous (on top of tuitions of course, and all the minor problems of Balto city…do they steal trash cans in Ruxton?). I’ve lived in the City my entire life, begrudgingly, we are looking for a house in the County

  3. Pingback: Rust Wire » Blog Archive » Data Shows Millennials Are Turning Around Baltimore

  4. ecogordo says:

    Millenials are coming, but will they stay? They have good reasons for coming to Baltimore, but we will need even better reasons to hang onto them.

  5. I LOVED living in Baltimore when I was a 30-something single woman. It was great when I was first married too. We had a charming little rowhouse in Federal Hill and could walk to awesome restaurants, shops, the harbor, etc… The people were great and friendly and we had so much fun living there. But after 10 years, we started having babies. And we needed a bigger house and the property taxes were just too high if we moved within the city (we would be paying 10K a year!). I wasn’t happy with the schools and knew we’d have to send them to private school AND pay high property taxes. For what? Crime prevention? I was tired of finding used heroin needles around my property and didn’t want my kids exposed to that. I was tired of calling 911 several times a year and hearing about my friends being held up at gunpoint. So we moved away. To a beautiful city in the mountains that is safe, quiet, has ample parking, low property taxes and good schools. We really miss Baltimore but would never go back. Baltimore needs to get a clue and not only attract young people but KEEP them there. At minimum, the property tax cap should continue for people if they buy a new house in the city. I’m not sure what can be done about crime but as long as most of the taxes are going to crime prevention, the schools are going to lag. And who wants to pay double property taxes to live somewhere with high crime and poorly performing schools?

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  8. Beth Manning says:

    I find it ironic that the lead photo on this article is Baltimore Beach Volleyball, yet that is something that is displaced in the Inner Harbor 2.0 plan. While most cities are seeking healthy activities for millennials (and above!), we have a great resource of that right in the Inner Harbor. It is one of the few non-alcohol centric activities and is one of the only reasons that City residents spend any significant time in the Inner Harbor. The city planners and administration need to wake up and take advantage of this demographic and quit catering their Inner Harbor plans to something that mostly tourists would use.

    With that said, millennials (and above) need to see that the incredibly high property taxes are being invested in a way that yields a strong community and a sense that their families can grow with and in the city. Primarily with a decrease in crime and better education. Howard County has one of the top three public school systems IN THE NATION. City administrators need to step up their game to complete with that.

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