Courtesy Citybizlist – Two seemingly incongruous items hit my in box last week. One was Jay Brodie’s recent column in the Baltimore Business Journal, half lamenting and half celebrating the state of Baltimore City, and the other a report from the Abell Foundation analyzing the effect of merging Louisville with Jefferson County ten years ago.

The Donut and the Hole. Jay describes his “love affair” with cities. Yet he acknowledges that America’s design of cities hasn’t always matched our loftier aspirations, that as a society we have done a fairly effective job at times of compromising our cities’ potential, some unintended (the morphing of our national interstate system to be high speed commuting routes to suburban tracts, and the flight that came with such convenience), some not (“’the redline[ing] on specious racial, religious and ethnic ideas’” of our neighborhoods). When Baltimore had political clout, it historically grew through annexation and reached its current size in 1919. But as the demographics – and politics – and economic viability (read: tax base) – settled out between our cities and their suburban donuts, annexation no longer remained politically viable.

But crime, poverty, education and opportunities don’t abide by geographic boundaries. Baltimore County now faces many of the same challenges that the City has struggled from, including crime, poverty and schools in distress. So I guess one strategy is that we can all move further out. But I suspect there is another way to sort through how to think about the relationship between our cities and our greater region. This is where the Abell report on Louisville comes into the picture.

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