‘Rally for the Region’ To Focus on Quality of Life

        After years of uncontrolled sprawl, neglected communities, traffic congestion, air and water pollution, concerned citizens from throughout the region have been gathering together since last spring to figure out ways to address the problems, without regard to political boundaries.

       The results of their work will be showcased at the Rally for the Region, to be held on Wednesday, October 18 from 6:30-8:30 p.m. at Sudbrook Middle School, when the Agenda will be presented to elected officials, including Mayor Martin O’Malley and Baltimore County Executive Dutch Ruppersberger.

       Over 150 community leaders from all six jurisdictions in the region worked on the plan.

       Following are highlights of their proposals for the region’s future:

Seven Day Rail

       While the MTA’s bus network serves over 250,000 passengers each day throughout the region, ridership on fixed-rail transit (Light Rail, Metro Subway, and MARC) lags far behind.

       To make economic opportunities available to all residents, increase transit ridership, reduce air pollution, and relieve traffic congestion, the Agenda calls for having the rail lines available on the same schedule as other public transit, including the port and airport.

       As a beginning step, they propose that the Metro subway service operate on Sunday, with both the State Center and Old Court Metro Stations open until midnight beginning in Fiscal Year 2002.

       They also want to see Light Rail hours extended on Sundays immediately, beginning operation at 8:00 a.m. The Hamburg Street Station, they say, should have full operating hours as soon as possible. Further, the group is calling for Light Rail trains to have priority over other vehicles in the Howard Street corridor.

       Another item on the Agenda is the establishment of “reverse commute” train service to Harford County, using existing MARC or Amtrak trains. The time frame goal for adding this service would be Fiscal Year 2002.

       Weekend MARC train service between Baltimore and Washington, D.C. is another identified need that is sought no later than Fiscal Year 2003.

Program NeighborSpace

       Residents of older communities are seeking to protect and restore their small open spaces by establishing local land trusts and sponsoring or community “greening” activities funded by private sources. Where local governments or community groups lack the capacity to acquire, manage, and maintain these properties, the Agenda proposes that a regional land trust known as Program NeighborSpace be formed to acquire and hold title to small properties (usually less than an acre or two). Communities could transform the spaces into community gardens, pocket parks, plazas, or community forestry areas.

       The Agenda calls on the region’s local governments to create Program NeighborSpace by committing $1 per resident per year (phased in over five years) for operating and capital costs of the regional land trust. The local funds, the Agenda’s creators say, should be matched by an equal State contribution.

Sustainable Communities Initiative

       The Agenda members point out that when older urban and suburban communities do not receive new investment, people with housing options move away to newer communities, and a cycle of physical and social decline begins. At the same time, in high-growth areas, families spend too much time in traffic, area businesses are frustrated by the limited local employment pool, and public servants like teachers, police officers, and service workers may be unable to afford to live in the communities they serve.

       The Agenda’s Sustainable Communities Initiative supports both older communities and sprawling new ones by increasing affordable housing near employment in high-growth areas. The plan calls for the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to create, and for the local governments to support, a $25 million competitive grant program to support strategies that stimulate and support reinvestment in older communities and promote a balanced mix of incomes and housing choices in areas of residential growth or major redevelopment.

Regional Workforce Investments

       The Agenda also calls for creating a similar regional investment strategy to make sure that workers have the skills and services they need to take advantage of the many new businesses locating and expanding in the Baltimore region. The entity would be similar to the Greater Baltimore Alliance, a regional business development and marketing organization. It would deal with such issues as child-care, transportation, and skills training.

Fair Share Investments in Drug Treatment

       The Agenda researchers found that, despite there being more than 66,500 substance abusers in the counties surrounding Baltimore City (6,000 more than in Baltimore City), only a tiny portion of local drug treatment funds in the Baltimore region are spent by the county governments. Thus few drug treatment facilities are available to suburban residents, who often go without treatment because there are not enough community-based treatment centers or because city drug treatment facilities are filled and have long waiting lists. More than 10% of city treatment slots are used by suburban residents. The Agenda says jurisdictions should respond fairly and equitably to their citizens’ drug treatment needs.


       Suburban sprawl and the parallel decline of older communities did not happen overnight, and the Agenda participants are aware these problems, resulting from decades of ill-advised policies, cannot be easily solved. For this reason, the participants are holding their Rally for the Region to gain commitments from elected officials and public agencies to safeguard the community’s quality of life.

       The Rally for the Region is a project of Citizens Planning and Housing Association (CPHA). The public is urged to attend the Rally, which is free. Sudbrook Magnet Middle School is at 4300 Bedford Avenue between Liberty and Reisterstown Roads in Pikesville, two blocks from the Milford Mill Metro Station. Free shuttle buses will be provided between the Metro Station and the school. For a map, see the website at:
       For more information, call 539-1369.

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This story was published on October 4, 2000.