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Baltimore City Shrinks, Maryland Redistricts. The 2020 Census Numbers In Play.

Yianni Mathioudakis // Flickr Creative Commons

The 2020 Census reveals that Baltimore’s population is at its lowest point in a century. How to reverse the shrinking trend?

Seema Iyer oversees the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance, which collects community-level data on hundreds of factors--like income, education, and employment. Iyer blames the slump on lack of access--access to transit, access to the internet, even access to capital.

Check out BNIA's latest report - Vital Signs 19 - as well as videos on that data.

Then, what do the Census numbers mean for the state’s electoral maps? Josh Kurtz of Maryland Matters previews the political shake-up to come.

Find more of Maryland Matters reporting on redistricting here.

Sheilah Kast: Good morning, I'm Sheilah Kast. We're on the record. Baltimore City lost 35000 residents, just shy of six percent of its population between 2010 and 2020, according to the new census. The census count of 585 thousand seven hundred eight people is the city's lowest population in a century later. In the show, we'll look at some of the statewide political implications of the new census numbers. First, we focus on Baltimore, known as a city of neighborhoods. What does the census data reveal about the health of those neighborhoods? Someone steeped in that knowledge is Seema Iyer, associate director and research assistant professor for the Jacob France Institute in the University of Baltimore's Merrick School of Business. She oversees the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance at the Institute. Gathering data at the community level and synthesizing it into detailed reports the latest report. Vital Signs 19, was released this spring. Welcome back to the show, Seema.

Seema Iyer: Thanks so much for having me on.

Sheilah Kast: Baltimore's population decline makes it an outlier among East Coast cities Washington, D.C., Richmond, Philadelphia, Boston. All of them saw growth. What's going on?

Seema Iyer: Well, this is a little bit of a clarion call moment, I think, for the city because we saw a little bit of this between 2000 and 2010, where some of the East Coast cities along I-95 between the Washington, Boston megalopolis region that we might say it's the East Coast. We saw some turning around of those cities back in the last decade and we thought maybe we could ride that coattails here on the East Coast. And unfortunately, it's actually gone dramatically in the opposite direction. Philadelphia, for example, saw a little bit of an increase in the last decade, but this decade, between 2010 and 2020, they gained five percent of their population. That's the biggest growth that the city of Philadelphia has seen in the last 70 years. And they're so similar to what Baltimore is and has been historically. So we really need to figure out what they're doing right and what we can bring here to Baltimore.

Sheilah Kast: Do you have some ideas about that?

Seema Iyer: Well, you know, the good thing is that hopefully our data really points to some of the causes of the decline, and it's complex, but it's not insurmountable. If we look at the East Coast cities, which I think is what we should be comparing ourselves to, you know, some people think that, oh, well, you know, Detroit lost population and Cleveland lost population. Well, I don't think we should be comparing ourselves to other cities. We should be looking right down the street from us, at Washington, D.C., which gained 10 percent of its population in the last decade. So what is it that we can take advantage of, of being an East Coast city that we can bring here and the biggest thing that is different between Baltimore and all of those other cities? We shared a very common experience for so many decades. We all lost population. Who remembers New York City being practically in bankruptcy in the nineteen seventies or or Washington, D.C., actually being the murder capital of the nation back in the 1990s? And those cities have turned themselves around. And we're right in that in that area. So the biggest difference between Baltimore and these other East Coast cities is, believe it or not, the fact that we do not have an excellent transit and transportation system. It is hard to get around and flow easily within some of our neighborhoods. And you can see, even though we lost the city nearly six percent, we had some neighborhoods gain more than 30 percent, like the Midtown and the downtown areas. And we had some neighborhoods that continue to grow, even though we had many neighborhoods that continued to decline. And if you look at where those neighborhoods grew, they all have easy access to our transportation system, which right now is mostly our highway system. We don't have much by way of a transit system that if you look at Philadelphia, Boston, all of them have been investing in their transit system for many decades, and they're now reaping those benefits.

Sheilah Kast: Overall, who is leaving Baltimore City?

Seema Iyer: We see that there is a decline in the African-American population, and that's largely because some of our African-American neighborhoods posted the biggest declines. And so when we see a loss of African-American households, we didn't see anybody coming back and replacing them from any race. We are seeing a little bit of an increase in the white population. But I will say the big story probably is that we saw a huge increase in Hispanic and Asian population in the city of Baltimore. Typically pretty underrepresented, not just literally underrepresented in some of our neighborhoods, but really underrepresented in some of the decision making. If we look at kind of the politics of the city, we really don't have much by way of either Hispanic or Asian representation.

Sheilah Kast: Getting ready to talk to you, we asked listeners to email or tweet the reasons they decided to leave or stay in Baltimore. I'll be quoting parts of their responses. Here's a comment from Anita, who retired to the city last fall. I chose to live in Baltimore over all the other places I have lived and visited all across the country and all around the world because I love the mix of people here, the diversity of racial ethnic backgrounds, the access to universities and excellent health care. I chose to live in this city by the bay, which also provides ready access to recreation and beautiful, well-maintained parks, forested mountains, beaches, streams and rivers. It's a comment from Baltimore resident Anita. I want to pick up on Anita's point about access to the waterfront. The population decline did not, as you pointed out, fall evenly across the city. Tell us more about what areas are growing and what areas are declining.

Seema Iyer: You know, notice in her comment the one thing that she mentioned is how much access she has to other things, right? And that's exactly what the kind of transit and transportation provide. And so what has happened along our waterfront in the last 20 years is excellent access. The reconstruction of Boston Street in the early 2000s really opened up access to neighborhoods like Canton and Fells Point and Highland Town to that access to I-95. And then in the South, in Locust Point, the reconstruction of Key Highway and Ford Avenue has really opened up a focus point to another interchange around I-95. So these are neighborhoods around the water that gained access to that highway because we invested in the public infrastructure that leads to I-95.

Sheilah Kast: That's Seema Iyer, associate director of the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore and leader of the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance. This is on the record on WYPR. I'm Sheilah Kast. We're talking about the 2020 census and BNIA latest profile of the city. How does population change affect a neighborhood? Are there downsides to growth?

Seema Iyer: Absolutely. So in those growing neighborhoods, like I mentioned earlier, like a Canton or Fells Point locust point, there are issues related to growth. You get congestion, you get traffic, you get a lot of construction. And those are issues that those neighborhoods are dealing with now. In neighborhoods that saw a decline, they're dealing with a completely different set of problems. And you know, there are growth problems, but there are decline problems, and the number one indicator for decline is, of course, vacant and abandoned property. People that have left that neighborhood either moved away or potentially passed away. There was nobody behind them to replace those, those units. And so what the neighborhood sees now is essentially that white elephant of of a vacant building that nobody is maintaining. And once you get those vacant buildings, then you'll get all these other things, like potentially illicit behavior because there is nobody looking at those buildings. And when you get population decline in the neighborhood, you start to lose everything else that you might care about that your neighborhood needs like retailers. Retailers will not go neighborhood where there is population decline, and retail includes food like a grocery store, and it includes like a retail bank, like a banking institution for financial assistance. And then it also means that's where we're going to see school closures because we have lack of enrollment, because we have declining student population. And so it becomes a terrible, vicious cycle when you start to see population decline in a neighborhood. And I will say that it's this lack of access that's leading as the root cause to the decline in some of these neighborhoods becomes not just a physical lack of access. Some of our neighborhood indicators have shown that there is a lack of access to so many other domains of of connection. You know, low internet connection in the same neighborhoods where we see lack of access to transit, transit and transportation. Low capital access. Lack of access to funds. Kind of low social access to other parts of the city. And so the reason for the decline is a little bit like we have put a tourniquet around some of our neighborhoods. It's not that there's necessarily anything particularly wrong. Is it that there's a lack of flow into and out of these neighborhoods and that's why they're declining.

Sheilah Kast: Sean wrote us to share his concerns about the city not keeping up technologically. Here's part of what he said. I have loved this city, but it has not always loved me back. I now work in a job where I could literally be anywhere on the planet. The city has missed so many opportunities to be a center for technological and economic growth, and all of the opportunities in cybersecurity and information technology, for example, have remained suburban. Sean continued to grow again. The city needs to give communities what they need to thrive organically rather than for some development model on them and uproot communities in the process. The city needs to rebuild, modernize and revitalize early childhood and elementary education, rethink middle schools, integrate social support more deeply into the fabric of communities and schools, and give everyone access to not just the internet but emerging technology early. That was Sean's comment to Sean's point about attracting jobs in cybersecurity, and it is it that companies follow people to the suburbs or the companies are their first move.

Seema Iyer: Their first companies are absolutely looking for good quality of life for their workers, and that's where they're going to move. Because here's the thing. As Sean mentions, many companies are basically competing for workers, especially skilled workers. And so what they want is a neighborhood or or a city or a place that provides their workers with a great quality of life. And the business itself is not necessarily responsible for neighborhood quality of life. That's our job, our city's job, neighborhoods, jobs. And so to provide that good quality of life, which is, I think, actually what is really kind of prescient that Sean is talking about, that's the route that's the soil that a neighborhood might provide. And I mean a figurative soil providing digital access, providing access to transit and transportation for your workers, providing kind of this social infrastructure like education. And if we have those things in place, businesses will come. And so we're seeing that happen in some of our neighborhoods, but not all of them. So, for example, we know that Port Covington, which is going to be a brand new neighborhood in South Baltimore, is slated to be, you know, that's exactly who they're attracting cybersecurity industries because that is a growth industry, not just here in Baltimore, but in the nation. But like I mentioned before, we can see in our indicators before the pandemic that there were some neighborhoods like Sandtown, Winchester and Greater Rosemont, where 40 percent of the households coming into the pandemic in 2019 did not have access to the internet at home. And so when the pandemic hit, they were at a social disadvantage, a digital disadvantage up front and a lot of the work that we did in 2020 was attempting to try and get them connected.

Sheilah Kast: Some of the big changes we've talked about a single neighborhood doesn't have much power to lobby for highway access or a revamped public transit system. What can they do?

Seema Iyer: We have got to do things on multiple prongs. So what can you do as an individual resident? One is really take a realm of thinking about who's moving in. What are the houses going on sale? The housing market actually went crazy during the pandemic. What did that mean for your neighborhood? Did your neighborhood? Was your neighborhood able to take advantage of kind of bringing people into your neighborhood when they were looking for places to live? And then so that's at the individual level, but 100 percent, we need to all be thinking about what kind of policy implications we need. And the biggest one hopefully we can all agree on is that we have got to get a transportation system that meets 21st century needs now. Is that a light rail system or is that a new regional rail? I'm not necessarily convinced that it has to be something like that. But what if right now? Because that might happen ten years from now, and we can clearly see that we need something today. We need something right now to get people in and out of our neighborhoods so that we can have flow into and out of our neighborhoods. So I think we have to think very boldly. The city of Baltimore has always been at the forefront of transportation. We are the home of the rail line. We are the home of, you know, all of these ports at the very beginning of our of our history. We should be at the forefront of 21st century transportation. M aybe something like what if you live in the city of Baltimore and you get a free bus pass and you can use any bus in the city right now? What if we do things like that? Maybe just in the neighborhoods? It declined. You can load a bus for free and those neighborhoods. But we have to think very boldly of how to address the issue of not just what's going on in the neighborhood, but how do you get into and out of those neighborhoods? That's what the data showing that where we have neighborhoods with clear movement into and out of, they are growing and we need to make sure that that occurs for all of our neighborhoods.

Sheilah Kast: So as you delve into. The census data, what's next, how are you going to be presenting it to the public?

Seema Iyer: Population change, like I mentioned, is just one indicator, and that was the first and most immediate thing that we could do in the Census Bureau released the information earlier in August. There's much, much more to dig into. We now have 10 years worth of information on over 100 different indicators, so we are going to be pulling together a series of six different reports to look at how the quality of life change in the last 10 years. How did the housing market change in the last 10 years? How did the economy change in the last 10 years and really help people understand what those changes were? What worked? What didn't work? What do we need to do in the future for the next decade? So we are not continuing to see decline because it is an existential crisis for us. So this fall we'll be releasing the six reports and maybe we'll come back and talk to you when they're out. And then in the spring of next year, we'll bring together neighborhood leaders, neighborhood groups, anybody that's interested to come up with recommendations based on that data.

Sheilah Kast: We would always love to talk to you. Thank you for this conversation, Seema.

Seema Iyer: Thanks so much.

Sheilah Kast: Seema Iyer oversees the Baltimore Neighborhood Indicators Alliance at the University of Baltimore's Jacob France Institute at the On the Record page at NPR.org. We've got links to the Vital Signs 19 report, as well as to videos discussing major findings and how to use this data. Thanks also to all the listeners who sent in comments for the show. I'm Sheilah Kast. Short break now on the record when we're back with the 2020 census means for Maryland's political districts. Stay with us.

Nathan Sterner: This is the on the record podcast service of your public radio members supported 88 one WYPR. You can support this podcast and everything you hear from NPR. Become a member. Come to WYPR dot org and click the donate link.

Sheilah Kast: Welcome back to on the record. Sheilah Kast, the results of the 2020 census tee up a new challenge for Maryland's elected leaders. Redrawing political districts The state's population, now nearly six point two million, grew seven percent over the past decade. Maryland will continue to hold eight seats in the House of Representatives, with fewer people living in some areas and more in others. The boundaries will have to change to keep districts equal in size. How might new maps affect the state's balance of power? Joining me to talk about it is the founding editor of the new site Maryland Matters. Josh Kurtz. Welcome back to the show, Josh..

Josh Kurtz: Thanks so much, Sheilah. Great to be here.

Sheilah Kast: What did the census reveal about how the state's population shifted over the last decade?

Josh Kurtz: It shifted quite a bit, actually. Obviously, Baltimore city shrunk by by 5.7 percent, I should say. The population also shrunk in western Maryland and most of the eastern shore, except for Wicomico County. The fastest growth was in Frederick and Howard counties, followed by Charles, Prince George's, Anne Arundel and Montgomery. Those were really the big, the big growers.

Sheilah Kast: As General Assembly lines are re drawn, what districts should we be paying attention to?

Josh Kurtz: Inevitably there's going to be shrinkage in the city of Baltimore, where right now there are six legislative districts, one that covers part of Baltimore County too. So that's going to be a painful process for the city. And there is a there is a decent possibility that some more district lines like District forty six, which is kind of South Baltimore, Fells Point, Federal Hill, there's a pretty good chance that will go out into Anne Arundel county somewhere a little bit. But then, you know, the the growth will will inevitably follow the population growth, so expect more representation from the Frederick area, more in southern Maryland and Howard County too.

Sheilah Kast: Does that really change the balance of power in the Legislature?

Josh Kurtz: I wouldn't say it changes the balance all that much, but it's certainly, I mean, certainly the most dramatic trend, and it's a story that's been ongoing for a few decades now is the diminishment of legislative power in in the city of Baltimore. Baltimore is lucky now to have Senate president Bill Ferguson, representing the city. Speaker Adrian Jones from Baltimore County is a good ally of the city's. But there's just no getting away from the fact that the city's power is diminishing in the Legislature.

Sheilah Kast: This is on the record on WYPR. I'm Sheilah Kast. Speaking with Josh Kurtz of the new site Maryland matters about how the 2020 census numbers will shape the state's political boundaries. Maryland's 1st Congressional District is the only one represented by Republican Andy Harris. What will Democrats be pushing for?

Josh Kurtz: Well, I think there's some internal debate among Democrats now as as you said, the state is represented by seven Democrats and one Republican in Congress. As the redistricting debates get more and more contentious and more and more partisan in a lot of the country, there's going to be a lot of pressure on Democrats to try to make an 8-0 map and wipe out Harris altogether. I'm not sure they're going to wind up doing that. They may just settle for a seven to one map that looks a little cleaner than the map they have now. But if you look at the the the winning totals of all eight members of the House of Representatives from Maryland, they all won by double digits and in most cases, 30 40 50 points. So, you know, if certain Democrats are willing to give up some safe territory, there are creative ways to really make an 8-0 map and go after Congressman Harris. It's it's a question about whether they'll do that, though.

Sheilah Kast: And that question turns on? I mean, are they will they be afraid of being overturned by a court?

Josh Kurtz: Well, I think inevitably that's that's going to be that's going to be one of the considerations. As your listeners probably know, the congressional map last time around was challenged in federal court, and the case went all the way to the Supreme Court. The Supreme Court decided they didn't feel comfortable kind of setting standards for what gerrymandering is or isn't. But I think inevitably you're going to see lawsuits both with the congressional map. And it wouldn't surprise me if there are state lawsuits targeting the legislative map too.

Sheilah Kast: Maryland's 3rd Congressional District, represented by Democrat John Sarbanes, is often held up as an extreme example of partisan gerrymandering. It includes parts of Baltimore, Howard Montgomery and Anne Aundel counties, as well as Baltimore City. Is change likely with a new map?

Josh Kurtz: I think so, I think that district is particularly ugly and you can sort of argue the motives for for drawing it the way they did. But yeah, I think I think no matter, I mean, if you look at the Maryland map, Maryland is an oddly shaped state, so that makes for some ugly boundaries anyway. But I think the Democrats who control this process are painfully aware of how ugly the last map looked, and one of their top priorities, a part from the partisan considerations, is just to make it look cleaner, basically less awkward boundaries.

Sheilah Kast: Both Governor Hogan and the Legislature have formed bipartisan committees to draw maps out. How do their approaches differ?

Josh Kurtz: Well, you know, I'll say a couple of things about that first. Governor Hogan is, you know, he he wants this to be as bipartisan a processor as he can or that's at least what he's saying. And he has for, since he took office, he's been trying to take redistricting out of partisan hands and make it much more of a nonpartisan or bipartisan process. His commission is going to produce a map. I'm fairly confident that the Legislature, which really has the upper hand in this process and is controlled by Democrats, is going to ignore his map. They're going to do. They're going to do their own. And and they really have the power to kind of ignore the governor. But the governor has has a good bully pulpit and and, as you said, a threat of lawsuits. And he'll he'll use that bully pulpit effectively and and then we'll see what happens in the courts.

Sheilah Kast: What's the timeline?

Josh Kurtz: We're pretty sure it hasn't been set in stone, but there is going to be a special legislative session in early December to do congressional redistricting. And then by law, they can't do legislative redistricting until the regular session, which begins in mid-January. But, you know, they're kind of racing with the clock because the filing deadline for the 2022 election is late February, February 22nd, I believe so. There is a pretty good chance that they may not finish the legislative maps until after the filing deadline, which would be awkward because people may not know what districts they're they're living in and and trying to run. And so it's going to be it's going to be a pretty tight schedule and pretty exciting and fast and furious.

Sheilah Kast: A lot to keep an eye on, Josh. Thanks for giving us a preview.

Josh Kurtz: Thanks so much, Sheilah.

Sheilah Kast: Josh Kurtz is the founding editor of the news site Maryland Matters at the on the record page at NPR.org. We've got links to coverage of Maryland's approach to redistricting. I'm Sheilah Kast. Glad you're with us on the record. Join us again tomorrow.

Nathan Sterner: Thanks for listening to this segment of On the Record with Sheilah Kast. You can catch the show on the radio Monday through Friday, 9:30 to 10:00 a.m. on 88 one WYPR. You're NPR news station. And you can support on the record and all the other public radio programs that WYPR brings to you. Just click the donate link at the top and thanks.

Sheilah Kast is the host of On The Record, Monday-Friday, 9:30-10:00 am.
Maureen Harvie is Senior Supervising Producer for On the Record. She is a graduate of the University of Maryland, Baltimore County, and joined WYPR in 2014 as an intern for the newsroom. Whether coordinating live election night coverage, capturing the sounds of a roller derby scrimmage, interviewing veterans, or booking local authors, she is always on the lookout for the next story.