This story would seem to indicate that downtown Baltimore has already become what downtown Pittsburgh is trying to be.
The center-city population has doubled to 10,000 in five years. And more than 37,000 people live within a one-mile radius of Pratt and Light streets, ranking downtown's core eighth in the nation for population density and number of households earning $75,000 a year or more, according to the report.
Even more important for urban enthusiasts, a new report indicates that the growth will continue:
In the next six years, downtown can absorb more than 7,400 new housing units and will pick up more than 17,000 jobs, thanks to hospital expansions, biopark development and the federal military-base restructuring, the partnership's Outlook 2012 estimates.
There are problems, to be sure. The report was commissioned by the Downtown Partnership of Baltimore. I am sure they are nice folks, but they fall into the category of public-private cheerleaders. So they have a vested interest in talking about progress and potential progress. And a few people are questioning the numbers.
Still, the reports raise questions about whether that degree of residential growth will actually happen - and how many new downtown residents would stay long term - because of concerns ranging from crime to pollution to high parking costs.
..."What this is saying is there are significant drivers from the major institutions expanding, so there will be a lot more jobs downtown and the potential then for continued strong downtown housing market," said John McIlwain, a senior resident fellow for housing at the Washington-based Urban Land Institute.
But McIlwain said he wouldn't anticipate a boom, "and 7,400 units would really be a boom."
"Baltimore's downtown is an attractive place to live," he said, "but there are still challenges ... and the strength will depend clearly on job growth but being able to manage crime and to link some of the neighborhoods that are growing together so they become one cohesive fabric."
Still, for me, the most interesting part of the article indicates that someone in Baltimore is bothering to look at who is moving downtown and from where.
New downtown residents are predominantly young, white and highly educated, with household incomes of $50,000 or more, the report found. Nearly three of every four come from out of state.
"The new residents are fairly different than what the Census shows for Baltimore City, but the downtown area is much different from other areas of Baltimore City," said Matthew Kachura, a research analyst for the Jacob France Institute at the University of Baltimore, which surveyed 470 new downtown residents.
Has anyone done this in Pittsburgh yet, so we can tell where all the new condo dwellers are coming from? Might be nice.
Last, note that the predicted boom in Baltimore is tied to a real explosion in downtown jobs: 17,000 of them in six years. That is, people might like the fancy new streetscapes and there might be a trend toward city living, but generally speaking, it's job growth fueling residential growth. Is anyone predicting a similar job explosion in Pittsburgh to help fill all of our new condos? I can see some of it. Bank of New York is predicting adding a few thousand jobs. Anyone have prediction for net growth over the next six years?
Moreover, there is a quote in the story about people moving downtown because they are tired of driving "two hours" to work. I know traffic in Pittsburgh can be gnarly. And that a few people live pretty far out in the weeds. But do many people face that kind of commute here? That is, the "cost" of suburban living in Pittsburgh--particularly affordable suburban living--seems less in terms of commuting time. Is that accurate?
Either way, interesting story.