Ah, the suburbs—land of the two-car garage. Lower taxes. Sprawling yards. Good schools. Safer streets. All of these “quality-of-life” features are the main reason for the growth of Baltimore city’s vast suburban region, which encompasses five counties—and nearly two million people. Many of those are former city dwellers, drawn to those greener grasses and low taxes. How do we know? The city’s population shrank by 11.5 percent from 1990 to 2000, while the counties grew at sometimes dizzying rates: 9% (Baltimore), 14.6% (Anne Arundel), 20% (Harford), 22.3% (Carroll), and 32.3% (Howard). But not all suburbs are created equal: Baltimore’s come in many different forms. Presented here are the numbers you need to know for 30 Baltimore hinterlands. They don’t tell the entire story of a neighborhood, but they’re a good indicator of how happy its residents are. Besides, it’s always fun to find out if you’re keeping up with the Joneses—and their property values.
Just as Maryland claims to be America in miniature, Baltimore County is like Maryland in miniature. You can go from a bustling downtown (the near-city at the heart of Towson) to a working horse farm (in the fields around Mays Chapel) in under 15 minutes. There are also 173 miles of waterfront along the Chesapeake Bay and its estuaries for boaters and outdoorsy types. Even as the center of Towson continues to evolve with new development, there are plenty of welcoming neighborhoods nearby which still retain their greenspace and suburban charms, like Catonsville and Pikesville. The county’s wealthier residents gravitate toward areas like Ruxton and Hampton, where the median home price is more than four times that of working-class areas like Dundalk. Diversity and size add up to popularity: Baltimore County accounts for more than 14 percent of the state’s total population.
Considering Anne Arundel County’s age (it celebrates its 304th birthday this year), it’s a surprise that its lands haven’t been completely paved over. Credit that to some canny late 1960s planning. That’s not to say that homeowners haven’t taken advantage of the more than 530 miles of waterfront the county claims, primarily on the Cheseapeake Bay and Severn and Magothy rivers. Annapolis, the state capital, is a picturesque home to grand manses and historic government buildings. Add those to the water, a respected school system, and the county’s location between Baltimore and Washington, D.C., and it’s easy to understand why it’s such a popular place to live for workers in both cities. Neighborhoods with room to develop (like Crofton) have experienced abundant growth over the past decade, while more established towns (like Severna Park, bordered by water) have made only modest increases in population. Toward the center of the county, Davidsonville’s median home value is one of the state’s highest.
Carroll County was founded in 1837 from 452 square miles of land taken from Baltimore and Frederick counties. The county seat is Westminster, the largest of eight incorporated towns. Named for Charles Carroll, a Revolutionary War statesman and a Maryland signer of the Declaration of Independence, Carroll County also served as home to “Star Spangled Banner” lyricist Francis Scott Key. Until very recently, Carroll had maintained the rural traditions of its founding families, but the county has experienced a major growth boom. The county’s distance from Washington, D.C. means that home prices are slightly lower than neighboring (and more southern) Howard County, and Carroll’s lot sizes are typically a bit larger than in surrounding counties.
The north edge of Harford County is marked by the famous Mason-Dixon Line, while the rest of the county is delineated by water: to the south by the shoreline of the Chesapeake, to the east by the robust Susquehanna River, and to the west by the Little Gunpowder River. Like its neighbors, Harford County is also experiencing a population burst. More than 80,000 households called the county home in 2000, and projections estimate that more than 103,000 homeowners will settle here by 2005. The county seat is Bel Air, a small town that has grown its own suburbs, different enough in character to merit two designations: Bel Air/North and Bel Air/South. Surrounding Bel Air, rural areas like Fallston manage to provide all the necessary amenities of suburban living (schools, libraries) while still keeping much of their lands undeveloped.
Howard County is an interesting blend of historic colonial-era towns and a thoroughly modern, meticulously planned metropolitan center. Ellicott City, the county seat, was founded in 1772 (four years before the United States became official) and is today both a bustling suburb and a well-preserved mix of shops and restaurants in a centuries-old mill town. Columbia, on the other hand, is a vibrant community founded a mere 30 years ago by visionary developer James Rouse as a place for people of different backgrounds to live together. Households with children dominate the population, and most of these families command high-paying jobs: Howard County boasts the highest median household income in the state, and the 10th highest in the U.S. In the 1990s, the median value of homes in the county swelled 24 percent, giving it the second highest median house value in Maryland.