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Editorial - Immigrants needed

December 04, 1997

Editorial - Immigrants needed

As part of Maryland Gov. Parris Glendening's "Smart Growth" plan to prevent suburban sprawl by redeveloping older urban areas, state officials this week announced that Hagerstown will get $2 million in low-interest mortgage money.

Some renters in the targeted areas of this city say they're not enthusiastic about becoming homeowners, but it would be a mistake for city officials to consider them the only possible owners. In the first downtown economic summit three years year ago, a group looking at housing issues concluded that the best prospects for new residents downtown might be people from outside the county.

To be blunt, given a choice, many Washington County residents do not think of downtown Hagerstown and its surrounding neighborhoods as prime places to live. Some renters interviewed by The Herald-Mail said they live where they do, not because they liked the neighborhoods, but because the rents are low.

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Yes, some of the new owners will be former renters, and we applaud them for their courage and ambition. But the city will miss a good bet if it doesn't market the area to people who are already living in urban areas around Washington, D.C.

To current residents of places like Gaithersburg or Rockville, Md., downtown and nearby neighborhoods will look good by comparison with the congestion and crime they're putting up with now. A look at the lower cost of housing and the area's scenic/historic attractions should close the deal.

We say "should" because those potential buyers won't discover this area on their own. The city needs to market it aggressively, perhaps by tying tours of available properties to other events that would bring people here, like the Blues Fest or the Maryland Symphony Orchestra concert at Antietam.

Come for the music, the ads might say, and think about how much fun it would be to live here all the time. It may seem far-fetched, but a city founded by immigrants could do worse than bringing in a new crop to revitalize the center city and the neighborhoods nearby.

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