Family Feud

by Akim Reinhardt

Elvis Presley in Kissin CousinsLess than an hour apart, similar in size and population, and connected by I-95 and a tangled overgrowth of suburbs, Baltimore and Washington, D.C. are very much alike. The mid-Atlantic's kissin' cousins share everything from beautiful row home architecture to a painful history of Jim Crow segregation.

But the wealthier parts of D.C. have grown uppity of late, and you can blame Uncle Sam.

Whereas Charm City has suffered from de-industrialization, depopulation, and growing poverty over the last half-century, Washington's economy has grown dramatically with the federal government's rapacious expansion since World War II.

Once upon a time, Baltimore was a major American city driven by heavy manufacturing and voluminous harbor traffic, while Washington was a dusty, lackluster town, the population noticeably undulating with the political season. But after moving in opposite directions for decades, D.C. was poised to surpass Baltimore economically by the 1990s.

The rich cousin is now the poor cousin and vice versa, trading seats at all the family functions. But one thing has not changed: Neither member of America's urban clan ever has or likely ever will come anywhere close to competing for the title of Patriarch. We're not talking about big boy national powerhouses like New York or Los Angeles, or even avuncular, regional monsters like Chicago and Houston.

Nope. It's just D.C. and Baltimore

If Baltimore is the southeastern most notch on the rust belt, the rough, homemade punch hole that allows the nation to let out the its sagging waistline, then Washington is the two-bit company town in the heady throes of a contrived boom. Each town has seen their fortunes headed in different directions of late, but nobody is ever going to confuse either of these old branches on the family tree for anyone's rich uncle. Baltimore's heyday is in the past, while D.C.'s rising glory is transparently artificial.

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