Fun fact: with over 600 million residents, Baltimore is the largest independent city in the nation. Does that make you scratch your head? When I first moved into the area, it did me. Fortunately, the explanation is simple.
An “independent city” is one that doesn’t exist within the borders of any county. Baltimore County bends all around Baltimore City, enclosing it like a cocoon, except for at its southern tip, where the city abuts Anne Arundel County. The city of Baltimore is entirely independent of any county entanglements, although it’s police department is very much entangled with the state government due to an anti-corruption take-over of the BPD by the state in 1860. Those entanglements persist to this day.
Anyway. The Baltimore metropolitan area now hosts a population of 2.8 million, making it the 21st largest metro area in the United States. The metro area includes the city and six surrounding counties: Baltimore County (the cocoon around the city), Harford County (east), Carroll County (west), Anne Arundel County (south), Queen Anne’s County (east of Anne Arundel across the bay), and Howard County (southwest). Howard County is, amazingly enough, the setting for my Howard County Mystery series.
Why did I pick that locale? For over 20 years, I’ve lived on the eastern side of Baltimore County. But I’ve worked in Howard County several times, and know the area reasonably well, probably better than I know Baltimore County. Howard County affords me a range of localized settings from the suburban to the rural. It’s far more rural than Baltimore County, but with areas of reasonably concentrated population. Plus, unlike Baltimore County, it doesn’t wrap itself around a city, so Rick Peller and his associates can move pretty quickly from one area of the county to another as needed.
Then again, there’s rural and there’s rural. I don’t actually think of Maryland as incredibly rural. Although one of the smallest states in the U.S., it’s the fifth most densely populated. While most of that population is concentrated in the Baltimore-Washington D.C. corridor, even most of the state’s rural areas are more heavily populated than the rural areas from which my family hails.
Allow me to demonstrate. Here’s a population density map for Howard County and surrounding areas:
The thicker white lines are the county borders. Howard County is the large area stretching northwest to southeast, with Columbia and Ellicott City as its main population centers. The more rural areas of the county, the lighter orange, have a population density ranging from 101 to 1000 people per square mile.
Now let’s look at Rick Peller’s birthplace, Lockport, New York:
Peller would find the population levels in Howard County familiar, but notice the light pink areas to the east, particularly the location named Dysinger, which is about where Sandra Peller came from. Those areas have a population density of 100 people per square mile or less. That, to me, is what rural is all about. That’s because my grandparents hailed from northwest Ohio. My maternal grandparents lived in the “big city” of Van Wert, while my paternal grandparents had a farm near Scott:
Rural is in the eye of the beholder, I guess. I consider my Howard County novels to be suburban crime novels, not rural crime novels, even though farms and fields do pop up in them from time to time. The county has some nice open spaces. But you can’t throw a rock too terribly far without hitting someone.
(Maps clipped from the ArcGIS 2012 population map.)