No Children in the Cities
The New York Times has stumbled on the startling news that hip urban centers are mainly the domicile of singles and childless couples.
Crime is down. New homes and businesses are sprouting everywhere. But in what may be Portland’s trendiest and fastest-growing neighborhood, the number of school-age children grew by only three between the census counts in 1990 and 2000, according to demographers at Portland State University. “The neighborhood would love to have more kids, that’s probably the top of our wish list,” said Joan Pendergast of the Pearl Neighborhood Association. “We don’t want to be a one-dimensional place.”
It is a problem unlike the urban woes of cities like Detroit and Baltimore, where families have fled decaying neighborhoods, business areas and schools. Portland is one of the nation’s top draws for the kind of educated, self-starting urbanites that midsize cities are competing to attract. But as these cities are remodeled to match the tastes of people living well in neighborhoods that were nearly abandoned a generation ago, they are struggling to hold on to enough children to keep schools running and parks alive with young voices.
San Francisco, where the median house price is now about $700,000, had the lowest percentage of people under 18 of any large city in the nation, 14.5 percent, compared with 25.7 percent nationwide, the 2000 census reported. Seattle, where there are more dogs than children, was a close second. Boston, Honolulu, Portland, Miami, Denver, Minneapolis, Austin and Atlanta, all considered, healthy, vibrant urban areas, were not far behind. The problem is not just that American women are having fewer children, reflected in the lowest birth rate ever recorded in the country.
Officials say that the very things that attract people who revitalize a city – dense vertical housing, fashionable restaurants and shops and mass transit that makes a car unnecessary – are driving out children by making the neighborhoods too expensive for young families.
Plus, as Virginia Postrel notes, people with kids natually want to live in the suburbs. Bigger yards, better schools, the perception of increased safety give parents every incentive to move away from the urban centers. This is true despite the fact that, as Matt Yglesias noted nearly a year ago, the suburbs are statistically more dangerous.*
*Matt’s site moved a few months ago and he didn’t migrate his archives, so I’m linking to my post responding to his.