has a piece, "The Future of the City is Childless
," opining about the decline of households with children "in the city."
He is mostly writing about Manhattan, but includes data from other cities, which finds that yes, households with children are on the decline. And it finds that DC is one of those cities.
The most likely reason, as stated in the article, is the high cost of housing. And this will make having and keeping children and families in the city a somewhat exclusive phenomenon based on income.
But I think the article misses a big point, about sorting
. Anti-city writer Joel Kotkin's take on cities and children has similar faults ("The Childless City: It's hip, it's entertaining—but where are the families?
," City Journal
The future of the city isn't childless at all
. But where a preponderance of families live will be a function of housing cost, space, and amenities. And access to affordable child care.
Cities like DC extending "public school" to Pre-K -- the ages of three to five, before they start kindergarten -- significantly eases the financial burden of child care ("The Effects of Universal Preschool in Washington, D.C.
," Center for American Progress).
Families aren't likely to locate in the densest, highest cost, smallest space precincts. But cities may be more likely to offer universal preschool than suburban communities.
First, as housing prices rise, lower income households are being displaced, and demographically speaking, these families tend to have more children. As they leave cities, there is a net loss of families.
Outmigration to lower cost housing in the suburbs extends to starter households with children too, even if two income and on a likely trajectory into the upper middle class. Starting out, they can't afford to buy housing in high cost urban centers.
Second, sorting is multidimensional. While the author is writing about his experience in the heart of Manhattan, it may also be that higher income family households are moving out of the core of center cities, which tend to offer less in the way of amenities that support families, but still remaining in the city, but shifting and relocating to other parts of the city that are more amenable, not necessarily "the suburbs" which is what the article suggests is happening.
There are plenty of kids and families in Brooklyn, The Bronx, and Queens, if not in the core of Manhattan.
That's the nature of my own experience in DC, where it happens I too moved out of the core and to the outer city, which comparatively speaking is more suburban. (Although you are seeing plenty of young kids in Capitol Hill and other neighborhoods in the city's core.)
Excepting us, every house that turned over on my face block has been bought by families. Most of those households had more kids after moving in. But that's only 1/3 of the houses (7 of 24 houses turned over; so 5 of the other 6 households added children once they moved in). If there were more housing turnover, there'd be more family accommodation. I've noticed that most of the houses in the greater neighborhood that do turnover tend to have children.
But yes, this isn't a phenomenon supportive of "starter" families. Or lower income households.
And yes, we must acknowledge that plenty of higher income family households move out of the city too. Not every city has housing districts that are amenity-rich and lower priced. E.g., housing prices in my neighborhood have doubled over 11 years.
This is old data, but the trade magazine Progressive Grocer
used to run a monthly feature using Nielsen data, showing consumption in various food and beverage categories by household type and location. Cities are defined as "cosmopolitan centers" and as a rule have fewer households with children, as the data shows below.
But it's interesting that while it shows that cities have fewer households with children compared to other place types, and are overrepresented in certain categories of households without children, which is what we'd expect, cities do have households with children, and surprisingly, the largest number of "older bustling families."
Likely the families that do stay are higher income, and may add children over time as circumstances and income changes, even if they are selective about it, and have fewer children compared to decades past.
(On my block one household has 3 children, three households have 2 children, and two households have one child.)
A big problem is planning for cities often ignores the needs of children
Regardless, cities tend to under-plan for accommodating children, even as hundreds of millions of dollars are spent on public education
. Besides the quality of schools issue, and in DC, the rise of charter schools has provided households with choice a reason to not move to the suburbs, another element that shapes whether or not families decide to live in the city is the existence of some open spaces, parks, tot lots, etc.
Definitely if you ignore planning for accommodating children and families, you'll have fewer families.
When I started out in the Main Street world, I remember being very impressed by a presentation about a program which repositioned. They had offered a lot of family-related events, but shifted away from that. I thought that was an interesting and tough choice.
Now--16 years later--I think it was short-sighted. Kids don't always need a lot in terms of space. And maybe you don't need a lot of family events, because they don't pay off in long term benefits versus the cost.
But sometimes, all kids need are places to run around and little playgrounds (and note kids of different ages have different needs when it comes to play), splash parks, and the like.
(But note, I think there should be designated times for adults to have access to splash fountains too.)
Even Downtowns like DC could have some tot lots and play equipment and a splash fountain or two. (But the city doesn't plan adequately for recreation downtown for any demographic category, let alone kids. There's no public urban recreation center in Downtown DC.)
Wulaba Park, Sydney. Photo: Paul Patterson. "Venture to Green Square, turn left into Amelia Street and, hidden behind several tall apartment developments, you’ll find a rainbow wonderland: slides, towers, tunnels, nets and swings, with one mega slide for adventurous youngsters."
From a planning standpoint, I refer to this as planning systematically for different demographic and household types.
It's the approach I recommend for sustainable mobility too. E.g., one off initiatives for African-Americans, or kids, or women get lots of media and other attention. But it's better and more equitable to address all demographics and household types in a systematic way.
More commercial districts should aim to include these kinds of kid-related park amenities, especially little playgrounds, to be "kid- and family accommodating" at the very least, even if it doesn't rise to the level of "kid and family friendly."
I noticed that was done in Downtown Essen in their pedestrianized district, which didn't have any mixed use housing. It was all retail or civic space. But here and there the civic space included little play spaces. And constructed of the best quality materials, often stainless steel.
And splash fountains probably aren't enough. Kids and therefore families need a variety of things to keep them occupied. And at least some restaurants need to be kid friendly, etc.
Splash fountain in Columbia Heights DC
Small swing set in Downtown Essen
But there are various planning initiatives focused on making cities amenable to families, such as the 8-80 Cities
program. And other resources:
-- Child in the City
-- Basic urban planning for children
-- "Designing Better Urban Spaces for Kids
-- A child-friendly approach to urban planning
, 100 Resilient Cities
-- "Cities alive: Designing for urban childhoods
-- "Cities Without Children
," The American Conservative
-- "Why do young parents move away? Our cities aren’t designed for kids
Montgomery County Maryland also has an initiative to better provide park and recreation spaces in the county's urban centers.
-- Energized Public Spaces Functional Master Plan
I've not written about it, but in the Petworth neighborhood, Sherman Circle, an NPS controlled space, across from E.L. Haynes Charter School, is increasingly used as a community park and play space by families, although it has nothing more than green space, trees and some benches.
Similarly, a "guerrilla play space" was created on a portion of the Eastern Market Metrorail Station "park" -- one of the four land pieces is where the station entrance is, while the other largest space is catty-corner across Pennsylvania Avenue between 8th and 9th Streets.
It set the stage for replacing it with a more formal playground, although not without controversy ("DC to clear out kids "Plastic Park" near Eastern Market Metro
," Hill Now).
More of the city's schools are making playgrounds more accessible outside of school hours. This is true for both traditional public schools and charter schools.
With the help of Kaboom
, the Capital City Public Charter School in my neighborhood put its playground in front of the school and it's open to all.
There are all kinds of ways to do this, but it won't happen without focused and innovative planning.
Labels: children in the city, demographics, families and the city, housing market, public education/K-12, urban design/placemaking, urban planning, urban revitalization