Sunday, March 19, 2006

Cities aren't for children anymore

   The new urbanists argue that Americans are rediscovering the joys of urban life.  This may be true for some groups, but not for all.  The Washington Post reports that the percentage of residents who are children is continuing to fall in many American cities.  In San Francisco, the under-18 population fell to 14.5% in 2000, down from 17.2% in 1980 and 24.5% in 1960.  Focusing on the story of a single mother who has moved to Sacramento but still commutes to the city by the bay each day, the Post's John Pomfret blames the skyrocketing cost of housing. "[M]iddle-class families [are] fleeing" coastal cities for less expensive communities, he writes.
   But San Francisco is not losing population; it is gaining population.  Developers there have been spurred by the house-price boom to try to squeeze in more units wherever they can.  So why is the percentage of children falling?  The truth, rarely spoken, is that more affluent families (and affluent singles, of course) are likely to have fewer children than middle-class and poorer families have.  As a city gets richer, it also is likely to lose children.  Although it may be true that Americans are more attracted by city life today than they were in, say, 1970, it is much more likely to be people with few or no children who are following the attraction.

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