Monday, December 11, 2006
I visited New York City recently, and took time to reflect on land use as I walked around the affluent residential quarters east and west of Central Park. Under sunny winter skies, life in a dense neighborhood of multifamily housing -- directly above restaurants, cleaners, and clothing shops -- seemed pleasant, sensible, and sustainable. From the Hudson River to the East River, well-heeled people are paying extraordinary sums for life in the city, without the personal space or back yards offered by the suburbs. Is this the way of the American future, as high gas prices and long commutes make suburban life no longer tolerable?
Then I noticed a couple of interesting phenomena. As I strolled past the wealthy apartment buildings and co-ops, I noticed a lot of couples with children, which pleased me. Then I noticed that the children were almost all very young. I saw many two-year-olds, but not many 10-year-olds. Then I noticed that I passed far more private schools than public schools. It appears that many prosperous Manhattan families stay in the city when they reproduce, but then depart for the suburbs when the youngsters reach school age, unless they are truly rich and can afford Manhattan private schools. A widespread American "return to the city" seems unlikely unless the nation addresses the perceived drawbacks of city schooling.