Letters

Autumn 2013
Families and Cities

To the editor:
I don’t see childless cities as a problem as much as a model worthy of export [Joel Kotkin and Ali Modarres, “The Childless City,” Summer 2013]. I live in Europe, where the cities are crawling with kids; you can’t get away from them. Because children must be constantly catered to, fed, changed, and kept entertained, they create a fatuous atmosphere where conversations instantly turn witless—an atmosphere that inhibits creativity and serious culture and all the joys of being a grown-up. You can be in the most beautiful restaurant at midnight, and six-year-olds will be shouting for attention and toddlers will be running from table to table. You’re forced to say “how cute” until you could scream. I miss New York, with its grungy edge and the sense of the new and fantastic waiting around every corner.

Benita Canova

To the editor:
It’s possible that cities will evolve into career way stations for those destined to have families of their own, with a few diehards raising their kids—along with others who are uninterested in children—sticking around. Indeed, it seems that some cities are havens from the intolerance of the suburbs, an intolerance driven less by human evil than by an innate desire to have a protected environment for children.

Edward Giese
Fredericksburg, TX

To the editor:
Has either author visited Brooklyn, Manhattan, or Seattle recently? Those places are crawling with kids. Brooklyn is the punch line of so many jokes because of the exploding population of children under five. People hate going to restaurants, parks, and even bars because of the stroller set. Cities are bursting with kids; the challenge lies in providing the services that families need and demand. Our public schools (in Brooklyn) are way over capacity; everyone knows that when you have kids, you wind up in Brooklyn. The authors are delusional if they think that cities are “kiddie deserts.” New York is an amazing city for kids and has a quality of life that outpaces any suburb I’ve visited—especially when you factor in access to parks, museums, culture, walkability, and sustainability.

Erik Botsford
Brooklyn, NY

Joel Kotkin responds:
Intolerance comes in many forms. Urban areas that embrace certain values—for example, public nudity—are often hostile to people with children. Certainly, Mr. Giese can’t be speaking of racial intolerance, since most immigrants ultimately seek out suburbs.

Statistics show that European cities have very low populations of children and, in my experience, fewer kids than most U.S. cities. At least Americans with kids are unlikely to have them out late at night—and one frequently hears “witless conversations” with no children around.

Mr. Botsford is not looking at the numbers. Many people have children in cities, but most seem to move out before long. The overall number of children in cities has dropped even as the total population grows. My coauthor, Ali Modarres, compiled these numbers for all the major U.S. metropolitan areas. It’s true that cities offer things that suburbs do not. But the opposite is also true—particularly in terms of space, cost, public education, and safety. And by the way, my family has been living in Brooklyn since the turn of the last century, and I was there as recently as this summer. Seattle has one of the lowest percentages of children in the country. Rebuttal based on impression, not data, is simply denial.