City Journal Autumn 2014

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Joel Kotkin and Ali Modarres
The Childless City « Back to Story

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What is up with the attitude that those who have children are somehow morally superior to those who do not? Ever since I was, myself, a child, I knew that having kids would mean making a lot of sacrifices I didn't want to make, so I never wanted to have any of my own. It's about that simple, and NOT selfish.

I'm one of those single, childless people who call Los Angeles home. All I will say about my city is that it has become so unaffordable to live here that I cannot imagine how anybody can afford to have kids here. The middle class (including all those nice middle class families) has been edged out by inflated property values and stagnant wages. You can blame Wall Street for that, not underperforming schools and the presence of poor and/or minority folks.

Also, L.A. is not really an urban place. It's becoming more of one, but it is essentially a collection of suburbs and neighborhoods that are adjacent to each other. Many of these neighborhoods are family-oriented, just not White family-oriented. Orange County, Santa Clarita and the Inland 'Empire' is where most of the average White folk moved in the 1970's-90's. Those places were new, nice for families and relatively reasonably priced at the time. I'm pretty sure most of the people who moved there would not qualify to buy their own homes in today's market. You can imagine that a young couple with today's precarious employment offerings would not have the resources to buy one of these homes or feel secure enough to settle down and start a family.

I live in what is probably one of the most (White)family-oriented and affluent parts of L.A. and I don't enjoy it one bit. I pay $1750/mo for a one-bedroom apartment. I could care less about the great schools here, I just don't want the commute to work that living in a more affordable area would sentence me to.

As I write this, I can hear a baby crying in another apartment. I guess if I wasn't so 'selfish' that could be my baby irritating all the neighbors at 11:00 p.m.
http://youtu.be/wr91q2fxjXQ
Childbearing is no longer cool. As long as our culture primarily admires the childless rather than than fathers and mothers, we will have this problem.

Very interesting article.
It was the late British historian A. J. Toynbee who labeled cities as being "the graveyards of the race". Seemingly, he perceived our present day more clearly than most.
In light of your article, I was struck by this from Leon Kass' book, the Beginning of Wisdom: the city dwellers take non procreative sex to its logical and sterile conclusion: sodomy. In contrast with members of a tribe, no one in the city will feel naturally compelled to be fruitful and multiply; everyone can leave that obligation to his neighbor. For oneself, only the present and the passionately pleasant matter. (p. 330)
Thanks for this cool piece of writing. I like it.
Very interesting article. I would suggest, though, that you are observing only the symptoms of a much deeper social decline that discounts the value of family and children. You hint at this (Rome, etc) but it is exactly this decline that is afflicting all of Western civilization. Child-free urban design is a result, rather than a cause, of social disinterest having children.
I've devoted my entire life to extending human evolution, not recapitulating it.

I never wanted to have kids because "the city," child free or otherwise, was not worthy of what I would have to bequeath to them--attitudes of freedom, responsibility, reward for hard work, respect for individual endeavor, and respect for proven cultural and historical traditions of community.

"The city" is now a gentrified hive of button-thumbers and trendoids, constantly seeking the next shiny thing or speculative casino.

I've dedicated myself to trying to teach the children of degenerates to become a tad bit more human. And that includes the children of rich, selfish, hedonistic parents whose kids are basically a lifestyle accoutrement, as well as the children or poor, selfish, hedonistic parents whose kids are the result of a loin-sneeze and lack of access to abortion.

It is possible for childbearing to be selfish, just as it is possible for not bearing children to be selfish. Humans are creatures who act in their own self interest. And nothing is more selfish than making another human being--beginning as a helpless child--an object in the parents' or society's fetishization/fantasies.

If you don't believe me, give me five reasons for having children that don't begin with "I/we/our family want/s."

You can't advocate the "free" market and globalization and expect families to continue to resemble what they did in the eras of localization, agrarianism, and early industrialization. When people are expected to pack up and move every 12-18 months because their employer says so, when their salaries are eroded and they cannot depend on a steady income, when they are expected to tote around the slave chains of smartphones that require them to be on call 24/7...it is the only possible rational thing, not to bear children.

As for me, I've never regretted it. If this is the best Western civilization can come up with--regimes of illegal-immigrant-based debt serfdom concentrated in exploding population hives full of idiocrats--then it deserves to die out.
"Thanks for writing this. I live in Portland, Oregon and have watched this once strong family town devolve into a playground for childless adults." Wow since when is opting to be childless selfish. Selfish is what you do to another person.I guess the commenters on here would rather have more Gosselins and OCtomoms. People get these childless stereotypes from tv. Like the 45 yr old father in the article or 'married with kids' poster, there is a high chance one of their kids or grandkids will be childless.
Regardless your religious beliefs reading the Bible is a great way to see how civilization evolved and how stupidity ruled in many cases.

Building Sodom and Gomorra to pacify silly hedonistic young people will prove societal decay continues.

Just as Pax Americana is following the historical path of Pax Romana so will childless cities.

Western Civilization continues on the path of ruin through liberalism.
married with kids;

Do you think everyone should have children, regardless of their ability to raise them?

The childless harm no one. By contrast, those who bring children into the world without the maturity or financial means to raise them are costing us dearly in terms of welfare, prisons, social services, WIC, and so forth.

These parents are the selfish ones.
married with kids August 28, 2013 at 2:32 PM
couples with kids still want a nice single family house with 4 bedrooms and a yard, neighbors who look like them, good schools and safe parks. things really haven't changed much. What has changed is that many more people now choose to lead a selfish lifestyle without kids, focus on their own wants and needs over society. That's not good for the long term for these cities or the country.
Just who is going to take care of all these old farts in the cities without kids when they are alone and their friends are all old or dead? sounds like a lonely, selfish life. I look forward to be surrounded by my kids and grandchildren in the boring suburbs.
children are cute, but ENOUGH ALREADY! How long will it take the USA to catch up with India and China? Or should I have said, how long will it take the United States of Mexico to catch up. The USA's best hope is to encourage Jewish people to have more children and to promote more immigration from China. And, of course, maybe "technology" will provide an answer.
Toady,

That is why middle and upper class parents do not want to send their kids to school with the children of the poor - the perception is that of underachievement and disorganized home lives that would have a negative effect on their own children.
Elizabeth, Cynthia;

People don't want to send their children to schools which are mainly populated by academic underachievers. Blacks and hispanics fall into that category. Hispanics have the highest drop out rates in the country. Until those statistics change, people will educate their children elsewhere.
Cynthia,

No - middle and upper middle class do not want to live with, nor send their children to school with poor children. Stop proliferating this untruth.
The Blue states have less minorities on average than the Red States and not all Red areas have high births, in Joel's Orange County, Santa Ana has the highest birth rate and votes Democratic and Newport Beach a higher vote getter for Republicans has a low birth rate. So conservatives sterotype a lot both Ann Couter and Rush Limbaugh don't have natural children.
People want to avoid blacks. This has been the driver of virtually all school and suburban change since the middle 1960s. Now that the suburbs are becoming more black other dislocations can be anticipated
This is not true for all suburbs, Joel lives in Orange County California where the black population is 2 percent. Santa Ana and Anaheim the two oldest cities are mainly Hispanic over the 50 percent mark and Santa Ana almost 80 percent. The Whites live out in the burbs like Mission Viejo and there kid populations are dropping faster since its expensive.
What wrong with cities that don't have kids, personality, I prefer San Diego to Santa Ana. Santa Ana has more young gang members since their parents are working to make ends up while in San Diego which is less Hispanic, having a child is more of an option not everyone is religious.
Obviously the twenty or so kids on our urban block don't exist, neither do the twenty on the next street, or the one past that. And no kids attend the ten or so high schools, dozen or so middle schools, or dozen grade schools. These things are fictions of our delusional imaginations.
This article is factually incorrect - Boston is an example of a city of over 500,000 which saw an INCREASE in the number of individuals aged 14 and under - and is especially evident in recent surges in kindergarten enrollment in BPS.
I like it here in Brooklyn.
I just finished an article by parents begging for help in getting schools, not A school, but many schools, for Downtown Brooklyn. The say it is the fastest growing community in America. They've got 5,000 housing units in the last five years and that's to double in the next five. But there are no schools planned for the expected school-age population.
Down the street from me the City is renovating my Catholic primary school for a public school to open next year. Two others nearby are now operating. A new public high school just graduated its first class. The area, Sunset Park, has never had enough school seats.
Yes, there are a lot of young people moving in now but they look fertile.
Wow. What a .... ridiculous article. Have either of the authors actually VISITED Brooklyn or Manhattan or Seattle recently? The places are crawling with kids (no pun intended). Brooklyn is the punch line of a million jokes because of the exploding population of under-5's. People hate going to restaurants, parks, even bars because of the stroller set. Cities are bursting at the seams with kids and the challenge is in providing the services that families need and demand. Our local public schools (in Brooklyn) are waaaay over capacity and everyone knows that, when you have kids, you end up in Brooklyn.

The authors are seriously delusional if they think cities are "kiddie deserts". New York is an amazing city for kids with a quality of life that way outpaces any suburb I've ever visited, especially when you factor in things like access to parks, museums, culture, walkability, and sustainability.
Wow. What a nasty comment board... Sorry I stopped by...
My wife and I have two kids and live in the city, and our neighborhood is full of kids, along with older people and young single people and childless couples. It's pretty nice, and our city is pretty welcoming. My house is right next to a playground where toddlers play in the sandbox, eight year olds play tag, and teenagers play basketball. Richard Florida may not write about us, and you two authors may not get into the city much to see us, but we are here, and there are more of us than there were ten ears ago.
Joe Wolf, I'm a Seattelite and know of at least 2 schools which are closed from the disappearance of children who became rat food in the sewers due to 60 years of Roe v. Wade. It's the TRUTH city journal, so kindly don't be afraid of it. Yes, the TRUTH hurt sometimes, so be stout hearted and fearless to permits its presence on your pages.
Cities in America and europe are agglomerations of Democrats, of those who think it's the government's job to take care of them. Not ONE Blue city in America, not ONE Blue State in America, and not ONE Blue country in the West (all of them except the US) is fiscally sound - and nearly ALL are below replacement fertility (2.1). (Only 3 Red States are at or below 2.1; only 3 Blue states above 2.1 (NM, NV, HI).) This is because those who can't get along on their own, who demand to take money FROM the producers, voting for pols who use redistribution simply - and only - to buy votes from moochers, don't believe in the future enough to populate it. The several national fiscal crises in europe are MOSTLY crises in demographics. Moochers - Democrat voters - congregate with like-minded moochers, vote to tax the producers, who are mostly Conservatives who believe in making their own way and so who no longer want to associate with those who demand to steal not only their money for redistribution to buy votes, but also the money of the children of Conservatives. Those who believe in the future enough to populate it do NOT want to live with moochers, do NOT want the future of their children squandered by Democrats in order to buy votes today, DO want good schools (and the WORST schools are in Blue cities, no mater HOW much the primary fundraiser of the DNC - the teacher unions - argue otherwise), and choose to live free of the confines of Democrat big cities, lousy Democrat-run mal-education, and the redistributionist politicians that rule them.
I hate to break the news, but our rate of population growth is at its lowest rate in history. According to the 2011 Census, our birthrate was only 63 live births per 1000 females, which equated to a total fertility rate of just over 1.7 children per female. If one discounts immigration (both legal and illegal), the US hasn't maintained a fertility rate above 2.1 children/female is 40 years. Our median age in 1972 was 24. Today it is 37.

Not only are our cities becoming older, but most rural areas are beating them to it. This is especially true in New England and the Rust Belt.
It's my understanding that, because of intractable problems with sanitation and disease, cities always had death rates that well exceeded birth rates, with growth being accounted for by continual migration from the countryside.
No, Ben - middle class people do not want to live too close or have their children attend school with lots of poor kids, no matter what race. Poverty culture is perceived as very dangerous. You can see that school test scores correlate highly with the percentage of students receiving free or reduced priced lunches.
People want to avoid blacks. This has been the driver of virtually all school and suburban change since the middle 1960s. Now that the suburbs are becoming more black other dislocations can be anticipated.
This is truly tragic. If you watch TV programs such as House Hunters, you will see that most young couples (most of whom are unmarried and have no plans to have children in the near future, if at all), want all the upscale amenities and are primarily concerned with the needs of their dogs. This is a very selfish generation, as were many of their parents who raised them. They have no sense of history, nor any thought of the future.
Pretty good.
"Chicago, at least, is not very congested."

Under what definition of 'congested'? And in comparison to what?
name @ August 02, 2013 at 5:16 AM "This person didn't do any DC homework. 70% of the families in zip code 20002 (Capitol Hill -Read Dense housing) have a child under 5."

Where on earth did you get that info? 2010 census data has under 40% of Family households in 20002 with a child *under 18*, nevermind under 5. If the children in 'family households' have the same age distribution as all children in the zip, then it is about 12% of the family households with a child under 5. And 'family households' are only 45% of household in the zip. Since you were on the internet to submit the comment, it's inexcusable that you are submitting such baseless information.

So, in short, NFW is that accurate.
"Many urban school districts—such as Chicago, which has 145,000 fewer school-age children than it had a decade ago—have seen enrollments plummet and are busily closing schools."

BUT the Chicago Public Schools enrollment has only decreased by 35,000 from 2003 to 2013. Catholic school enrollment totaled under 60,000 in 2003, and is still over 50,000. So there is something *very* fishy about that number, as I do not believe there were 90,000 school-aged kids in Chicago in 2003 not school *anywhere*.
Chicago, at least, is not very congested.
Greenspace and square footage is nice, but c'mon the top three reasons families leave for the burbs is (a) schools; (b) schools; and (c) schools.
Where's the new revelation in this lengthy piece? Who questions that cities are their most vibrant with a diverse mix of people (age, ethnic, income, household size, etc.?)

Families are part of that, but not more so than (and certainly not to the exclusion of) others. Where's the call for more amenities for empty-nesters and seniors, who are beautiful fits for urban centers (e.g. most services and amenities within walking distance or accessible by transit; a dynamic, social environment at their door to ward off potential isolation.)

But here's my main complaint: where's Kotkin's implementation suggestions? The only direction from Kotkin is that cities must encourage what families need: "more affordable urban neighborhoods with decent schools, safe streets, adequate parks—and more housing space."

Gee, thanks for that epiphany.

First of all, I do believe you can have safe streets without families. With regards to the others -- they all cost big $$$. Urban schools are more expensive to build, staff and maintain. Urban parks, ditto. Larger housing units and/or units with "personal green space" DOUBLE DITTO. 2-BDR and 3-BDR units cost way more "per door" and rent for less "per door" than studios and 1-BDRs. It's burdensome to mandate and not easy to incentivize larger units. Lastly, let's not forget that some cities have denizens who have anti-urban bias: if I had a nickel for every Angeleno who has expressed the idea that it's inhumane to raise a kid in a city...but I digress.

Cities encourage things in three ways:

1) Regulation - regulations that mandate more expensive development without incentives/offsets usually result in LESS development or poorer quality development. Developers exist to make a profit. Shrink the profit and there are fewer developers, fewer proposals, and sometimes (not always), diminished quality proposals (whatever the "envelope" developers will seek to maximize the profit -- so a restrictive envelope can really diminish creativity and drive design in a negative way.) That said, a permissive envelope doesn't necessarily result in great design either. A permissive envelope with strict goals that can be creatively met is usually the best (but very difficult to write and get adopted!)

2) Direct subsidy -- Redevelopment agencies - gone. Enterprise zones - gone. Affordable housing - not nearly enough $ available to house those who can't afford housing anywhere, let alone house people who can afford housing, but perhaps not in a more expensive neighborhood (e.g. families in urban centers.) How much taxpayer $ should be used to shift a capitalist marketplace? At what point do you choose to house more people in less expensive neighborhoods rather than fewer people in more expensive ones? There's no perfect recipe, but I don't think we need to recruit a lot of middle-class families from the suburbs -- I'd rather focus on housing those with lower incomes that work lower-wage jobs in the City.

3) Policy incentives - this is the best way to achieve these goals, but it's a bad case of "easier said than done." These policies take years to develop, and their success/effectiveness depends on a weird combination of good policy/public support/pioneer developers willing to experiment with them AND the right economic timing. One example: Downtown LA. The adaptive reuse policy, which deserves the majority of the credit for Downtown LA's revitalization -- it hit all four of these. It was a good policy (allowed historic buildings creative, feasible and more affordable ways to meet fire/life safety goals AND eliminated parking requirements on the practical view that developers would have to provide sufficient parking in order to successfully lease/sell units, but allowed them to figure out how many spaces they needed and where to provide them.) In spite of that, it could have failed abysmally. But it hit the other marks as well. It was passed (1999) just as urban repopulation was a popular topic (it hit the zeitgeist) AND comfortably ahead of a huge housing boom. A couple early developers (not major national developers) took big risks and proved it could work. Ergo, huge success. What most people don't know is that for every success like adaptive reuse, a city like LA passed a half-dozen ordinances that fail (marketplace doesn't bite, litigation unravels them) and attempts to pass a half-dozen that don't get adopted (litigation, politics, NIMBY-ism.)

So thanks for the non-conclusion, Mr. Kotkin. How about some next steps/implementation? What about the framework for a new policy to encourage more family-friendly development? How about ditching the academic argument, rolling up the sleeves and working on a road map with some other really smart people (including people who actually finance and build parks, school and family housing.)
As is often the case, the most important truth is buried in the middle of the article.

Kotkin admits: "Manhattan, parts of Brooklyn, and much of San Francisco, Seattle, Boston, and other amenity-rich cities—what Tulane University geographer Richard Campanella calls “kiddie deserts”—continue to flourish. But other cities, such as Detroit, Cleveland, and Buffalo, can’t attract the same interest from young hipsters and the rich and are consequently less capable of withstanding the effects of family flight to the suburbs."

By an odd coincidence, the most "amenity-rich cities" are MUCH more dense than Detroit etc. These Rust Belt cities have about 4000-7000 people per square mile, while the "amenity-rich" places generally have at least 10,000 people per square mile. (See city-data.com for more information on city densities). Moreover, the higher-density cities are actually holding on to the newest parents, at least in the 0-5 age bracket (see city profiles at quickfacts.census.gov).

Thus, even Kotkin implicitly admits that the highest-density places have the amenities to attract families. By contrast, the in-between places that imitate suburbs don't do as well.
Joe Wolf - I'm a Seattlite and have to state that Seattle has one of the highest percentages of kids who attend PRIVATE school among major cities.
My community is in the throws of resistance to the planning for infill that Washington States, Growth Management Act promotes. The rural areas are being blugeoned with regulations to the point that even farmers are finding it difficult to farm their land and pay the taxes on the land. The American Planning Association sent out a one-size-fits-all document of urban planning for the 21st Century that doesn't fit any community that wants and needs to plan for their own individual social and economic needs.
Benita canova and Irwin, to maintain a population requires each woman to have at least two children on average, I don't think anywhere in Europe is now doing this.

There is a simple fact, if we don't reproduce, we never know the sheer love of a child. I gave my son (6) the army watch he wanted, he put it on and couldn't contain himself he held me in a hug and cried. I might not be able to discuss the latest newspaper article or theory, but as an M.Sc in Economics and PostGrad Dip in Finance, I find the models and theories less and less correct. They are theories, few have proved correct, in Australia we spend more and more on welfare, but the number of children and people below the poverty line is increasing, the money is wasted then really.

I like the theories, I taught business and economics for over twenty years in College and University, but I can pick more holes in unemployment measures or core inflation as a genuine measure of domestic inflation, rather than importing deflation etc.

As a 50 year old father, my economics has become simpler. Balanced budgets, hard work, regulations to stop cartels, a fair balance of tax and welfare, workfare after 50 weeks, but no child would go hungry and so on. Patience in life, with my work, my spouse and my children, even the childless who were once nosiy and my own failings, too.

Being a parent has taught me a lot, that could mean I didn't know much to start with, so I still don't understand much. BUT I don't think any society flourishes as is ages, once the demographic bonus is passed.






Hi, I'm Joe Government:

"I'm the chief planner for Seattle Public Schools". YOU ADMIT THIS?

Speaking of which, what is the point of your narrative anyway? CHILDREN

I just don't get it" WE KNOW

Thanks Joe, I needed to kill a few minutes with a chuckle.
Hi, I'm Joe Government:

"I'm the chief planner for Seattle Public Schools". YOU ADMIT THIS?

Speaking of which, what is the point of your narrative anyway?
Kids need space; adults want space from kids not their own; local governments need a certain ratio of property taxes to education expenses. What that all adds up to is that apartment/condo neighborhoods are not appropriate to families with choices, which affordable automobiles have provided since at least the mid-2oth century.

So should cities expand to include more suburban-type neighborhoods (single-family homes and automobile-oriented land use patterns); or should the city and suburb be kept separate to maintain local control appropriate to different household types?
I lived on the upper east side of Manhattan for the past year. I saw lots of kids. From strollers to teenagers. Seems like there's a Catholic church every other block and at lunch time and end of the school day the blocks the schools are on are packed with children. Maybe it's only the upper east side that has an abundance of children. Maybe the rest of Manhattan is barren of kids. But from at least the East 70's to 96th Street there are lots of children.
Want more kids in the cities?
Two word solution: SCHOOL VOUCHERS


And you can trace it all back Roe v Wade. Thanks for nuthin', SCOTUS!!!!!
I have always spoken of the shame of viewing cities as amusement parks. They should be the jewel in the crown of our societies. Many city governments adopt a policy that just encourages people to treat cities as temporary stops rather than as places to settle.
I'm surprised. Nowhere in the article or comments thus far is any mention of the atom bomb or modern warfare tactics. I would presume a huge factor in post WWII migration out of the cities is what Hiroshima and London experienced.

And I believe it's not so much "motorized" transportation as the highways they require that's facitated the migration. I believe, in addition to ease of moving troops and supplies on our federal interstates, evacuation was a significant consideration, which society did preemptively before any attack or disaster.

I don't mean to discount other factors such as crime and corruption, only add what I find missing entirely
Madmex72@yahoo.com August 03, 2013 at 11:34 AM
Cities have plenty of kids, just few fathers.
I am raising my family in a suburb of Atlanta. I have excellent police protection, great schools, affordable housing, affordable property taxes that fund those great schools, along with nearby parks and biking/walking trails.

I categorically refuse to live in any city which is run by liberal Democrats who think that their most important priorities are to extort money from taxpayers in order to boost compensation retirement benefit for government workers and to protect incompetent government employees (teachers) from being fired.

I voted with my feet a long time ago. Anyone who wants to raise a family in a quality and safe environment should look around, assess the quality of the government services like police protection and education, assess their cost, and if these things do not appeal to you get out.

The migration of families out of cities is not going to stop until cities learn how to be family friendly. And being family friendly means doing all of the things that the suburbs do to attract families.
I'm glad the authors recognize that there may not be enough known yet about the long term prognosis of a city that is focused on the childless. In general, families with children draw on more resources than they contribute. That's one of the reasons that young retiree or adult-only communities are so popular with local governments -- they pay taxes, don't need schools, and have virtually zero crime rates. But I think good points are made on the other side that a lack of children does create a loss of something undefinable but special. I love visiting the zoo as an adult with my wife; but one of best parts of the experience is watching how much fun other people's kids are having.
On a city train, a couple of children about 8 to 10 years of age. Less like "civilised" children than a zoo of chattering, shouting and scampering on and off seats and down the corridor animals.

Oh very "cute" except to the adults - dinosaurs? - who did not look on their scamperings and noise with a favourable eye, trapped as captive audience.

All under the protective and "loving" eyes of two "adults" presumed parental.

Encouragement if ever there was to adults who choose to remain childless, lest their children become like these two. Only two you say? How often are these two a pattern of the public behaviours now so prevalent all over the cities in the West. To include other "children" some in their 30s who assume any public place as stage for them to perform and insisting on attention to their cavortings, e.g. shouting into their cell phones ...

It is hoped of course that after their childhood and adolescence have run their courses they too become reasonably civilized adults sensitive to rights of others. But it's a long hard slog for the captive audience.
My mid-thirties children and their friends live in Philadelphia and Alexandria Virginia and almost every one has had a child or two in the last 5 years. And they say they plan to stay there. When you walk around you see lots of strollers and the restaurants are very accommodating to children. The libraries have story hours, the museums have special programs for children, and the playgrounds are active. Arguably, Alexandria is a suburb, but it's pretty urban.

The one problem may be schooling. Private school is very expensive and the public schools are just not there yet.
Cities have become hatcheries for government dependents. Plenty of children around if the author had the balls to investigate she would see them not at school but being trained how to impregnate a ho strut into courtrooms poorly groomed poorly dressed so as to maximize chances of incarceration little desire to work since others make it possible for them to collect checks. Ain't no family in that picture. Liberals don't want there to be families.
I don't see childless cities as a problem as much as a model worthy of export. I live in Europe where the cities are crawling with kids. It's so depressing - you can't get away from them. Because they must be constantly catered to, fed, changed and kept entertained, their presence creates a fatuous atmosphere where conversations instantly turn witless, one that inhibits creativity and serious culture and all the joys of being a grownup.

You can be in the most beautiful restaurant at midnight and without fail there will be 6 year olds shouting for attention and toddlers running from table to table. You're forced to say 'how cute' so many times you could scream.

Oh how I miss New York with its grungy edge and sense of the new and fantastic waiting around every corner...
Interesting by it's conspicuous absence is any discussion of race - an specifically, the relation between "safe streets" and race.

My guess is that by and large the areas most in demand because they have safe streets, good schools, and involved parents have, in fact, the smallest percentage minority, and more specifically, black population.

Until something is done (by blacks) to admit and address the deficits in urban black subculture (beyond blaming "whitey"), cities like Detroit and Cleveland will continue to lose population and decline.

My guess is that even young, single, educated professionals aren't flocking to downtown Detroit - and it's not because of the poor schools.
The normalization of contraception and abortion play a significant role in this process.
This has been a long standing process. Robert Kaplan wrote of the growth of the Exurbs in "An Empire Wildnerness" in 1998.

The problem is "progressive" politicians have no concept of incentives or markets, so continue to push their schemes and reward their developer crony's with building permits.
Busing. Busing killed families in cities. Thank you, social engineers.
I grew up in Flatbush in the 1940's - E 24 St between Ave M and N. My parents, who taught at James Madison HS bought our single family house for $7,000 in 1943. I spoke to the current owner, who told me he paid around $1 million a couple of years ago. Zillow shows every house on my old block valued st $1+ Million. And the street, which used to resonate with dozens of kids playing ball, skating, bicyling etc.. are absolutely empty and silent.
This article neglects the effects of technology on the development of cities. It is totally pointless to compare New York to ancient Athens. Motorized transportation changes absolutely everything.

The suburbs never would have gotten their start had it not been possible to live far out and commute in. The exurbs would never have developed without just-in-time logistics dependent on motorized transportation. Analogies to history before this technology offer little predictive value.

It is possible that cities will evolve into career way stations for those destined to have families of their own (by and large) with a few diehards raising their kids, and others 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.
@lack Worth "Peter from Oz (aka Sydney) hits the big nail squarely on the head. Sydney, Australia is the proper model for local government organization -- they integrate the metropolitan area and flatten the effects of income inequalities. "

Live and let live, you know only so long as you live they way we want at the point of a govt gun. Because your preferences should be imposed on others because you think you are smart and know the "proper model". Its not fascism. Because you refuse to call it that.
@bredafromflatbush:
Your comment should have been in the article! To really understand New York City is to realize that there are families everywhere and a lot of kids all over the place. Just not at the hipster parties.
Well-researched. But there's an additional item that nobody ever seems to mention. Many of the young hipsters--all of them renting--that fill up cities like San Francisco, NYC, and Brooklyn are hardly paying their own way. How could unpaid internships support $4,000 rents + $300/wk budgets for booze? The answer: they don't. No, many hipsters are rich kids living on subsidies from their parents in uncool places in suburbs or the midwest.

Thus, the labor of past generations is supporting the party lifestyle of the "creative class," very few of whom, I should mention, are actually "creating" much of anything. This is not sustainable. It enriches property owners in land-constrained places, but does little for the middle class in general (as well as the increasingly invisible and forgotten black families whom they are displacing).
B.S. Davis:

Your anecdotal experience is similar to mine growing up in an inner suburb of St. Louis, but one thing has changed. When I was growing up in the 1970's, my dad worked downtown, as did most of the fathers of kids I knew.

Today, I live in the same inner suburb, but I also work in the suburbs and most of the people I know now work in the suburbs. The jobs have largely left the urban core with the people.

Perhaps St. Louis is unique in that regard, but I doubt it.
When I saw are revival of Stephen Sondheim's 1970 musical "Company", what aged the piece the most was heterosexual Manhattanite married couples with children. I remember being shocked after seeing a dozens of children walk down a Times Square street to see a matinee of "Wicked". It was not that long ago when such a thing would have been unthinkable.
My anecdotal experience is that individuals go to the city right out of college to earn a living, hook up, then leave the city to raise the kids, with one parent commuting to the city to work.

The reason for leaving is because suburban communities are very well set up for children, with plenty of other parents, and amenities like town pools, little league, scouting etc. And parents with children or grand children in charge of local government.

So dad (or less often, mom) takes a long commute to the city, to work, mom or dad stays home with the kids, in a place where raising children is a priority. How does a city compete with that?

And that's it really - parents think it natural that children should be raised in the suburbs.

My experience anyway. As to why, well, lots of reasons. When I was growing up city kids were harder, tougher than suburban children. I don't know if any of that is true any more - we live in different times, and things are changing FAST!
The 2010 Census reported that though San Francisco's population had increased by 4% since 2000, its population of children had fallen by 5%. In the meantime, in 2006 Mayor Gavin Newsom had made it the primary mission of the city's Department of Children, Youth and their Families to increase the number of children in the city (Source: NY Times, 7/23/2011). In June, 2011, Newsom moved to Marin County with his wife and their two children.
name: 1 zip code in a city does not define the city
This person didn't do any DC homework. 70% of the families in zip code 20002 (Capitol Hill -Read Dense housing) have a child under 5.

The Capitol Hill Cluster Schools are the most desirable schools outside the leafy-suburban Wards 2 & 3.

people like yards...free flowing traffic...and yards. and please, could we grow up already with the silly 'city vs suburb crap'? i never understood that particular argument as they're both extensions of each other.
Peter from Oz (aka Sydney) hits the big nail squarely on the head. Sydney, Australia is the proper model for local government organization -- they integrate the metropolitan area and flatten the effects of income inequalities.

In New York, in contrast, we have fragmentation and class warfare. The rich have their enclaves. Far too many suburbanites think to the paranoid side of things:

- "A city is basically a bottomless pit of needs."
- "I never go... into a money monster that is pretty unsafe to boot!"
- "the drones doing the low IQ casualised service work"; and the standard bs comment,
- "(look) at what teachers' unions have done to schools...."

And this is uber-paranoid stuff from the article itself: "History has shown that rapid declines in childbearing—whether in ancient Rome, seventeenth-century Venice, or modern-day Tokyo—correlate with an erosion of cultural and economic vitality." The whole of a metropolis is what matters, not that kids delay marriage and live in the older housing stock of cities and tend to stabilize the population head count.

THANK GOD for Joe Wolf of Seattle. A point of light and fact, along with Brenda of Fltabush, putting the laugh to a darkened blither.
WmarkW does that mean a democrats dream would be high density ageing citis, with two groups the uber rich latte lawyers with private schools or extremely strictly zoned public schools and the drones doing the low IQ casualised service work, educated in "soma" state schools for lives of cable TV, hash, alcohol and rapper noise?

Sounds very likely Aldous Huxley's future scenario, sums up Inner City London well and to be honest I only lived in Sydney for six months in Leichardt, but there too.
MarkW, " should those high income suburbs have to share their tax revenues with the urban core on which they depend?"
Am I missing something here? I do not believe my suburb depends on Chicago at all. I never go there for anything except a concert with an artist I am willing to waste a bunch of time to see. Navy Pier, the Lakefront, the theatre district or any of the sports teams are not worth the hassle of going into a money monster that is pretty unsafe to boot!
So what is this dependency on urban areas you speak of?
Don't these things just go in cycles though? 10 years ago I would have rathe had the proverbial root canal than even think of living the 'burbs. Fast forward a couple of kids, a couple of dogs and I live on 2 acres about 20 miles from downtown. Downtown living was fun when I was 25. BY the time I hit 35, it had become kind of old. Only so many new clubs/bars/restaurants you can check out before you've pretty much checked them all out.
Political conservatism is strongly correlated to low population density, and to marriage and children; so this question is pretty fundamental to the goals of this publication. Suburbs permit families to use physical space, and the economic barrier of property costs, to isolate the kids from urban street problems. Unless we're going to return to the days when undesirable neighbors could be run out of town, the childed will continue to pay for real estate that keeps them safe.

So then the issue is the same one since white flight was first recognized -- should those high income suburbs have to share their tax revenues with the urban core on which they depend?
What is a city for? That opening question was never answered although the article stated some obvious truths. And are we alarmed that cities are empty of children – why? Except when the grandchildren visit, gated retirement communities are also empty of children and no one seems distressed over that recent trend. Here in the Bay Area, it is said that San Francisco has more registered dogs than it has children in public schools but other than the obvious dog dropping piles it doesn’t seem to detract from the quality of life – young adults love the hilly streets and high priced apartments, probably because many other young adults also live there.

Border suburbs aren’t all that different from the cities they sprang from, older homes, older schools and neighborhoods much similar to adjacent city neighborhoods. The progression seems to be to the older border suburbs first and then on to the newer but more distant suburbs when family incomes rise - and that seems perfectly normal. A city is nothing more than a boundary line drawn on a map but the unspoken issue here is how do we save ailing cities – or, even more bluntly, why is it necessary to save ailing cities? The Save the City movement is the love child of urban politicians and childless metro-couples housed in their 30 story cliff dwellings stubbornly hoping to preserve their way of life not to mention their incomes.

A city is basically a bottomless pit of needs which can never be met – more and higher taxes, less crime, crumbling infrastructure, missing middle class residents and so on. Let’s not glamourize cities as fundamentally necessary to America – things actually do change over the years. My deceased grandmother living in her city used to listen in on the telephone party line for entertaining gossip and rode the streetcar to the downtown shopping – it’s worth preserving the memories for nostalgic reasons but today the city she loved is an urban cesspool called Detroit – good riddance and let’s hope we can avoid the inevitable taxpayer bailout.
Who wants to raise kids within the city limits of any large (or even medium-size) American city? Half the people who live in those cities are living in a state of nature, and there are no rules anymore.
Brenda from Flatbush August 01, 2013 at 8:26 AM
A lot of interesting ideas tossed together here in a bit of a salad. Surprised that the article mentions Ditmas Park (my own neighborhood, which is fast skyrocketing beyond the means of "middle-class" families thanks to a revived housing bubble) but neglects to mention Park Slope, the iconic citified brownstone nabe for young families (who are, indeed, actually dismissed as "breeders" by childless hip young things in areas like Williamsburg). The article neglects to report on the familiar post-gentrification phenom whereby an area like the Slope--or now, for some affluent folks, Williamsburg--cycles through young creative singles, hip young marrieds, and then, boom! a sudden demand for hip bourgeois amenities for kiddies (along with a sudden "doh!" factor that there aren't enough private- and magnet-school seats to go around). And beyond the brownstone belt, the 5 boroughs contain many ethnic communities, seldom reported-on or analyzed, with booming family populations, including Chinese enclaves in Sunset Park and Flushing, a burgeoning Mexican working class scattered throughout many areas, and of course our 4 or so Hasidic enclaves, where superfamilies of 10 or more are the norm.
So: It's complicated, but certainly in Brooklyn one of the biggest trend stories of the last 20 years is how many people are nixing the exodus to suburbia; and the least reported story is how many "invisible" people (i.e. not white affluent tastemakers) are doing it the old-fashioned way and just having kids in the city without making a fuss.
Wolfie:

If you are "chief planner", I am worried. A chief planner should be able to read a data table.

Your data suggests that you have added about 3000 students over the past 8 years.....and this coming after LOSING 1500 in the previous eight.

On balance you are 1500 ahead of where you were in '97.

Please.

http://www.seattleschools.org/modules/cms/pages.phtml?pageid=217382
I think there are problems of definition here. I live in Sydney, a city of 4.6m people, that is spread out over an area of some 3000 sq miles. The suburbs of Sydney start right next to the city centre and go out 30- 50 kilometres to the north, south and west.

Yet if anyone from interestate or overseas asked anyone even in the far expanses of suburbia where they lived, the answer would be 'Sydney.'

Of course there are parts of inner city Sydney where there are fewer families. But that is because the Australan dream has always been the free-standing family house.

Yet no-one would think that the inner city was somehow lacking because there were fewer children living in it. If the people in suburbia want to do so, they get on a train or bus to the city centre to go to the great cultural events.

In fact our city council only covers the central business district and few of the inner city suburbs (About 10 Sq miles). The rest of the metropolitan area is divided between 40 plus local government areas. Local government however only looks after refuse collection, maintenace of side streets and building codes. The State Government looks after the vast majority of the services throughout the metropolitan area.

Because we regard the whole metroplitan area as the city, we don't seem to have a lot of the urban problems that you in American have.

The birth rate is falling globally, so I think the issue may be that by 2050, we could be facing a coffin shaped demographic situation heading to an inverted triangle. 1,000 student/ year is great, but what is the birth rate per female and how far is it from replacement. Too far and in a few years the schools built today will be catering for third age classes and should be developed and planned for this inevitable change.

I'm the chief planner for Seattle Public Schools. This past February the city's voters passed BEX IV - a $695M levy to modernize schools and build 7,000 seats of new capacity. Our enrollment is growing by about 1,000 students/year. And before you ask ... the growth is largely from middle- and upper-middle class families. This flies in the face of your narrative.

Speaking of which, what is the point of your narrative anyway? I just don't get it.
Maybe it is part of the same new economic and social system. Globally falling populations, due to high density living and the "friends" type lifestyle. Fits in with casual service employment for the poor and the party life style for the rich and childless, and ghettos for the uberpoor.

Still global population will fall and with massively ageing populations it might be a case of careful what you wish for, for the environmentalists.





Thank God that Washington DC (the political Beltway, not the city) has a high rate of childless couples. Maybe this stagnant gene pool will die off and take its mental illness and egomaniacal deformities with it.

Parents need to stop allowing social and mainstream media to sway their choices about where to reside. Children need space, they need connection to neighbors and local mentors. That happens mostly in smaller cities and towns. As much as the "metroplex" likes to view itself as an evolved culture, it's actually headed more toward egocentric behavior than cooperative existence. The actuality doesn't live up to the propaganda.

As large cities become more like Soviet compounds of concrete and surveillance, village life will be prized. That's where the kids belong. Perhaps we can re-teach our kids what a cow, a pig, a farmer and a tractor look like again.

Make that Jane Jacobs.
Thanks for writing this. I live in Portland, Oregon and have watched this once strong family town devolve into a playground for childless adults.

Everything in Portland is anchored on that absence of families. I visited my brother and nephew in the suburbs a while back to watch a high school football game. I was shocked by the active family life. It was as busy and involved as it was in my youth. I'd forgotten what large numbers of parents and children bring to life.

Portland has many dogs, however. Many, many dogs. And here dog owners see their pets as having the same rights as children. Not an empty claim as I followed the city park off-leash campaign closely.

The cost of living in Portland prohibits families from really committing to the town. They've also reduced lot size so that what once held one single-family dwelling now holds two or three. No yards. Nor families. Just couples. Even newly built large homes have postage stamp yards. And, two people or two with one child.

We are also actively driving out blue-collar work. And yes, Jane Adams is a goddess in our city planning circles.
Cities tend to have heavy concentrations of non-Asian minorities. White parents look at the schools and their results and conclude to move elsewhere.

There is no way for cities to "welcome back families" unless they can somehow break this cycle. But looking at what teachers' unions have done to schools in Chicago, NYC, DC and Atlanta, this seems a forlorn prospect.