The Finch Formerly Known As Gold

27 March 2005

Where have all the children gone?

This New York Times piece notes that American cities are missing out on one particular demographic:

San Francisco, where the median house price is now about $700,000, had the lowest percentage of people under 18 of any large city in the nation, 14.5 percent, compared with 25.7 percent nationwide, the 2000 census reported. Seattle, where there are more dogs than children, was a close second. Boston, Honolulu, Portland, Miami, Denver, Minneapolis, Austin and Atlanta, all considered healthy, vibrant urban areas, were not far behind. The problem is not just that American women are having fewer children, reflected in the lowest birth rate ever recorded in the country.

Officials say that the very things that attract people who revitalize a city — dense vertical housing, fashionable restaurants and shops and mass transit that makes a car unnecessary — are driving out children by making the neighborhoods too expensive for young families.

Virginia Postrel isn't buying the "too expensive" line:

[I]n hugely expensive places like San Francisco that may be true. But my Uptown Dallas neighbors generally hightail it to the suburbs as soon as their kids start walking, and these are people who already own spacious three-bedroom townhouses. They want yards (even though there's a park two blocks away), less traffic, and less crime. They want suburbia.

Here in Oklahoma City, we simply don't have a lot of "dense vertical housing"; only recently has there been any uptick in demand for it. But the same situation applies here, and there's one factor no one's mentioned yet: the fear of central-city schools. Nothing will propel a family out of town faster than the prospect of having their youngsters exposed to this year's model of the Blackboard Jungle.

Oklahoma City is putting half a billion dollars into school improvements, which is a worthy goal, though money alone can't address all the issues involved. One issue seldom spoken is the city school district's racial balance, and "balance" is exactly the word: it's about one-third white, one-third black, and one-third Latino. And, well, some people like diversity a lot better on paper than they do in real life.

Still, we have to be doing better than San Francisco, where the city raised over $300 million for improvements to the schools over a 13-year period, but much of that money was mismanaged or simply stolen outright. I'm waiting to see what happens in my own just-out-of-the-Loop neighborhood, which has one of the better city schools; right now, it seems to be mostly young couples and empty-nesters. (As one of the latter, I haven't had a single occasion to tell those damn kids to get off my lawn.)

Posted at 10:20 AM to Almost Yogurt