The City of Seattle is moving forward with its plans to Vancouver-ize its downtown, encouraging residential development to create a vibrant walking core, as the PI reports.

The wacky thing about media coverage of downtown living in places that have relatively little of it-such as Seattle-is the presumption that housing must have yards because it needs to accommodate kids.

The PI article spends most of its breath describing how a few families with kids make due living downtown.

But most families with kids will probably continue to choose what architects call “ground-oriented housing,” that is: detached houses, townhouses, duplexes, and other units with some outdoor play space.

Even in Vancouver, where downtown playgrounds and other kid amenities are pretty well distributed, downtown is mostly an adult realm.

And that’s not much of a limit on the potential of high density, pedestrian-oriented living.

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  • If I remember correctly, scarcely one fourth of Northwest households have children under the age of 18 living at home. Many of those households have only teenagers. And living in a neighborhood where everything is accessible on foot or transit is a dream come true for those too young to drive or not yet able to afford a car. So knock the percentage of households who “need” “ground-oriented housing” down a few points—and expect the percentage to keep dipping. Family size and birth rates are both declining.

    So, sure, some families with kids will choose to live densely. And more, far more, will choose not to. But that’s no more of a limit on the potential for dense residential neighborhoods than the fact that many people won’t live there because of their love of gardening, or their sensitivity to street noise, or their basement full of power tools. The point is to provide choices, not to lock everyone in high-rises.

    Even in Vancouver, Cascadia’s densest metropolis, scarcely 10 percent of residents live in high-rise neighborhoods. In the rest of Cascadia, hardly anyone does.