In today’s New York Times, Timothy Egan reports on a phenomenon familiar to anyone who has walked the streets of Portland’s Pearl District: there aren’t many children to be seen.

"Crime is down. New homes and businesses are sprouting everywhere. But in what may be Portland’s trendiest and fastest-growing neighborhood, the number of school-age children grew by only three between the census counts in 1990 and 2000, according to demographers at Portland State University.

" ‘The neighborhood would love to have more kids, that’s probably the top of our wish list," said Joan Pendergast of the Pearl Neighborhood Association. "We don’t want to be a one-dimensional place.’ "

Mind you, it’s not entirely true that you won’t see children in the Pearl: you’ll see lots of kids running through the fountain in Jamison Square on a warm day.  But even then, one wonders if they’re visiting from some other neighbourhood.

Egan reports on the falling ‘kid ratio’ in other cities around the U.S., and also on the efforts to reverse that trend.  But he doesn’t ask the critical question: are urban neighbourhoods being designed for children?

  • Back in the late 1980s, when Vancouver was planning for high-density communities in its downtown, it was assumed that the city would build on the precedent established in the development of the South Shore of False Creek in the 1970s: these would be kid-friendly neighbourhoods.

    What that meant was very specifically laid out in the planning guidelines still in use today: "High-density Housing for Families with Children." (Caution: link is for a pdf.)

    That meant making provision for parks, play areas, child-care and school sites in addition to kid-friendly design of buildings and apartments. 

    Today, the results are evident.  Where other cities are closing down schools, Vancouver just opened its new elementary school on the Concord Pacific site.  Check out Price Tags 51 (another pdf) for more on Elsie Roy Elementary.

    When the last census came out, Vancouver discovered that it had more kids under the age of 19 living on the downtown peninsula than in some of its inner-ring suburban communities.  No doubt the particular cultural mix of Vancouver has had something to do with it. Asian and Eastern European families are much more familiar with raising kids in high-density environments than North Americans.  But that may be as much because up until recently we never provided the amenities parents need to raise kids in contemporary society. 

    Vancouver did so by starting with a simple principle: If a neighbourhood is good for kids, it’s good for everyone else.

    [By the way…Gordon Price, former Vancouver city councillor, wrote this post—but since we can’t find his weblog password, we posted it for him.]