The first was that, if kid-free cities are really a problem, we should be looking for solutions by copying places that have done things right. Exhibit A, at least within our bioregion, seems to be Vancouver: the city made it a conscious priority to build amenities for families with children, and—lo and behold—families liked the results. So if Portland and Seattle really want to retain families with kids, the thing to do is to stop with the lip-service, and start copying the places that have done things well.
But my second—perhaps conflicting—reaction was to wonder whether this is really a trend worth hand-wringing about. Cities are already doing fairly well at attracting singles, young couples without kids, “down-nesters” whose kids have grown up and moved out, and couples who don’t want kids. These folks are growing a share of the population, as more people live longer and delay—or even avoid—childbearing. Many of them like the amenities of a big city, and may not need (or want) quite the same things that families with children want. So what’s the big deal if cities work great for some people, but not for people who want big families with lots of kids?
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I’m not sure I’m comfortable with the second reaction; I want cities to work for everyone. But I also recognize that building family-friendly cities can be an expensive and potentially risky proposition: what if you build it, and they don’t come? And encouraging family friendly amenities, a la Vancouver, may be harder to pull off in a political environment that discourages government meddling in land use decisions.
But perhaps there’s a compromise between those two views: namely, choosing a few parts of each city in which to focus family-friendly development. Don’t bite off too much, don’t try to make the whole city family friendly at once; just make a few great urban spaces for families to live. If families actually show up to take advantage, then we’ll have an example that we can carry to other urban neighborhoods. If they don’t, then—as Gordon points out—places that are built to work for kids usually work for everyone else, too.