From The Oregonian comes an article decrying the “baby bust” in downtown Portland, OR, and contrasting it with the baby boom in Vancouver, BC.
Now, as much as I like a good pun in a headline (and ‘No Kids on The Block’ counts, in my book) I found the article both annoyingly alarmist and factually misleading.
First, the article seems to suggest that the low number of kids in Portland’s trendy Pearl District is some sort of crisis:
The numbers are startling. During the past 10 years Portland has built about 6,400 units of new housing in the Pearl District. But school district demographers say only 25 school-age children live there, and fewer than 20 babies are expected a year.
Now, to be sure, that’s not a lot of kids. But what does it matter, really, if there are a few neighborhoods in a huge metropolis that appeal more to the childless—empty nesters, young singles and couples, and people who choose to remain childless—than to families with kids? Does that somehow prove that the Pearl District is a bad neighborhood? Clearly, the people who flocked to live in the Pearl District didn’t think so.
And then, there’s the comparison with downtown Vancouver, BC, which does have a lot more kids than downtown Portland. But from what I can see, the Vancouver central city has more kids largely because it has more people, period: lots of new residents—including some with kids, or inclined to have them—have moved into a revitalized and booming downtown. But residents of downtown Vancouver are still a very low-fertility bunch. As the graph to the right shows, lifetime fertility rates in downtown Vancouver have been stuck at about 0.6 children per woman (look down the linked page for “City Centre”) since 1990. By comparison, the so-called “replacement rate”—the level which, if maintained over the long term, leads to a stable population—is 2.1 children per woman, more than 3 times as high as the rate in downtown Vancouver. Notably, fertility rates in downtown Vancouver haven’t declined as they have in the rest of the province, but the lack of a baby bust isn’t the same thing as a baby boom.
The real point of the article, I guess, is that downtown Vancouver offers some good lessons in how to create dense downtown neighborhoods that work for both kids and their parents—lessons that Portland could take to heart. That’s fair enough. But still, given that Portland’s downtown renaissance is literally decades behind Vancouver BC’s, it seems awfully premature to declare childlessness in the Pearl District to be a sign of some sort of urban malaise.