A Choice, Not An Echo

MLewyn's picture

In the most recent City Journal, Joel Kotkin wrote an article discussing cities' alleged loss of children, and arguing that cities would be more successful in retaining children if only they could be more like low-density suburbs.

So I tested his theory out by looking at New York's five boroughs, which include a variety of environments ranging from high-density urbanism (Manhattan) to medium-density sprawl (Staten Island) to in-between levels of density (the other three boroughs). (Census Data for individual age groups is available at the Quick Facts Census site). 

In the four less urban boroughs, the child population declined in every age group.  (Data here).  But in Manhattan, the number of children aged 0-5 actually increased.  Similarly, the population of younger children (0-5) actually increased in four of the five most transit-friendly cities in the U.S. (Philadelphia, Washington, San Francisco and Boston, though not Chicago).  Evidently, the newest parents are finding that city life is not as objectionable as earlier generations found it to be.

On the other hand, faux-suburban Rust Belt cities like Detroit have followed Kotkin's advice, lowering densities, squeezing transit service and turning downtown streets into speedways. The results have been pretty mixed.  Detroit lost about 1/3 of its 0-5 population during the 2000s, and St. Louis also lost population even in the 0-5 age category.  On the other hand, cities that extend far into suburbia continue to grow, as well as cities that are part of booming regions where almost every neighborhood continues to grow.  What's going on?

Here's one possible interpretation: parents of today's toddlers tend to want either true city life or true suburbia, rather than splitting the difference by choosing a wishy-washy, outer-borough middle ground.  So the most urbanized places AND the most suburbanized continue to gain children, while suburb-like city neighborhoods have more mixed results.  In other words, parents want a choice and not an echo.


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