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August 4, 2013

Driving Families Away

Dear Families:

It started as an economic theory. Cities can save money if they cater to singles in their twenties and thirties, and discourage families from living there. Young singles demand few city services. Theyíre mostly healthy; they donít need schooling for children; they donít care about parks for family activities. Instead, they can be convinced of "smart growth" goals. Small apartments in high-rise buildings, concentrated in high-population areas, suffice for their needs. Public transportation, bicycles, or walking is all theyíll ever want; transporting a whole family in a car is nothing they would ever consider doing. Itís a bargain for the city government, and young singles donít have to be bothered by interacting with children and families that cramp their style. But when do the bills come in? When do the costs appear?

Joel Kotkin and Ali Modares write in the latest issue of City Journal about "The Childless City" that "itís hip, itís entertaining ó but where are the families?." "What families need is more affordable urban neighborhoods with decent schools, safe streets, adequate parks ó and more housing space." Kotkin and Modares write that families want personal green space. "[D]ensity drives families away from urban cores and toward less dense peripheries. The lesson is clear: if cities want families, they should promote a mixture of density options." DCís urban planners, on the other hand, want to drive away families, with their inconvenient children and unfashionable cars, but thatís a mistake. Young singles can be a profit center, but families provide the stability that cities need to sustain themselves. Kotkin and Modares write that, "The post-family city appeals only to a certain segment of the population, one that, however affluent, cannot ensure a prosperous future on its own. If cities want to nurture the next generation of urbanites and keep more of their younger adults, they will have to find a way to welcome back families, which have sustained cities for millennia and given the urban experience much of its humanity."

Gary Imhoff


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