Sunday, September 16, 2007

Retaining Families with Children in Cities

American cities, from Seattle to Nashville, have experienced a substantial influx of young professionals relocating from the suburbs over that past two decades. What is driving them, in part, is the substantial social and economic improvements that cities have made .... However, it is with retention that cities struggle. As professionals grow older and have children, they often abandon their beloved cities for the perceived or real benefits of the surrounding suburbs, such as better schools and more space.

- - Kids in Cities: Concept Paper

Both city dwellers and suburbanites should take a look at this concept paper, developed by CEOs for Cities. It challenges conventional assumptions about the value of having children only in suburbs and not in cities, given the century-long trend of outmigration, and the recent trend to return to cities.

The paper's goal is to to provide urban leaders with insights into the reasons why families abandon cities for the suburbs. They hope to glean "actionable strategies aimed at retaining existing citizens as well as attracting new ones." It maintains that the loss of city children erodes urban diversity and vibrancy, and the "childless city" limits the amenities that urban parents would otherwise demand: theatres, libraries, museums, and parks (institutions that benefit everyone, not just families with children).

I've been trying to preach this to people for years. Cities are increasingly becoming oxymoronic in that they are losing their diversity. A significant dimension of that diversity is generational as cities are losing their kids. But, as the San Francisco Mayor put it in this paper, they are losing so much more:
There’s a quality of imagination that’s very important for the spirit and the soul of the city to maintain. Children bring that to a city. A city without children has no future.
I worry that Nashville is on a headlong track to building a childless urban core, and in so doing, losing its future. Take a look at the paper and decide if you share my concerns.

HT: Nashville Charrette

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