Childless cities

Thriving cities have everything but children, observes the New York Times.

Portland is one of the nation’s top draws for the kind of educated, self-starting urbanites that midsize cities are competing to attract. But as these cities are remodeled to match the tastes of people living well in neighborhoods that were nearly abandoned a generation ago, they are struggling to hold on to enough children to keep schools running and parks alive with young voices.

San Francisco, where the median house price is now about $700,000, had the lowest percentage of people under 18 of any large city in the nation, 14.5 percent, compared with 25.7 percent nationwide, the 2000 census reported. Seattle, where there are more dogs than children, was a close second. Boston, Honolulu, Portland, Miami, Denver, Minneapolis, Austin and Atlanta, all considered, healthy, vibrant urban areas, were not far behind.

Families with children want more space and lower housing costs. And native-born Americans are having fewer children; immigrants are keeping the birth rate at the replacement rate.

About Joanne


  1. Reginleif says:

    “…parks alive with young voices.”

    I could do with fewer “young voices” in the street in my urban neighborhood. Maybe I could actually open the windows and get some fresh air without my ears being split by their horrendous screaming. ghod forbid they actually go play in the park, or in their back yards.

  2. BadaBing says:

    White people are not having children, or they are having one or two. Imagine what the demographics will look like in, say, 50 years. Now, that’s a happy thought.

  3. superdestroyer says:

    The New York Times had an editorial that played on the fact that cities with low birthrates among whites are the areas most likely to vote Democrat.

  4. Reginleif says:

    Badabing, not all of us white people find it so frightening, as you seem to, that we’ll be a minority in the U.S. in 50 years. I’m sure the WASPs who dominated American society 100 years ago found my Jewish ancestors similarly threatening.

  5. carpeicthus says:

    BadaBing: Please, try to explain your statement in a way that doesn’t make it look really, really racist. You can’t, because it plainly is, but it would be fun to see you try.

  6. BadaBing says:

    I’m happy about the ever-decreasing number of white oppressors in the general population. Is that a crime? And I never thought of Jewish people as being People of Color. I love diversity and hope this trend continues long after I’m gone. I think it’s good for the country. Wow. Say something nice and people jump all over your ass.

  7. BB: Never mind; I’ve seen some of your other comments. You are clearly racist and proud of it. Have a good life.

  8. Matthew Tabor says:

    I agree with BadaBing. Is he a racist? Who knows, and I don’t really care.

    I do, however, recognize that a major demographic shift in a large country is very difficult to deal with and if proper adjustments aren’t made to public/education policy etc. everyone is worse off. That has nothing to do with paranoid white men worried about others usurping their power.

  9. With childcare costs hovering around $1200-$1500 per month it’s not surprising that people are choosing not to live in expensive cities. You have a choice – do you want a house or kids?

  10. BadaBing says:


    Although I know I’ll probably never be as good a person as you are, I’m wondering what your definition of “racist” is. It’s a term that has lost its meaning, mostly due to people like you slinging it around whenever they don’t perceive in someone the lofty level of tolerance and sensitivity that they themselves have attained. Anyway, it’s probably only fair that I give you my definition of racist, so here goes: Someone that believes persons of a certain race or certain races are inferior to another race or other races. I learned in grad school, however, that the only people that are not and never can be racist are people of color because they lack “power” and have been oppressed by white heterosexual males. Only they can be racist and, even though I am WHM, I hope that one day I can dwell on the high level you occupy, look down on all the other ignoramuses, and pronounce them “racist,” too.

  11. Matthew Tabor says:

    I’ve always wondered – is the plural ignorami?

  12. Steve LaBonne says:

    Here we are on an education site, and nobody has yet mentioned the fact that no responsible parents with the means to do otherwise would put their kids in almost any of those public school systems. Isn’t that one of the biggest factors deterring families from living in cities? Given how many people nowadays have only 1 or 2 kids, I think living space is far from being the #1 problem except maybe in a handful of mega-expensive places.

  13. Jack Tanner says:

    ‘Here we are on an education site, and nobody has yet mentioned the fact that no responsible parents with the means to do otherwise would put their kids in almost any of those public school systems.’

    Well I live in Boston and my kids go to the public schools and I’d like to think we’re responsible parents. I could certainly put my kids in the parochial schools or even in the more expensive private schools although that would create some economic strain. I could move out of the city but I don’t want to. I’ve got a question though. Assuming most people who visit this site recognize that improving the public schools is one of the most pressing issues of the day how do you expect the city schools to improve without the support of the middle class? Do you think it would be good for the cities if everyone who had school aged kids deserted the cities? Then you could have big cities where the very rich lived and the very poor were trapped. Yaknow, like the Third world. Or is it all the supposed concern just some BS to amuse people while poor kids are stuck in crappy schools?

  14. Jack,

    I can understand what you mean but maybe you are having a good experience with the Boston public schools. I was a consultant in Boston for 10 years and my best friend there was the president of the PTO at Boston Latin where she had 2 kids and also the Roslindale school where she had 1. The school administration was so unresponsive that she as president of the PTO could not even get an appointment with the principal to discuss how to handle the gift of computers to the school to aid in the teaching. Whenever she did get an appointment all she got was a bunch of gibberish about how he understood her ideas and he would get back to her but never did. Not a good recipe for a place where parents and teachers work to have a good educational experience for the kids IMNSHO.

    I now live in NYC and the schools here are worse. There are a few good teachers who go out of their way to help their students but most of them seem to look on it as just a job to get over with ASAP. The parents who do try to help out get blown off by these teachers and end up just giving up as a lost cause. The NEA is forever telling us that if we just give them a little more money they will give us a good education. The result is more money to administration, less money to teaching, and the schools are worse than ever.

    Is it any wonder that parents are moving out of the city to where they can get a good education for their kids? Here in Manhattan a good 2-BR apartment in a neighborhood that does have good schools goes for close to a million dollars and then there is a 1500/month maintenance fee on top of that. If you move to the outer boroughs there are a couple of good school districts and the costs there are lower but still outrageous. How can you expect parents to pay that kind of money for housing and still make ends meet? Just as an example I live in a middle class neighborhood in Queens not too far from Forest Hills and homes in this area are going for 450K and up. For that kind of money you can buy a 5 BR house in Massapequa on the bay and have a good school and a neighborhood library within walking distance. Why stay here under those circumstances.

    The same with Boston. The schools in the better suburbs are far better than Boston’s are and the prices of homes are actually no higher in Newton or Wellesley or Reading or Natick than they are in the rougher areas of Boston. I would move too.

  15. Jack Tanner says:

    My kids both go to schools in Jamaica Plain and working with the BPS is a struggle. The hardest thing is to get them to motivated to not accept mediocrity (or worse) and to realize that things aren’t great because they say so. I disagree with you about the RE situation but I don’t know how long ago you left. I have no desire to live in MetroWest or NH or the South Shore and spend half my life on 128 or 93. That being said back to my original point, do people think the city schools are going to improve without the middle class? I’m sure there are a lot of compassionate well meaning people who are really concerned but would move heaven and earth to make sure their kids never spent a day in a classroom in the BPS. I guess they can’t see the irony of their ‘committment to diversity’ and ‘concern for the poor’ while sending their kids to attend exclusive private schools or suburban schools where the average home price is $800K and there are 4 METCO kids in the school system and they all play on the basketball team. Believe me, there’s nothing exactly like being described as a racist in the newspaper by a Harvard professor, as I was, because you want your 6 year old to be able to walk to school in his neighborhood. People are going to make their own decisions about where to live and how to educate their kids for their own reasons but they could all do me a favor and spare me their phony BS concern about the education in the city and they could do me another favor and keep their nose out of it.

  16. Steve LaBonne says:

    By the same token, Jack, it’s none of your business to deride people for wanting to live where their kids can go to better schools. On what planet does that somehow disqualify them from wishing that kids in the city also had access to effective schools? There is no inconsistency there, and I would have _less_, not more, respect for people who made their kids pay the price for their own social consciences (that is specifically _not_ a dig at you, I don’t believe you’re doing that.)

  17. Jack Tanner says:

    I’m not deriding people for making their own decisions nor am I making my kids sacrifice for any social concern. But wishing and hoping isn’t going to change anything. People pretending that they’re concerned and lecturing other people about what they should do is pretty annoying and accomplishes nothing. There is no amount of legislation or federal funding or school curriculum plans that are going to change anything to improve the educational situation unless it is supported by the community. Obviously supporting the schools isn’t going to be a priority to the community if they don’t have children in the schools. Like Dick said before one of the biggest problems is that the school administration is unresponsive. The reason they are unresponsive is that they are used to working with an uninvolved community. The biggest obstacle to improving the schools is getting the administration to respond to the school communities concerns and you can’t do that by moving away. One of the other obstacles in trying to work to improve the schools is dealing with people who have little or no investment in the community but have become involved as policy makers, ie the Harvard Grad School of Ed, the Boston Teachers Union and a couple of city councilors. If all this is about wishing things were better then it really wouldn’t be such a big deal nor would it cost billions of dollars. Unfortunately hope is not a plan.

  18. Andy Freeman says:

    > how do you expect the city schools to improve without the support of the middle class?

    If support from the middle class is so important, why have public school advocates been pissing on said middle class for the past few decades?

    You want better public schools, you do the heavy lifting. The rest of us just want out. No, we don’t have any obligation to help you fix the problems, even if you really want help, even if you won’t succeed without it.

  19. Jack Tanner says:

    ‘If support from the middle class is so important, why have public school advocates been pissing on said middle class for the past few decades?’

    Exactly my question and more importantly why is education seen as a single issue existing in a vacuum?

    ‘You want better public schools, you do the heavy lifting.’

    Done. Nobody is seeking you approval or support. But spare me the phony BS concern about substandard education when as you say

    ‘The rest of us just want out.’

    See ya!

    ‘we don’t have any obligation to help you fix the problems, even if you really want help, even if you won’t succeed without it.’

    Nobody said you did but as I alluded to before what people who are committed to improving the urban schools would like is at least if you can’t help don’t obstruct.

    Sparing us the phony BS makey fake believe concern won’t make a bit of difference to our success or failure but it will relieve some stress from the bullshitometer.

    Don’t for one second get me wrong. I’m no martyr for the public schools nor in any way do I fault anyone for making whatever personal decision suits them. What I can’t figure out is how anyone thinks wasting billions of dollars on so called education reform is going to achieve when it’s viewed in a vacuum and isn’t seen as interrelated to so many other issues. All education systems are going to be as successful as their level of community support and without the support of the middle class there isn’t going to be any community support. All the feel good ‘concern’ in the world isn’t going to make a bit of difference.

  20. Andy Freeman says:

    > Nobody is seeking you approval or support.


    >>The rest of us just want out.

    > See ya!

    Tanner is the first public school advocate to let go of the money.

    > if you can’t help don’t obstruct.

    Go for it. If you’re not spending my money, do as you please.

  21. Matthew Tabor says:

    The kiddies I know would read this and react with, “awww SNAP!”

  22. Jack Tanner says:

    Andy –

    I’m not an advocate for the public schools and I don’t play one on CSPAN. However from being involved in them what I do know is the urban systems are not going to improve without community involvement. The problem is that the Fed, state and local gov’ts are going to waste billions of your dollars and mine on education reform that is not going to produce any results. There are some very simple local policy changes that would help encourage more middle class parents to live in the cities but unfortunately there are local politicians who benefit from playing off ethnic groups, neighborhoods and interested parties mainly the BTU. In the NYT article it says ‘Officials say that the very things that attract people who revitalize a city’ but actually these people aren’t going to revitalize the cities long term because they have no investment there. They’re not going to have an investment there because they’re not going to live there and raise families. They’re really the people who are going to further transform the cities into places where you have the transient childless affluent and the poor who can’t escape. I doubt that’s a combination that’s going to help improve the urban schools. Count on spending a few more $ trillion down that rathole over your lifetime.

  23. Andy Freeman says:

    > However from being involved in them what I do know is the urban systems are not going to improve without community involvement.

    Tanner correctly points out that the public school problem is an instance of more general problem.

    I note that folks are solving the city problem the same way – they’re abandoning and starving the corrupt beast. Folks who like cities had better figure out how to make them attractive without depending on the work of others. I suspect that said advocates will let cites die while they fight over the spoils.

  24. lindenen says:

    This article says the Times article is bullshit.

    “This is a deeply dishonest impression to leave, at least in the case of Portland. The city is most decidedly not booming. It has among the highest unemployment rates of any major city in the country. Portland may not a prosperity but it does have the Portland Urban Growth Boundary, a drastic land use scheme which forces people to bid up a relatively small amount of land declared usable for housing, or else go very far out beyond the greenbelt, where the article acknowledges housing is cheaper.

    Housing is expensive in Portland, as it is in many other cities like San Francisco because of political decisions made in the name of environmentalism. That is what forces families out, or forces them to defer children or not have them at all. Once again, the supposed welfare of animals and plants is placed above that of parents and children.”

    Social engineering, in other words. Not that the New York Times would ever admit it, or even report necessary facts to explain the phenomenon it describes.”

  25. Steve LaBonne says:

    “I suspect that said advocates will let cities die while they fight over the spoils.” I have a front-row seat to watch that happening in Cleveland- a city with all kinds of assets that _could_ be a great place to live (as many of the surrounding suburbs, like the area where I live, still are)- and it’s very sad and very frustrating.