Out of Control Policy Blog

Where are the kids?

Walk around America's cities and eventually you notice something: there aren't a lot of kids:

    After interviewing 300 parents who had left [Portland], researchers at Portland State found that high housing costs and a desire for space were the top reasons.

    Tina Ray lived in Portland for 12 years before moving to Gresham, where her 9-year-old daughter attends school. Her family left for a bigger house and more space, she said. "It's kid friendly, with a great sense of community, and lots of sports leagues," she said.

    Many Portland families are relocating to the newest edge suburbs, where housing prices are cheapest, including Clark County across the Columbia River in Washington, Portland State demographers say ...

    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.

It's kind of funny watching local officials, always trying to get their city's demographics "just right."

First they're fixated on coolness–got to get all those young hipsters. Then, when families head for the suburbs, it's time to reverse course:

    Other cities have tried and failed to curb family flight. In Portland, the new mayor, Tom Potter, says demography does not have to be destiny. He has dedicated his term to trying to keep children in the city... He has been bringing children in to speak to the City Council and has pushed for incentives for affordable housing with enough bedrooms to accommodate bigger families.

    A former police chief who helped pioneer community patrolling, Mayor Potter has 14 grandchildren and says a city's health should be measured by its youngest citizens. "We can't let Portland become a retirement city or a city without neighborhood schools," he said ...

    Other cities that have tried to reverse the family outflow have had mixed success. As mayor of Seattle for 12 years, until 1990, Charles Royer started an initiative called KidsPlace, which has been widely copied by other cities. It included marketing the city's neighborhoods to young families, building a small mix of affordable housing, and zoning and policing changes to make urban parks more child-friendly.

    Mr. Royer said he was ridiculed for signs placed around town proclaiming "Seattle is a KidsPlace" and took criticism from social service agencies who thought bringing in more families would only place more demands on the limited money they had.

(Via Peter Gordon.)

Ted Balaker is Producer


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