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Thread: Attracting families to cities

  1. #1
    Cyburbian
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    Attracting families to cities

    What are some incentives that cities use to try to attract or to retain families with children under 15 in the city?

  2. #2
    Cyburbian AubieTurtle's avatar
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    Most cities already have many families with children under 15, they're called minorities and the poor.
    As democracy is perfected, the office of president represents, more and more closely, the inner soul of the people. On some great and glorious day the plain folks of the land will reach their heart's desire at last and the White House will be adorned by a downright moron. - H.L. Mencken

  3. #3
    Cyburbian Brocktoon's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by modonnell15 View post
    What are some incentives that cities use to try to attract or to retain families with children under 15 in the city?
    Besides making sure their parents have jobs?
    "If you don't like change, you're going to like irrelevance even less" General Eric Shinseki

  4. #4

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    Just my 2 cents early in the morning, but how about
    • access to public schools that don't require long school bus commutes out of the downtown
    • a feeling of family-friendliness within the community
    • Walkability
    • An interesting downtown that children can be a part of - children are interested not just in museums, and playgrounds but in a lively streetscape with interesting features.

  5. #5
    Cyburbian boiker's avatar
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    Thinking reactionary:

    The family will be attracted to the City if: The public schools have a proven track record, The neighborhoods are safe.

    It's easy to suggest that a rural school performs better. People quickly buy the argument that a smaller class size automatically equals a better education. It's also easy to suggest a quiet cul-de-saq or country lane is safer. There is less traffic (especially on the cul-de-saq) and less people---therefore safer.

    It takes people a while to acclimate to living in an urban area. It takes people a while to trust the random person walking through the neighborhood. It takes people a while to trust that light through traffic is not a bad thing. It takes a while for people to realize that the effectiveness of education is not just a school issue, it's a family issue.
    Dude, I'm cheesing so hard right now.

  6. #6
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    There is really only 2 things that could entice a family to move to a city with children schools and safety. If a city had an outstanding (and safe) school system it would be just as desireable as that new suburban school which is (to put it properly) more homogeneous as opposed to the ethnic mix one is likely to encounter in a city. Also safety wlaking and driving around, not worrying about kids walking down the street or to the park or worrying about making a wrong turn down the wrong neighborhood.

    If you could solve those two problems cities could easily compete with suburbs for school aged families.
    @GigCityPlanner

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  8. #8
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    There are some great comments here. I agree that improving the quality of life for existing residents (ie. commonly poor and minority) should be a primary focus and I think many downtowns fall into the trap of thinking that if they attract the "right" kind of people (ie. people with money) that all will be solved - they will make the investments, property values will go up, taxes will help improve the schools and other needs, etc. But I think it is more complicated than that and there is value in creating opportunities for people at various income levels, illustrating the entire gammut of what is possible in terms of social mobility. People need to feel that changes taking place serve them, and not just another group from outside the area. Otherwise, their commitment to making things work and feeling involved in the process falters and you end up fighting the populace instead of partnering with them.

    I would also abstract the concepts of "safety" and "education" and address them as broadly as possible. Good schools, but few parks, for example is also a problem and makes for a place that does not function as well for children. If you can't stuff a park into an area, find or encourage other ways for kids to find safe and innovative play zones. Children's programming/activities outside of the school setting is also a big enticement - museums, community centers, art centers, sports facilities (for young people), etc.

    As someone mentioned, this is also predicated on the assumption that the downtown is where the jobs are, which may or may not be true, depending on the setting.

    Strangely, we have many of these ingredients in our reviving downtown in Albuquerque. And yet, the area is having a very difficult time attracting families for the simple reason that housing costs have gone through the roof. We live downtown and love it (good public school nearby, very walkable, parks, a cluster of kid-friendly museums and other facilities), but we rent (and own a house elsewhere which we rent out - a strange arrangement) and could never afford a house even in the border areas where some less desirable issues prevail. We could get a "fixer-upper" but then couldn't afford the materials to fix it up. Its very frustrating. A great many of the newcomers to downtown are childless couples, either young or closer to retirement (and I am not criticizing these folks). This is the demographic, often with two full-time incomes, that can afford to be here now. It is not clear to me that the City has any particular interest in working to increase the number of families in the area or not.

    I am not sure the best way to tackle this problem of more affordable housing (what exactly causes housing prices to soar? Its complicated), but I have heard of some cities offering housing incentives (I don't know what these are - low interest loans, perhaps) that target upper lower and middle income families to the city core (one has to qualify based on household income).
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  9. #9
    Cyburbian jmello's avatar
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    The school issue has two solutions:

    1) Dramatically improve the city school district so it can compete with suburban districts (never really happened anywhere in the U.S.)

    2) Equalize the city and suburban schools through some type of merger or consolidation (Charlotte-Mecklenberg, Raleigh-Wake, etc.)

    There are PLENTY of families across the economic spectrum with children under 15living within the city limits of both Charlotte and Raleigh.

    Of course, with the second option you may lose wealthier children to private schools.

  10. #10
    Cyburbian Tide's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by jmello View post
    The school issue has two solutions:

    1) Dramatically improve the city school district so it can compete with suburban districts (never really happened anywhere in the U.S.)

    2) Equalize the city and suburban schools through some type of merger or consolidation (Charlotte-Mecklenberg, Raleigh-Wake, etc.)

    There are PLENTY of families across the economic spectrum with children under 15living within the city limits of both Charlotte and Raleigh.

    Of course, with the second option you may lose wealthier children to private schools.
    Don't forget Charter and Magnet schools too tend to be located in denser areas.
    @GigCityPlanner

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    My 3 year old son lives and goes to school in the centre of Paris, not by himself obviously (the roads are a nightmare). Walking him to school in the morning I am always struck by the number of other kids that are living in the centre of the city. Of course there are severe problems in the suburbs but for whatever reason the schools are there in the centre (lots of them) and so are the parks. Kids need outside spaces in which to play and all too often in dense city centres the parks are at the perimeter. Not so in Paris. There are 200 parks in the city centre with fully equiped playgrounds full of kids and their parents, 3 within 5 minutes walk of our apartment.

  12. #12
    If the question is regarding a city in the U.S., then I would say that safety would be the #1 factor. The improvement of the schools typically comes once you have the families that invest their time and effort into making the local schools the best they can be. Money alone or new buildings don't do it because I've seen great new schools look like crap in a couple of years because of vandalism.

    My best example would be Singapore. There were children playing downtown and nobody thought anything of it. Because the laws are extremely strict and families enjoyed all the advantages of living in the city.

    I grew up in San Francisco and we moved out when I was 7 years old. It was too cold, no back yard and safety was a concern as well. The school I went to was fine (it was a private school). My parents could afford to buy a house in the suburbs but not in the city, at least not anywhere safe.

  13. #13
    Cyburbian Jess's avatar
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    Crime-free neighborhood.

  14. #14
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    I know that here in the UK there has been an "urban renaissance" in the past decade or so with people returning to the cities after the great exodus to the suburbs. Most of these people tend to be either single or young childless couples however. One of the major factors in this is that most new city centre apartments are either studio or 1 bed. Not very family friendly. Ensuring that new city centre developments have a good mix of accomodation sizes along with access to the types of serivces thatr families need would seem to be a good way forward.

  15. #15
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by modonnell15 View post
    What are some incentives that cities use to try to attract or to retain families with children under 15 in the city?
    I agree that education and safety are the top, but a problem I've noticed is the total lack of family-sized housing being developed here in Boston. Back in the day a multi-generational family could live in a 3-unit home. Nowadays with buildings beings split into condos, even though families are smaller a two parents and a few kids can't fit into one unit and can't afford an entire house. Of course I'm speaking from my experience in Boston where prices are still sky-high despite the slumping market and it's so dense that there really isn't much room for new development.

    So we keep seeing middle-income families moving out to the suburbs, even if they've been city-dwellers for generations. Inadequate housing is pushing them out.

  16. #16
    Quote Originally posted by NoHonestly View post
    My 3 year old son lives and goes to school in the centre of Paris, not by himself obviously (the roads are a nightmare). Walking him to school in the morning I am always struck by the number of other kids that are living in the centre of the city. Of course there are severe problems in the suburbs but for whatever reason the schools are there in the centre (lots of them) and so are the parks. Kids need outside spaces in which to play and all too often in dense city centres the parks are at the perimeter. Not so in Paris. There are 200 parks in the city centre with fully equiped playgrounds full of kids and their parents, 3 within 5 minutes walk of our apartment.
    Do you know this one?

  17. #17
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    My formula to bring in families to the city (downtown):

    1. affordable family-sized units (at least 3 bedrooms). This is most important. If you don't have units large enough for families at a cost competitive to suburbs....then they won't move there! And you need enough to support a school.
    2. good schools (preferably built the same time developers come)
    3. parks & playgrounds

    Vancouver is known to be family friendly with all its incentives. But...when you look at the numbers, one has to question whether or not it's working.

    Downtown children comparison between Vancouver (kid-friendly) and Seattle (NOT kid-friendly):

    Vancouver: 4,435 kids out of 71,000 residents = 6.2%
    Seattle: 1,186 kids out of 22,000 residents = 5.4%

    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/...tml?source=rss

  18. #18
    Cyburbian Linda_D's avatar
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    Quote Originally posted by biscuitboy86 View post
    My formula to bring in families to the city (downtown):

    1. affordable family-sized units (at least 3 bedrooms). This is most important. If you don't have units large enough for families at a cost competitive to suburbs....then they won't move there! And you need enough to support a school.
    2. good schools (preferably built the same time developers come)
    3. parks & playgrounds

    Vancouver is known to be family friendly with all its incentives. But...when you look at the numbers, one has to question whether or not it's working.

    Downtown children comparison between Vancouver (kid-friendly) and Seattle (NOT kid-friendly):

    Vancouver: 4,435 kids out of 71,000 residents = 6.2%
    Seattle: 1,186 kids out of 22,000 residents = 5.4%

    http://seattlepi.nwsource.com/local/...tml?source=rss
    That's very interesting ... the supposed "baby boom" in downtown Vancouver appears to be more a function of a larger population than of "kid friendliness". Because the percentage of children living in downtown areas in both cities are so low, the 20% differential between their child populations may also be inflated.

  19. #19
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    here it's just schools and crime. There are a lot of young families here who already own homes that they can easily grow into, or perhaps, move around the corner when the kids get bigger . . . but as soon as their kids get to be about 2 they start looking at school districts in the suburbs.

    The reality is that the neighborhood K-4th schools are pretty good in the better neighborhoods. The property taxes i'd pay in the suburbs for a 2,000 sq. ft. house (what i'd be giving up) are probably going to be about $10k a year (10x what i pay now) in an inner-ring suburban town. For one of the premier school districts it would be considerably more. So for one kid it would be private school. For two kids i would consider moving to a suburban town but that depends on the state of the schools here in the 10+ years i have before i have to worry about it.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  20. #20
    Cyburbian
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    Quote Originally posted by jresta View post
    here it's just schools and crime. There are a lot of young families here who already own homes that they can easily grow into, or perhaps, move around the corner when the kids get bigger . . . but as soon as their kids get to be about 2 they start looking at school districts in the suburbs.
    It's interesting to me that Boston has such a housing crunch for families while it doesn't seem to be as much a problem in larger cities like Chicago or Philly where jresta is. Why is this the case?

    I don't know either incredibly well, but I have spent time in both Chicago and Philly. It seems to me both have more single family structures as opposed to the ubiquitous triple-deckers around the Boston-area. And since the triple-deckers are constantly being split into condos they're not only physically inadequate but financially unreasonable for families.

  21. #21
    Cyburbian Jen's avatar
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    frisbee parks and dog parks and skate parks

    what parents usually want for their middle and high schoolers is nearby schools that are acedemically challenging, opportunities for extracurricular activities, sports, music, band, shop, lab, swim...

    housing yes, but all these amenities nearby for the young urban adolescent to partake in. they'll learn early how to get around by foot, take busses etc.,

    once the toddlers outgrow the totlots what else is available for families downtown and affordable, fitness center, aqua house, how much space is required for a nonprofit venue to enhance the lives of residents.

  22. #22
    Cyburbian DetroitPlanner's avatar
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    Boston has such a crunch beacuase of its large number of students from wealthy families. These people come from everywhere to attend schools like MIT, Havard, BU. If Boston was a huge city like Chicago or Philly these folks would just be a drop in the bucket. The same thing is true except on a smaller scale in the Ann Arbor portion of Metro Detroit.
    We hope for better things; it will arise from the ashes - Fr Gabriel Richard 1805

  23. #23
    Cyburbian jresta's avatar
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    IMO, family living in Center City is already unaffordable for all but the Manhattan set. But then, there aren't a lot of single-family homes there anyway.

    The rest of Philly is almost entirely single-family residential with each section of town having its relatively busy commercial strip(s). In North and South Philly and sections of the lower Northeast it's the rowhouse but as you get further out, the areas of the city developed between 1880 and 1930 twins with sizeable yards (for a big city) dominate and as you get out to the railroad suburbs within city limits, Overbrook, Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy, Tacony you have neighborhoods full of detached houses.

    Philly was built to be a city of 2.5 million but only has 1.5 million residents. By today's standards (smaller households, more sq. ft., etc) , even though we have the tendency to grow taller these days, there's probably only enough room for about 2 million. Either way it's going to be a long time before the whole city is expensive like New York, DC, Boston or Seattle.

    OTOH, The old townhouses (4000 sq. ft!) around Rittenhouse have been going condo for a while and as $1 million begins to become the norm in Society Hill the same thing is starting to happen there.

    Although, more recently, property values in those neighborhoods have slowed a lot as people have realized that you can "walk 'til you qualify" and still be in a really nice neighborhood. I suspect, though, that once it becomes "ride the bus 'til you qualify" that trend will stop because that opens up a huge area of the city, whereas neighborhoods within walking distance of Center City is not a huge area.

    I don't know if any of this makes sense but what i'm trying to say is that Philly will have plenty of family-sized housing for a long-time to come and that exactly how-long depends on how quickly prices spread out from Center City.
    Indeed you can usually tell when the concepts of democracy and citizenship are weakening. There is an increase in the role of charity and in the worship of volunteerism. These represent the élite citizen's imitation of noblesse oblige; that is, of pretending to be aristocrats or oligarchs, as opposed to being citizens.

  24. #24
    Cyburbian wahday's avatar
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    I was wondering to what degree young families where the parents grew up in the suburbs are drawn to returning there once they have school-aged kids mainly because it is famiiar territory. It is an oft-cited phenomenon that even within our highly mobile society, people seek to create physical surroundings that closely mimic their own experiences growing up. This is not true of everyone, of course, but perhaps enough to create a problem(?).

    So, while young professionals may enjoy living in or near the downtown area, taking advantage of night life and places to spend some expendable income, once they have kids they feel a need to "grow up" and, in an effort to be more responsible for the future of their children, seek out suburban settings because it more closely resembles their own home and school background.

    Just a thought...
    The purpose of life is a life of purpose

  25. #25
    Cyburbian
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    Perhaps cities with easy access to such amenties that make rural areas so attractive (ie: parks, open lands, swimming facilities, beaches) would make families reconsider cities- for example, Toronto offers a relatively inexpensive ferry system to allow families to take day trips out to a really pretty set of islands on the lake during the summers.

    Clearly, though, solid schools should remain the priority - that's what families really look at first when choosing places to live.

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