New Geography: “Where Do The Children Play?”

Dense urban environments hold special challenges for families with children. New Geography reports (5/18/11):

A key issue for children in compact parts of the compact city is lack of opportunity for outdoor activity. Heavily trafficked streets are not good for bike riding, or even walking alone. Auckland’s centre is devoid of segregated cycleways or play areas. Getting to school or the park is a major mission, and may well need a car trip…

The factors potentially stressing children in the CBD impact on adults too. Research for Auckland City in 2003 (CBD Metadata Analysis by No Doubt Research) suggested dissatisfaction with inner city apartment living came from a diminished sense of security and safety, noise nuisance, small units, absence of outdoor living spaces, and lack of a sense of community.

…some 52% of residents in the Central East and Central West Census Area Units had been in their current dwellings for less than a year in 2006. This compares with 23% in Auckland as a whole. These particularly high residential mobility figures contradict any suggestion that high density living might create a strong sense of community cohesion…

We may just have to acknowledge the benefits of suburban living for some time to come and seek opportunities for sustainable development that don’t oblige less well-off families to dwell in small apartments and featureless blocks around busy commercial areas for lack of affordable alternatives.

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See also:

Hanging on to Our Families with Young Children – Implications for Urban Design (9/27/09)
A review of news accounts and child-care books suggests that families with young children find that…

  • Cars are useful and convenient
  • Multi-story retail structures are hard to navigate (especially stairs and escalators)
  • Drive-thru retail is convenient
  • On-site parking is convenient, the family need not cross any busy streets to get into building
  • Parking garages are hard to navigate and off-putting
  • Homes that are too small are undesirable
  • Private yards are a valued amenity, as are nearby parks

Smart Growth Winners (Rich People) and Losers (Other People)
Smart growth is great if you are an upscale professional, preferably without children, who can score a relatively large apartment fairly close to work. It’s a lot less fun for the majority trying to cram your family into four or five rooms… Smart growth is great if you can afford to have everything you buy delivered, or are in excellent physical condition with a physically undemanding job; it is not so great if you have to come home from your shift at the nursing home to lug groceries a quarter-mile down the street, and then up three flights of stairs. Smart growth is great if you can afford to eat in the plethora of restaurants; it is not so enjoyable if you have to scrape up an extra 20% for the ingredients in tuna casserole. Smart growth is great if you have a nanny to take the kids to the park during the day; it is not so terrific if you have to choose between wasting several precious hours standing around the playground, or letting your kids languish inside. Smart growth is great if you can afford taxis when you need them; it is not so good if you are forced to take three buses to get somewhere you really need to be. Smart growth is great if your family members are all affluent enough to take care of themselves; it is not so fulfilling when you have to shove your ailing mother into the kids room when her resources fail.

New York Times: “Vibrant Cities Find One Thing Missing: Children” (3/24/05)
…From 1990 to 2003 the city added more than 90,000 people, growing to an estimated 529,121 residents, but Portland is now educating the fewest students in more than 80 years…

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