Placemaking’s gold standard is educated or skilled young people, who at some point start families. Lots of the progressive media talk about placemaking in urban areas. But how many families would really want to live in the urban, high density environment described as the ideal “place” to attract skilled workers and sustain a local economy? HERE’s an article about more young college graduates choosing cities. But wait… it’s a Forbes vs. New York Times smackdown! I’ve also read that suburbs attract more 20-29 year-olds than cities do. While they may come to cities for the brew pubs and bike lanes, they’ll only stay if there are schools, parks, swimming lessons, and affordable places to live that are bigger than a dorm room. Placemaking needs to include family-friendly features, or the Forbes guy will win.
Why does it have to be cities vs. suburbs? (Because so many bloggers need something to write about, that’s why.) Obviously it doesn’t. Placemaking and family-friendliness are not mutually exclusive. Suburbs (and small towns) can be walkable, bikeable, have dense housing, cultural attractions, recreation, and so on. You can live in a single-family home, townhouse, or apartment within walking distance of many downtowns in Michigan, and have a yard or park where kids can play. Just because we don’t all want to live in Manhattan doesn’t mean the only alternative is bland acres of big box stores and tract houses.
If government wants us to make choices that are desirable from the government’s perspective, they need to provide incentives or disincentives to influence our choices. Government does that already with the mortgage interest deduction to encourage home ownership. What else does it want to incent? If government wants people to live in denser neighborhoods, make property taxes lower in dense areas that are walkable or have public transportation, and higher in the suburbs or rural areas where we drive everywhere. This is reasonably justifiable because drivers to jobs and stores use more roads, pollute more, and need parking lots, which are a huge land suck. From the Department of Crazy Ideas to Noodle: suburban and rural homes take up more space, so base property taxes on square footage instead of home value. Since square footage doesn’t usually shrink, as we know home values do, this is a more stable source of income for local governments that have to keep those roads plowed and repaired.
Ultimately, it’s about having options. There is no one-size-fits-all place, or one-size-fits-all-phases-of-life. I have lived in a downtown with shopping and my office within walking distance (when I was young and childless), I’ve lived in a dense neighborhood (until Brilliant Son was three), and for nearly twenty years I’ve lived in a suburban/rural area (a hybrid in which I can see my neighbors’ houses, and hear cows). But government can influence the options we choose. My taxes are ridiculously low compared to my friends who live in town, and yet I enjoy acreage and a trout stream in my back yard. I also have relatively few public services in my rural county, because the taxes are so ridiculously low.
You may have noted that I labeled this Part 1 of Placemaking with Kids. The next one will be about kid-friendly places that don’t make adults want to gouge their eyes out. Stay tuned and as always, thanks for reading! Let me know what you think in the comments section, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.
HERE is a really interesting article about increases/decreases in the number of children in various US cities. From 2000-2013, the number of children 5-14 years old in Raleigh, NC increased almost 56%. A statistic in the article below says Pittsburgh’s population under-15s is down more than 25% for the same timeframe. The author suggests factors that might be influencing the decreases in places like New York and San Francisco, and gives the most play to housing costs. But he also suggests that some communities are investing in more adult-oriented cultural amenities, rather than family-friendly parks and schools.
HERE is more on housing costs – not specific to attracting or keeping families, but about affordability, and ending the notion that homes are an investment. It’s another one of those Department of Crazy Ideas things.
Photos in this edition are of some of my favorite artists’ homes. Because why not.
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