[LMB] Re: OT: Cars. etc.

David W. Levine dwl at panix.com
Tue, 25 Nov 2003 11:21:01 -0500


At 09:34 AM 11/25/2003, you wrote:
>At 11:30 PM 11/24/2003 -0600, Scott Raun wrote:
>><insert suburbia rant>

[Snippage]

>>However, if you want to raise a kid in most of the country, you're
>>going to end up doing it in Suburbia.  No sidewalks - the kid plays on
>>the lawn, and either walks across your neighbor's lawn, or in the
>>street.  Need to buy groceries?  If you are REALLY lucky, there's a
>>gas station / convenience store within a mile or so.  Otherwise, plan
>>on driving - ditto for just about everything else you need.
>
>I know that in Dallas at least, there's been a lot of building/conversion 
>of massive apartment and condo blocks downtown in the last five years or 
>so. I'm not sure how large this trend is compared to the continuing 
>expansion of its suburbs, but it does exist. OTOH I get the impression 
>that those urban spaces are aimed much more at singles and couples without 
>kids than at young families. The price difference is pretty brutal; the 
>amount per month that will get you a one-bedroom apartment or condo 
>downtown will get you a pretty big house and yard in the suburbs.

That price difference *may* be something of a red herring. A family living 
in the 'burbs pretty much needs two cars. Living in the city,
that's often one, or no cars. Cars don't come cheaply, by the time you pay 
down the capital cost, fill them with fuel, maintain them and pay for 
insurance coverage. Each hundred dollars you don't spend on a car leverages 
to something like 15,000 dollars of mortgage you can carry instead. You 
have to factor back in what you spend on mass-transit, but you'd be amazed 
at how much cheaper it is to commute by reasonable mass transit.

>I think a lot of these choices are emotionally driven. Living in The 
>Village (massive grouping of apartment complexes fairly downtown in 
>Dallas) is fun for young singles, but when/if they choose to have kids 
>they start thinking about their own suburban childhoods and decide that 
>raising a kid without a yard to play in is unfair.

One wonders if this will change, over time. Plenty of people raise kids in 
the older cities. Heck, I'm one of them. Manhattan has plenty
of people busy raising kids, without our own private bit of grass. We have 
parks and playgrounds, and expect kids to play together in a shared social 
setting. Strangely enough, they do. Tons of suburbia has empty playgrounds, 
with kids playing in backyards, or just plain inside. This has gotten much 
worse in the past 30 years. My parents still live where I grew up, in 
suburbia. At some point, I realized there were almost no kids outside 
playing. At first, I thought It was just the dynamics of the neighborhood, 
getting older and less kids. But, in fact, the houses have turned over. But 
now, the kids play in backyards, behind fences, or inside. The communal 
pick up softball, kickball and tag games seem to have vanished, replaced by 
far more daycare, afterschool, and organized playdates. Oddly enough, my 
daughter seems to spend more time playing outside, with other kids than 
half of my friends who are busy raising kids in the burbs.

I don't know how this is going to play out over time, but a percentage of 
the folks who move into an urban core and like it are going to want to stay 
and raise families. Many of the advantages of living in a city don't go 
away when you have kids, and some of them actually increase. When the 
museum is a 20-30 minute walk, you go there with your kid on a random rainy 
afternoon. No loading up the car, driving an hour each way and hassling 
with parking.

It's likely to require yet another evolution in how people try and make 
city centers vital. I think the realization that you need people living 
*in* the city to have a real urban environment, as opposed to the "empties 
out at 5:00" sort of concrete downtowns we've built in a lot of places is a 
first step, but its only a first step. You don't want (or need) to keep 
urban life reserved to 20 somethings or DINCs. But you've got to provide 
parks, schools, and libraries to support families. It doesn't happen by 
magic, and it doesn't happen without some serious urban planning. It's one 
thing to encourage people building retail to include some residential space 
(And sadly enough, in some cities this has required fixing broken zoning 
rules which tried to prevent people from actually living on urban blocks,)

- David