April 19, 2019

Living in the Childless City

“At the end of last year, the Philadelphia City Planning Commission weighed a proposed zoning change that would effectively ban new day-care centers—along with tire stores and car repair shops—in a large chunk of northwest Philadelphia. The bill swiftly encountered fierce resistance, and it now appears dead. But the effort to block additional child-care facilities with a zoning overlay hints at a broader relationship between city planning and the cost of raising children. A growing body of research indicates that restrictive zoning—which often blocks the services and housing that families need—may help to explain why family sizes are shrinking in the United States.

The U.S. birth rate recently sunk to a 30-year low, a trend that’s been blamed on everything from economic anxieties and climate change to the rise of smartphones and the Millennial “sex recession.” Perhaps we should also lay some of the responsibility at the feet of city planning.

As bizarre as an anti-day-care bill may seem, the fear of more children coming into a community is a mainstay at new housing proposal hearings. Particularly in high-cost suburbs along the coasts, the mere inclusion of three-bedroom apartments—the kind of units young families need—can get a project in hot water with elected officials. While the justifications for blocking this kind of housing vary from preserving rural character to preventing (real or imagined) school overcrowding, the result is that more and more municipalities are adopting policies designed to keep out children and the families who care for them.”

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