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Sunday, December 25, 2005

urban growth and education: Vancouver vs. American cities

The Times had an article earlier this year about how certain American cities, although vibrant culturally and economically--I think it mentioned Portland and SF in particular--are losing young families and school-age children. Today's Time had something of a followup, which contrasts that with what's happening in Vancouver: "Spurring Urban Growth in Vancouver, One Family at a Time":

Over the last 10 years, cities across North America have attracted thousands of new residents to revitalized urban areas. Vancouver is no exception. About 40,000 people have moved into the downtown peninsula in the last 15 years; the downtown population is expected to reach 110,000 by 2015.

But there is a difference between the urban growth taking place in Vancouver and the development occurring in many American cities. In the United States, many of the new urban residents are young professionals or older, wealthier people whose children are grown. In fact, enrollment in Portland, Ore., and Seattle public schools has dropped by thousands of students because of declining numbers of urban families with children.

In Vancouver, the number of children living downtown has doubled since 1990; there are now 5,000 children living in the central core. Last year, the city opened the first new elementary school in an inner-city neighborhood in more than 30 years.
How is that happening in Vancouver but not American cities? In SF, the school district is talking about closing a number of schools.

It seems that much of our generation wants to live in the cities. It'll be interesting to see how many of us stick it out as the next generation starts growing up. The central issue is education. For persons of certain SES, it seems that big city public schools are a non-starter. (Note this line from the Slate article I blogged earlier today, discussing the decisions of today's typical yuppie couple: "When children arrive, the couple has to choose between living in an expensive town with good public schools (which means long, painful commutes), or the prospect of private-school tuition at $25,000 per kid per year.")

My impression is that Chicago Mayor Daley have explicitly identified improving the public schools as a necessary condition to attracting and retaining a population of middle-class families.

It will be interesting to see what our friends--and we ourselves--will do by the time its time for the wee ones to to kindergarten.

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