Cities Are Becoming Childfree Zones

Pros and cons of a rising trend

Posted Mar 31, 2014

While many inner cities across the United States are experiencing a revival, the number of children raised in urban areas is on the decline. As reported in Governing, recent data show that only 13 percent of residents in San Francisco are under the age of 18, compared to 15 percent in Seattle and 17 percent in Boston – well below the national average of 24 percent. Whether this scarcity of urban youth is good or bad is up for debate.

For many childfree adults, the idea of living in an area without children sounds great. In my book, Complete Without Kids: An Insider's Guide to Childfree Living by Choice or by Chance, I describe how childfree adults like myself cherish our daily activities and quiet, uncluttered space. I actually relish the thought of strolling through a city park that doesn’t have a playground or children running and screaming across the lawn. This past week, I visited Audubon Park in New Orleans and found it to be a wonderful space full of university students and grown-ups of all ages with no significant numbers of babies or children.

The trend toward fewer children in cities has other benefits for childfree adults as well.  For example, tax dollars can be saved when schools, playgrounds, and other amenities that are used only by kids aren’t needed. In his article for Governing, Alan Ehrenhalt bemoans the decline of children in cities and suggests that we improve playgrounds to attract more families. He goes on to say that cities need to create more green space in general, and I wholeheartedly agree. Here in my town we have a lovely park beside the Puget Sound that is heavily used by all age groups. I dare say that the park would be full of adults of all ages enjoying the fresh air even if it did not have the unattractive playground.

A community composed of mostly adults might also be more able to meet many societal needs through volunteerism instead of spending precious tax dollars. For example, the community could organize volunteer fire departments, neighborhood watch committees, and park maintenance crews. Many parents don’t have the time to participate in these kinds of activities. Don Grady wrote about this topic in an article on Sun City, an over-55 community in Arizona.

Some people argue that a city without kids is less diverse, but can’t we get our needs for diversity met in other ways? For example, gay couples and contented singles enrich a city. Childfree adults tend not to visit places frequented by families anyway, and children are often not welcome in places where we are hanging out. For example, we don’t spend time at Chuck E. Cheese’s, soccer fields, or Toys R Us, and when parents bring their children to restaurants where we’re eating or to parks where we’re walking our dogs, we often feel annoyed by the noise and general chaos. Many of us seldom hang out with families; our friends are other childfree adults or empty-nesters. In essence, childfree adults are segregated from families by choice, as they are from us.

Still, some experts are concerned that cities without children are unsustainable and undesirable. Urban scholars Joel Kotkin and Ali Modarres write in City Journal that declines in childbearing in ancient Rome and other cities led to “an erosion of cultural and economic vitality.” They push for bringing families back into our urban areas.

But not everyone would agree that a city without kids is a bad place to be. Sheree Curry compiled a list of places that are full of activities where children “aren’t only not heard but are also not seen." Other experts clearly agree; just take a look at all the lists of childfree cities and communities that are online and promoting a thriving way of life.

What do you think? Would you choose to live in a city with few or no children? How would doing so be detrimental or beneficial to you? What do you predict for the future of America’s cities?