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Child-friendly cities.

"Urban childhood" is deteriorating in the United States, as seen in the change in poverty rates in the last 2025 years, according to RAND Corporation demographer Peter A. Morrison.

Poverty has declined only among the elderly. Among children, it has grown worse,' he says, noting that impoverished children are disproportionately concentrated in urban areas.

"More children are being born into situations that are initially disadvantageous; then, that disadvantage compounds," Morrison says. For instance, some children are born to mothers who receive inadequate prenatal care or who use drugs or alcohol during pregnancy. These factors affect children's health and mental development "and degrade their eventual productivity as adults."

Children are also increasingly likely to live in single-parent households, which are more likely to live below the poverty line.

The resulting future needs will place increasing claim on public-sector resources for material health care, daycare, antidelinquency and drug abuse, and other child-centered programs," says Morrison.

Unfortunately, he notes, society has become less child-centered in recent years, as more young couples choose to remain child-free and as older parents reach the empty-nest stage. The growing childless sector of society may wish to see public dollars spent on transportation and services for the elderly rather than on after-school programs for latchkey children. "Ironically, the future living standards of today's voters depend on the future earning capacity and productivity of today's children," he says.

In recent decades, city planners have been all too willing to cater to their wealthier constituents, according to Richard Louv, author of Childhood's Future. In the 1970s and 1980s, developers were more interested in the disposable incomes of childless yuppies and senior citizens and were eager to avoid having to provide expensive services for families and children.

The result has been city designs that contribute to the isolation of families - vulnerable and otherwise. Saving children's future may thus require a fundamental redesign of cities. Some communities are already recognizing this need and acknowledge that antifamily" urban designs have actually decreased the livability of cities for everyone, says Louv.

Among the family-friendly features that may increasingly be seen are:

* Shopping malls (the "new downtowns") transformed into family centers, including play areas, children's museums, teen centers, school extensions, day-care centers, and counseling and parenting-informafion centers.

* Large cities decentralized into clusters of urban villages that allow families to work, attend school, and shop closer to where they live.

* More houses designed with front porches, so that neighbors can get to know one another and watch out for each other's children.

Louv believes cities that market themselves as family friendly could become more competitive in attracting new businesses: The city's available workers would be more productive because they are less worried about their children.

Neglecting children's needs could be costlier in the long run. Louv quotes one politician's short-sighted excuse for not supporting family-friendly projects: [The] county already spends millions of dollars on children - look how much we spend on juvenile courts!Sources: The Changing Demographic Context of Municipal Governance' by Peter A. Morrison. July 1990 RAND/P-7654). 10 pages. The RAND Corporation, 1700 Main Street, P.O. Box 2138, Santa Monica, California 90406-2138. Childhood's Future by Richard Louv. Houghton-Mifflin. 1990. 420 pages. Available from the Futurist Bookstore for $25.45 ($23.25 for Society members), including postage and handling.
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Title Annotation:family-oriented urban design
Publication:The Futurist
Article Type:column
Date:May 1, 1991
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