Thursday, December 30, 2010

Kids and Cities

Touching on an earlier post about re-energized cities, I ran across this piece from Grist which is the idea that kids are safer (a subjective term if there is one) in cities than the exurbs. Before I go on, I want to point out that I do not know the methodology of this study, but it does mirror other things I have read elsewhere.

In essence, because parents and kids are so tied to cars in the far-flung areas, these kids are in far more danger of perishing in a car accident than any other stereotypical city danger. Motor Vehicles (MV) present the greatest likelihood of death to our children than anything else. But don't take my word for it. In infants, MV deaths were the cause of less than 1% of all deaths, but that may be due to the great number of natural dangers facing a child so early in life. In toddlers, MV's are number one at 11 percent of all deaths. In kids, it is still number one, but the percentage is higher at 20 percent. In pre- and early teens, still number one and a bit higher percentage of 21 percent. And finally, older teens see the number cause of death from the same category, but a whooping 40 percent of all teen deaths are at the hands of the car.

In both teen cases, suicide is a greater cause of death than homicide, which might be another factor in the case against the car. Since teens are experiencing a greater independent streak at that age, not having easy mobility is the same as being under house arrest. Some researchers have found higher rates in rural versus urban, and higher in suburban than urban, but others have found no such link. However, the number one factor in teen suicide is depression. My opinion, based a little on research, a little reasoning and a little instinct, is that suburbs, not just because of the car, offer little to stimulate the growing senses of teens. If everything looks the same and you have to have a car to pass through it, which means dependence on parents, that does nothing for the independent-minded teen. This helps set in a depression, which in turn increases the chance of a suicide.

Now this study does nothing to assuage the other concerns of the parent who chooses the suburb over the city, such as better schools, bigger yards or more space. Just as the rational person can make the claim that cities are safer, you can also make the claim that parents do more for kids than schools can, for example.

But the underlying theme may be, just as with the downtown business post, that the generations following the baby boomers, and specifically, Gen X, Gen Y and the Millennial's, are fundamentally changing how America lives. Cities and their planners may find that an increasing amount of families will be heading back to the city. Those that prepare now will be better off than those who don't.

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