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Welcome - my name is Kevin Klinkenberg, and this site "The Messy City" is my blog and company website. I started blogging on urban planning and design issues in 2007, and began working in the field in 1993. Please feel free to connect with me on any of the social media sites listed here. Thanks for reading.

Making space for families in cities

Bradley Calvert knocks it out of the park in this piece about the need for cities to accommodate and encourage families, not just twenty-somethings. I actually think this is a critical issue requiring urban self-examination today, since the going mantra is that the Millennials will save your city. Just like all fads before, it will fail if only the young demographic is targeted. In short order they will be 30 and 40-somethings, and where will they live? Calvert writes:

No family with the desire to live in an urban core expects a single-family home with a yard—and if they do, the city is likely not for them. But there are many families that do accept a trade off in square footage for the benefits of living in the city. Such urban-oriented families and supporting activities are profiled on websites in Los Angeles, and Austin. These families are willing to accept a smaller home and little-to-no private green space in exchange for culture, amenities, increased autonomy, and access to some of the world’s greatest parks. That does not mean that they should have to cram families of three or four into one and two bedroom apartments and condos.


If they can succeed in living together, cities and families stand to benefit in profound ways. If they can attract and retain families, cities will populate with residents in their peak earning years, stabilize neighborhoods, and attract households who spend a majority of their disposable income—an amount that exceeds the coveted young professional and elderly markets—within the local economy. For families, cities offer opportunities to live in a more diverse and active environment, reduce dependency on automobiles for chauffeuring children, and spend more quality time as a family. Cities provide a wealth services, amenities, and culture that can only be found in city centers and never replicated in a lifestyle center or new urbanism developments on the fringes of metropolitan areas.

Calvert emphasizes housing and schools as the two top issues, and I think most people would agree. I'd place housing options (especially affordable larger units) as the top priority, since I think schools will fix themselves if more families actually lived in walkable places. That said, the importance of playgrounds and safe biking options for people of all ages are also critical. At the same time, keeping a watchful eye on late-night entertainment is something to have on the radar. Sure, people of all ages enjoy going out, but there's no doubt that the spin-offs from late-night bars and other venues aren't compatible with little kids or adults that have to work at 8 AM.

What about you? What else do you think is important to attract and retain 30 and 40-somethings?

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