Friday, April 15, 2011

San Francisco Is Dying: Kidless Cool Cities

Welcome to San Francisco, shrinking city. By now an old story, both the urban core and the metropolitan area are domestic migration losers. Less known is the problem of natural decline:

Families that remain in The City are bucking the trend that has plagued San Francisco for years as the number of children — defined as people up to 17 years old — has dropped from 181,532 in 1960 to 107,524 today, according to the latest U.S. Census Bureau figures. The 2000 census counted 112,802 youths.

That's over a 40% drop in young children, something you'd expect to find in the Rust Belt. A few years ago, San Francisco formally studied the crisis. The results reveal a similar demography for Portland, Oregon:

While Portland, Oregon has a child population slightly higher in proportion to the national average, Portland has struggled to retain families, despite affirmative efforts to do so. From 1990 to 2003, the city added more than 90,000 people, growing to an estimated 529,121 residents. According to demographers at Portland State University, the number of school-age children grew by only three between the census counts in 1990 and 2000.

Relatively better off, Portland isn't on par with San Francisco as an immigrant destination. Immigration glosses over how people are voting with their feet and fleeing the Bay Area. At a minimum, the urban core is in a state of steep natural decline.

Detroit best keep that in mind the next time someone laments that Hockey Town isn't more like San Francisco. And what the hell is Governor John Kasich babbling about?


Gordon Young said...

Fascinating post. I grew up in Flint and have lived in San Francisco since 1996, so I've got some experience with shrinking cites. San Francisco has a notoriously bad school system, pretty awful public transit, and insane housing costs. Those tradeoffs are certainly worth it when you're young, single or childless, but once you have kids, those realities become a huge impediment to staying. People have an intense attachment to San Francisco, but the economic drawbacks trump that once you have a kid. It's just too expensive. So people leave. Oddly, in my experience, they often flee to Portland, but the demographics don't seem to support that. It seems the only folks who stay in SF with kids are really devoted to the city, or really rich.

Jim Russell said...

I've seen evidence that would support your SF-to-Portland observation. I met quite a few families in Colorado that left SF for the same reasons you list. They were able to hold onto their jobs thanks to telecommuting.

rootvg said...

We live in Danville and here it's either family money or two professional incomes (our situation).

Our tax guy said there's a sweet spot right around $200K taxable where you basically have to buy a house or resign yourself to getting bled like a farm animal by the tax man for the rest of your working life. If the mortgage deduction is cut back to only include houses under $500K, values will likely drop another thirty percent. This will devastate many California homeowners but could end up really benefiting us.

Scott said...

Commenting from the Portland, OR metro area here:

The City of Portland (as opposed to the metro as a whole) hasn't been a logical choice for families with children for a couple of decades. Housing stock in the city is older, more likely to have issues with lead or asbestos, yet costs the same or more per square foot than new home construction by necessity built on raw land outside the city limits with larger lots and larger homes.

City leaders have focused on condo tower and new urbanist projects in the urban core, which is fine, but which doesn't seem to bring enough children to offset the large amount of housing occupied by people whose children have grown and moved out.