Friday, January 8, 2010

Children and Urban Form

One of the most commonly cited reasons why people move to suburbia is its perceived benefits for children. It has grass for them to run around on. It has, many think, good schools for them to attend, and low crime rates.

Are suburban schools really better? Are suburban crime rates really lower? Not necessarily. Compton, CA, for example, had a murder rate which was 5.82 times the national average in 2003 (46 murders that year in a place with 96,600 people). Compton is a suburb. 69.4% of its housing units are one-unit detached, according to the 2006-2008 American Community Survey. The High School of American Studies (a public school), in the Bronx, New York City, is ranked by U.S. News and World Report as the 19th best high school in the country. 62.2% of the Bronx's housing units are in buildings with 20 or more units according to the 2006-08 ACS. Very urban.

The moral of the story is that stereotypes aren't necessarily true. Not all suburbs have low crime rates, and not all cities have bad schools. Safety and education are important values, and we can pursue them for our children in cities too.


  1. I defy you to show one example of someone talking about moving to Compton for the safety and education of his or her children. People move to suburbs because the local suburbs are preferable to the local urban environments, not because the worst suburb in the country is preferable to the best city in the country.

  2. "People move to suburbs because the local suburbs are preferable to the local urban environments"

    Well, this depends. It's not necessarily true with respect to crime and school quality. It's certainly not true if we're talking about sustainability (e.g. opportunities to walk and use transit with frequent service, efficient use of land, etc.).

    To the extent that cities do have problems, they stem largely from middle-class abandonment and eroded tax base over the last several decades. My central point is that whatever the urban form, we can find examples of wide variation in crime rate and school quality.

    BTW. The Bronx is the poorest borough of NYC.