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The Shortcomings of 'Family Friendliness' Rankings

Many rankings try to tell parents where the best places are to raise their kids. But measures that focus solely on narrow criteria like safety and schools often ignore the benefits of diverse, vibrant urban environments.
February 17, 2015, 10am PST | Josh Stephens | @jrstephens310
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All parents want safe neighborhoods, nice parks, and good schools for their kids. But, sometimes, the places that offer those amenities are often lacking in many other attributes that help kids grow up smart, healthy, and happy. The blog Family Friendly Cities takes to task some of the common measures of "family friendliness" and argues that urban environments, which might score low in many categories, are often better for kids than high-scoring suburbs. 

A safe neighborhood would seem to be a prerequisite for family life. But low-crime is not always synonymous with safe. While some neighborhoods may have little violent crime, they may yet be susceptible to the violence of automobile accidents—not to mention the other health effects of auto dependence. In those cases, "what we are likely to find is that many of our beloved and highly ranked sprawl communities wouldn’t rank so highly with their frequent auto collisions, lack of sidewalks and unsafe speed limits."

Low housing costs, and, therefore, the opportunity to live in large spaces would also seem to favor families. But high transportation costs, plus long hours spent in the car, in distant, low-density suburbs can offset what may seem like major savings on rent or mortgages. Similarly, kids in cities can get their education at museums and libraries even if schools are not ranked so highly. And the opportunities for social interaction can be just as valuable for kids as they are for adults. "If we are to truly assess whether a city is child and family friendly then we must acknowledge play and access to play as essential.  This includes proximity to residences and the ability to access a diverse range of opportunities for recreation and play." 

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Published on Tuesday, February 10, 2015 in Family Friendly Cities
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