Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Hot Child(ren) In The City

Lots of informed discussion going on at Asymmetrical Information about carbon footprints, heat islands, kids, city government, and suburbs. Libertarian city-dweller Megan McArdle says,

Dense cities are a tax on having children, but that's not an inherent quality of cities. If we had taller buildings next to spots of green space, you could have more residential space and a convenient play space, and built-in play spaces for your children. If you had school choice, you could solve many of the fears about the urban school system that lead affluent families to flee the city. If the tax system weren't set up so that localities bear the responsibility for caring for the indigent, you wouldn't have affluent families moving out to get away from the tax burden. A dense city is in many places a better place to raise a child than a suburb: you spend a lot fewer years shuttling the kids around, and there are many more options and activities for them than for suburban children. But current political culture makes them child-unfriendly....

City dwellers are far too self-satisfied with their allegedly low-carbon lifestyle, too willing to impose carbon taxes in the belief it won't affect them much. It is especially irritating to hear people who take multiple annual long-haul flights complain about SUV drivers, but the general phenomenon is broader than that. I expect that in the event a carbon tax is enacted, I will see a lot of my costs go up--as they should, to the extent that I am exporting my carbon emissions elsewhere. But nonetheless, I don't think they'll go up as much as those of people in suburban homes, because heating, cooling, and driving to those homes really is simply massively less efficient than doing the same thing in an urban area.
A couple of questions come to mind: will refusing to care for the indigent actually make cities more attractive to the affluent? I doubt that the indigent will go away, so won't withdrawing services mean lower taxes + more street people?

No argument with Ms. McArdle's criticism of self-satisfied city dwellers who sneer at SUV drivers while taking long-haul flights, but don't suburbanites take long flights, too?

In the end, though, she seems to agree with James Kunstler that higher energy prices are going to hurt suburbs more than cities.


Unknown said...

I doubt there's causation between living in the city and taking more long-haul flights, but I'd expect that the childless might take more flights than those with children, just due to economics and hassle. So maybe there's a correlation, just not causation.

David Wharton said...

Could be. But plenty of suburban working parents take frequent business trips, and maybe that's easier for suburban parents with stay-at-home moms.

I'd also bet that a lot more people in the dense east coast corridor take trains for their business trips just because it's more convenient and sometimes faster (at least in Europe).

See this NYT article.

I've used Eurostar, and it really is quite nice.

Anonymous said...

I'm 25, live in not quite suburban Greensboro. I've taken 3 trips by air two were one way along the east coast, and one was two way to the mid-west. Not because I dislike air travel, but because I don't often feel the need to leave the beautiful state where I live. NC