The “quasi-public” Metropolitan Area Planning Council has released its plan for how to develop the Greater Boston area. (Hey, I didn’t even know we had one of these groups in MA.) Sounds like standard smart-growth thinking: Mixed use, mass transit, high density, enviro-friendly. Sounds good, and to my mind it leverages one of the great strengths of New England: We don’t just have soulless, decentralized “pure” suburbs with no central identity; we have towns, with distinctive character and community. You don’t get that everywhere!
But Harvard’s Ed Glaeser isn’t so sure this will pan out:
“The plan is fighting against both economic and political factors that will make this difficult,” said Ed Glaeser , economics professor at Harvard University and director of the Rappaport Institute for Greater Boston.
Glaeser said that a growing number of people want to live close to transit and downtown centers, but others are interested in the new large-lot homes that populate new suburbs. Many of these people, he said, are the sort of workers Massachusetts is trying to keep and attract: young families.
Speaking as a “young family” … I think this mode of thinking is a bit reductionist. Sure, there’s definitely an appeal to the very nice suburban house with the picket fence, garage, and very nice public schools to send your very nice kids with other very nice people’s kids. But it’s a mistake to think that’s the only kind of place young families want to live.
Imagine a “smart growth” approach that really valued young families — e.g. one that integrated child care into the community; one that insisted on fabulous, creative education; one that included out-of-school resources like arts, museums, and sports; one with ready access to “green space”, i.e. “running around space”; one with fast, reliable transportation (preferably public) so that you can spend more time with the kiddos.
Actually, look at Brookline: There’s a place that’s done remarkably well being both high-density and kiddo-friendly. There’s a reason why it’s so expensive, and families shoehorn themselves into smaller places for the privilege of living there.
In other words, if you want to attract young families, offer them solutions to their needs, which go beyond the white picket fence.