For the first time in 50 years, central cities across America are attracting
talented young people. But what happens when they begin to have children?
Unfortunately, as many as half of them leave for the suburbs once their
children reach school age. Why should urban leaders be concerned?
• It contributes to middle class flight
• It erodes the base of the population that supports
mainstream institutions - banks, libraries,
museums - places that serve everyone
• It reduces the diversity and vibrancy of the city
• It pulls entrepreneurship from urban centers
• It undermines city parent advocacy
Kids in Cities will help urban leaders understand, support and scale the
behaviors of pioneering urban families. Researchers from the IIT Institute
of Design studied parent concerns of safety, space and schools developing
concepts to counter them through density, public space and using the city as
In September 2007 CEOs for Cities will develop and test these strategies by
launching a Learning Network of four cities.
This research was generously sponsored by Forest City Enterprises.
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 2
Over the past 50 years in America, a strong belief has Key Questions: Fig 1.1 - Design Planning Process
emerged that the only “appropriate” place to raise children
is the suburbs. Children, conventional wisdom goes, require • Where are the greatest leverage points for urban leaders 1. Understanding the ecosystem
backyards, cul de sacs, nearby woods, the opportunity to to encourage this trend of families with children Research and analysis of the business,
bike to school and the safety generally thought to be offered remaining in and coming back to the city? users, and technological context of the
by the suburbs. In addition, the poor perception of urban • What actions can cities take that will have the greatest problem.
schools has pushed parents into suburbs seeking better impact on making them a superior choice for families
education options and security for their children. with children? 2. Reframing the problem
• Are there market segments more likely to choose city Restructuring the problem to get to
But suburbs are increasingly less likely to offer the benefits living and therefore be higher priority targets? the root cause, and not just address
they once promised. The woods are disappearing to • And are there key marketing messages urban leaders the symptoms.
development, children are driven to school in the family should employ to appeal to high priority targets?
minivan and news reports of children “snatched” from the 3. Developing proprietary insights
streets spread fear. At the same time, cities are becoming Using ethnographic research
more vibrant and livable. Yet young parents continue to favor techniques to generate unique, usable
the suburbs when it comes to raising a family. insights about stakeholders.
Most urban leaders believe that cities devoid of children will 4. Generating valuable concepts
be much less desirable places to live with much less secure Creating concepts with both economic
futures (to say nothing of the tax loss from people in their and user value.
peak earning years choosing to live elsewhere). They want to
find ways to encourage families with children to choose their 5. Design Plan
cities as places to live. The creation of high impact strategies
for new products, services, and
This project will address key dimensions of the problem business models.
cities face when trying to attract or retaining families. The
problem will be examined from both the perspectives of
families and city governments. Taking views from both sides
will create mutually beneficial solutions leading to healthier,
more vibrant cities and communities.
Our objective is to provide urban leaders with insights into
the reasons why families abandon cities for the suburbs.
These insights will lead to actionable strategies aimed at
retaining existing citizens as well as attracting new ones.
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 3
The paper contains the following five sections designed to
take the reader from an understanding of the problem, the
target market and the problems they face, through to the
development of strategies and ultimately concepts. The final
sections details how city leaders can use the information
presented in this paper to develop a plan for their own city.
Understanding the Developing a Around Safety,
Problem Strategy Space, and
An analysis of the current A new perspective on the A set of strategies and A plan to help city
situation, the values of target market produces concepts designed to leaders apply these
attracting children to an understanding of the support city families in strategies to their own
cities, and regions most problems they face and their day-to-day lives. planning efforts.
likely to affect change. suggests strategies for city
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 4
1. Understanding the Problem
An analysis of the current situation and the value of
attracting children to cities.
In this section
1.1 | Introduction
1.2 | Significance
As cities become increasingly attractive
to young professionals, they continue to
The return of professionals has been a tremendously positive
lose young families for cities because these people are the sort who power growth
and innovation. They are creative; they work long, hard
U.S. cities are experiencing an exodus of professionals with hours; and they are will to take entrepreneurial risks that
children to the surrounding suburbs. As a result, otherwise help a city’s economy expand. In the fast-paced industries
healthy cities are becoming “childless zones.” Recognizing such as technology and design, they are also the ones who
this as a important problem that cities must face, CEOs have the most up-to-date skills and training. Cities, thus,
for Cities, a non-profit organization working to ensure have a real incentive to attract and retain this group.
the vitality and prosperity of America’s cities, challenged
the Research and Demonstration team at the IIT Institute However, it is with retention that cities struggle. As
of Design to diagnose the situation and arrive at a set of professionals grow older and have children, they often
recommendations for urban leaders to us to alleviate or abandon their beloved cities for the perceived or real benefits
reverse this negative trend. The Kids in Cities project is the of the surrounding suburbs, such as better schools and more
response to that challenge. space. The exodus of parents from cities is well illustrated by
looking at San Francisco. This city has been a virtual Mecca
This project’s aim is to bring children to American’s major for young professionals looking for an exciting place to work
metropolitan cities. Within are a set of concepts to help city and play for decades. Today, however, the demand to live
leaders retain young, upper-income professions once they in San Francisco has brought the median house price up to
have children, and to attract new families from the suburbs. around $700,000, and it has the lowest percentage of people
under 18 years old of any major city in the nation, 14.5%,
Loss of families continues
compared with 25.7% nationwide.
American cities, from Seattle to Nashville, have experienced
a substantial influx of young professionals relocating from Besides the economic impact of losing highly educated
the suburbs over that past two decades. What is driving families in the prime of their careers, an array of compelling
them, in part, is the substantial social and economic arguments can be made for retaining these families. One is
improvements that cities have made. that children provide additional diversity and vibrancy to
cities, which in turn makes them more attractive places for
The other, perhaps more substantial reason, has been the all people. Another is that educated parents play a vital role
shift in lifestyle preference that has taken place among many in helping the city develop strong, tight-knit communities.
professionals. A growing number of today’s professionals
crave urban experiences and want to live in places that have
things like diversity, authenticity and vibrancy—all things
that the suburbs fail to offer. They are settling in places
where they have access to a rich history with a variety of
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 6
Children add value to cities in the forms diversity, they would be well served to increase these child This is a well tread argument that has been made by cities
populations. before. Sam Adams, the city Commissioner of Portland,
of diversity, community, economics and commenting on the “childless city” problem, said, “If [it
loyalty Echoing these sentiments, Gavin Newsom, San Francisco’s loses too many children], Portland will lose more than
mayor, said, “There’s a quality of imagination that’s very schoolchildren and schools. The city and its neighborhoods
City leaders already face immense challenges to improve important for the spirit and the soul of the city to maintain. will lose some of their vibrancy, even some of their passion,
public services, very often with increasingly tight budgets. Children bring that to a city. A city without children and civic-mindedness (Murphy 2).
Indeed, many of America’s city leaders are already struggling has no future.” Regardless whether it’s called “quality of
to manage cities with budget shortfalls in the millions of imagination,” or vibrancy and diversity, or “spirit of the city,” Economic Growth and Tax Revenue
dollars. So, within this context, why should cities divert the point remains—children bring something special to cities Young professionals starting families can be an important
their attention to attracting and retaining professionals with which make them a better place to live. source of tax revenue for cities. According to the 2007 Wall
children? In short, why is this problem significant? This Street Journal article entitled The Million Dollar Kid, parents
section explores this question. spend a lot of money raising children. In fact, increasingly
Amenities of City
In contrast with other groups such as single professional common expenses can send the amount of money required
and senior citizens, parents have more at stake and are more to raise a kid to well above $1 million for people in the
Vibrancy and Diversity
The user-research that was conducted for this project stable and connected to the community. They are more top-third income bracket (Daspin, 1). That breaks down to
provided a wealth of insights into the attitudes, behaviors, active in city government and have more power to shape approximately $55,000 per year per child, much of which will
and values of professionals. Most notable among these was city policy. This gives them greater influence, which they be fed into the local city economy and realized in tax dollars.
the value professionals place on the vibrancy and diversity can, in turn, use to pressure city government to spend tax
of cities. Many professionals explained that they want a city revenue on services that will benefit them and their children. Loyal Customer Base
that is “alive” and would be willing to relocate from a lifeless, Topping their list of demands usually are schools, parks, The majority of today’s generation of new parents
sterile city. trails, and public safety—all amenities that benefit the greater were themselves raised in the suburbs. This creates a
community. predisposition to raising their own children in the suburbs
Is there a better source of vibrancy and diversity available because that is the way of life they are most familiar and
to cities than children? Synonyms for vibrancy include comfortable with.
Tight knit, Civic-minded Community
enthusiasm, animation, and vitality—all words commonly Parents strengthen the ecosystem of the city by knitting
used to describe children. Surely, cities have other sources the city together and creating a civic-minded base of To break this pattern, cities would be wise to try to attract
of vibrancy. They have festivals, college kids, coffee shops, citizens. Families with children require permanent, trusting and retain more families with children. An increase in
bicyclists, etc., but children provide a much-needed relationships and are more willing to invest time and effort upper-income children raised in the city will establish a base
dimension. to form these relationship than other groups. These are of “repeat customers,” who are familiar with the nuances
important to parents for a range of things, from emotional of the city and who are comfortable with raising their own
The same is true for diversity. Already cities have a range of support to car-pooling, and from trust to baby sitters. They children in an urban environment.
racial and ethnic, religious, and economic groups, but this is are also more engaged in the duties and obligations of
becoming increasingly less pronounced. Cities are becoming maintaining their community because civic involvement
more homogeneous with a growing absence of the middle- helps them establish a sense of identity, history, and
class, children, and young parents. To increase their real connection.
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 7
2. Developing Strategy
A new perspective on the target market produces an
understanding of the problems they face and suggests
strategies for city improvement.
In this section
2.1 | Framing the Problem
2.2 | Strategy: The Swing Vote
2.3 | Understanding Pioneers
2.4 | Pain points & Workarounds
2.5 | Pioneer Values
2.6 | Pioneer Definitions
2.7 | Understanding the Swing Vote
2.8 | Problems of Perceptions
2.9 | Summary
3.0 | Solution Hierarchy
Framing the Problem
How to attract and retain families with economic
Parent Segmentation Map
For the Kids in Cities study, extensive secondary and
primary research was conducted on the topic of kids
in cities. The research involved identifying statistics,
trends, and pre-cursors relating to parenting and
family life. Twenty one-on-one ethnographic
interviews with a cross-section of parents from five
states and 10 one-on-one interviews with experts
related to the topic were conducted.
Based on research conducted, families with
economic options can be segmented into four
groups. Urban Pioneers are die-hard city lovers.
Suburban Loyalists are parents whose needs are
met by the suburbs. Tentative Urbanites are parents
in the city who very much enjoy the city, but they
may have recently had children and are now being
tempted by suburbs’ perceived space, schools, and
safety. Discontent Suburbanites are parents who
believed the suburbs would provide the “American
Dream” but are finding that they are disappointed
with their quality of life.
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 9
Based on this segmentation, cities should focus on Tentative
Urbanites and Discontent Suburbanites, two valuable
segments dubbed the “Swing Vote.”
Parent Segmentation Map
Investigating Urban Pioneers, who steadfastly raise their
children in the city despite its problems and shortcomings,
allowed the design team to develop insights and create
ideas for improving cities. Pioneers are a great source of
inspiration for innovative ideas because they live the reality
of raising kids in the city everyday. By observing them, the
design team was able to identify the city’s deficiencies and
pain points. Additionally, any workarounds that the pioneer
used to put “duct tape” on the problems relating to raising
children in an urban environment were rigorously noted.
Both the pain points and workarounds observed in Pioneers
were used to develop insights into how cities can transform
their offering to better suit the members of the Swing Vote.
The Swing Vote
The Swing Vote is a more practical segment compared to
Pioneers. What they are really concerned about is the risk
associated with raising their children in a place or in a
manner before it has proven itself to be good. What they
want to see before they buy their home in the city and send
their children off to school is well-established references that
communicate to them that it is a good idea. Furthermore,
the Swing Vote tend to rely on other members of the Swing
Vote, and not the Pioneers, for their information about the
benefits of the city.
Next, a closer look is taken at the key findings and insights
gained from the research conducted on the Pioneers and the
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 10
Urban Pioneers are willing to endure the city’s
shortcomings in order to expose their children to ...highly motivated
the diversity, vibrancy and culture of the city.
“Raising my kids in Chicago has been tough...but I never
Urban Pioneers are those parents who have already made the important considered moving out of the city as an option. “
decision to raise their children in the city, often despite the difficulties and
the pleading advice against it from their friends and family. We refer to them JC, Chicago
as Pioneers because they are blazing a new trail and because they are thought 2 children
to be opening up a path and preparing the way for others to follow. They are
willing to endure hardship and sacrifice in order to provide what they believe
is a better life for their children and themselves.
It would have been very easy for Pioneers to take the conventional path
and to raise their family in the suburbs. From our research, a number of ...able to see past roadblocks to achieve goals
forces, such as the American Dream, were uncovered in urban and suburban
professional alike, which point to the suburbs as being the “safe” option for “Making sure that we got our kids in good schools was a top
raising children. Additionally, there are forces such as guilt and pressure priority. The process was confusing...we spent a lot of time
from family and friends which Pioneers must contend with. Often Pioneers researching our options”
feel guilty for raising their children in the city because they are led to believe
that it is a selfish act, one which places the child’s welfare in the background. Maria, Philadelphia, 1 child
Moreover, the pain points of Pioneers are not limited to mental anxiety and
uncertainties. In fact, many of the problems with raising children in an
urban area are very real. For example, the noise of car alarms, the lack of
space, and the extra precautions required to keep children safe — all these
require extra effort on the part of Pioneers. Sometimes they can workaround
...willing to take risks
the problem, but often times these are real pain points they simply must
“I grew up in the suburbs and really didn’t know how my
child would like the city...”
What Pioneers deeply value is the range of experiences the city provides.
They are also highly motivated to instill these same values in their children
and are willing to endure hardships in other areas to provide it for them.
They admire the city’s density, culture, diversity, vibrancy, and opportunities
and want their children to learn from them.
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 11
Workarounds and Pain points
Pain point Workaround Opportunity
Developing ideas for improving the city and Families in the city have a lack of Families use multi-purpose general Look for solutions that provide
making it more acceptable for the Swing Vote open private space areas a middle ground between living
rooms and parks.
Ad hoc solutions the Pioneer creates to mitigate problems and shortcomings Most city apartments don’t have City parents take their children out Children are active and parents are
of cities are referred to by designers as workarounds. Through careful the room for children to play of the house to engage in activities. involved in the city
observation of these, designers can formalize solutions so they appeal to the inside all day.
masses. Pain points are simply areas of “pain” that cannot be avoided with
City apartments are less able Utilize public spaces such as parks, Cities could work to help provide
the current configuration or design. The table on the right displays a fraction
to accommodate large group schools and bars/restaurants. parents with access to public space
of the workarounds and pain points uncovered during research. Within are
meetings and parties. for meetings and get togethers.
some opportunities for improving cities. It can be seen here that most of a
pioneers pain points and workarounds can be grouped around the headings Limited spaces in homes cause Parents use kitchen or office as a House could be built with an
of safety, space and schools. clutter and claustrophobia place for children to play innovative layout to accommodate
kids in a small space.
Parking can be difficult or Use public transportation/park Transportation that is more family
Safety is a concern for parents regardless of whether they live in the city or
expensive extra car in “off site” area/Zip car friendly
the suburbs. City parents have learned to rely on the density of neighbors to
help them police their children. Many also invest more time teaching their
children rules for interacting with people and traveling in the city. The city has a higher crime rate Rely on neighborhood network to Cities should help create
than the suburbs. help watch children and strengthen ties within
Pain points and workarounds in this category mainly revolved around the
Parks are not safe enough for Hire nanny or establish Create system to provide
price per square foot for housing. What bothered Pioneers most is the children to go to alone relationship with other parents to supervision for children at park.
tight space for children’s bedrooms and the impracticality of sharing rooms. trade off watching children
Pioneers have found a way around this by spending more time outside and by
devising clever storage and playroom configurations.
Parents must actively search and Parents spend more time searching Necessary information could be
seek out educational options for the internet and talking with SMEs. collected and a system devised to
children present its most user-centric way.
It was found to be a serious problem for Pioneers to educate their children
in the city. For one, the cost of private school requires a significant portion It is difficult for parents to find and Parents rely on word-of-mouth. Information about schools
of their income. And if their children are going to attend public school, comprehend information about Contact friends in positions of could be made easier to find and
problems arise around the enrollment process and in using information such school options. power. Create ad hoc data bases understand.
as web sites.
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 12
Pioneers choose the city for the diverse Adjacencies made it easier for Pioneers to connect their
children with friends and to develop community. The large
and vibrant experiences it offers them amount of public parks and buildings make it easier to find
and their children Diversity
mutually convenient locations to meet with other parents
“When we finally moved to the suburbs, my children’s teachers
and also act as social gathering places.
came up to me and told me how much more well-rounded my
Typically, Pioneers have a very different set of values than
children were than the other children. I believe it’s because we
the Swing Vote, and therefore, it is of little importance Vibrancy
lived in the city for so many years. “ - Rachel
to understand the values of Pioneer for insights into the In addition to exposing their children to varied cultures,
Swing Vote. However, a brief overview of Pioneer values is many parents felt that living in the city provided their
“Going on the subway is like a free class in cultural education.
included here to bridge the gap between Pioneers and the children with a heightened sense of awareness that added
If I wanted everybody to be the same, I would’ve stayed in
Swing Vote because both were found to have similar values, to their safety and better acclimated them to the world at an
Ireland. “ - Anne
with the important difference being how they prioritized earlier age than their suburban counterparts.
those values. For Pioneers, diversity, density and vibrance
were emphasized. For members of the Swing Vote, space,
“My son is never sitting around the house, there’s just so much
safety, and schools trumped all other values.
to do. If we’re not going to one of the museums to see the latest
exhibit, then it’s the aquarium or planetarium or something
else. At the least, we’ll bring him to a friend’s house and just go
Pioneers place tremendous value on exposing their children
to the nearest park. It keeps me busy, but it’s time spent with
to diverse situations and cultures. Pioneer parents repeatedly
him so I enjoy it. “ - JC
mentioned that these experiences were more important than
a large home because they help make their children more
well-rounded than they would be if they lived in the suburbs.
“The first time they see a homeless guy on the train or bus, it
Additionally, city parents value the many cultural venues a
might rattle them a bit. But they quickly learn that it is part
city provides such as museums, theatres, and libraries, and
of life and the appropriate way to deal with it. I guess I could
often leverage these as ways to frequently take learning out of
try to shelter them from that by moving to the suburbs, but
the classroom and make it more enjoyable.
sooner or later they’re going to have to be exposed to it. I
think the sooner they learn about it and the more aware they
are, the better. “ - JC
Parents also felt that their children benefited from the
inherent adjacencies that a city’s density provides. The
“Everybody in our neighborhood knows [my kids]. The store
refrain “there’s so much to do” was heard often, referring to
owners, people on the street. I have no problem sending them
the variety of options for kid-friendly activities and events
out on their own because I know there is always somebody
found within a city, many within walking distance.
watching them. “ - Nancy
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 13
Pioneers define safety, space and Pioneers leverage diversity to help educate their children Additionally, this provides a workable strategy for changing
outside of the classroom. They use a city’s many public areas the perceptions of the Swing Vote. If they could learn to
education in different ways than the as convenient substitutes for backyards. They utilize their define safety, space and education in the same terms as
Swing Vote. neighbors to help them look after their children and their Pioneers, they would see the benefits of raising their children
children’s exposure to help them look after themselves. in the city rather than the suburbs.
When comparing their values with the pain points of city
living, the Pioneers’ broader perspective begins to become Redefinition as Strategy
more clear. Essentially, Pioneers find that by leveraging the This concept of redefinition gives us a strong strategy for
city’s strengths they are able to mitigate its weaknesses. In creating change. Contrary to traditional thinking which has
the Pioneer’s mind, the city does not fail to meet any of their strived to make cities more “suburb-like,” solutions should be
needs. It satisfies them in a way that is different from — and aimed at leveraging the city’s inherent strengths of diversity,
superior to — the suburbs. density and culture to help mitigate its weaknesses. By
redefining safety, space and schools as the pioneers do, we
Definition of Safety can better understand the city’s inherent leverage points.
While the traditional, suburban approach to safety is
accomplished through privacy, ownership and avoidance,
Pioneers find safety in numbers. They leverage the “eyes on
User Needs Majority Perception Point of Leverage Pioneer definition
the streets” provided by density of neighbors to help keep
their children safe. At the same time, Pioneers often referred
SAFETY The city as an unsafe place Density and diversity of people My children are kept safe by the
to a high level of awareness that their children possessed.
with higher level of crime and provide many “eyes on the many people they know on the
homelessness so my children street” streets of our neighborhood
Definition of Space
will not be safe
Space in the suburbs is centered around the ideas of
ownership and size. From large homes and lawns to SUVs,
the more square footage a person owns the better. Pioneers
SPACE City apartments are too Cities offer many adjacent public The entire city is my backyard!
on the other hand, are less concerned with ownership than
expensive. I can get a half acre in buildings and spaces that can be
they are with accessibility. The Pioneer leverages the city’s
the suburbs for the same price. used to “extend” the home
inherent adjacencies to provide them with a multitude of
public spaces they can utilize.
SCHOOLS City schools perform poorly and The city’s varied culture and The entire city is a classroom!
Definition of School
are underfunded unique experiences provide
Suburban parents often point to test scores as a signal that
children with educational
the suburbs are the better alternative. Pioneer parents
experiences in and out of the
more broadly define education to include the learning that
occurs outside of the classroom. When defined this way,
with its culture and diversity, the city offers a much better
“classroom” than the suburbs.
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 14
Understanding the Swing Vote
For the Swing Vote, the suburbs still offer the safety,
The Swing Vote...
space, and schooling that they desire... ...value measurable improvement
The Swing Vote might be the professional couple that moved to the city
“My husband and I moved to Evanston for the schools.
immediately after law school and have now decided to have children. Upon
We considered the city, but ultimately settled on Evanston
discussing raising their children in the city, they tell themselves that it is
because it has excellent schools.”
inevitable that they must move to the suburbs once their first child in born.
Ahn, Chicago suburb, 1 child
Moreover, the Swing Vote may also be the young couple who met at a
marketing firm uptown, got married, and had children three years ago. Now
their child has become school age, and they are contemplating a move to the
suburbs. In some cases, the Swing Vote may also be the suburban couple
who really loves the city and would like to raise their children there, but are
not ready to make that leap of faith that a move to the city would require.
...value long-term investments
The Swing Vote represent the target market.
“We moved from the city...we wanted more space...the kids
Comparing Swing Vote with Pioneers
toys clutters the kitchen. We knew we could get a house with
The major difference between the Swing Vote and Pioneers is a strong
more space in the suburbs.”
sense of practicality. For this reason, they are also often referred to as
“pragmatists.” While Pioneers are visionaries who believe the possible
Rachel, Philadelphia suburb, 3 children
benefits of raising their children in the city are worth the gamble, the Swing
Vote are more comfortable with “the sure bet.” Their more conservative
values lead them to be more concerned with “hard benefits” such as crime
rates and test scores over “soft benefits” such as diversity, density, and
vibrancy. It should be mentioned, however, that the Swing Vote is not an
entirely conservative bunch. Remember, most of them lived in the city before
...tend to communicate with others like themselves
the child issue arose in the lives.
“When my child approached school age, I moved to the
suburbs...My friends and family played a large part in helping
me make my decision.”
Margaret, Chicago suburb, 2 children
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 15
Problems of Perception
...while the city is still deficient in these to be made as well by changing the majority’s perception of
Technical vs. Hearts and Minds
While the assertion that the suburbs offer better schools, Many city leaders have recognized their city’s shaky
more space and a safer environment than cities is taken as reputation and have taken steps to change the minds of their
fact by most suburbanites, research shows that this is not potential citizens. However, their approach of concentrating
always the case. on improving and publicizing test scores and lowering crime
statistics do not resonate strongly with a public that has been
Sprawl and declining average population per household deeply affected by the American Dream of suburban living.
have reduced the feeling of community the suburbs
once provided, as well as contributed to the rise of “cul- Their technical approach, with its concentration on numbers
de-sac kids” and an increase in the amount of time and optimization, serves only to impress other mayors and
suburbanites spend in their cars. The best city schools are civic leaders, and does little to change the perceptions of
often performing as good or better than their suburban those outside the city. In order to change the hearts and
counterparts, and urban housing continues to appreciate at a minds of those tied to the suburbs, cities must understand
greater rate than the constantly expanding suburban stock. their opinions and preferences and work to help them
understand the benefits of the city at an emotional level.
Additionally, the Pioneers continue to raise their children in
the city with success and resolve. So why does the default A Communication Challenge
choice for the Swing Vote continues to be the suburbs? Changing perceptions is never easy, and it is made even
more difficult when the perceptions are long-standing and
Content vs. Communication entrenched in the national consciousness. Additionally, the
Problems often fall into one of two categories: content Swing vote do not generally respond well to advertising and
problems in which the solution does not exist and needs to marketing attempts.
be created, or communication problems where the solution
does exist but is not being communicated properly.
In the case of the child-friendly city, there is a large gap
between a city’s fitness for raising children and the degree to
which the Swing Vote accept them as a viable solution. This
points to a problem of communication — primarily the poor
perception of cities most American parents continue to hold.
The problem is not completely one of communication — as
we’ve already shown there continues to be much room for
improvement in the city — but there are considerable gains
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 16
The solution hierarchy provides city
leaders with a complete picture of the
strategies available for affecting the
problem of Kids in Cities.
Strategies, initiatives and illustrative
concepts will be covered in the next
Kids in Cities
Safety Space Schools
Shared Private Ease School City-wide Leveraging
Space Space Navigation Information Learning City Assets
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 17
A set of strategies and concepts designed to support city
families in their day-to-day lives.
In this section
3.1 | Safety
3.2 | Space
3.3 | Schools
Parents, more than any other group, are social beings who
want to settle down in a place that is comfortable and Quotes from research:
secure. They want to know first and foremost that they “…we were frightened at first of public transport, didn’t want
are going to be physically safe. But beyond this, they also that for her kids.” - Jocelyn
desire an environment that appears to be safe. For this, they
need to receive signals that the town or neighborhood in “…she didn’t grow up in city, so she worries about crime,
which they are living in is free from danger that may harm random shootings, doesn’t happen in our neighborhood, but
their children. Sometimes these signals must be explicitly you never know. Big city is more about crime….”
communicated. Sometime they must take more subtle,
implicit forms. Insight:
Communicating the safety of places in the city relative to one
Indeed, safety is a well-trodden area of city concern. The another presents a realistic opportunity for cities to change
media help create the perception that the suburbs are much perceptions and communicate progress.
safer than the city. They often point out the dangers of the
city and warn they must do more to control violent crime. Issues addressed in this section:
Regardless of whether these reports are accurate, the results • Lack of knowledge of what parts of the city are safe
of our research revealed that most parents and their extended • Safe navigation of the city
family still perceive that cities as dangerous places to raise • Creation of safe communities
children. Although they criticize the suburbs on many other
points, most parents still believe that the suburbs are much
This section provides an array of ideas to assist city leaders
in improving both the actual and perceived safety of the
city. Some ideas help older children to navigate the city
safely without their parents. Other ideas consist of services
or technology that the city can provide to track and monitor
children as they move about the city. Still others provide a
visible reminder to parents that the city is addressing their
concerns and providing for the safety of their children.
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 19
Figure 1: Safe Routes
Figure 1.1: Business Certification Messaging Services
Figure 1.2: Visible Directions
Cities can put parents at ease by visibly creating footpaths that clearly
indicate that the city is watching over. This sort of messaging could
include visible cameras along specific routes, markings on buildings
and sidewalks to communicate at the child level. Businesses
could take part in child safety initiatives through a high-profile
certification program, letting kids and parents know that they have
been checked out by authorities and been proven to be a safe haven
• Provides peace of mind for parents
• Makes it easier and safer for kids to move about the city
• Communicates safe places to children and adults
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 20
Figure 1: Pre-Paid Pass
Public transportation services can be leveraged to establish a Messaging Services
network of safe options for children to travel from place to place or
get home in an emergency. A simple card system could allow kids to
carry a prepaid, universal access pass that would allow them to ride
buses, trains, and taxis.
Figure 2: Emergency Call Boxes
Figure 2.1: Kid 911
As cities increasingly opt for public cameras as a way to deter crime,
they could also add call boxes designed for children.
Figure 3: Designated Safe Car on Train or Buses
Child only areas could be designated on trains and buses near the
driver and monitored by cameras. This system would give parents
peace of mind, and give kids a feeling of safety.
• Proactive measures for parents to take active role
• Easy way for kids to get help or get home
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 21
Leaders hoping to attract parents to their cities are advised adjacencies. Indeed, many cities have become playgrounds
not to overlook the problem of space. For parents, space for the “young and restless.” These people love the variety
is among the most important factors influencing their of chic new restaurants, trendy bars and all-night clubs that Shared Private Ease
decision where to settle and raise children. It is extremely are available to them. However, the appeal for of this type of Space Space Navigation
important for them that they find just the right house, in space does not necessarily translate to parents with children.
a neighborhood that is good for raising a family. In this
section, we will explore some of the aspects of space that It is no surprise that children bring about a shift in priorities
matter most to parents. in parents. Young professional families are certainly no Quotes from research:
exception to this rule. However, our research seems to “…we go to local places, Mexican restaurants, Asian
indicate that young, creative professionals don’t necessarily
Private Space restaurants, a sports bar, sushi. We just have to go early before
The first type of space that we will look at is private space, want the fun to cease. And they certainly don’t want to it’s packed.”
which consists of the home, surrounding yard and garage. relocate to family designated areas. What they want is access
This space is high on the family’s checklist as they compare to different things in the public space and a more child- “…there aren’t many places that have both kid and adult
their options. In fact, our research indicated professionals sensitive environment. They want a dimension of space activities. A restaurant with good food doesn’t work for the
often abandon the city for the suburbs due to the high cost designated for them and their children that is seamlessly kids because they have a short attention span and can’t wait to
of home ownership. Rising housing prices mean that even incorporated into the cityscape. They also want to receive get served.”
families who make salaries well above average are still unable visible recognition from the city that they are valued and
to afford to buy a large enough home with enough bedrooms important members of the community. Oftentimes cities
to raise their children. Additionally, they are unable to afford need not even allocate additional public space for families; Insights:
a home with a yard and other amenities that come in handy instead, they can simply do a better job at marking and City assets are aimed more at single professionals than families
when raising children. designating the space that is already available. with young children. This causes parents to go out of their
way to take advantage of city life. Families need frequent
The reality of home ownership in the city puts parents who Simple improvements geared toward families can also make designated spaces for unpredictability of travel.
are determined to stay in the city and raise their children in a big difference. When deciding on a place to live, parents
a tough predicament. They are often forced to create a list of evaluate the pros and cons of the city versus the suburbs.
priorities and make difficult trade-offs. As a result, parents In this calculation, it is often the little inconveniences of Issues addressed in this section:
who love the city and who want to raise their children there raising children in the city that add up, causing parents to • Lack of space for leisure time in the city
are frequently compelled to move to the suburbs where they perceive the suburbs as the better choice. Sure, the suburbs • Lack of designated green spaces
can find a home that is both affordable and offers enough aren’t perfect, but they are often free from the little problems • Areas of the city that cannot normally be enjoyed by
space. of the city such as parking tickets, stroller access, noisy fire families
trucks and ambulances, homeless people, and visible trash. • Utilizing the density of the city, and optimization of existing
Therefore, in addition to trying to solve larger problems
Shared Space space
By focusing on the home, we risk overlooking the other related to space, this section also provides some ideas for • Concerns regarding size and usability of the city’s housing
space of the city that is important to families. This space is cities to provide innovative solutions to reduce the little options
the public space and the general environment. These spaces frustrations that add up to major headaches for parents. • The city has many offerings that go unnoticed
are typically ideal for young professionals because they
consist of attraction points, transportation options, and other
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 22
Figure 1: Adaptable Living Floor Plans
Shared Private Ease
Living areas designed to take advantage of adjacent spaces can
Space Space Navigation
utilize parts of existing facilities to assemble larger systems. This
might manifest itself as an adaptable floor plan which would take
parts of individual apartments, used privately during evenings and
weekends, and turn them into one large space for use by an entire
floor of a living complex. This arrangement could be a powerful way
to address issues such as in-home day care.
Figure 2: Boomer Generation Incentives
The baby boomer generation offers opportunities for the family-
centric city as well. This group of citizens is increasingly found in
the city as trends like “aging in place” continue. Baby boomers and
their lifestyle could be leveraged not only to offer families assistance
with day care, but they could also play a pivotal role in the creation
a network of individuals who posses the trusted knowledge that the
Swing Vote require.
Figure 3: Time Share Model
Families need help from loved ones and trusted sources. By
pooling resources, young families can share some of the financial
responsibilities that come with raising children in the city, whether
it be a nanny shared by several families, or a time-share arrangement
allowing families to share a vacation home.
• Shared resources
• Shared financial burden
• Better use of living space
• Proximity of help with raising children
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 23
Figure 1: Car Free Zones
Converting city streets to pedestrian only zones during off-peak
traffic times offers the opportunity to transform areas normally Shared Private Ease
devoted to vehicle traffic into family centric spaces. Perhaps during Space Space Navigation
evenings and weekends, restaurants and cafes could expand their
sidewalk seating areas to include stroller space, or even play areas.
Figure 2: Public Spaces as Common Space
Figure 2.1: Happy Hour for Families
Figure 2.2: Family Rest Stops
To help families as they travel about the city, cities may want to
consider boosting the quantity and quality of their public spaces. By
expanding traditional public building services such as bathrooms
and stroller lockers into places that allow families to relax, cities have
an opportunity to transform themselves into places where families
can take part in recreational activities and not be bothered by the
irritating inconveniences that are so abundant when the needs of
children are not addressed.
• Opens up under utilized resources of the city
• Personifies the city as a place that supports the family initiative
• Creates an incentive for families to come from the suburbs
• Supports tighter network of families within neighborhoods
• Puts in context the things that attract people: dense vertical
housing, fashionable restaurants and shops, and mass transit that
makes having a car unnecessary
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 24
Kids Source is a publication of information, local shop discounts, games,
and puzzles that are specifically for children. It could provide families
with information relating to activities and events being held in the city.
Shared Private Ease
They could also provide discounts at local shops, cafes, and museums in Space Space Navigation
the city, or they could contain information relating to learning about the
history of a city or clues relating to K-Games, a concept described later in
Lastly, kids in the city and the interesting activities they are involved with
could be highlighted within a section of Kid Source.
An analogy in existence today...
Timeout Magazine now has Timeout New York Kids, a publication and
website specifically focused on family-friendly activities.
pass to Chicago
At the Museum of
Science and Industry
More Coupons Inside!
Don’t miss Chicago Kids Company’s
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
At the Museum
of Science and
More Coupons Inside!
Don’t miss Chicago Kids Company’s
Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs
Figure 18 -TimeOut Kids
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 25
Graffiti is a campaign with an appealing visual language focused on “Play Here!”
branding the city as kid-friendly. Children are often told what they “Chew gum here!”
are not allowed to do, whether it’s by their parents or a stranger. This “Skate here!”
Shared Private Ease
campaign is designed to break this convention by specifically telling
Space Space Navigation
children that they should play in areas specifically provided for them. It Other forms of media will help families see the
also can provide visual cues of safe areas or spaces where children will feel city as kid-friendly. This could include: signs,
a higher sense of security such as the walk to and from school. posters, and billboards in airports, subways, bus
stops, and neighborhood parks highlighting kid-
Examples include signs that show kid-friendly paths from home to school. friendly events and activities.
They might also indicate places for children to play such as:
Ride Here! Here!
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 26
K-Games is a series of activities, puzzles, and games for kids posted
on kiosks that are located in easily accessible areas within the local
neighborhood. The kiosks display activities and puzzles for children to
Shared Private Ease
play, which might be geared toward learning about the city or the city’s
Space Space Navigation
history, but done in an interactive way. They might include:
• Scavenger Hunts
• City trivia and history
• Where’s Waldo in the city?
Depending on the level of technology used, kiosks could be highly
interactive or simply a posting of a new activity. On a regular basis, the Waldo in Chicago?
Clues to find Waldo:
city or local neighborhood organization would update the kiosks with new 1. He’s exactly two miles north of a park that was named after the turn of the century.
2. He’s closest to the fourth subway line built in the City of Chicago.
games for children to play. 3. He’s near a building that used to be a major department store warehouse.
4. He’s near a statue of the third Mayor of the City of Chicago.
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 27
Figure 1: Safety, Space & Education Icons
A system of icons that provides clear navigational cues, even from a
child’s perspective, would help parents and children as they explore Shared Private Ease
the city and its abundant activities. Space Space Navigation
Figure 2: Map & Trip Planner
Icons might be coupled with an interactive activity planning
function that could be presented on the Internet or at a kiosk.
An essential feature of this system would be a child-centric map
designed to help kids plan trips and navigate unfamiliar parts of the
• Simplifies the trip planning process
• Makes city benefits visible
• Creates a common, easy to read navigation language
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 28
As members of a meritocracy, professional parents place one place. For instance, they might access a web site and
an extremely high value on all manifestations of education. enter their particular information and their preferences and
They continuously seek educational experiences for their receive their options. An even better process might involve School City-wide Leveraging
children, whether it’s in the classroom, at the aquarium, augmented services such as a guidance councilor to provide Information Learning City Assets
or along the street. Their philosophy, whether expressed parents with advice and options for educating their children
consciously or unconsciously, is that even leisure time and in the city.
playtime should have an educational component. And
naturally, for them, schools are viewed as the primary form City-wide Info
of education, and as such it is one of their primary concerns. In some explorations, the actual real estate of the city is used
as a channel for delivering an assortment of educational
This section builds off these insights. It explores a variety messages. In others, the empty space around kid-friendly
of creative ways in which cities can infuse education into attractions such as playgrounds and buses, are transformed
activities that children are involved in – whether it is by fun into a medium for improving learning, and thereby capturing
activities like going to the park or more mundane activities an otherwise lost opportunity. Still others offer suggestions
like strolling by a construction site. Strategies are provided to uplift unpleasant areas like construction sites by turning Quotes from research:
for enhancing the learning of children by exposing them to them into educational opportunities. The goal in each case “…subway is a cultural lesson in itself.”
diversity and establishing a connection between them and is to create an educational environment for children by
the history, culture, and society particular to where they live. leveraging the city’s assets. “I wanted them (my kids) to grow up (in the city), and this
is the way I think of cities. They’re a combination of a lot of
Also visited in this section are ways in which cities can
people from diverse backgrounds, socio economic groups,
The fact that schools are a central part of a child’s life cannot facilitate education through exposure. Many parents in addition to diversity of races, and nationalities and
be ignored. Children wake up early in the morning and interviewed expressed their love of the city as a way to religions…”
spend their entire day in schools, where they are exposed to expose their children to things and people that have
a variety of impressions and influences. These are the places educational value. They believe that by experiencing the
where a child’s mind and sense of self are developed through diversity of the city, their children will be better prepared for Insights:
learning and interaction with others. Although the concepts life’s challenges and will be in a better position to succeed in Cities can augment efforts to improve school systems
in this section do not directly address many of the most an increasingly competitive world. by leveraging city assets toward making the city itself an
pressing problems related to inner city schools, they do speak educational experience.
to some of the problems parents experience with the school
Issues addressed in this section:
To make this process easier, this section encourages cities • Difficulty in finding information about and choosing
to provide better tools and processes by demonstrating a set schools
of ways this can be done. It is envisioned here that a set of • Perception that cities are bad for kid’s education
improved tools would allow parents to access information
about all their school options, both public and private, in
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 29
Figure 1: School Realtor
To solve this problem, schools could assign a liaison to address
parent needs and provide a personal contact when making school
related decisions. School City-wide Leveraging
Information Learning City Assets
Figure 2: School Comparison
Figure 2.1: School Stats
Figure 3: Yearly School Fair
Parents could access multiple layers of information, including
quantitative data such as test scores and qualitative data such as
pictures of classrooms. Yearly school recruiting fairs that provide an
organized event tailored toward showing school strengths to parents
shopping for city schools could be organized to help parents with the
school enrollment process.
Helps parents learn about, and decide on schools
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 30
City Scouts is a public-private initiative that brings together city
government, local businesses, universities, non-profit organizations,
and families. It’s a network of organizations that provide children with
School City-wide Leveraging
opportunities to help out in their community, participate in local or
Information Learning City Assets
neighborhood level government, and work with and learn from local
business professionals. It is broader in scope that the Signature Strength
Network in that it is not focused exclusively on the signature strengths of
Cities are learning that it is vitally important to involve young people
in the development and betterment of their communities. Allowing
young people to co-create the world in which they live in results in a Log out
compelling reason for young people to stay, because they feel vested
Connecting Students with Community Outreach
in their communities. Students participating in City Scouts could be
awarded scholarships or grants to local schools and universities for their
Search environment Cost Schedule Distance
Volunteers Sports and Exercise Clubs
City Scouts is also a web platform that links families with organizations Student Conservation Association
City Scout of the Month
Conservation Leadership Corps
that are part of the City Scouts Network. Families can search for learning As a member of a Conservation Leadership Corps
opportunities based on a particular interest or by the type of experience you will:
• Volunteer on weekends throughout the
whether it is a mentor, an internship, non-profit work, or neighborhood school year in the city where you live.
government involvement. • Build trails, restore river and lake front
environments, and conserve habitats.
Audrey Smith is not a tenth grader who lets
An analogy in existence today... things slip by. She attends Freeman High
Junior Earth Team
School in downtown Chicago and noticed
An environmental apprenticeship program in
VolunteerMatch is a network of non-profits that people can search and that cars were speeding by her school.
neighborhood parks for teens. Teens provide
volunteer for based on their interest. Many of the children walk home and these
environmentally-based activities to children at five
cars can pose a potential safety danger. She
city parks in ethically diverse neighborhoods
started volunteering in the student board
then gathered a group of parents, students,
and faculty who supported her view to the
school board. They then approved her plan
Help improve the outdoor environment of our
to post school crossing signs and assign
residential areas by planting and maintaining
safety crossing patrols.
gardens. Gardening Opportunity has many
opportunities for creative minds. Butterfly gardens
are a particular favorite among our residents.
Figure 14 - VolunteerMatch logo
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 31
Signature Strengths are key characteristics of cities that differentiate one
city from any other. The Signature Strength Volunteer Program is a
volunteer network of experts that help city children learn more about
School City-wide Leveraging
these unique strengths.
Information Learning City Assets
By bringing experts and children together, children can learn in a much
more engaging manner. Also this may open a child’s world beyond what
they typically learn in school and give them a sense of many possibilities
within their own city.
The city of Chicago is renowned for its architecture. For children
interested in architecture or simply interested in learning more about it
beyond what schools offer, the Signature Strength Volunteer Program is an
opportunity to gain first hand experience with experts in the field.
The Signature Strength Volunteer Program proposes that Chicago
architects periodically visit schools or hold classes at their firms to teach
different topics related to the architecture such as 3-D modeling and
sketching. Tours of the city could be given by architects to give children
first-hand knowledge from experts in the field.
Kids in Cities : Concept Paper | 32