In the last decade, though the city of St.
Francis grew by 52,774, it lost children — 4,081 of them
to be exact — the only metropolis of any size in the state
and one of few nationwide to see such a net change in its
youngest ranks, according to recently released census data.
— Maria L. La Ganga, Los Angeles Times
Imagine a circus where no kids laugh, a
seashore where no toddlers run from the waves in mock
terror. Imagine silent schoolyards and playgrounds filled
with empty swings. Imagine a city without children. Imagine
This city by the bay has become the
playground of choice for thousands of young adults, who move
back and forth between offices and beaches to cafés with
hardly a change of gears. It’s “the Club Med of American
cities,” says state librarian Kevin Starr, “a nice city
to be young in, if you’ve got the money.”
But what if you’re a real kid, a person
below the age of eighteen? Fahgeddaboudit. You’d be better
off elsewhere, and that’s where you’re probably headed.
Your parents have likely been driven across the bay in
search of affordable housing. And despite their reluctance
to leave the beautiful and exciting place they’ve called
home, they’re also probably relieved at the prospect of
living in an environment where their offspring will be
Take a look at what they’re leaving.
Reporter Maria La Ganga looked long and hard, in a
thoughtful article published by the Los Angeles Times on
June 7. What did she see?
San Francisco offers a mixed picture of
what life is like when adults are so dramatically front
and center. The theaters are great, but the schools are
troubled. The foie gras comes seared with wild mulberries,
salt-cured on brioche, or cloaked in a deep crawfish
reduction, but the parks went 50 years without a bond
measure to pay for repairs.
Anecdotes abound describing the
difficulties of living in San Francisco with children. A
companion LA Times article by Shawn Hubler, reprinted in the
Examiner, notes: “The kid-unfriendly attitude shows up not
only in the serious, large-scale matters — the delayed
park bond issues, the barely functional public school system
— but in the small, everyday ways, which are more telling.
In one neighborhood, the maitre d’ at a checked-tablecloth
bistro has managed, strangely, to have a table every time my
husband and I stop by as a couple — and to be suddenly
booked until 9 p.m. every time we stop by with kids.”
Occasionally, somebody notices that this
city is no longer comfortable, either economically or
socially, to raise children in. New school superintendent
Arlene Ackerman promises to funnel more money into city
classrooms and a 50 percent increase in funding for athletic
programs. Post Cereals — the people who put Shredded Wheat
and Pebbles on your breakfast table — bring members of the
Columbia Park Boys & Girls Clubs to PacBell Park,
perhaps to revive a rapidly dying interest in baseball among
today’s young people.
Even the supervisors get into the act. The
board has always shown a soft place in its collective heart
toward children. Recall the love fest that arose when former
supervisor Mabel Tang proposed a childcare center in the
basement of City Hall. And now Gerardo Sandoval has proposed
a “waterfront kids” program, to be financed — Sandoval
suggests — by a small piece of the budget of the St.
Francis and Golden Gate yacht clubs.
The idea is to get children out of their
limiting landlocked homes, bus them to the Marina, and show
them the exciting world that exists along San Francisco’s
shores. To teach them to go down to the sea in ships? Maybe.
At least, to show them the varied world that inhabits the
How can one fault the suggestion? And
indeed, even Tony Hall — father of seven — pronounced
orotundly, “Children are our most important product…
commodity,” before voting against the measure on economic
grounds. After a good deal of humphing and hawing, the
measure passed, 6 – 5, with a promise from Rec & Parks
to provide all sorts of additional wonderful after-school
programs for the city’s kids.
It’s about time. But after-school
programs and more money for school athletic programs are
only very small fingers in the very large dike of leaking
youthful promise. What happened to the city that even poor
kids explored as though it was their own backyard? Lacking a
momma to drive them, they quickly find that public
transportation is unreliable, and once they get where they’re
going, prices are so high that they end up with their noses
pressed at the window, looking wistfully inside.
According to recently released census
figures, the adult population of San Francisco increased
over the past ten years, with particular spikes among 25 –
34 year olds and 45 – 54 year olds, the latter being baby
boomers whose kids have grown up and left the nest. For a
variety of reasons, they may be glad to be childfree. But
they may also discover that the little rascals have their
uses. According to California’s Employment Development
Department, sixteen-to-nineteen year olds do nearly a third
of the low-wage work in the state and nearly 20 percent of
that work is done by 20-to-24 year olds, exactly the
populations that San Francisco is losing.
there’s another aspect to the conundrum that’s perhaps
even more compelling. Recall an old, old science fiction
story by Arthur C. Clarke entitled “Childhood’s End.”
A shipload of superior beings arrive on earth, bringing
technological progress, solutions to poverty and disease,
and an end to war. In exchange, the people of earth must
relinquish their children to the care of the benevolent
intruders — a step that becomes the equivalent of a living
death for the adults they leave behind.
My grandmother used to sigh and say, “Having
children teaches patience.” Having children also gives
birth to the future.