San Francisco Sees Baby Boom

Mike Swift, Mercury News (San Francisco), May 24, 2009

Along 24th Street in Noe Valley, the BabyBjorn carriers are out in force.

In this predominantly white enclave of San Francisco that some locals quip should be dubbed, “Strollerville,” parents walk past upscale shops with infants snuggled in the fashionable Swedish chest carriers.

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Births in the 94114 Zip code, which includes Noe Valley and the Castro, the historical center for San Francisco gay life, were about 50 percent higher in 2007 than in the mid-1990s.

Urban enclaves like Noe Valley and the Castro may sound like unlikely places for a baby boom. But they are at the vanguard of a national urban trend that, according to U.S. Census estimates, has given San Francisco its biggest brood of young children since the early 1970s.

“All you have to do is stand out there for five minutes and you’ll see a stroller,” said Carol Yenne, the owner of Small Frys, a specialty clothing store for young children in Noe Valley.

“There has been a demographic boom in the gay community having kids,” said San Francisco Supervisor Bevan Dufty, a gay man raising his 21/2-year-old daughter with a lesbian partner.

San Francisco has seen a 24 percent jump in its under-5 population since 2000, recent census data shows. Three-quarters of the increase was among whites. But even cities like Portland, whereas in San Francisco, local officials were wringing their hands a few years ago about the lack of children, are seeing a surge in children.

San Jose, where the child population has been flat since 2000, is a notable exception.

“I think there is a new generation of white, well-off parents who want to stay in the city, in high-amenity cities like San Francisco, New York, Washington, D.C., and Portland,” said Bill Frey, a demographer with the Brookings Institution. “They are willing to pay for private schools and child-safe neighborhoods in order to do this. It’s a trend that wasn’t apparent for the baby boomers, who left for the suburbs when they started having kids.”

While San Francisco has had perhaps the most dramatic kid increase relative to its overall growth, the number of infants, toddlers and young children is growing faster than the overall population in most big cities.

That doesn’t necessarily mean big cities are poised to reverse the pattern of post World War II America, where young middle-class parents moved to the suburbs to raise their children.

“This is not a trend that’s going to sweep the country,” Frey said. “It’s going to sweep pockets of wealth and privilege and upper middle-class lifestyles.”

But in San Francisco, Seattle, Portland and even Manhattan, all cities where officials worried a few years ago about the dwindling number of children, white families are fueling increases in the child population.

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The city has seen an influx of highly educated professionals, a “creative class,” Adams said. “Like Seattle and San Francisco and the Bay Area, they care a lot about the sustainability and quality of life. That has attracted a lot of the younger, creative types who now are of childbearing age.”

Relative to other big cities, children remain a relatively small share of the population in San Francisco. But the city topped 9,000 births in 2007 for the first time since 1994, and the San Francisco Unified School District received 500 more applications for kindergarten spots this year than last, the second year kindergarten applications surged.

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Some, like Yenne, say children are back for good in San Francisco. With private commuter buses from Google and other Silicon Valley companies cruising Noe Valley to pick up tech workers each morning, Yenne says the tradition of working in a city and raising kids in the suburbs has flipped for some.

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