The Big Apple's Little Boom

[Babies in the City: In several urban areas, the numbers of young white children have risen at a much higher rate than the number of young children overall.]
By Robin Shulman
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, March 30, 2008

NEW YORK -- A decade ago, 3-year-old Theo Carlston may have been considered part of an endangered species: a white toddler in Manhattan.

But here he is: blond, soft-eyed, sweet-faced, building a fort at a members-only indoor playground in fashionable SoHo neighborhood, surrounded by others like him.

Once upon a time, Manhattan was an island of adult thrills and vices. In the national imagination, it was a place of artists, musicians, socialites, Wall Street bankers -- or of hustlers, runaways, addicts, murderers. But it was not on the radar of the typical white, middle-class couple as a place to raise children.

Now demographers say Manhattan is increasingly a borough of babies, and more and more of them are white and well-off.

The number of children younger than 5 in Manhattan has increased about 30 percent since 2000, said William H. Frey, a demographer at the Brookings Institution. The increase is driven by white toddlers, whose numbers have gone up by 60 percent, according to the 2000 census and the 2006 American Community Survey, he said. For the first time since the 1960s, young white children outnumber their black or Hispanic counterparts in Manhattan, demographers say.

"It's surprising," Frey said. "It's a selective part of the white population, a lifestyle of people who want to have children and can afford to live in the city."

Indeed, according to Andrew A. Beveridge, a demographer at Queens College, the median household income for this group of children was $280,000 in 2005.

In a reversal of a decades-long trend of flight to the suburbs, affluent couples are deciding to stay, at a time when crime is low, some schools have improved and urban life has a new allure, said Kenneth T. Jackson, a professor of urban history at Columbia University.

That decision, a sign of rapid gentrification, is being repeated in several cities, such as Atlanta, Chicago, Denver, Los Angeles and the District, all areas where the numbers of young, white children have risen at a much higher rate than the numbers of young children overall -- figures that in some cases have even decreased.

In New York, Theo's parents -- who work in public relations and finance, and who grew up in suburbs -- said they had been looking for a more interesting, diverse and convenient place to live.

"Right now, we're excited to be here," said Theo's mother, Jennifer Carlston, 35. "We haven't considered leaving."

Their decision, and that of parents like them, has the potential to touch most every aspect of life in the city, including real estate, education and the character of neighborhoods.

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