To echo what Ezra Klein says here obviously the low quality of the public schools in some cities makes them a not-so-hot place to raise children, but there’s nothing in general about urban areas that makes them bad places for kids. I grew up in a big city and I think it was great. Among other advantages, my parents didn’t need to spend my early teen years acting as my chauffeur and throughout high school they were able to rest assured that I wasn’t driving drunk.
Just as for non-children, in other words, there are pluses and minuses to having a smaller home in a denser area versus a larger home in a less-dense one. I imagine that many people, both with and without children, will have a strong preference for houses with substantial yards and there’s nothing wrong with that. But there’s also nothing wrong with raising kids in a city if that’s what you like. From a policy perspective, this is just one more reason why it’s important to improve educational opportunities in troubled urban school systems but some suburbs have problematic school systems too — it’s not as if proximity to strip malls guarantees educational excellence.
Beyond all that, one important factor keeping people — but especially families — out of a lot of pleasant urban neighborhoods is the “no one wants to live there, it’s too expensive” phenomenon. To buy a multiple bedroom apartment in the neighborhood where I grew up would, these days, cost about a zillion dollars real estate crash notwithstanding. Sky-high prices in fashionable central cities are going to push people further out who might, were the prices the same, prefer to live in the central cities. That, in my view, is a good reason to try to alleviate some of the regulatory restrictions on building more housing in desirable areas but, again, it doesn’t point to some metaphysical problem with the concept of raising children in the city.