Is Your City Kid-Friendly?

By: Charles Bowen

Is your community a “kid-friendly” city? A new Web site can help you and your readers determine what cities in the U.S. may be best for rearing children, and how your region stacks up against other parts of the nation.

A nonprofit advocacy organization called Zero Population Growth (ZPG) has begun ranking U.S. cities according to quality-of-life standards and services that meet children’s needs. You can use the ZPG Web site to look up any major U.S. city’s report card. The ratings are calculated on specific factors in categories such as education, health, population, public safety, economics, environment, and community life.

The survey — focusing on problems ranging from overcrowded classrooms to teen pregnancy — studied quality of life factors in 239 cities, including every U.S. city with a population of 100,000 or more. The cities are divided into three categories:

* 25 “major cities,” defined as those with a population of 2 million or more.

* 140 smaller “independent cities,” with populations of 100,000 to 2 million.

* 74 “component cities or suburbs,” that is, incorporated areas of more than 100,000 within a metropolitan area.

Also included are the largest cities within those states that don’t have what the site defines as a “major city.”

Using the resource, you will learn that Portland, Ore., is ranked first for its kid friendliness among major U.S. cities scoring an A+ grade. Burlington, Vt., is ranked highest among the independent cities. Among suburban communities, Overland Park, Kan., received the top ranking. The study gives its lowest rate (a C- grade) to Atlanta and, in California, the cities of San Bernardino and Moreno Valley.

Incidentally, the ZPG report doesn’t imply that people ought to move away from cities that don’t receive good grades. Instead, it makes the case of using the information it provides in its database as a guide for making improvements.

To look in on the statistics and ratings, visit the site at To find the report card for a specific city, either enter its name in the data entry box in the upper right corner of the introductory screen or click the alphabetical listing of cities at the top of the screen. For each city in the database, there is a screen that is topped with its overall grade (from A+ to C-), followed by a summary of the factors that made up that ranking and a grade on each of those.

In addition, the title of each determining factor (such as “# Bad Air Days” and “% Low Birth Weight”) is hyperlinked. Click on the link for a definition of the term.

Of perhaps particular interest in the summary is the “health improvement” grade, which reflects a city’s efforts to reduce the percentage of births to teens, infant mortality rate, and the percent of low birth-weight births between 1990 and 1998. This category is not included in the cities’ final grades, but it does indicate both positive and negative changes taking places.

Other considerations for using the Kid-Friendly Cities site in your writing and editing:

1. For number crunchers, the “Statistical Analysis” link on the site’s introductory page provides pie charts that show how much of a city’s final score was explained by a particular indicator or category of indicators. For instance, unemployment explained almost 50% of a component (suburban) city’s final score.

2. The site’s introductory screen also has links to related reports and materials, such as opinion pieces on the importance of parks to a town’s health, as well as breakouts on “talking points” and the methodology used in the survey.

3. For a quick overview of the entire database, click on the introductory screen’s links to “National Averages,” “Honor Roll,” and FAQ (Frequently Asked Questions).

To see the last 10 “Digital How-to” columns, click here. Previous columns may be purchased in our paid archives. Search for “Bowen” in the “Author” field.

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