When you have a new baby, suddenly you notice them everywhere. Certainly, that’s how I felt with Chatterboy. I assumed that in my formerly childless state, they’d always been there, but I hadn’t noticed them before. But I’ve just been looking at the census statistics for my local area, and it turns out that, like many other inner city areas recently, we have had a baby boom.
In the latest census (2006) there was a 23% increase in the 0-4 year olds in our area over 5 years before, and a 35% increase over 10 years before. We come from a very low base – the lowest birth rate in Sydney – but that still means our infrastructure is bursting at the seams. Particularly the schools, which are sprouting demountable classrooms every year as each kindergarten year is bigger than the last. Hungry Boy’s Kindergarten year this year has six classes, compared with Chatterboy’s five two years ago.
Until I had a look at the census, I assumed that what was happening is that people were choosing to stay around after having children, rather than moving out to the suburbs as they used to. But it turns out that the big change is that children are born here in the first place. We still have 25% of our babies leaving the area in their first five years. But there are a lot more of them than there used to be.
It’s a hard job for the planners. Fifteen years ago, two local schools were closed down through lack of children. It’s hard to see how they could ever reopen now – one has been absorbed by a private school (which takes children from all over Sydney) so the land is never going to be available again.
I imagine that this pattern is repeated across inner city areas throughout Sydney. Wealthier parents are more likely to have children later, so the baby boom that is happening for women who are in their 30s is much more pronounced in the inner city areas, where most of the people who can afford to live there and have children are in their 30s rather than 20s. And those older parents are placing much more value on the infrastructure that you get with an inner city area – closeness to work, cultural venues (like museums and theatres), and generally, pretty good schools.
It’ll probably take a while for our infrastructure to adjust, because the patterns are only just starting to show up in the census, which is what planners rely on to make decisions about schools, and all the other infrastructure associated with children. I imagine that our school is going to be in demountables until just about the point that the new children stop coming, at which point, some wonderful new school buildings will finally be built.