Everyone knows the term “food desert.”
These are low-income neighborhoods where choices of reasonably priced nutritious food are pitifully few.
In that vein, I have crafted a term for my increasingly affluent Napa neighborhood. I live in a child desert.
There are 16 houses on my city street. They range in size from modest to quite fancy, but all have inflated value because of the neighborhood’s “wine country” ambiance.
Apropos of a recent news story about local public school enrollment declining, how many children do you suppose these 16 houses send to Napa public schools? As best as I can calculate, not a one.
Wait a minute, you say. If these are upper-income families, perhaps they send their children to private schools.
Not so. Unless there are kids hidden in basements and barns, my street currently has zero children in K-12 schools, public or private.
Could the term “child desert” be more apt? More demographically freaky? Remember, this is not a senior community I’m describing. It only sounds like one.
Cheryl, who has lived on our street for 40 years, remembers when it wasn’t this way.
Back in the day, when the street had only eight houses, as many as 10 children were living here. (If today’s residents were equally prolific, there would be 20 children today, not zero.)
Neighborhood kids gathered to ride their bikes, play baseball, explore the creek — anything and everything that juvenile humans do when they have playmates.
As someone who raised three children, Cheryl recalls that era fondly. This was your classic neighborhood, she says. Children had play and playmates waiting just outside their front doors.
What happened to all the kids? Particularly when eight homes grew to become 16.
What happened was not mass sterilization through the city’s water supply. It was slow gentrification, Napa-style.
The original houses on our street, because they were not fancy, were relatively affordable. They attracted moderate-income buyers still in their prime child-rearing years.
Unlike today, the “Napa Valley” wasn’t a luxury brand. It wasn’t an international beacon for the affluent who want a place to perfect their lifestyles.
As the valley climbed the status ladder, so did my little neighborhood. It’s in the city limits, but on the edge. Lots are larger. There’s the feel of “wine country.”
A new crop of people began arriving. They were older, wealthier than those child-rearing families that had come before. They came here to enjoy the Napa Valley, not to raise a brood.
My street now has four vineyards and two family wineries. Unbelievably, five of the 16 houses are second homes. While several of the second-home families do have children, they’re only here on weekends and holidays.
And there you have it. As street affluence went up, way up, the kids essentially disappeared.
Two weeks ago, the Napa Valley Unified School District released a report that predicts a 10 percent enrollment drop in the Napa area over the next decade.
Families with children will be squeezed out of Napa by better-heeled newcomers who can afford the area’s rising cost of housing, a consultant told the school board.
This predicted drop in the school-age population is a weird thing. Population growth, but kid shrinkage? Who knew demographics could work that way?
But it can. It has. On my street.
A person can easily get used to living on a street without children. Abrasive sounds are at a minimum. No wails of hurt from falls off bikes. No loud teen parties. Porch pumpkins are safe at Halloween.
Still, a street without a single child.