And it has, perhaps, but at a dear price. The fact is, the number of children in New York decreased by almost 9 percent between 2000 and 2010. According to the Department of City Planning, the black population under 18 decreased especially dramatically during those ten years, by 22.4 percent, while the population of white children decreased by only 3.8 percent. In the city’s richest borough, Manhattan, the number of white kids actually grew—by nearly 23 percent—and in rapidly gentrifying Brooklyn, the number of white kids increased by 7 percent. (The displacement of blacks and Latinos in some neighborhoods is painfully pronounced: In Brooklyn’s District 6, which encompasses Park Slope, the South Slope, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Red Hook, the number of white kids grew by 28.5 percent while the number of black and Hispanic kids each dropped by 36 percent.) Asians are the one ethnic group whose number of children increased overall during the decade.
So New York may indeed have become a bastion of middle-class values. The more affluent children have hours of structured activities, loads of supervision, ample schooling; they stick close to home. But this cloister we’ve developed for children is indeed just that: tall and high. Living here as a child is an increasingly rarefied experience, enjoyed mainly by those whose parents can afford it.
And who really knows, ultimately, if it’s even healthy for the city’s children to lead such sheltered lives? Certainly, the bubble they inhabit has its educational and economic advantages, training and priming them for the information economy that awaits. But all the insulation in the world can’t protect New York children from life’s most difficult realities—failure, rejection, illness. This city no longer tests children as it once did, and it demands far less resilience. “First, ideally, we are made to feel special,” writes the psychoanalyst Adam Phillips in his most recent book, Missing Out. “Then we are expected to enjoy a world in which we are not.”
The New York of old may have been harsh in many ways. But it probably prepared children far better for the world’s ultimate indifference.