How Does Child Care Access Affect Active Living in the Twin Cities?

How Does Child Care Access Affect Active Living in the Twin Cities?
One of the easier ways to incorporate more physical activity into your daily life is switching from an auto-powered commute to a foot-powered commute.  This might mean walking to transit or biking to work.  Although many people’s commutes are bikeable, if you have kids, the availability of child care near you can mean the bike stays in the garage.
So how accessible is child care in the Twin Cities? In the first post of this series I proposed that child care needed to be within 1/4 mile of your home in order to make an active commute feasible.  About 45 percent of households in Minneapolis and 42 percent in Saint Paul are within 1/4 mile of at least one child care center (using 2000 Census data).  Of course, all of these households don’t have kids, but if you look at where children under 5 lived in 2000, about 50% of them are close to child care.  Child care data from 2008 was provided by DEED and mnchildcare.org.
Where can Twin Cities residents with kids in child care commute actively?

Where can Twin Cities residents with kids in child care commute actively?

One of the easier ways to incorporate more physical activity into your daily life is switching from an auto-powered commute to a foot-powered commute.  This might mean walking to transit or biking to work.  Although many people’s commutes are bikeable, if you have kids, the availability of child care near you can mean the bike stays in the garage.

In the first post of this series I proposed that child care needed to be within 1/4 mile of your home in order to make an active commute feasible.  So how accessible is child care in the Twin Cities?  Where are the best and worst neighborhoods for parents who want an “active” commute?  I think I have some answers below the break.

About 45 percent of households in Minneapolis and 42 percent in Saint Paul are within 1/4 mile of at least one child care center (using 2000 Census data).  Of course, all of these households don’t have kids, but if you look at where children under 5 lived in 2000, about 50% of them are close to child care. 

(Some data notes: child care data from 2008 was provided by DEED and mnchildcare.org.  I’ve removed Head Start locations and school-age child care centers since kids can often get to these locations by means other than parents to dropping them off.)

So 50%? Well, it’s probably not that simple.  Access to only one child care center is not ideal, as demand is usually greater than supply (our family has experienced year-long waiting lists) and most people want to be able to choose among centers based on price, services and other factors.  So let’s instead assume that the minimum is really having access to two child care centers within 1/4 mile (still probably a conservative assumption).  Using that minimum only 13% of the households in Saint Paul and 16% of households in Minneapolis have adequate access to child care to make an “active” commute possible.

Areas of green in the map above show good access to child care (meaning at least two centers within 1/4 mile), while beige areas have access to one or no centers.  Northeast Minneapolis, parts of Southwest, and South Minneapolis are all areas that have low access.  The Como, Greater East Side and Payne-Phalen neighborhoods of Saint Paul also have some real vacuums.  As I predicted in my last post, child care is not evenly distributed across neighborhoods, but instead concentrated in areas of higher activity or density, and along major roads.

So, How Are The Children?

SeatsPerChildUsing the same 1/4 mile access assumption, I also created a map of the number of facilities that each census block can access.  Areas in red have access to no facilities within 1/4 mile.

Access relative to the number of young children in the area is another useful way to think about how well served any particular area is.  The child care data lists the capacity of each center, so you can make an estimation of seats available per child.  Of course, since the demographic data is from 2000, this is not entirely accurate, but it’s reasonable to assume that family-heavy neighborhoods have remained relatively constant since 2000.

So we know where access is lacking, but what are the worst areas?  If you were a planner, policy maker, or even prospective child care operator trying to address this issue, what areas might you focus on first?  I think there are two ways to measure this: 1) where the most kids live without adequate access and 2) areas that are furthest from any child care.

The first measure is shown here.  The colored areas have no 1/4 mile access to child care.  The more red, the more kids under 5 who lived in that block.  Saint Paul seems to fair worst, with the largest concentrations in Payne-Phalen.  Minneapolis has some small spots of red, with the worst areas being Northeast, parts of North, and smaller spots in Southwest and South.

The second measure of the “worst” areas is distance to the nearest daycare center.  I assume that the further away you are, the less likely you are to choose an active commute, given the barriers I’ve discussed before.  Areas of darker green have the shortest distance to the nearest center, while areas in red have the longest (2 miles or more).  Payne-Phalen in Saint Paul again stands out, as does South, North and Northeast Minneapolis.

What Can We Do?

Now we know that if you have kids in child care and want to ride your bike (or maybe walk or take transit) to work, housing locations in Minneapolis and Saint Paul that will meet your needs are somewhat limited.  Most people don’t make housing decisions based on child care access, so depending on what you can afford, and where you want to locate, good child care access may or may not be available in your area.

So as planners and policy makers trying to leverage the multiple benefits of a non-auto commute (health, environmental, social), what role do we have in trying to improve this access?  Or, in other words, how can we address this barrier and allow more people to get active?  What tools can we use to do so?  Those are the questions I will explore in the next post on the topic.  In the meantime, if you have thoughts or suggestions, drop them in the comments.

10 thoughts on “How Does Child Care Access Affect Active Living in the Twin Cities?

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  3. You can get an even-more-accurate analysis by using the E911 database, if your state has one. It shows every building in the state, with some descriptive fields for what the building is. If you used Census blocks here, there are likely to be some omissions. But still a useful analysis…

    • The daycare data comes the Department of Commerce, and is accurate to individual buildings (addresses) from 2008. The squishy part is the demographic information, which is from the 2000 Census, making it somewhat dated.

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  6. I love the premise, although 1/4 mile seems pretty low; I think I’d boost it to 1/2 mile. Then again, maybe it’s realistic. I used to walk a mile to the the light rail line (this wasn’t in Mpls), then take a 10 minute ride, then walk two blocks to the daycare, then four blocks to a bus station, then 10 minutes on the bus, two blocks to work, then reverse it all at the end of the day. Having the daycare close to my house would have been great, but the walk didn’t bother me. And while LRT isn’t “foot powered,” it was a great form of commute, and my young son loved it. I didn’t choose my housing based on childcare access (although did factor in access to public transportation of various forms), but did choose my daycare based on ease of access to me, a non-driver. Given that it’s easier to take a young kid on LRT than on the bus, I looked for a daycare that I liked, could afford, and had space that was also located along the LRT line.

  7. I’d say l/4 mile is nice, but not essential. My twin boys and I walked, pulled, pushed, and biked year round about 10 blocks each way to daycare. Then I walked home, grabbed my bike and rode to work. To me, it was just part of the day and my excercise regime. For my kids, being able to ride their trikes to work made the trip more fun. They are 21 now and both avid cyclists and transit users. The trip to daycare, just like the trip to school, is building a new generation of active people. And why expect so little of us? 1/4 mile is nothing.

    • 1/4 mile is not a magic number, and I agree, it may be little to expect of some people. However, 1/4 mile is a generally accepted figure for how far people are willing to walk to get to bus transit service. If you are walking with a baby or toddler, this may be challenging for many people, especially in a Minnesota winter.

      I applaud your efforts Alice, but you may be in an extra-active minority. I wanted to provide a figure that seemed realistic for the “average” commuter and would convince someone who usually travels by car to take their bike or transit instead.

  8. Hi,

    I am a researcher at Carleton College working on a similar GIS project (about child care centers’ exposure to air and road traffic noise). Could you tell me more specifically where you got your source data? I have been exploring the MN Department of Commerce website and have been unable to find anything.

    Thank you!

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