For nearly two decades, we have published a biennial report on the quality of life in U.S. cities with a particular focus on children. Through all of these reports—this is our ninth —we have called attention to the things that each of us can do in our local communities to improve the quality of life of our most vulnerable citizens, our children.
Population Connection's role is a bit like that of Paul Revere. With these reports, we raise the alarm and suggest some things that can be done. It is up to each of us in our own communities to make the changes that are needed. The most obvious way to get these changes made is by seeing to it that our elected and appointed officials are doing their jobs and putting the needs of the children first. Issues like teen pregnancy, sex education, access to reproductive health services, and health care insurance all call for legislative action—action that must be demanded by citizens. In separate articles throughout this year's report, we describe some of the steps that need to be taken.
For those who really want to get involved with specific causes or projects, we offer a sample program from each of our 100 cities. These programs are raising the quality of life of kids in cities all over the United States. We've highlighted one such program, Shaw EcoVillage, in Washington, DC. This program, in a Washington neighborhood known more for drugs and crime than for helping kids, shows the impact a few dedicated people can make.
More than anything else, we hope that Population Connection's Kid-Friendly Cities Report Card 2004 will inspire families, individuals, activists, and officials to work together to create better communities—instead of just moving to "better" places. To this end, our report broadens the discussion on population to include concerns about health, education, and community—we reveal the areas in which cities are doing well, and where they need to improve.
While we do not pretend that our report on these cities is definitive, we do believe that it is a good starting point. Keep in mind that population is not just a "numbers game"—population activism is about protecting the future and preserving natural resources for generations to come. Most importantly, it is about providing a decent quality of life for everyone.
The indicators we chose are designed specifically to illustrate the well being of children. In focusing on quality of life at the city level, the report presents a picture of the environment in our communities—the areas where our children play, learn, and grow. Although the report represents only 100 of the more than 13,000 incorporated areas in the United States, more than 20 percent of our country's population calls these cities "home." These cities vividly illustrate the relationship between population dynamics and quality of life trends throughout the country.
Why study children? The Kid-Friendly Cities Report Card focuses on children because, no matter how often we say it, it needs repeating: Our children are the future. They are the leaders and the policymakers of the next millennium. For more than 30 years, Population Connection has been working to guarantee a bright and prosperous future for the planet by fighting for population stabilization. We can achieve a stable population by guaranteeing access to quality family planning and reproductive health services, by educating and empowering women, by reducing unplanned and teenage pregnancies, and by doing all the other things we know work. We want every child to be a wanted child. We also want every child to have the food, shelter, health care, education, and protection from crime and abuse that she or he needs to develop into a healthy and happy adult.
Population Connection produces the Report Card to provide information that can be used to fight for change in communities and to help improve the environment where children grow up. It is clear that policy interventions that aim to reduce the number of teenage pregnancies and births, including comprehensive sex education and access to reproductive health care services, have the greatest impact in our struggle to create healthier environments for our children.
So, what is the best way to use the Kid-Friendly Cities Report Card? Forget about the rankings. Ignore the grades. Look inside the report and find out what is really going on. What is the rate for births to teens in your city? What is the status of sex education in your state? Is everyone who needs reproductive health care getting it? That is the sort of information to look for. Use the report as a starting point. Put the poster somewhere you can refer to it. (How big is Philadelphia? How many kids are there in San Francisco? Where is sprawl the worst? Who has a good Population Education program?)
And don't forget to look at the back of the poster. There you will find some really inspiring programs and projects from all over the country. If you go to the KidFriendlyCities.org website, you can get all of the contact information for each of these programs. If you want to start a project in your community, the folks who run our 100 projects will be happy to tell you how they started theirs.