How Stockton’s car-dependent growth shapes the way children feel about the city

As most people who grew up in Stockton in the last 30 years know, you have to drive to get anywhere. Haircut. Dentist appointment. Ice cream. Bank deposit. You name it, you are driving there. As it turns out, this car-first attitude could have a detrimental effect on how children growing up in Stockton feel about their communities.

New research indicates that kids who grow up being driven everywhere show a greater dissatisfaction with their surroundings than children in areas with infrastructure and neighborhood patterns that allow for more walking/biking. Even more alarming, kids in car-dependent areas exhibited weaker ties to their communities. In Stockton, these findings imply that our pattern of growth over the last three decades has inadvertently fostered a disconnect between the city and its residents.

In a recent study, researchers worked with children to establish how they viewed their communities by asking them to map out their neighborhoods and to express how they felt about certain features. Children in more car-dependent areas with high volumes of traffic had difficulty understanding how their neighborhoods fit together while also expressing feelings of anger and dislike. On the other hand, kids in lighter-traffic areas where much happier with their surroundings and were able to accurately articulate their neighborhood connections.

Researcher Bruce Appleyard concludes that  “windshield perspective” children are less connected to their communities overall and have less pleasant feelings about their neighborhoods than those in walkable areas.

“In sum, as exposure to auto traffic volumes and speed decreases, a child’s sense of threat goes down, and his/her ability to establish a richer connection and appreciation for the community rises.”

Research shows that uninviting streets in car-dependent neighborhoods, such as this one in North Stockton, foster negative attitudes in children towards their communities

This research has tremendous implications for Stockton. For our city, if we want children to grow up feeling more connected to their community, this study suggests that we need to make a sharp shift away from car-dependent development. While most of the new developments being built on the periphery provide decent proximity to schools, commercial and park space is much more difficult, if not impossible, to come by. Using the Walkscore algorithm as our criteria (the site that rates neighborhoods based on their proximity to local amenities), most of Stockton, especially the parts that have been built up in the last 30 years, scores very low. This should come as no surprise. In Stockton, it is accepted without argument that to go shopping for groceries, pick up a perscription at the pharmacy, or just get something for dinner, you are going to drive there.

This pattern of growth can be detrimental to how Stockton’s youth develop their feelings towards the city. I have always wondered why there is a certain level of apathy in Stockton; many people my age do not seem to be as connected to the city as I am. But if this research is valid, then the jaded attitudes of Stockton’s youth actually make sense: having been raised in a car-dependent city, we all grew up less connected to our community.

As I have pointed out before, the developments around Eight Mile Road are about 7 miles away from any grocery store. When I was in high school at Bear Creek, I had to drive about 3 to 4 miles if I wanted to find lunch off campus (sometimes even as far as Lodi at Flag City). Point being, this is the environment the majority of kids in Stockton are growing up in. Driving is the norm. Unfortunately, this norm could be harmful to the happiness of Stockton’s children, resulting in a generation of Stocktonians that feel disconnected from the city.

Clearly, this research presents us with another argument that sprawling development is not in Stockton’s best interest. As the housing market finds its bottom and development begins to pick up again, we should encourage the creation of communities that allow for a sense of place and a choice between driving and walking and/or biking. The benefits are numerous, and as we can see here, can cultivate happier attitudes about the community in the city’s children.

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Categories: Community Commentary, Smart Growth, Transportation

Author:David A. Garcia

David A. Garcia created SCL in March of 2012. Garcia is a Stockton native with a background in urban policy and planning, holding a Bachelor's Degree from UCLA as well as a Master's Degree in Public Policy from the Johns Hopkins Institute for Policy Studies. He currently serves as the Policy Director at the UC Berkeley Terner Center for Housing Innovation. David was also COO at Ten Space, a real estate development firm focused exclusively on Downtown Stockton, and continues to advise on their projects. Prior to that, he worked three years as a researcher/analyst for a Congressional research agency in Washington, DC. The views expressed on this site are entirely of the author's

4 Comments on “How Stockton’s car-dependent growth shapes the way children feel about the city”

  1. Javier
    December 7, 2012 at 3:04 am #

    Hi David, love the blog, but you mispelled dependent. 😛

    • Stockton City Limits
      December 7, 2012 at 6:13 pm #

      Thank you Javier for your support and also your copy editing skills. I am surprised I let that one go for so long!


  1. Driving = community disconnect - May 10, 2012

    […] The latest installment: “How Stockton’s car-dependent growth shapes the way children feel about the city.” […]

  2. Education and the built environment: How walking and biking to school helps students learn better | Stockton City Limits - March 19, 2013

    […] ability to succeed in the classroom than previously thought. I have pointed out before that a car-dependent childhood can hinder a child’s ability to remember aspects about their surroundin…. Now we have evidence that learning can also be impaired by a reliance on the automobile to get to […]

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