I heard it recently on a tour of Seattle’s downtown. Do downtowns really need families to be successful neighbourhoods, they asked? What’s wrong with mostly singles and seniors, and lots of ‘em?
Having considered this issue in dozens of downtowns I’ve worked in, I keep coming back to an old saying amongst urbanists: “Kids are the indicator species of a great neighbourhood.”
The truth is that many downtowns are currently not great places to raise families, because they aren’t designed to be. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. A city and building industry gives up on kids downtown, so no one designs and plans for them. No schools. Little daycare. No playgrounds, facilities or basic public environment to make downtown kid or teenager-friendly. Most importantly, no homes built to actually fit a family. Perhaps a couple, but as soon as baby comes, they start planning the move. This perpetuates the myth that families would never want to live downtown.
My good friend Peter Rees, the chief planner for London, England, once proclaimed to a New York audience we were jointly presenting to, that “kids kill downtowns,” referring to the NIMBY that can result when families complain about noise from nightlife and such. Although his point is valid, the success we’ve had in our Vancouver downtown in mixing families, nightlife and urban energy by artful design says otherwise. Is it perfect? Far from it, and there are indeed tensions, but what it is, is urban, vital, and diverse - what downtowns should be.
Want Families Downtown? Design for Them!