“Moving to the city,” “live-work-play,” and “sharing economy” – these are some of the soundbites of the new generation. As some metro areas compete to recruit and capitalize on the next workforce, are they overlooking or even sacrificing sound planning principals that focus on the long term retention of the next wave?
What happens when the tech star millennial gives up on tinder and falls in love and chooses to have a family? Can they build off of their success and keep their ‘experience driven’ lifestyle in the heart of the city or do they now need to move to, at best, the ‘uburbs’ or at worst, the suburbs? One could argue that the answer to this question could be a powerful measure of city’s success.
This post shares some personal, non-scientific points of view that are based on recent travel experiences to NYC.
- The reason for the travel: “vacation” / cultural inspiration & research for both my wife, a landscape architect and myself an architect.
- The way we explore: walk for hours without a set agenda trying to absorb the amazing moments in the city’s fabric that connect the list of “must sees”
- The catch: we also travel with our two young children, ages 2 & 5. Are we crazy to move through a dense city for days with two young children? Maybe, but this is life, we are a family and if people (including families) are moving to ‘metropolis,’ then we should be able to have a successful four day trip there. As a point of reference we successfully toured Copenhagen, Oslo, and Stockholm all together last year. We explored these Scandinavian cities without a set plan, they were so interactive on an urban level that the kids were as excited as we were.
Let me start by saying that our trip was semi-successful. We saw some incredible buildings and brilliant urban moments such as the Highline. However as we reflect on our trip, we noticed that there were relatively few children as we meandered through the streets, markets and embarcadero. Sure, there were those moments when the young and old alike congregate, that Manhattan is known for, such as Central Park and the Natural History Museum but once you leave these sanctuaries you are on your own in the urban jungle.
There are moments that we expected to be challenging and they lived up to their expectations. These included the subway; very little has been done to improve the majority of the stations since we were last here twelve years ago and most are not ‘accessible’ from the street level, which made it exciting with two kids and stroller to say the least. One interesting note is that the city did invest a disproportionate $4 billion into Calatrava’s new WTC station. One has to wonder if there were other stations that needed the funding and perhaps it could have been spread out.
The sheer density was another expected challenge, but the physical distance between the various open spaces, parks and pedestrian plazas really was magnified as a family. There is no “green necklace” to move from mid-town to downtown, the Highline does a good job for a short time on the west side but that’s about it.
There was also one specific moment that caught us by surprise and that speak to the financial priorities of the city. On our third day, we set out to walk lower Manhattan. We started at Union square and set Battery Park as our geographical destination. Our expectations were to find an enhanced open space as a reward for our urban trek in the humidity, one where we could all escape the traffic for little and contemplate the Hudson while the kids played. A couple blocks from the Wall Street charging bull and at the gateway for the Statue of Liberty ferry, we found the children’s play area in Battery Park. It consisted of a chain-link fence, deteriorated asphalt and play structures that were rusting away without a hint of shade. A nearby preschool was using it for recess. One has to ask, how much could it cost the Wall Street 1% to help maintain public amenities?
On our last night we had a great dinner party at a brownstone in Brooklyn with some old friends from the college days who have been living in New York for the past decade. They were quick to reinforce this feeling that the city pushes families out and not just on a monetary level (which is of course a big part of it). As we ate a hearty casserole, sipped craft beer and reminisced on the past, they raddled off the names of other alumni who had moved away to other cities that perhaps have a more ‘family friendly’ scale.
This post does not attempt to prove that New York is good or bad. It simply hopes to raise a question: As metro areas are planning for urban growth, should families be a part of the fabric? And assuming the answer is yes, what is being done to support this at a city, state and federal level? We hope that San Diego can learn from the mistake of others and borrow innovation from the best with the goal of being leaders in this aspect. San Diego city is young and there is still time to shape it, but we need to move fast.