Saturday, February 9, 2013

Raising Kids Downtown

Some of you may know, but for those that do not, I am a volunteer columnist for the Dallas Morning News Community Voices page that runs every Saturday. Several weeks ago I submitted a piece that ran a week ago. In it, I talked about the reason my wife and I decided not to eave for the suburbs, a uniquely American phenomenon when we have kids.

As cities across the country have continued efforts to repopulate their downtowns and urban areas, Generation Y and the millennials became known as urban pioneers. Even before they could count on neighborhood amenities like close grocers or dry cleaners, they moved to places like Uptown, which was once devoid of urban amenities. Now the place teems with life and activity.

Downtown is following the same path. It isn’t there yet, but in the six years I have lived in this neighborhood, it has made much progress. My new neighbors are no longer urban pioneers, except in one important way.
Urban pioneers dated and married. Some then had kids. Conventional wisdom dictates that they would then get a house in a suburban setting. Certainly, some have followed that path.

But those who haven’t are the new urban pioneers. I often feel like my family is part of a group blazing a new path. I’m not going to speak for the others, but we have specific reasons we choose to raise our two boys in an urban area.

It’s not, as some anonymous Internet commenters have suggested, that we want to appear hip and trendy.
One of the biggest reasons is health. For a lot of reasons, kids today are the fattest, unhealthiest they have ever been. Giving them an environment where they can be active is very appealing to my wife and me. We envision a future where the kids, when they get older, are able to live a semi-independent life, where they do not depend on us to be their chauffeur. In the process, they will burn calories as they go, or so our line of reasoning takes us.

We also hope some level of exposure to people who don’t all look and behave the way we do will help them, too. They will see rich and poor, all races, genders, religions and everything between. We hope this understanding of their fellow citizens will offer insights that others may not have.

Even some commonly considered problems in this regard have benefits. I grew up in a small farming community in West Texas. Drug education basically consisted of “don’t do drugs ’cause they are bad.” However, my sons will see firsthand where drug or alcohol addiction can actually lead.

My wife really likes the idea of having many cultural facilities nearby. The Arts District venues are within walking distance. Fair Park is an easy train or bike ride away.

Certainly, as in any parenting situations, there are challenges. The schools zoned for our area leave a lot to be desired, even for me, a guy who thinks that parents matter far more than the school does in a child’s education. We are looking into Montessori schools, magnets, charters and other options.

There are also fewer kids in the urban neighborhoods than in the suburbs. More are coming to downtown all the time, but most of our kids’ play time comes at their school.

Now, we can debate all of the above, but I think there is one important thing to remember about any decision parents make. The best choice is the one they truly believe is best for their children.

If parents choose one lifestyle over another without that focus, the children are in trouble. But if parents do what they really believe is best for their children — no matter where they choose to live — then the children’s best interest is served.

In the end, isn’t that what we all need — more kids who are cared for?

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